Success is sometimes just a matter of getting a chance.
And the Sun Belt Conference has finally been getting theirs.
The conference with the best success rate (read: winning percentage) over the last two seasons does not reside in the Power 5, but with the Sun Belt at 8-3. The two-year record also includes….
- 4-1 postseason this past year
- 8 wins, tied with Conference USA for the most of any Group of 5 conference
- 6 different teams winning bowls
- The last team to beat self-proclaimed 2017 national champion UCF—Arkansas State by 18 points in the 2016 AutoNation Cure Bowl
It would be easy to draw a line and cherry-pick which years and which stats to consider showing that the Sun Belt Conference is trending upwards. However, the last two years has yielded a larger sample size to compare.
The five and six bowl games, respectively, allow college football fans to take in the entire top half of the conference, and not just the top couple teams. Prior to 2016, the Sun Belt only sent two, three and rarely four teams to bowl games.
The NCAA recently capped the number of teams per conference going to a bowl—limiting the Sun Belt with five bids. Considering the drop from 12 teams to 10 for the upcoming season, the number seems fair.
Still, the commish sees the past two years as validation of the Sun Belt’s momentum.
“It proved what we’ve been saying all along,” stated Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson on the conference’s website. “The overall credibility of the Sun Belt is on the rise, and our members and fans that have been expecting to see positive results out of the league are now seeing that.”
The climb is gradual
So, what do those additional eyeballs get you?
Ideally, it would mean better recruits. According to 24/7 Sports, the Sun Belt is also trending upwards when it comes to their individual recruiting rankings.
The average Sun Belt team has a recruiting ranking of about 104.7. This is up from 108.2 the previous year and is the highest it has been in years.
The hope is those additional eyeballs also get you quality coaching staffs. Coaching turnover at G5 conferences can derail any success immediately.
However, based on recent hires (I loved the hirings of Billy Napier at UL Lafayette and Steve Campbell at South Alabama) and some consistency with program-elevators such as Blake Anderson at Arkansas State, Scott Satterfield at Appalachian State and Neal Brown at Troy, player development in the Sun Belt has a chance to flourish in the coming years.
And those developed players in the Sun Belt are only getting more visible.
With their recent TV contract with ESPN, a larger number of Sun Belt games will be readily accessible to fans, as well as potential future recruits.
The inaugural Sun Belt Championship Game on Saturday, December 1 on national TV will only heighten exposure as well. Just another chance to show the conference’s rising success.
Because sometimes, all a conference needs is a chance.