Appalachian State Mountaineers
Adam Luckett: BUY - Schedule, schedule, schedule. That is the number one reason you should buy into Scott Satterfield’s program as the Mountaineers avoid both Troy and Arkansas State this year. With the return of QB Taylor Lamb and RB Jalin Moore, App State should have one of the better offensive units in the Sun Belt. However, as long as Scott Satterfield is on the sidelines, you should be a believer in this program. The defense is always solid at Appalachian State and the Mountaineers will always be in the thick of the hunt. This is arguably the best program and job in the Sun Belt.
Aikman Chambers: BUY - I am sure this comes as no surprise to people that I’m buying on the Apps. 2017 is a definite no brainier to buy on ASU, no matter how high because they avoid Troy and Arkansas State and have a high chance of repeating as Sun Belt Champions, under the leadership of senior QB Taylor Lamb. An offense that is going to be just as strong and a defense that should be just as fine leaves ASU in good hands for 2017 and beyond.
AdoptedAggie: BUY - Appalachian State has been good in football since they joined the FBS in 2014 and that trend will continue for the foreseeable future. Scott Satterfield is a great coach and always has a solid team no matter who is on the field. The schedule is definitely favorable for the Mountaineers as they don’t have to play Arkansas State or Troy. The Mountaineers also have Taylor Lamb and Jalin Moore returning to lead a potent offense that could have Appalachian State claiming the G5 New Year’s Six Berth at the end of the season.
Vidal Espinoza: BUY - App State’s running game looks solid with Terrence Upshaw being inserted as a supplement to starter Jalin Moore. The offense is led by senior Taylor Lamb who guided them to a second straight bowl game in 2016. Add in a solid defense who were 9th in the nation last year with 17.8 points allowed per game and this is one of the teams who could finish as fun belt champs, especially given their schedule.
Martin L Ferguson: BUY - Is Doug Gillin related to Karl Benson? The 2017 schedule lays out perfectly for the Mountaineers with their only true test coming at home in the last week of the season against an iffy Ragin’ Cajun squad. Solid coaching and leadership, especially at the QB spot, makes App State hard to beat in ‘17. Key to success for the defense will be finding players to replace Gilchrist and Law at the LB spots.
AL: PUSH - Everything is telling me to sell but I just can’t do it. Blake Anderson is entering his fourth season in Jonesboro and the Red Wolves will be looking for their third straight conference chip. However, Anderson’s name was leaked to the Baylor opening last season and his time in Jonesboro is probably running short. The offense took a big step back last season and should be middle of the pack this year. Having studs like Dee Liner (Alabama transfer) and Ja’Von Rolland-Jones (13 sacks in 2016) along the defensive line should give the Red Wolves the best defense in the Sun Belt but it seems as the talent has taken a negative dip. Using recent history as a guide, the Red Wolves will one again overachieve and they always make good hires whenever Anderson does decide to make the jump to the Power Five.
AC: SELL - As easy as it would be for me to push here I think the smart move is sale while the Arkansas State stock is high. State has been the darlings of the Sun Belt as conference titles just seem to land in Jonesboro no matter how the season may start out. I feel after Blake Anderson leaves in 2017 steps back will be taken so even as I feel Arkansas State stock may rise more in 2017 as far as the future goes my gut tells me to go ahead and sell now.
AA: SELL - There is no way Arkansas State can maintain the success they have been having. If starting out 0-4 last year had you nervous, then Arkansas State’s non-conference schedule for 2017, which includes game against Nebraska, Miami, and SMU, should make Arkansas State fans terrified because, in my opinion, they won’t rebound as well as they did in 2016. Their run of soft Sun Belt schedules is going to end also, and with that, so will their Sun Belt titles. You could hold off one more season to sell if you really wanted to, but you might as well sell now and make it easy for yourself.
VE: PUSH - Stakes will be high but I see the Blake Anderson squad as a second-tier Sun Belt team. The atmosphere is changing in Jonesboro but for the better. Their defense is what will carry the Red Wolves in 2017 but more complete teams will keep Arkansas State at bay. They have future potential, I’m just not buying yet.
