Five Predictions For The Sun Belt Conference In 2016

Marcus Cox leads a powerful Appalachian State offense. How are the Mountaineers predicted to do in 2016? (Michael Chang/Getty Images North America)
Marcus Cox leads a powerful Appalachian State offense. How are the Mountaineers predicted to do in 2016? (Michael Chang/Getty Images North America)

Five Predictions For The Sun Belt Conference In 2016

The 2016 College Football season is right around the corner and that means prediction time. Below are five predictions for the Sun Belt Conference for the 2016 season. Some predictions will be right, some predictions will be wrong, and some will be spectacularly awful by the end of the season.

There are no changes to the teams in 2016 as all eleven teams will be the same from 2015. Those 11 teams are Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Idaho, Louisiana Lafayette, Louisiana Monroe, New Mexico State, South Alabama, Texas State, and Troy.

Here are five predictions for the Sun Belt Conference in 2016:

1. Georgia Southern’s Matt Breida will lead the Sun Belt in rushing – This is going out on a bit of a limb as there are some very good running backs in the Sun Belt. Breida was the #2 rusher in the SBC last year (#10 in the FBS) with 1,608 yards. He still has to contend with the Larry Rose III of New Mexico State who was top rusher in the SBC as well as #8 in the FBS with 1,651 yards. Outside of Breida and Rose, Marcus Cox of Appalachian State (1,423 yards) and Elijah McGuire of Louisiana Lafayette (1,058 yards) are capable of leading the conference in rushing. Breida and Georgia Southern are switching coaches, but the offensive scheme is staying the same with the triple option. This will be a fun race to watch as to who will end up with the most rushing yards in the Sun Belt for 2016.

2. Arkansas State or Appalachian State will win the Conference – Alright, this is not going out on a limb at all. When looking at this conference, it is hard to envision that one of these teams will not capture the crown. Arkansas State loses the duo of quarterback Fredi Knighten and running back Michael Gordon but Pittsburgh graduate transfer Chad Voytik comes in to give the Red Wolves a very good replacement. Overall, Arkansas State has 13 starters back with six on offense and seven on defense.

For Appalachian State, they went 11-2 last year and return 15 total starters with 6 on offense and 9 on defense. They have Cox at running back returning (see above) as well as quarterback Tyler Lamb, who threw for 2,387 yards with 31 touchdowns against 9 interceptions. The defense gave up only 19.1 points and 314 yards per contest in 2015 and may approach those numbers again this year.

There is also the convenient scheduling quirk that Arkansas State and Appalachian State do not face each other in 2016. The other logical Sun Belt contender is Georgia Southern, but they have to face both Arkansas State (away) and App State (home).

3. Texas State will not win more than 3 games in 2016 –  The Bobcats look to have a rough 2016 season ahead of them. They have a new head coach in Everett Withers after five seasons of Dennis Franchione (2011 through 2015). Franchione led the Bobcats to a 26-34 record as they went from the FCS in 2011 to full time FBS members. It was a respectable job done by him, but both sides of the ball regressed in 2015 and he resigned after the season. For 2016, Texas State has 10 total starters returning with four on offense (26.9 points and 414 yards per game) and six on defense (39.2 points and 522 yards per game allowed). Their non-conference schedule has what appears to be just one winnable game against FCS Incarnate Word while also facing Ohio (away), Arkansas (away), and Houston. They do face fellow SBC dwellers Louisiana Monroe, New Mexico State, and Georgia State, but all three of those games are on the road.

4. New Mexico State’s bowl drought will extend to 56 years – This seems like a no-brainer, but at least one person thinks otherwise. The Aggies do have some talent like the aforementioned Larry Rose and also add in the very talented Tyler Matthews (was previously at TCU and Southern Miss). The defense will be coached by former Boston College Head Coach Frank Spaziani, but he has a lot of work to do. The 2015 defense gave up 45 points and 522 yards per game with 8 starters back. Now seven return in 2016 and it is not always a good thing to have that many back from a defense that poor. Yes, Spaziani will make strides, but to get a group like this to be competitive enough off the 2015 season is asking a lot.

New Mexico State also has a tough schedule in 2016 to reach a bowl game. They face UTEP (away), New Mexico, Kentucky (away), and Texas A&M (away). In conference, the Aggies will face Louisiana Lafayette, Georgia Southern, Arkansas State (away) and Appalachian State. Their winnable games are against Idaho, Texas State, and perhaps South Alabama. It is difficult to foresee both sides of the ball improving enough to get to 6 wins in 2016, especially on defense.

5. Idaho will make a bowl game – This is more of a sentimental/hope it happens prediction. Idaho is slated to leave the FBS after the 2017 season and join the Big Sky Conference of the FCS in 2018. That leaves Idaho two last chances to make their third bowl game in school history after playing in the Humanitarian Bowl twice in 1998 and 2009 (won both games). There are legitimate reasons to think Idaho can make a bowl game starting with the offense. Under Paul Petrino, Idaho has improved their points and yardage output per game each year with 2015 at 30.3 points and 428 yards per game. Quarterback Matt Linehan (2,972 yards on 63.1% completions with 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions) will have three of his top four receivers back and four of the offensive linemen return as well. The offense will continue to move along.

