Well, the season finale was exciting and anticlimactic all at the same time. We knew Georgia Southern had won the Sun Belt already. Larry Blakeney had already retired, and his replacement was already chosen. App State had already led a resurgence, and Arkansas State and Texas State were already bowl eligible.
So what made the final week of the season exciting for the few of us willing to deal with our WatchESPN apps? Maybe it was just good football. South Alabama came back against Navy. Troy gave UL a fight, if only for a half. And ULM refused to go quietly, all the way until the final second.
On the day after the UAB football program is put to rest, I look around at the schools I write about. It's no secret that the Sun Belt is considered the least of the FBS conferences. Any one of these programs could be the next UAB. But just because they are small, or underfunded, or young programs doesn't mean they can't have an impact.
I love college football because it does leave an impact. It give kids an opportunity to go to a school they may not have otherwise ever set foot in. And not just football players, but also band members, and cheerleaders, and trainers, and other athletic programs that survive off of their revenue.
It leaves an impact on fans because they are alumni, or locals, or just remember their first time, and now spend their lives chasing that high.
So soon after Thanksgiving, and we need to be reminded again. Be thankful for the team you love, and for the experiences you've shared with them, both good and bad. Whether you pull for Southern or State, support your program. Because buying a t-shirt and showing up the day they shut it down won't do any good.
Now let's crown a champion.
1 Georgia Southern Eagles 9-3 (8-0)
In their first year as an FBS team, the Georgia Southern Eagles are your undisputed Sun Belt champions. Like true entertainers though, they kept it interesting to the end. Now, despite a nine-win season, the Eagles will be sitting at home during bowl season. Life isn't fair sometime, but at least you got one trophy out of the deal. Read the full recap of the championship effort here.
2 Louisiana Ragin Cajuns 8-4 (7-1)
The Cajuns were one uncalled targeting penalty away from another split title. But that's what you get for relying on the Warhawks to do your dirty work. But don't let the lack of a title get you down. Despite a terrible September, UL managed to win seven games in conference play, and more than likely lock up another New Orleans Bowl bid. But as usual, the biggest fight may still be ahead of them, as the Cajuns go through another offseason trying to keep their coach. Read the full game recap here.
3 Appalachian St. Mountaineers 7-5 (6-2)
If you would have told me App State would win seven games this year after the Liberty loss, I would have probably suggested you seek help. But the Mountaineers finished the season on a conference best six-game winning streak. It speaks to the strength of this program that they were able to recover like they did. And it speaks to the strength of the FCS that two former powerhouses could rank in the top three of the conference.
4 Arkansas State Red Wolves 7-5 (5-3)
Well, the Redwolves season didn't quite pan out like many hoped, but it is always good to end on a positive note. And more so when you just landed a bowl slot. Read the full game recap here.
5 South Alabama Jaguars 6-6 (5-3)
It sucks to end the season with two straight losses, but South Alabama should be proud of the fight they gave Navy. I think that, more than anything else, put them over the top when it came to the Sun Belt's final bowl slot. Read the full game recap here.
6 Texas State Bobcats 7-5 (5-3)
I would hate to be a Texas State fan right now. Sure your team won their final two games. That's something UL, South Alabama, and Arkansas State can't say. But running over a late scoring Georgia State team doesn't get many people's attention. What will most likely end up doing the Bobcats in this bowl season is proximity. Unless one of the Texas bowls doesn't have enough teams to fill it (and there are plenty of teams,) I don't see it happening. Of course I have been wrong before. Read the full game recap here.
7 ULM Warhawks 4-8 (3-5)
If I was a ULM fan, I would be happy with how that last game against Georgia Southern ended. The Warhawks had nothing to gain. There was no bowl game on the line, and the season was pretty much in the books. But for 60 minutes, ULM proved they were every bit as good as the conference champs. There was even a little controversy to allow you to believe it was even closer. But by ending with a loss, the Warhawks denied the Ragin' Cajuns a share of the championship. And isn't crushing your rival's dreams the best thing about football?
8 Troy Trojans 3-9 (3-5)
A three win season, and your legendary coach retired. But don't get too upset Trojan fans. Unlike other Alabama football programs, you know you will get a chance to start over next year. Read the full game recap here.
9 New Mexico State Aggies 2-10 (1-7)
10 Idaho Vandals 1-10 (1-7)
Don't hold it against me, but I'm lumping the Children of the WAC together here. It was an abysmal year for both, with Idaho winning the annual clash. I would say that I have faith in each improving next year, but that would be a lie.
11 Georgia State Panthers 1-9 (0-7)
As our only team to go winless in conference, Georgia State is given the honor of being a unanimous choice for last place. I wish I could say something redeeming here, but I have nothing. Read the full game recap here.