MLF: BUY - Blake Anderson saw the handwriting on the wall last year as the offense stumbled out of the gate and now has taken over coaching the QBs and doing the play calling. Joe Cauthen’s defense manhandled opponents last year and seems to have enough talent to do that again. ASU has never been picked as a preseason favorite. EVER. But five rings in six years shows a culture that knows how to win and 19-4 on the road in the conference over the last six years proves that out.
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
AL: PUSH - We’ve seen proven FCS winners (Appalachian State, Georgia Southern) enter this league right away and immediately have success. The blueprint is there for Joe Moglia’s program to do the same, but I’m not ready to go out on the limb for the Chanticleers. Coastal has some QB issues going into their first full FBS season and that’s a concern, but this is a program that has an established winning culture. If the staff can adjust to recruiting FBS talent, the wins will come for CCU.
AC: BUY - I have followed Coastal for years while they were in the FCS and under coach Moglia. I believe the future is bright in Conway for the Chants as an FBS member. CCU’s stock as a newcomer to the FBS is low so this is a great opportunity to buy. This program knows how to win games and I believe they can win one or two conference games in 2017. For the most part though I’m buying in for this stock to rise a few years down the road.
AA: BUY - Coastal Carolina has been a good football program in the FCS, and while they may not be at the level of Appalachian State in their first year in the FBS, they will get there. The Chanticleers are led by a very successful and highly respected coach and have a history of success in football. It may not show in one season of FBS play, but it will. Buy now, hold the stocks, then sell high. You’ll thank yourself in a few years.
VE: PUSH - They’ll get a couple of conference wins this year, but I’m not ready to buy just yet. Coach Joe Moglia has this program poised to be a great FBS team. The Chanticleers will dive into the deep end of Sun Belt play this year as a FBS transitional team and they will not be eligible for bowl play till 2018. Regardless they have great promise and like I said before I’ll buy, just not yet.
MLF: PUSH - All the potential is there in Conway for a bright future, good coach, local support, and nice stadium upgrades. But for now, the harsh reality is that the Chants now begin the brutal reality of playing FBS football almost weekly. The schedule for ‘17 is absolutely brutal with Arkansas State, Troy, Appalachian State, Arkansas and the ‘85 Bears all appearing on it. The future is bright but how far away is true success in the Sun Belt? Someone has to come down for them to go up.
AL: SELL - Things have never been pretty for the program that Erk built when the head coach decides to go away from being all in on the option. We saw the Eagles flame out with Brian Van Gorder and now the same thing seems to be happening with Tyson Summers. Expectations were high, as they always are in Statesboro, and the Eagles flamed out in Summers’ first season finishing 5-7. The pressure is on Summers this year and it seems the fan base has already turned on him. There is talent on the roster and wins are to be had on the schedule, but history tells us that this relationship between Georgia Southern and Summers will not work out.
AC: SELL - What a difference a year makes in Statesboro. Tyson Summers may be on his way out if Southern has another down year in 2017. Things looked really good in Statesboro in 2015 with a 9-4 finish but something happened in 2016 that I don’t believe many Southern fans expected as the Eagles finished with just a 5-7 record and the only noteworthy win came against Troy at season’s end. Southern has playmakers on the roster, but seeing as how a lot of these guys were recruited based around the option offense, and Summers looks to be moving away from it more, it can make things tough for guys to play outside what fits them best. It might just be another tough year for the Eagles.
AA: BUY - Sure, Georgia Southern had a down year in 2016 but is it really that much of a surprise with a new head coach? Schemes and philosophies change, and the personnel slowly shift to fit those new schemes, so what is one down year? Is it even a down year when you finish one game away from bowl eligibility? I don’t think it’s time to panic just yet. New coaches need time to implement their system, and the Eagles did finish off the 2016 season with a win against Troy, so things are certainly pointing in the right direction. Buy now while the stock is low and hope for a nice return!
VE: SELL - Defensive-minded coach Tyson Summers took the option offense of Georgia Southern and said, “whatever” and basically threw it in the back seat of his car before the season started. Their defense which was supposed to be their strong point, faltered. The secondary was green and got torched on the regular, allowing 59% pass completion. Recruiting went well but the Eagles have a lot of holes to fill before they can be stable.
