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Sun Belt Roundtable: Predictions for the 2017 season

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Fun Belt football is back! We give our takes on the upcoming season.

NCAA Football: San Diego State at South Alabama Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

Who is your surprise team in the Fun Belt this season?

Adam Luckett: ULM. It doesn’t get talked about much, but the job Matt Viator did with the Warhawks last season was damn impressive. ULM went 3-5 in league play with one of the worst squads in the country. Now with nearly everyone returning, the defense should have a pulse this fall. Alabama transfer Derrick Gore should give the ground game some much needed efficiency and this offensive line is very underrated. Not sure they’ll get to six wins, but they have the schedule to pull some upsets in Fun Belt play.

Vidal Espinoza: Coastal Carolina. I think the Chanticleers are more FBS ready than we’ve been led to believe. Despite the loss of their head coach Joe Moglia for the upcoming season and many key losses on offense, Coastal Carolina has the stability and depth to win a few surprise games in Sun Belt play.

Aikman Chambers: Coastal Carolina. Hear me out here. This team knows how to win plain and simple, that is all they have done since Moglia became head coach. This team has one tough slate in Sun Belt play, but if they were to pull an upset in either the App, Troy or A-State matchups you’re talking about a big feather in the Chanticleer cap. No doubt Coastal will be one of the most interesting teams to watch this season. Be ready when you play the boys from Conway because they will be.

Martin Ferguson: South Alabama. Joey Jones’ teams are always scrappy and always find a way to beat a few teams that they shouldn't. They return the whole offensive line from last year as well as QB Dallas Davis. There is much improvement needed in the passing game, but the defense could be very salty in ‘17. The schedule works in the Jags favor as they get Idaho, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Arkansas State in Mobile this year.

Who is your breakout player?

Adam: Wesley Fields. It hasn’t been a secret, but Georgia Southern is going back to the option this season and the Statesboro faithful have let out a huge sigh of relief. The ground game should finally get back towards the 300 yards per game mark they’re used to. Because of this junior Wesley Fields will have a monster season. Fields had a breakout campaign as a freshman by averaging nearly seven yards per carry. The Americus, Georgia, native went through a sophomore slump, but he’ll be the obvious benefactor for this new offense. He’ll easily clear 1,000 yards this fall.

NCAA Football: Georgia State at Wisconsin
Can Manning and Georgia State take the next step in 2017?
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Vidal: Conner Manning. Manning started all but two games for Georgia State due to injury and showed both promise and inconsistency last year. With most of the skill players and offensive linemen back, Manning could have one of the best seasons in Georgia State history his senior year.

Aikman: Myquan Stout. Stout lives up to his last name as he is one of the leaders of Appalachian States 3-4 front. He was often forgotten about last year with so many big names along side of him, but he was still making plays. Stout will have a breakout year as a junior along side senior leader Tee Sims.

Martin: Matt Linehan. It seems that Linehan has been at Idaho since the late ‘90s but the senior has thrown for over 8,500 yards in his career far from the spotlight. If the offensive line can keep him from running for his life constantly and the Vandals develop any kind of running game, Linehan could throw for 3,500+ yards in ‘17.

Who is your pick to win SBC Defensive Player of the Year & Offensive Player of the Year? (just give names, no explanation needed)

Adam: Brandon Silvers (QB - Troy), Kaden Elliss (LB - Idaho)

Vidal: Emanuel Thompson (WR - Troy), Ja’Von Rolland-Jones (DE - Arkansas State)

Aikman: Jalin Moore (RB - Appalachian State) & Ja’Von Rolland-Jones (DE - Arkansas State)

Martin: Brandon Silvers (QB - Troy), Ja’von Rolland-Jones (DE - Arkansas State)

Over/Under 5 Teams from the Sun Belt will qualify for a bowl game.

Adam: The under is the play. We all know that Appalachian State, Arkansas State, and Troy are all locks. However, after that teams four through 10 will be hovering around the six-win mark. At most, I see five getting there. UL-Lafayette and South Alabama having brutal non-conference schedules will probably be the difference.

Vidal: Push. I see exactly five teams making a bowl so of course Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Troy and seeing as the middle tier of the Sun Belt is up for grabs the two other spots could be filled by anybody.

Aikman: Under. Five is the maximum amount of teams I see making a bowl game out of the Sun Belt. Appalachian State, Troy, Arkansas State, Idaho and the Cajuns are my fifth team that I would pick to go bowling, but it could just as easily be four teams.

