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Sun Belt Power Rankings: Championship Week Edition

Mountaineers claim East title, while Ragin’ Cajuns win West in a thriller.

Appalachian State v Georgia Southern Photo by Chris Thelen/Getty Images

1. Appalachian State (Last Week: 2)

Last week: Won 21-10 vs. Troy; Next game: Saturday vs. Louisiana

The defense stood strong.

They forced four turnovers, and held Troy to less than 10 yards on six of their seven possessions in the second half.

Many played a part, but special shout-out to junior linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither, who recorded 14 tackles and two tackles for loss.

They’ll have their hands full Saturday with a Cajun team that has played much better since their first encounter.

2. Georgia Southern (LW: 3)

Last week: Won 35-14 at Georgia St.; Next game: Awaiting bowl invite

Some call the game Modern-Day Hate.

The problem this year is the Eagles were the ones doing about all the hating. Southern got their first win against the Panthers in four years this past weekend.

Wesley Fields and Shai Werts were highly impactful once again in the second half. The defense was stifling for both halves.

It’s a safe bet that not too many teams want to see the Eagles on the opposite sideline for their bowl matchup.

3. Troy (LW: 1)

Last week: Lost 21-10 at Appalachian St.; Next game: Awaiting bowl invite

The conference win streak is history, and it couldn’t have ended at a less opportune time.

Three of the four turnovers were killers, especially the Clifton Duck interception in the second half at midfield. The Mountaineer defense gave B.J. Smith few gaps to run through.

The Trojan defense was stout in defeat, but had too many field position issues all Saturday long.

A bowl invite should be in the mail.

4. Louisiana (LW: 4)

Last week: Won 31-28 at UL Monroe; This week’s game: Saturday vs. Appalachian St.

Sun Belt West champs.

Is there a sweeter feeling than earning a conference championship game berth by winning on the road against your arch rival?

Hint: A win on Saturday could be.

Stopping Mountaineer running back Darrynton Evans was a problem in their first matchup (26 carries, 183 yards, two total TDs). Solve it, and the inaugural belt could come home to Lafayette.

5. Arkansas State (LW: 5)

Last week: Won 33-7 at Texas St.; Next game: Awaiting bowl invite

The last second field goal miss by the Warhawks hurt almost as much down in Jonesboro.

The Red Wolves got great play from Justice Hansen and Warren Wand.

But let’s not understate the late-season emergence of Kirk Merritt. The junior transfer had six catches, 153 yards and two TDs on Saturday. In November alone (four games) he registered 29 catches, 485 yards and five scores.

Whomever they play in a bowl should be a fun one to watch.

6. UL Monroe (LW: 6)

Last week: Lost 31-28 vs. Louisiana; Next game: Awaiting bowl invite

Absolute heartbreak.

Conference Player of the Year candidate Caleb Evans marched the team into position for a tying field goal. An overtime or two would have been epic.

Alas, they came up inches away. To be fair, they would have not made the conference title game anyways with Arkansas State’s win.

The 2018 Warhawks own both the most impressive conference win of the year (19-point win over red-hot Georgia Southern) and the biggest head-scratcher (losing by 32 to Georgia State).

7. Coastal Carolina (LW: 7)

Last week: Lost 31-28 at South Alabama; Next game: 2019

It just wasn’t meant to be.

Black Friday claimed the Chanticleers’ bowl hopes, as the Jaguars racked up 533 yards of total offense in the season finale.

Down 24-7 at halftime, Coastal was able to chip away, but it was all too little, too late.

Four straight losses hurts. When the fourth is against the team in the conference basement, the “could of” talk this off-season will hurt even more.

8. Texas State (LW: 8)

Last week: Lost 33-7 vs. Arkansas St.; Next game: 2019

Give the Bobcats credit.

With their head coach gone and lots of negativity swirling around the program, the kids came out and competed admirably against high-powered stAte.

Alec Harris’ 57-yard touchdown run on Texas State’s first play of the second half tied the game and had Red Wolves’ fans sweating.

Few off-seasons will be as interesting to watch as the one in San Marcos.

9. South Alabama (LW: 10)

Last week: Won 31-28 vs. Coastal Carolina; Next game: 2019

Ladies and gentlemen, Tra Minter and Jamarius Way.

Pause for applause.

Minter rushed for 203 yards, caught two balls for 49 more, while Way had six catches for 149 yards and three touchdowns to give the Jaguars a well-earned parting gift.

The Jaguar defense also came to play, recording four sacks, including two by junior Tyree Turner.

10. Georgia State (LW: 9)

Last week: Lost 35-14 vs. Georgia Southern; Next game: 2019

The Panther defense was not too bad on the first two downs against the Eagles. However, allowing an 8-for-13 conversion rate on third downs is a recipe for disaster.

Only down 13-0 at halftime, it seemed like all those extra offensive plays for Southern just wore the defense down.

Less than 100 yards rushing and Penny Hart being held to one catch for nine yards was an unfortunate way to end things in 2018.

Silver lining: I believe we will see Mr. Hart on Sundays next season.