The Sun Belt West is up for grabs
Just a few weeks ago, the Red Wolves were the clear favorites to win their division, but in Week 7 they didn’t just lose to the Mountaineers, they lost BIG, getting stomped 35-9 in Jonesboro.
The disparity between the two divisions has never been more apparent, though of course it’s a short history of the Belt being divided in two. Still, a divide along strictly geographical lines should yield at least some accidental or initial parity. Instead, Louisiana-Lafayette obliterated New Mexico State this week in a non-conference matchup, raising the Ragin’ Cajuns to 3-3 overall, their 1-1 conference record good enough for sole possession of first place in the West.
This may turn out to be short-lived, as the Cajuns meet the Mountaineers next week, but with over half the season now elapsed, the Red Wolves running away with the division is no longer a given.
You can’t count out ULM
While the Cajuns and Red Wolves throw side-eye at each other, the Warhawks are suddenly right back in this thing, breaking their four-game losing streak with a win over Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers may have started 2018 strong, but got blown out by ULM this week, 45-20 in Conway.
With the win, the Warhawks are now 3-4 (1-2), good enough for second place in the west, tied with South Alabama. The hardest part of their schedule now behind them, ULM will face Texas State next week in what may be another blowout win for the Warhawks, then head into their bye week.
In the final weeks of the season, ULM will face a tough Georgia Southern team and then travel to South Alabama, before settling the division in the final two weeks against the Red Wolves and Cajuns. Splitting those games is starting to look possible, and a 6-6 season in Monroe is within their reach. A bowl game would be huge for Matt Viator.
Voters are taking notice of Appalachian State
In this weeks AP Poll, no Sun Belt teams make an appearance (and haven’t since 2016). But if you look in the “others receiving votes” section, you’ll find the Mountaineers, and with more than merely a few votes.
App State received 51 votes in the poll this week, putting them fourth in the “ORV” category, trailing only Stanford, USC, and San Diego State to crack the Top 25.
Regardless of schedule or how the national coaches or pollsters recognize the Sun Belt, App’s success on the field is gaining notice. They’ve not just beaten opponents but destroyed them; their 35 points against Arkansas State was a season low, and other than their close 45-38 loss to Penn State, no Mountaineer opponent has scored double-digits yet this season.
The Mountaineers’ toughest games remaining are Georgia Southern on a short week (five days after playing Louisiana-Lafayette), and the season finale against Troy. All eyes will be on this team, but if they can make it another eleven days without a loss— the number of days until they play the Eagles— expect the Mountaineers to crack both polls.