Martin: Push. The number will be five on the nose. Arkansas State, Appalachian State, Troy, South Alabama, and UL-Lafayette will all go bowling in ‘17.

Best shot at a P5 win for the conference...

Adam: Appalachian State over Wake Forest. This was a fairly easy pick for me. This will be the only game where a Sun Belt team will be the favorite and App State has some unfinished business after the Miami fiasco last year. The talent gap favors no one in this matchup and the Mountaineers have the better coach and home field advantage. This is a statement game for the program.

Vidal: Appalachian State over Wake Forest. A stacked defense and a consistent offense combined with experience will give them a good chance to win over the Demon Deacons. Of all the Sun Belt vs. P5 games this one has the best win percentage in App State’s favor.

Aikman: Appalachian State over Wake Forest. The game against Wake Forrest is going to be a big one for the Apps. They again have a chance to pull an upset at home against an ACC school after they fell to Miami at home a year ago. Appalachian has the best G5 Vs P5 matchup in the Sun Belt as far as the chance of a Sun Belt team winning in 2017.

Martin: Georgia Southern over Indiana. The Eagles have returned to the triple option and catch the Hoosiers early in the season right before they play Penn State. Having to prepare for the option with more important games looming on the horizon always gives the ‘dog a chance and Indiana’s offense was atrocious last year with little change seen for ‘17.

Your sleeper picks to win the Sun Belt are…

Adam: South Alabama. By sleeper, I’m assuming you’re wanting to get a team that’s not in the big three (App State, Arkansas State, Troy). So I’ll roll with USA. The Jags avoid Appalachian State, get Arkansas State at home, and anything can happen in the rivalry game with Troy. Pull two upsets there, beat everyone you’re suppose to, and have App State slip up and the Jags bring home the first conference crown in school history. They have the talent to pull off a run like this.

Vidal: Troy. They have two matchups against Boise State and LSU early in the season that will be very tough and a season finale against powerhouse Arkansas State. However, other than that the Trojans have a very good path ahead of them. With a great offensive duo of quarterback Brandon Silvers and running back Jordan Chunn look for Troy to continue their 2016 success as Coach Neal Brown’s squad looks to get even closer to a Sun Belt title.

Aikman: Idaho. Had Idaho not had the season they did a year ago then they would be my surprise team for 2017. This is it for Idaho as they will drop to FCS next year and I believe Matt Linehan has this team primed and ready go out in style for 2017. Idaho has a chance to get rolling to start the year they way their schedule is set up and who knows, a few big wins early could make for a very confident team that has a lot to play for this season.

Martin: Idaho / South Alabama. Both of these teams have an opportunity to win eight games in 2017 and the rest of the league has overlooked the Vandals and know that the Jags are usually a close but no cigar team in the ‘Belt. All of that could change in 2017.

Which coach do you see as most likely to not return after 2017 either due to a firing, retirement, or leaving for another job?

Adam: Joey Jones. I know I have them as a sleeper to win the crown, but hear me out. I don’t believe a solid enough job will come open for Power Five candidates Blake Anderson, Neal Brown, or Scott Satterfield. The return to the option will give Tyson Summers one more year after a mediocre season. Meanwhile, USA has yet to have a winning season while in FBS and the Jags have lost seven games in three consecutive years. Do that again and it’ll be time to get some new blood on the campus in Mobile.

Vidal: Scott Satterfield. With a returning squad including starter Taylor Lamb and perhaps the strongest defensive squad in the Sun Belt, Satterfield could be headed towards another conference title shot and two Power Five upsets and maybe even a job offer from a Power Five school if 2017 goes incredibly well.

NCAA Football: Georgia Southern at Georgia Tech
Will Tyson Summers be two-and-done in Statesboro?
Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Aikman: Tyson Summers. It’s never a good sign when your athletic director has to send out a letter of confidence only one year into a coaches tenure, but that’s where we stand with this Southern epidemic. Sure, Summers may be going back to a more traditional Georgia Southern offense this year, but with a redshirt freshman quarterback and not a lot of really good talent, fans may be calling for the coach to be gone by Week 3 or 4.

Martin: Tyson Summers. The Eagles will struggle again this year in the Sun Belt as they break in two new coordinators that were brought in by Summers after last season in which most saw as a desperation move to save his job. The administration and fan base won’t suffer for long if things go sour in Statesboro.

Who do you like to win the Sun Belt?

Adam: Troy

Vidal: Texas State

Aikman: Appalachian State

Martin: Appalachian State & Arkansas State