MLF: SELL - The Tyson Summers experiment in Statesboro may be short lived if an overhauled offensive staff can’t put some punch back in the Eagles. The defense is missing six starters from last year and has got to find a way to create more pressure as only registering 11 sacks last year put a very young secondary under the gun. Too many new parts on the roster and on the staff to expect much more than what 2016 looked like. Better days are down the road, but whether or not they’ll be under Summers remains to be seen.
AL: BUY - Brand new stadium. Potentially the league’s best passing QB. A future NFL wide receiver. New blood on the sideline. All things seeming to be pointing in the right direction in Atlanta and I’m jumping on the bandwagon. I like everything I’ve heard from Shawn Elliott in his early tenure as the renovations to Turner Field should finally give this young program a legit college atmosphere for home games. Utah transfer Conner Manning is the most gifted passer in the Sun Belt and WR Penny Hart has pro potential. We could be seeing the beginning of a future conference power.
AC: BUY - Things are bright in the ATL with Georgia State. The Panthers have what I believe to be a top-tier quarterback in the league in Conner Manning. GSU also finally gets there own stadium to provide fans their own sacred ground on Saturdays. Shawn Elliott also added former Wofford defensive coordinator Nate Fuqua, (who’s Terriers D ranked 5th in total D last year in FCS), so the defense will improve with time much like this team overall.
AA: Push - Georgia State has things moving in the right direction. They have a new stadium in the works at Turner Field, some new transfer student-athletes and a new defensive coordinator, all things that point towards a program on the rise. However, the team did only finish 3-9 last year and have a tough non-conference slate for 2017 and 2018. If Georgia State can run the conference after getting through the non-conference schedule, then I will be wrong, but I don’t see that happening. That’s why I think this is a wait-and-see situation in Atlanta.
VE: BUY - Conner Manning is a top shelf quarterback and as the Shawn Elliot era begins in Atlanta things are looking good for the Panthers. They recruited decently and with a new defensive mindset, a renovated Turner Field to call their own and an offense tailored for eating up yards, I’m buying Georgia State’s future with all my allowance.
MLF: PUSH - There are plenty of positives going on in Atlanta with the Panthers but turning that into consistent on-field success has fallen short. Enter new coach Shawn Elliott who hopes that his high intensity attitude and 17 returning starters will show in the win column. They are still starting from absolute zero with this program even though talent at skill positions will get the Panthers a few wins in ‘17.
AL: BUY - In their final season in the FBS, I’m calling for the Vandals to get to another bowl game and to be slowly building a consistent winner under Paul Petrino. The Vandals probably out kicked their coverage a bit by collecting nine wins overall in 2016 and a six win conference mark should be hard to repeat. But Matt Linehan is a very solid G5 QB and Idaho will be competitive once again in 2017. Look for this program to be a consistent power in the FCS as long as Petrino is wearing the headset on the sideline.
AC: PUSH - This was a tough decision on what to do with Idaho. Knowing they are headed down to the FCS after this year was a factor to me in the sell category. On the flip side, also seeing where this program is headed under Paul Petrino influenced my buy chances. Idaho surprised a lot of people in 2016, but moving down to the FCS ranks in 2017 shouldn't hurt the Vandals as I think they will be just fine in the Big Sky conference competing with Eastern Washington & Montana each year. At this point though I feel best just to hold the phone with Idaho.
AA: BUY - Matt Linehan and Aaron Duckworth return for what should be a great senior season as the schedule is very similar to last year’s in which they won nine games. Paul Petrino lost some good senior players, but that shouldn’t hold this team back as they have one more chance to show the Sun Belt-and the rest of the FBS-that they shouldn’t have been kicked out. This team will be very motivated trying to show the Sun Belt what they are losing.
VE: BUY - Whether FBS or FCS I’m going to buy Idaho because they showed more heart and determination than any other Sun Belt team in 2016, in my opinion. The Paul Petrino led Vandals are leaving to the FCS in 2018 and all it’s done is motivate Idaho. Their nine wins in 2016 erased the memory of only six wins in the previous three seasons and their momentous win over Colorado State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl has given Idaho a bit of optimism. The FBS-to-FCS transition sucks for Idaho but they look like they are taking it in stride as they head to greater success in the Big Sky.
