Preseason Power Rankings: Sun Belt
Please note that power rankings are meant to rank teams based on current team strength on a neutral field. It is not necessarily a projection of where I think teams will finish or who has a better resume. It is forward thinking but does not factor in strength of schedule, schedule breakdown, etc.
ICYMI Other Conference Preseason Power Rankings:
2022 Sun Belt Preseason Power Rankings
- Appalachian State: After a somewhat disappointing 2020 season, Appalachian State got their revenge on Coastal Carolina in 2021 beating them and winning the Eastern division, before losing to Louisiana in the conference championship game and dropping their bowl game. They finished 2nd in the conference at +123 ypg in Sun Belt play. They have a lot coming back on offense, with 4 offensive linemen returning and 2 RB (Noel & Peoples) that combined for over 2,000 rushing yards in 2021 – giving them the #1 ranked OL and RB units in the conference according to Phil Steele. They also return starting QB Chase Brice, who started his career backing up Trevor Lawrence at Clemson and then made a stop at Duke before eventually settling down in Boone, NC. Brice was solid last year throwing for 3,337 yards and 27 TD. The offense figures to be a little ahead of the defense, as they only return 5 starters on defense but do have 6 of their top 10 tacklers back this year. With the way the offense should be able to run the ball, they should be able to take some pressure off that defense by chewing clock and putting long drives together. Appalachian State does have a tough schedule with North Carolina & Texas A&M in the non-cons and then playing a Sun Belt East schedule (much tougher than the West), but they are a very strong program and have earned the right to be #1 right now with what they have returning.
- Marshall: This will be Marshall’s 2nd season under new HC Huff and their first season in the Sun Belt as they come over from Conference USA. They return 11 starters, losing QB Wells, 4 OL, and 2 of their top 3 receivers. But they do bring in a transfer QB Colombi from Texas Tech and return RB Ali who was their best players last season rushing for 1,401 yards and scoring 23 TD. They have 6 starters back on defense and added 6 more transfers to what should be a solid unit. They play in the tougher Western division but should be near the top at season’s end
- Louisiana: The Cajuns have won the Sun Belt East the last 4 years and last year they broke through and won the entire conference. HC Billy Napier left for Florida after the conference championship game and new HC Michael Desormeaux coached his first game in the Bowl Game where they beat Marshall (who they now find themselves in the same conference as thanks to realignment). I like Louisiana going with an internal promotion. The 36-year-old Desormeaux knows the program and the state of Louisiana and inherits a strong program that he should be able to hold steady. This year might be a little rocky for him, however. Last year they were +15 in TO which usually points to some lucky breaks and some negative regression. They also bring back only 12 returning starters and lose 4 of their OL starters and star QB Levi Lewis. They return a good amount of skill players on offense, including RB Smith who averages 6.5 yards per touch and has 15 career TD but the loses of Lewis and Offensive Linemen could be huge. They return only 5 starters on defense and lose their top 3 tacklers. Playing in the East, they have a pretty easy schedule, and still are the best bet to represent the East in the Sun Belt Championship game, but with these rankings being power rankings I’m going to put them below a few West teams because of everything they lost this offseason. It’s still a strong program, but overall level of play may dip a little bit in 2022.
- Coastal Carolina: The good news for the Chanticleers is that they bring back 2-time Sun Belt Player of the Year in QB Grayson McCall. He’s one of the best G5 QB’s in the country. The bad news is that they lose just about everyone else. While that may be a bit of an exaggeration, they do lose a ton. On offense they lose a combined 161 receptions and 2,645 yards by losing their NFL TE and top 2 WR in addition to losing their 1K RB and 3 Offensive Linemen. On defense they return only 3 starters and lose their top 5 tacklers. Coastal Carolina has had a great run and HC Jamie Chadwell has done a great job. His offensive system is one of the best in the Nation right now. With him and McCall they always have a chance but they have a ton of guys to replace. McCall did miss some time last year and keeping him healthy will be critical to their success this year.
- Georgia State: Georgia State started slow last season, but finished the regular season on a 7-1 run that included an upset win over Coastal Carolina (who was missing QB McCall) and then a 51-20 blowout bowl game win vs Ball State. The season turned around when they made the switch to QB Grainger who is one of 15 starters returning this year. This is a very experienced team that also includes 10 Covid Super Seniors taking advantage of their free year of eligibility. In addition to Grainger, the offense brings back 4 OL starters and the backfield duo of Gregg & Williams who combined for over 1800 yards & 18 TD last year. The defense returns 9 of its 11 top tacklers from last year as well. This is a very experienced team that finished the 2021 season with a lot of momentum and could be a lot to handle this season.
- Old Dominion: I have a lengthy writeup on ODU and an Over 4.5 Wins bet on them. Check the writeup out here.
