In the third full week of the season, the Sun Belt produced some strong performances, but they didn’t all translate to victories.
On the plus side, Coastal Carolina improved to 3-0 with a 12-point win over Buffalo, Southern Miss dominated Northwestern State, and App State-Troy delivered on the entertainment value expected of a College Gameday host.
On the other side, Texas State looked listless against #17 Baylor, Georgia Southern didn’t have enough against UAB, and ULM expectedly dropped a 63-7 loss to #2 Alabama. While they were valiant efforts, Georgia State and South Alabama dropped one-point contests while Old Dominion lost by two to Virginia. Meanwhile, Marshall dropped a head-scratcher in overtime against Bowling Green and Arkansas State lost by two scores to Memphis
Perhaps the most surprising result of the day was Louisiana’s road loss to Rice, ending the Cajuns 15-game winning streak.
Here are the things that jumped out to me.
The West Is Open
Prior to the season, I thought Louisiana was a shoe-in for the West division title. Now, I’m not sure about that.
Even with a 12-point difference, Louisiana was dominated more than what the score line would indicate on Saturday. They allowed Rice to total 449 yards compared to their own total of 175. Rice also held the ball for nearly 42 minutes while the Cajuns only had it for 18 minutes. While Rice turned the ball over three times, they also had 26 first downs compared to just nine by Louisiana.
“Our defense played great, they kept us in the game the whole time. We just can’t leave the defense out there the entire game,” head coach Michael Desormeaux said postgame. This comes a week after Louisiana were shutout in the first half against Eastern Michigan, but ended up winning 49-21.
South Alabama have scored a lot of points in their first three games, averaging 39 points per game. If not for a failed fake field goal, they likely would have beaten UCLA at the Rose Bowl this past Saturday. The backfield combo of Carter Bradley and LaDamian Webb has been effective. The Jags have a shot. Troy plays well when they’re healthy, despite inconsistency. Southern Miss have some winnable conference games.
I know better than to count out the Cajuns, but they are not invincible.
Hang On To The Ball!
Sun Belt teams lost 11 fumbles this week.
Notably, Coastal Carolina lost four of them in their two-score win over Buffalo. No disrespect to Buffalo, but it’s something of a wonder that they weren’t able to take advantage of that many opportunities in a game they led at halftime. Had the Bulls not had four turnovers themselves, CCU might have lost this one.
Marshall also lost two fumbles in their OT loss to Bowling Green. Both times, it was the Florida State transfer Khalan Laborn who committed the drop, both inside the opponent’s five-yard line. It wasn’t the sole reason that Marshall followed one of the program’s greatest performances with a massive disappointment, but it definitely played a big part.
Texas State, South Alabama, Old Dominion, Arkansas State, and Georgia State all also lost a fumble on Saturday.
Keith Gill Is Doing The Right Things In Year Four
As the Sun Belt continues to receive media attention for their results on the field, SBC commissioner Keith Gill is doing and saying the right things off of it. Gill was on site in Boone this week for App State’s victory over Troy to sing the league’s praises on ESPN.
.— Sun Belt (@SunBelt) September 17, 2022
"Great football, great passionate fan bases and going out and winning games against anyone in the nation." ☀️
-Commissioner Keith Gill pic.twitter.com/XRlnA9cZj2
It can be argued that the league wouldn’t receive the praise and attention it’s getting were the environment of App State, as well as the league’s other venues, not on display on national TV on a regular basis. It certainly helps as well that league’s geographic composition lends itself well to growing rivalries, as well as making travel between the league’s campuses relatively easy.
When UDD’s own Eric Henry had a chance to chat with him in San Marcos last week, Gill said “That was important. We want to have more crowds, have a better atmosphere. That’s all great for football and growing the sport for our schools. That was really intentional. You can get people that can travel to away games, obviously you have home crowds that are interested in the teams because they know them. There’s history there. There’s regionality there. We were hoping that would be one of the byproducts of some of these moves.”
Ultimately, the thing that’s ultimately going to get the Sun Belt to where it will actually be able to get a team close to a playoff berth this decade is going to be the on-field product. That being said, it’s still incredibly important to have someone being an advocate for your schools in the public eye. That’s going to help the playoff committee notice, whether they admit it or not. Gill being willing to be as available as he has been the last few weeks gives you reason to think he’ll be able to lean into that when the time comes.