MLF: BUY - When things have been as consistently bad as they have at Idaho, for them to win six conference games, nine games overall, and a bowl game, is like a movie script. This will be the last year in the FBS ranks and even though I only see them getting six wins, they should still find a bowl game opportunity and go out with a bang. Idaho, we hardly knew ya.
Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
AL: PUSH - Mark Hudspeth is entering his entering his 7th year at UL-Lafayette and the Cajuns have been to the postseason in five of those seasons. However, we’ve seen a decline the past two years from the Ragin’ Cajuns as they combined to win only nine games after collecting 36 dubs in Hudspeth’s first four years. Now UL-Lafayette must replace a ton of ammo on offense as their leading passer, rusher, and receiver are all gone. The defense should once again be among of the best in the league, but there are some glaring holes on offense. I’m calling a push here because there is some young talent on offense and I still believe Hudspeth is one of the better coaches in this league.
AC: SELL - Louisiana-Lafeyette has hit a road block over the past couple years, as things just are not what they once were in Cajun country. Mark Hudspeth is a good coach and I believe the Cajuns are under good guidance with him but it might take a little longer than some may want. The offense has lost its “spiciness” (no pun intended), as Hudspeth loses all of his top offensive players from 2016 and a good amount of youth is going to have to step up in 2017 for the Cajuns to get back to where they were a couple years ago.
AA: PUSH - Looking at the 2017 schedule for the Cajuns has me reluctant to expect a big turnaround from last year’s 6-7 season, especially after the graduation of a lot of key pieces on offense, not to mention losing their offensive coordinator, Jay Johnson, to the Minnesota Golden Gophers prior to last season. Losing a coach is never easy, but I suspect that with more time, Mark Hudspeth will have the Cajuns back to playing really good football.
VE: PUSH - Mark Hudspeth’s Ragin’ Cajuns are one of those teams in the same boat as many college teams looking to rebuild after a mass exodus of seniors. Most of the offense is gone and the decline in wins over 2015 and 2016 will only get dimmer as young talent floods in to fill their needs for the future. They have a path to success but waiting is the hardest part.
MLF: PUSH - The Cajuns may have found their new home in the middle of the pack of the Sun Belt. After it seemed that Hudspeth would be the next league coach to move on to greener pastures, that plan has hit a snag with the Cajuns only winning 10 of their last 25 games. Massive rebuilding needs to take place at the skill positions but the defense may be the savior in ‘17 if they can fill the LB positions. This year should see a similar number of wins.
AL: SELL - I really like Matt Viator and I believe he’s going to do some very good things for this program in the future. However, this is the hardest job in the Sun Belt and the Warhawks really did overachieve in getting four wins last season. The holes are still there and Viator and his staff did their best to help the situation by signing a bunch of JUCOs in this last class. ULM will be competitive but I’m selling until Viator gets more four-year players in the program and this is at least a five year plan before making a bowl game is a realistic expectation.
AC: SELL - As noted above ULM is hands down the toughest job in the Sun Belt Conference. This team may match its win total from a year ago, but I’m not so sure they will as ULM has a tough schedule in 2017 with Florida State, Auburn and Southern Miss just to name a few. Give me a couple years and I may rethink my decision.
AA: SELL - ULM played pretty well for a team that went 4-8, almost beating a nine win Idaho team and Georgia Southern on the road. However, looking at their roster and the schedule they have, both in conference and non-conference, it looks like the Warhawks are in for another long year. Hold on tight folks, this season could be ugly.
VE: Sell - They improved from a dismal 2-11 in 2015 to 4-8 in 2016. But don’t get your hopes up just yet. Matt Viator is a good coach but there are too many voids and question marks and with every team in the Sun Belt generally improving it’s gonna be a bumpy road ahead for the Warhawks.
MLF: SELL - Monroe is a place that has chewed up many decent football coaches due to lack of investment and resources. Viator found a way to squeeze four wins out of the program last year. This year’s mark will be about equal or maybe less with one of the toughest schedules in the Belt. Only eight starters are gone from last year’s team but hopefully the administration will give the staff time to recruit and an honest chance to see what they can do.
AL: SELL - Offensively, Doug Martin finally had the offensive weapons he needed to win in the Sun Belt last fall. Then all-conference RB Larry Rose III gets injured and the Aggies were just good, not great, on offense to go with the worst defense in the conference. It’s been that kind of tenure for Martin and I do not see things getting much better in Las Cruces. Unlike Idaho, NMSU is going to try their hand at being an FBS Independent and that can be a lonely road. I’m staying away from the Aggies even with a decent amount of firepower on offense again in 2017.
