It’s officially football season as each team in the Fun Belt started practices this week and we are now just weeks away from watching actual football. Each coaching staff enters training with a list of goals they need to accomplish whether it is offensive/defensive install or developing depth at a specific position. Here we’ll tell you what each team’s specific primary goal will be before the season starts in just a few weeks.
Appalachian State: Stay Healthy
The Mountaineers enter 2017 as the heavy favorite to bring home the Sun Belt title as they have most impressive starting 22. Of the staters, 19 are expected to be upperclassmen and those sophomores (CB Clifton Duck, ATH Darrynton Evans, and OT Victor Johnson) each have all-conference potential. However, there are some questions about App State’s depth and that is something Scott Satterfield’s staff must develop this fall. There are some studs on this squad and the only way to give Georgia a scare and win that conference title is for the Mountaineers stay healthy.
Arkansas State: Brand New Offensive Line
Arkansas State has some impressive skill pieces returning and with Blake Anderson taking over play-calling duties, there are high expectations for this group. However, the Red Wolves have zero returning starters on the line and that’s a scary thought when you open up with Nebraska and Miami. It appears that Anderson and offensive line coach Allen Rudolph will be leaning on three JUCO transfers. Of this group, it appears former Iowa State Cyclone Jaypee Philbert was the biggest recruiting win. As quickly as this new line gels, the more efficient and explosive this offense will become.
Coastal Carolina: Adjusting to Jamey Chadwell
As was reported last week, Joe Moglia will be taking a leave of absence for 2017 and Jamey Chadwell has been named the interim head coach. Chadwell is entering his first season in Conway after spending the last four years as the head coach at Charleston Southern. With Moglia approaching 70, it appears that Chadwell may be one of the top candidates to replace him and we could be seeing how he does running an FBS program this year. Getting the offense used to the new scheme and the entire team/staff accustomed to how Chadwell operates will be key.
Georgia Southern: Getting a Redshirt Freshman QB Ready to Go
After a season where three quarterbacks received starts, Tyson Summers decided to make a coaching move in the offseason as he brought in Bryan Cook to run the triple option. At Media Day, Summers stated it was important that the Eagles find an identity on offense this fall and it appears the program is once again going all in on the option. With those three QBs now gone, the staff will be leaning on a redshirt freshman Shai Werts to run the show. With two bye weeks in the first month of the season, the staff will have time to get him ready. However, the first three FBS games are against Auburn, Indiana, and Arkansas State. Those are all squads that have some dudes in the front seven. Werts better grow up fast.
Georgia State: Establish a Running Game
Shawn Elliott takes over in Atlanta after a career spent as an offensive line coach at Appalachian State and South Carolina. Now Elliott will be taking over an offense where the two leading rushers barely averaged over four yards per carry last year. With four starters back on the offensive line, it will be imperative that Elliott and offensive coordinator Travis Trickett get that running game going. Good news for Georgia State supporters is that Trickett’s offense at Florida Atlantic last fall had two rushers that both went for over 800 yards and combined for 25 touchdowns.
Idaho: Find a Go-To Target
With Matt Linehan returning to Moscow for his fourth season as the starting QB, expectations are high for Paul Petrino’s offense. Add in the fact that the Vandals get their impressive running back duo of Aaron Duckworth and Isaiah Saunders back and this attack looks to be very promising. However, Idaho lost five of their top six receivers from last season. With that loss of production, this could be a less balanced passing attack for this fall. I’d look for seniors Alfonso Onunwar and Jacob Sannon to become a target monsters this fall and to put up some eye popping numbers in this offense.
UL-Lafayette: Find a Running Back
The Cajuns enter the fall with a very promising roster. The defense is loaded everywhere but linebacker. The offense may have the best offensive line in the Sun Belt and two very impressive receivers in Ja’Marcus Bradley and Keenan Barnes. However with a brand new QB, a running game is going to be imperative. Entering camp, sophomore Raymond Calais, senior Darius Hoggins, redshirt freshman Trey Ragas, sophomore Jordan Wright, and true freshman Elijah Mitchell are all in a battle for playing time. Mark Hudspeth and new offensive coordinator Will Hall must find a back or two this month.
New Mexico State: Defensive Improvement
In NMSU’s final season in the Sun Belt, the Aggies have the roster to do some damage this fall. As long as the offense stays healthy, points will be scored but can the Aggies stop anyone? S&P+ had this defense as 120th in the country as they gave up 38.8 points per game. With most of their starters back, expectations are high in year two under coordinator Frank Spaziani. The focus for this camp should be to just get better at each level of the defense and improve in every statistical category. If this unit can get into the middle pack of the conference, NMSU is going to be a headache for Sun Belt competition this fall.
South Alabama: Finding Pass Catchers
USA had a solid passing attack last season with first-year starter Dallas Davis behind center. Davis is now back for his junior season, but the Jags lose their top four receivers who combined for 156 receptions last year. Now it’s looking a little scary for this passing game going into 2017 as Davis only completed 56.7% last season. Now the leading returning receiver was backup tight end Maaseiah Francis. Francis looks like he has some potential, but USA must find some answers on the outside. The development of sophomore Jordan McCray and JUCO transfer Malik Stanley will be vital.
Troy: Finding a Left Tackle
Antonio Garcia is off to the NFL and the biggest question of the offseason is to find out who will replace him at that left tackle. Of course the Troy offense is loaded this year and expectations are very high. The Trojans have two solid players inside with center Deontae Crumite and Steven Rowzee at guard. I have a feeling we could see the senior Rowzee or sophomore Kirk Kelley protecting the blind side this fall. Offensive line coach Matt Moore like his group’s talent.
Texas State: Just Get Better
S&P+ had the Bobcats as the worst team in the FBS in year one under Everett Withers as they only scored 18.6 points per game and gave up over 41. Now with the ugly news that came out this week, Texas State could be in a world of hurt this year. If grad transfer Damian Williams doesn’t play, they’ll likely be starting a freshman at QB. Add in the fact that leading returning rusher Stedman Mayberry is no longer with the program, the leading returning receiver is coming back from injury, and apparently none of the JUCO offensive linemen will be on the team. A lot of pressure will be on the defense and the nice LB duo of Bryan London II and Gabe Loyd. Wins won’t be important this year, but improvement needs to be shown.
ULM: Stop Some People
Texas State had the worst defense in the country, but ULM wasn’t that far ahead. Matt Viator and defensive coordinator Mike Collins are entering year two and this unit must get better. With eight starters back, you have to like their chance to improve. The staff is high on senior defensive end Caleb Tucker and you would like to see his sack number increase this fall. Linebackers Chase Day and David Griffith flashed potential as underclassmen and should be much better with experience under their belt. With multiple JUCO prospects coming in, this group should be much deeper. If the defense takes a big step forward, the Warhawks will compete for a bowl.