Now that each of the Sun Belt’s teams have completed at least half of their scheduled games, let’s get the conversation started for the league’s postseason awards.
Yesterday’s Appalachian State victory over Coastal Carolina provided some extra entertainment value so an already entertaining Sun Belt season. The players our staff picked for their midseason award winners were big factors in that. Let’s dive into who those guys are.
Offensive Player of the Year
Joe Londergan: Deliberating for this award makes me really want to see Coastal Carolina and Louisiana face off to see Grayson McCall against Levi Lewis. I think I need to give it to McCall though because of his numbers. 15 passing touchdowns with only one interception, two rushing touchdowns, and completion percentage close to 80%. It’s probably a good thing that the Chanticleers aren’t asking as much of McCall in the run game this year, but that’s why McCall’s numbers this season aren’t quite as gaudy as last season.
Matt Miguez: Grayson McCall is the most complete quarterback in the Sun Belt, and arguably, the G5. If the season ended today, I’d have to say McCall. If I had honorable mentions, I would look to Montrell Johnson and Nate Noel at Louisiana and App State respectively.
Zeke Palermo: I don’t subscribe to the ‘best player on the best team’ mentality when it comes to giving out awards, but it is hard to overlook Grayson McCall. His yardage isn’t stupidly high but you can’t get much better than a 15:1 TD:INT ratio and 80% completion percentage.
Defensive Player of the Year
Joe: His team has had a few tough days, but redshirt freshman Javon Solomon of Troy is having a spectacular individual season with a league leading 12 tackles for loss and a very solid 7.5 sacks. The bandit (which is a fancy way of saying ‘pass-rushing linebacker’) was named to the Bednarik Award watch list earlier this month. His 12 TFL total is the third highest in FBS, currently.
Matt Miguez: Javon Solomon has been an animal, but I’m going with D’Marco Jackson from App State. Jackson leads the conference in total tackles (68), 3rd in Tackles for Loss (11.5), and has registered 4 sacks halfway through the year. Jackson has been producing in Boone for years now, and he should be recognized for it.
Zeke Palermo: As much as I hate to pick the same guy Joe did, you can’t overlook 19.5 plays behind the line from Solomon. He’s on pace for nearly 13 sacks this season, the joint-most by a Trojan since 2002.
Special Teams Player of the Year
Joe: I think this award comes down to two kickers: Calum Sutherland of ULM and Chandler Staton of App State. Sutherland is the only player to win SBC Special Teams Player of the Week more than once this season thanks to some late game heroics, including a 53-yarder against Liberty. On the other side, Staton is second in the league in scoring, has yet to miss a single kick, field goal or extra point. If I had to pick today, give it to Staton.
Matt: I’ll also take Staton. 2nd in scoring in the conference and hasn’t missed a FG or PAT since the Louisiana game last December. That’s super impressive. Honorable mentions would be Sutherland at ULM, Jalen Virgil at App St, or Chris Smith at Louisiana
Zeke: Lets give the punters some love, huh? Louisiana’s Rhys Byrns and Georgia Southern’s Anthony Beck II are both averaging north of 45 yards per punt, but Beck II gets the nod if only by a slim margin. Byrns is punting 0.7 yards more per kick, but Beck’s hangtime (and some help from the gunners) is netting him an extra 2.2 per attempt. He also has seen no shortage of usage: he ranks joint-second in punts attempted this season.
Freshman Player of the Year
Joe: I think you have to give this to Javon Solomon again. Because of the extra year granted to players by the NCAA due to COVID-19, Solomon is technically a redshirt freshman. That being said, I hope consideration is also given to running back Montrell Johnson of Louisiana, who rushed for four touchdowns in a game against Ohio earlier this year.
Matt: Montrell Johnson (cue the homer tweets). But seriously, he’s a true freshman that’s taken a huge load in that Louisiana offense. Johnson carries the ball an average of 14 times a game, has 436 yards on the year and five touchdowns. Did I mention he’s also averaging 5 yards a carry? That’s good for the 11th best overall rusher in the league.
Zeke: Solomon is the best defensive player overall, let alone defensive rookie, and no offensive freshman comes close to his elite production.
Newcomer of the Year
Joe: My pick is Jake Bentley, quarterback of South Alabama. Once upon a time, Bentley was a team captain at South Carolina for two seasons. Bentley spent last season at Utah before spending this, his last year of eligibility, with the Jaguars. Bentley has been very consistent this season with 165 completions on 250 attempts, just three interceptions, and seven touchdowns. Currently at 4-2, the Jaguars have their toughest contests still to play, but are already proving preseason doubters wrong thanks largely to Bentley’s play.
Matt: Chase Brice from App St has been impressive this year. He’s the fourth best passing QB in the league, top 15 in scoring, and 4th in total offense. All of that mixed with it being his first year in that App St system and Boone is a place with huge expectations. Kudos to the young man.
Zeke: While it’s hard to say how much of his impact is positive given Arkansas St has only won one game this season, WR Te’Valiance Hunt has been great for the Red Wolves. He and Cameron Rucker are the definitive top options in that almost exculsivly air-based offense with 30 and 32 receptions a piece. Hunt has not seen much usage in the end zone but is fifth in total reception in the SBC and breaks the top-10 for average yards per reception among receivers with over 1.875 catches per game. In seven games he has already surpassed his three-year catch total at TCU.
Coach of the Year
Joe: I think I need to give it to Billy Napier. While the Cajuns started off the year below expectations with a twenty-point loss to Texas, a team they were supposedly closely matched with, they’ve steadily improved to get to a 5-1 record and have only allowed 17.2 points per game along the way. While Jamey Chadwell’s team has looked great, I have to give Napier credit for guiding his team to that record with a schedule that is, in my opinion, significantly tougher than Coastal Carolina’s.
Matt: Billy Napier, no question (again, call me a homer). But what Napier has done with this team this year has been entertaining to say the least. He has finally let Levi Lewis just unload on defenses, you just gave App State their worst loss in 8 years, and you’re all but a lock to be in your 4th consecutive conference title game. Nobody else can say that. The only other coach in the running (realistically) in my opinion is Chadwell, and he is playing the easiest schedule in America. So I’ll say Napier. Dark horse is Kane Wommack at South.
Zeke: Terry Bowden was my preseason pick and I stand by it. ULM was among the worst programs in the FBS last season but all of the sudden they are upsetting Liberty. The Warhawks are 3-3 (1-2 in conference); they won three games from October 2019 to September 2021. The 18.2 points per game is not pretty, but it is winning games. With Texas State, USA, and Arkansas State still on the schedule Bowden has shown he has turned the UConn of yesteryear into a five win team. ULM aren’t elite, but the quick turnaround he has orchestrated is herculean.