AC: SELL - New Mexico State is the other team leaving the Sun Belt after 2017 as they will enter the black hole as an FBS Independent. That within itself is enough for me personally to sell on the Aggies because of the struggles that comes with a move like that. Larry Rose is a great talent but it’s just not enough for me to change on this decision.
AA: BUY - No, I’m not crazy, just optimistic. NMSU returns Tyler Rodgers and Larry Rose III, as well as a bevy of uniquely named offensive lineman (Sage Doxtater, Brian Trujillo, and Dezmand Candelaire to name a few) with experience from last year. Doug Martin also brought in a bunch of JUCOs to play on the defensive side of the ball which should help the players already on the team who have been in Frank Spaziani’s system for a year. Add in the fact that NMSU has focused on scheduling G5 opponents with whom they can actually compete against to their future independent schedule, and the Aggies could be on the brink of some improved play (after all, topping a three win threshold shouldn’t be that hard).
VE: SELL - The New Mexico State Larry Roses kind of tell the tale. It’s not that they are one-dimensional but without their big threat running back (which we saw last year) the Aggies are just, there. A move to FBS Independent status will bring instability to this program and even though I originally gave them a push, I’m going to have to sell.
MLF: SELL - If only Larry Rose III could carry the ball 45 times a game AND play defense. Once again the game plan will be for 11 guys to follow Rose all over the field and then choose whether you want to move the ball running or passing because the Aggie defense was equally bad at stopping both (#118 vs the rush / #116 vs the pass.) It will be hard for the Aggies to find more than the three wins they got last year as they limp out of the Sun Belt and into independent oblivion.
AL: PUSH - USA has really been an enigma under Joey Jones and I’m calling for 2017 to be much of the same. The Jags always seem to beat someone they shouldn’t but then turn around and lose winnable games time after time. After reaching the Arizona Bowl last season, legitimately anything is possible for this volatile program. I really like Xavier Johnson at tailback and quarterback Dallas Rivers has potential. But with this program, I’m too hesitant to predict whether they will succeed or fail so I’m playing it safe.
AC: PUSH - Is there a more Jekyll and Hyde team than the South Alabama Jaguars? If you are answering this question then the correct answer is “NO”. Each year I cant figure this team out. Take 2016 for instance, USA beat Mississippi State and San Diego State, but then lost to Louisiana-Lafayette and ULM. They also struggled to beat FCS Nichols, who took the Jags to OT. There is just way, way too much unpredictability here so I will hold off on USA.
AA: SELL - Let’s face it, the Jaguars got lucky last year. Mississippi State missed a field goal 28 yards from the goal post to give USA the biggest win in their program history. Big deal. USA went on to get crushed by Georgia Southern, lose to Louisiana-Lafayette and needed overtime to beat an FCS team. What does that show? Inconsistency. And in my book, inconsistency means that a team is not good, but lucky. You see, Mississippi State was playing their first game without Dak Prescott, against a Sun Belt team they figured they could beat with their eyes closed. That kind of arrogance is a huge disadvantage, especially in the first week of the season when teams are still working out their schemes. USA will lose that luck and have a down year in 2017.
VE: PUSH - The Jags haven’t quite carved out an identity just yet. Not to say they are unstable but just a program looking to find its footing. How they do in the future will be in the hands of this year’s recruiting class. Quarterback Dallas Rivers is a talent who has potential to lead USA to wins. But with 2016 wins against .500 plus teams and losses to sub .500 teams, I don’t know what to think.
MLF: PUSH - Can there be any more of a hair-pulling fan than those of the Jags? This year looks to be less dramatic with the Jags solidly in the middle of the Belt with probably enough wins to go bowling again. It is hard to imagine them seeing any gains in offensive production without stud TE Gerald Everett on the field along with the loss of most of the receiving corps due to graduation. South Alabama remains consistent like oatmeal.
