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Three Things We Learned From The Sun Belt - Week 9

CCU stay atop the East and South Alabama are going bowling

Coastal Carolina v Marshall Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The Sun Belt now has three teams that are bowl eligible with four more up to five wins. With the league continuing to put out entertaining matchups in the weeknight slots, the buildup to the title game is living up to the hype.

Southern Miss beat Louisiana for the tenth straight time on a Thursday night in Hattiesburg. On Saturday, Georgia State gave Old Dominion more than they could handle, App State ran away against FCS Robert Morris, South Alabama had no issues against Arkansas State, and Coastal Carolina shut down Marshall’s primary weapons in win.

With so many teams on the edge of postseason competition, here’s what sticks out in terms of storylines and insights gained.

A Big Day For Coastal’s Defense

Coastal Carolina’s offense has been the headliner for the Chanticleers’ program the last few seasons, with good reason. It’s not often the same story with the defense. In fact, the Chants’ defense is close to the bottom of the league in scoring defense and total defense. However, the Chants’ defense and special teams had their day when they beat Marshall over the weekend.

Linebacker Shane Bruce earned Sun Belt defensive player of the week honors after picking up 11 tackles (0.5 TFLs), a fumble recovery and a QB hurry against the Herd while they held Marshall to just 87 yards rushing, their lowest total of the season. Marshall was averaging more than 200 rush yards per game prior to last week.

Punter Evan Crenshaw punted the ball eight times for 339 yards, which included a career-long 50-yard punt in the win as well, earning him an SBC special teams player of the week nod.

This week’s Thursday night matchup between CCU (7-1) and Appalachian State (5-3) in Conway is sold out.

South Alabama Are Back To Bowling

Kane Wommack’s South Alabama Jaguars are 6-2 after an easy win against Arkansas State, making them bowl eligible for the first time since 2016. That being said, it seems as if they’re more focused on their Chance close the gap on division leaders Troy more than that achievement.

“It feels great. We are stepping in the right direction, but there’s a lot more we need to do so we’re really focused on the next game,” tight end DJ Thomas-Jones told media this week.

Safety Yam Banks added “We’re happy about being bowl eligible, but we are still taking it game by game and focusing on what’s in front of us.”

Southern Miss Are Well On Their Way

Nobody would say that Southern Miss are a perfect team. That being said, it’s evident that Will Hall’s plan is coming together.

They’ve won seven of their last ten games. Freshman quarterback Zach Wilcke is making huge strides. They’re one win away from being bowl eligible for the first time since 2019.

“We’re getting better,” Hall said Tuesday. “You know, the big thing we’re trying to look for is constant improvement, constant effort and intensity with recruiting and continuing to make this roster so much better...Also, we’re so young that we should be consistently getting better and you’re seeing that. We’re not a finished product. We’re not doing things well in so many ways, but we are finding ways to win and I’m really proud of our kids.”

It’s a long shot, but they’re not out of the Sun Belt West conversation either. They’ve got games against very beatable opponents in Georgia State and UL-Monroe left, plus tougher contests against Coastal Carolina and South Alabama. If they do end up finishing 7-5 prior to a bowl game, it would be a testament to how this program has grown since their nightmare 2020.