The real issue is on defense for Idaho as their best season performance under Petrino was in 2014 when they surrendered 37.3 points and 463 yards per game. Those numbers only give opposing offenses more confidence. There are six starters back from 2015, but that is not always a good thing when they perform as poorly as they did last year. They are under the second year of Defensive Coordinator Mike Breske, which may explain some of the drop from 2014.

Idaho does have a solid chance to reach the six win plateau. The open with Montana State, Washington (away), Washington State (away), and UNLV (away). Their conference foes consist of winnable games versus Louisiana Monroe (away), New Mexico State, Texas State, (away) South Alabama, and Georgia State. They also face Troy, App State (away), and Louisiana Lafayette (away) in games that appear to be likely losses, but an upset could happen (that is why they play the games, right?). If Idaho can beat Montana State and UNLV out of conference, they should have a good chance at reaching 6-6 with their conference schedule.

The Prediction Schedule

With the Sun Belt Predictions above, there are now predictions for two conferences in the books. Below are the predictions completed and what is next.

July 17 – FBS Independents

July 17 – Sun Belt

July 23 – C-USA

July 24 – MAC

July 30 – American Athletic

July 31 – Mountain West

August 7 – Big 12

August 13 – Atlantic Coast

August 14 – Pac-12

August 20 – Big Ten

August 27 – SEC

Five Predictions For the FBS Independents In 2016

Army QB Chris Carter. Navy has defeated Army 14 straight years, but will 2016 be the year Army ends that streak? (Elsa/Getty Images North America)
Army QB Chris Carter. Navy has defeated Army 14 straight years, but will 2016 be the year Army ends that streak? (Elsa/Getty Images North America)

Five Predictions For the FBS Independents In 2016

The 2016 College Football season is right around the corner and that means it is time for predictions. Below, five predictions will be made for the FBS Independents for the 2016 season. Some predictions will be right, some predictions will be wrong, and some will be spectacularly awful by the end of the season.

The FBS Independents have a new team joining the fray as Army, BYU, and Notre Dame welcome Massachusetts. UMass was part of the MAC, but has not find a suitable landing spot yet.

Here are the five predictions for the FBS Independents in 2016:

1. Army will beat Navy in 2016 – This would be huge for Army as Navy has won 14 straight in one college football’s greatest rivalries. Army has lost by 7 points or less in four of the last five years and now return 16 starters. Navy returns just 8 starters with only one of those on offense while also losing the incredible Keenan Reynolds. A lot of factors point in Army’s favor to end the 14 year losing streak.

2. Army will reach 6 wins in 2016 – The Black Knights have not been to a bowl game since 2010 when they beat SMU 16-14 in the Armed Forces Bowl. This year they have winnable games against UTEP, Buffalo, Lafayette, North Texas, Wake Forest, and Morgan State. They also face Temple, Rice, Duke, Air Force, Notre Dame, and Navy. They could conceivably beat Rice or Navy, but that is a daunting task to defeat more than one of those (preferably Navy as seen above). Still, there is plenty to like about this team returning 16 starters and having an easy schedule to reach 6 wins.

3. UMass will not top 3 wins in 2016 – Last year the Minutemen went 3-9 with 19 starters back. While the offense was solid again, the defense improved only marginally and now only five starters return to that unit. In addition, the schedule looks tough for UMass as they face three SEC squads in Florida, Mississippi State, and South Carolina. They have winnable games against Old Dominion and Wagner plus they face Tulane and FIU. They will need to win all four of those games to prove this one wrong.

4. BYU will pull at least 3 upsets in the regular season – This prediction is based solely on the killer schedule the Cougars are facing: Arizona (neutral), at Utah, UCLA, West Virginia (neutral), Toledo, at Michigan St, Mississippi State, at Boise State, at Cincinnati, Southern Utah, Massachusetts, and Utah State. Of the 12 teams on their schedule, only Massachusetts did not play in the postseason as FCS Southern Utah played in the FCS Playoffs (lost to Sam Houston State in the first round). BYU does have the Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams combination in the backfield as well as 8 starters back on defense. It is hard to think that BYU will not be able to win at least three games in which they are not favored.

5. Notre Dame will lose at least 3 regular season games – The Irish had an excellent 2015 season going 10-3 despite the early season loss of Malik Zaire. DeShone Kizer did well in his absence as both players return. The real problem is the amount of talent they lost on the line and at receiver. Replacing Will Fuller will not be easy though having Torii Hunter and Corey Robinson waiting will certainly help somewhat. The defense returns 5 starters but not the talented Jaylon Smith and also miss two starters at linebacker. The Irish have to face Texas (away) Michigan State (home), Stanford (home), Miami (FL), Virginia Tech (home), and USC (away). Three losses could be conceivable though there is plenty of talent on the Notre Dame roster.

Check back soon for five predictions for the Sun Belt Conference in 2016.

The Prediction Schedule

Below are the predictions completed and which conference is next.

July 17 – FBS Independents

July 17 – Sun Belt

July 23 – C-USA

July 24 – MAC

July 30 – American Athletic

July 31 – Mountain West

August 7 – Big 12

August 13 – Atlantic Coast

August 14 – Pac-12

August 20 – Big Ten

August 27 – SEC