AL: PUSH - It was a rough first season for Everett Withers as the Texas State program went through some huge changes in his first season. Withers had to run some bad apples off of the team and that left Texas State with the least talented roster in the Sun Belt. With the conference’s number one recruiting class and Mississippi State grad transfer QB Damian Williams, good things are on the horizon in San Marcos. However, that roster is still very green and Texas State will still have some lumps to work through the next few seasons. In a couple more years I’ll probably buy, but I need to see Withers win some games at the FBS level.
AC: BUY - Back to traditional stock rules here, buy low, sell high. I have been a fan of the Everett Withers hire since the start and it’s gonna pay dividends within the next year or two in San Marcos. Withers brought in the Sun Belt’s top class and that equals young talent that he can groom. The Bobcats are for sure on the right track and I feel Withers is going to take this team to new heights over the course of the next few years.
AA: SELL - I can’t stress the “SELL” option enough. Texas State was abysmal in 2016. I mean, so bad that Simon Cowell watched their games last year just so he could practice saying his famous “that was absolutely dreadful” line after every play. I watched the Bobcats play against the Vandals last year and it was painful. High recruits and respected transfers help the team, sure, but more often than not, new coaches and new players lead to busted coverages, big plays and lots of losses. This team is going to be scraping the bottom of the FBS ranks for the next few years at least, so it might be best just to check on them every so often, otherwise you are just wasting your time.
VE: BUY - 2016 was unforgettable in a bad way. Like bottom team in the FBS bad. With Everett Withers at the helm he inherited a short recruitment period. Add undersized trenches and the inability to find momentum throughout the season and it led to a 2-10 record. But hold on! The ‘Cats got a hold of the top recruiting class in the Sun Belt and Mississippi State transfer Damian Williams will take over under center. Texas State was the youngest team in the nation last year but with returning players and a revamped run-first scheme in the works Texas State isn’t where they want to be right now but they will be.
MLF: PUSH - Head coach Everett Withers tried to clean house last year to put his own thumbprint on the program but the only problem was that most of the house was filthy. So year one of his tenure was anything but pretty with the Bobcats easily earning the title of toughest team to watch in the Sun Belt. The top recruiting class might help in two years and having former Mississippi State QB Williams under center will be a help but rarely do the mix of old and new lead to immediate results.
AL: BUY - I’m all aboard the Neal Brown train and the Trojans need to strike now. Multiple Power 5 programs will be sniffing around Troy this offseason if Brown’s squad can duplicate the success they had in 2016. Brandon Silvers is a four year starter at QB and Jordan Chunn could finish the season as Troy’s all-time leading rusher. All the receivers are back and this will be the best offense in the Sun Belt. The defense is the fastest in the conference and should once again produce a lot of negative plays. The time is now for Troy to win a conference title. However, if Brown leaves this offseason, it may be time to sell fast.
AC: BUY - 2017 is the year for Neal Brown’s Troy Trojans and it looks promising. Troy does not play Appalachian State so Arkansas State is the only thing that stands between them and a Sun Belt title. Brandon Silvers and Jordan Chunn are going to compete for Sun Belt offensive player of the year, under what looks to be the best offense in the league at this point. Troy stock is high now as we speak, but after 2017 I believe it will be at a new high so buy in now.
AA: BUY - Troy enjoyed a successful season in 2016 and that success should continue into 2017. As Adam noted, Brandon Silvers and Jordan Chunn are back for 2017 and should lead a powerful offense that should help the Troy Trojans compete for the G5 New Year’s 6 berth (if they can beat Boise State and Arkansas State).
VE: BUY - One of the Sun Belt powerhouses, Neal Brown’s Trojans are stacked. The Brandon Silvers/Jordan Chunn show will fireman’s carry Troy into 2017. A fast and stingy defense which is only rivaled by Appalachian State in the Sun Belt, gives them a chance to be Sun Belt favorites this year and next year and the next. The future is bright in Troy and they are poised for more success.
MLF: BUY - I've always said that it is good for the Sun Belt for Troy to be good because they seem to be such a natural foil to so many of their conference mates. Last year the Trojans started fast and folded under the lights as injuries and lack of depth caught up with them. Neal Brown appears to be the real deal as a head coach and the return of Silvers at QB and Chunn in the Trojan backfield should give them a fast start offensively. They need to find help at the linebacker spot on defense but all things point to them playing for a conference championship when they visit Arkansas State on December 2nd.