1. Appalachian State
Last week: Won 45-9 at Charlotte; This week’s game: Saturday vs. Southern Miss
Quarterback Zac Thomas completed all 14 passes he threw, finishing with 295 yards and three touchdowns through the air.
Sophomore receiver Corey Sutton is emerging as one of the more dangerous weapons in the Sun Belt. In two games, he has nine catches for 242 yards and two touchdowns, including a 90-yard TD catch against Charlotte.
2. Arkansas State
Last week: Lost 57-7 at Alabama; This week’s game: Saturday at Tulsa
The Red Wolves were simply overmatched against the #1 team in the country all over the field. The hope is that seeing the “best team in the country,” Arkansas State can lick their wounds, make adjustments and move straight ahead.
Onward. They play Tulsa, who kept their game against Texas close (but is that really a good barometer?).
Last week: Won 59-7 vs. Florida A&M; This week’s game: Saturday at Nebraska
The Trojan defense suffocated the Rattlers and quarterback Kaleb Barker had his way, finding the end zone four times through the air and once on the ground.
Troy now faces a Nebraska squad coming fresh off a last minute defeat at home to Colorado. If the Trojan defense can show up early to frustrate the home crowd, stranger upsets have surely happened.
4. UL Monroe
Last week: Won 21-20 at Southern Miss; This week’s game: Saturday at Texas A&M
Sun Belt teams swept their Conference USA opponents this past weekend, 3-0. No win was more impressive than the Warhawks taking down Southern Miss on the road.
The defense forced a long missed field goal and Cortez Sisco Jr. sealed the game shut with an interception.
And that, Caleb Evans to Marcus Green combination might just be one of the best combos in the country.
5. Georgia Southern
Last week: Won 34-13 vs. UMass; This week’s game: Saturday at Clemson
Shai Werts orchestrated a solid running attack, while mixing in a very efficient day passing (6-for-9, 154 yards, two touchdowns) to help get revenge for last year’s blowout loss against the Minutemen.
The real story, however, was the ironclad defense. The Eagles will need every ounce of effort to keep pace in Death Valley this weekend.
Last week: Off; This week’s game: Saturday at Mississippi St.
Stopping Bulldog quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is the focal point for Louisiana this weekend.
After watching the Mississippi State quarterback rack up 150-plus yards on the ground and via the pass, a defensive scheme will be hard to pin down and execute for 60 minutes.
If the offense can take care of the ball, we’ll just see if the cowbells can stay silent for a while.
7. Georgia State
Last week: Lost 41-7 at NC State; This week’s game: Friday at Memphis
The result was not ideal, but Panther quarterback Dan Ellington played well enough to merit some praise.
The Panthers get a Friday night spotlight game on the road against a Memphis team smarting from a fourth quarter meltdown and one-point loss to Navy. The Georgia State defense will need their lunch pails (or is it dinner pails?) to contain the Tiger offense.
8. Coastal Carolina
Last week: Won 47-24 vs. UAB; This week’s game: Wednesday vs. Campbell
Whether Coastal Carolina is back or just plain here now is open for discussion.
Their execution against the Dragons, however, has been undeniably spot on. Outscoring UAB on the road, 27-0 in the second half is impressive.
What’s more impressive? Converting seven of 10 third downs to keep the opponents’ offense on the sidelines. We’ll see what they can do against Campbell with the hurricane moving the game up to Wednesday.
9. South Alabama
Last week: Lost 55-13 at Oklahoma St.; This week’s game: Saturday vs. Texas St.
Is it fair to drop the Jaguars a spot despite playing a potent Cowboy offense? Probably.
Is it fair to wonder with three quarterbacks seeing game time and 12 penalties racked up against them if they have a lot of growing to do? Nope.
The year’s first conference game against the Bobcats is a chance to turn things around.
10. Texas State
Last week: Won 36-20 vs. Texas Southern; This week’s game: Saturday at South Alabama
Willie Jones III (235 yards passing, 107 yards rushing, one touchdown) provided the offensive spark needed to get Texas State in the win column for the first time this season.
Kicker James Sherman drilled all five of his field goal attempts, which is an underrated confidence booster for any close games this season.
The Jaguars, and a chance to climb out of the conference power rankings basement comes Saturday against South Alabama.