- Southern Mississippi: This is probably a little higher than most other people have Southern Miss but I like them as a potential sleeper team in 2022. They had a brutal season last year and after losing 3 QB’s they had to finish the season playing a couple RB’s at QB. But this year they have their top 2 QBs back and I like the potential of the local freshmen Ty Keyes at QB. They return 16 starters including proven playmakers in RB Frank Gore Jr (feel old?) & WR Brownlee. The defense returns their 10 top tacklers from a unit last year that only gave up 23 TD in their 11 games last year vs opponents that weren’t Alabama. That’s impressive considering the struggles they had offensively and the bad position they would often put the defense in. This will be the first year in the Sun Belt conference coming over from Conference USA and they we’re lucky to get put in the weaker division. They come in at #5 in the nation in Bill Connelly’s returning production rankings. HC Will Hall is a run through a wall for him type coach and I think he will have the team playing with enthusiasm. I think they will be much more competitive this season and have a shot at bowl eligibility.
- Troy: Troy stared the 2021 season 5-4, but dropped their last 3 games to miss out on a bowl game. After the season they let HC Chip Lindsey go. This year they bring back 18 starters and are #10 overall in Bill Connelly’s returning production rankings at 80%. The offense returns QB Gunnar Watson, their top RB Vidal, top WR Johnson and 4 Offensive Line starters. With all this coming back I thought about moving Troy up in the rankings, but since these guys only averaged 19.9 points/game in FBS play last year I decided not to. It’s great to have experience, but this unit will have to make strides to move up the rankings and with a new coach/system that may be tough. Defensively Troy will be tough again this year. They return 7 of 8 tacklers from a defense that was solid last year and come into this season with Phil Steele’s #1 ranked DL unit & #2 ranked LB unit in the conference.
- South Alabama: South Alabama went 5-7 last year in Kane Womack’s first season as the Jaguars head coach, but that record is a little misleading. They finished +30 in ypg in Sun Belt games (4th best in the conference) and lost 4 close games… with two being OT games. If one or two plays went differently, they easily could have been 7-5 and playing in a bowl game. They return 16 starters this year, but lose starting QB Jake Bentley and stud WR Jalen Tolbert. OC Major Applewhite will have to work with a transfer QB again this year as Carter Bradley comes in from Toledo after losing his job to Dequan Finn. They also still have Desmond Trotter in the QB room who has started some games for them. On defense they bring 8 starters back and look pretty solid on paper. This is a team that hopes to take the next step in Womack’s second season and get to a bowl game.
- Texas State: It’s make or break time for HC Joe Spatival in his 4th season at Texas State. The University brought in a new Athletic Director in September and he has been on the record saying they would be making football a priority and investing more money in the program. Texas State is a team that has gone transfer-heavy to try to improve the roster. They brought in 23 transfers in 2021 and this year they bring in another 24 transfers to go along with 14 returning starters. 9 of those returning starters are on the offensive side of the ball. They bring back the RB duo of Hill & Jeter who combined for over 1,000 rushing yards in 2021. At QB they bring in a transfer from division-rival Arkansas State, Layne Hatcher, who has thrown for over 2,000 yards and 19 TD in 3 straight seasons. I think he is a nice get for Texas State. He is a proven Sun Belt QB who knows the league. The offense may be solid, but the defense needs to improve. They struggled last season and this lose 5 of their top 7 tacklers from 2021 and return only 5 starters. Spatival probably needs to reach a bowl to save his job. The defense will need to improve to get them there.
- James Madison: JMU has been an FCS power for several years that will now make the transition to FBS football. Per NCAA rules they will be ineligible to play in a bowl this year. On paper, this doesn’t look like the strongest team JMU has had in recent years. They return only 11 starters so the offense will look much different. They lose one of the better players in school history in QB Cole Johnson and will replace him (most likely) with Colorado State transfer Todd Centeio who threw for over 3,000 yards for the Rams in 2021. The Dukes have a history of playing great defense, allowing an average of only 267 ypg in the last 5 years. They return 6 of their 11 tacklers & 17 of their top 24 tacklers. Obviously they will face a step up in competition though moving from the CAA to the Sun Belt conference. It’s hard to predict exactly how they will look in their first season, but I would predict a sub .500 season for the Dukes.
- Georgia Southern: After a disappointing 3-9 record in 2021, Georgia Southern made a change and hired former USC HC Clay Helton to run the show. Under the previous coach the Eagles and run the option and now will be transitioning to a spread offense. This transition takes time as the roster construction and coaching schemes are entirely different. Even in this transfer portal era it should take at least a couple years to overhaul the roster to get the right personnel for such a dramatic shift in coaching philosophy. This team returns 13 starters and brought in Buffalo transfer QB Kyle Vantreese. On defense they return only 5 starters. I think this will be a tough season for Helton as he needs more time to overhaul his roster.
- Arkansas State: 2021 was a long season for Butch Jones in his first year as the Red Wolves head coach. They limped to a 2-10 season. The defense was brutal, giving up 21 TD of 40+ yards and allowing 619 yards per game in their first 6 games (to their credit they did improve to 405 ypg in their L5). This year they bring back only 10 returning starters – 5 on each side of the ball. On offense it will be former FSU QB James Blackmon’s show now that the other QB Layne Hatcher has transferred to Texas State. He should improve some with a year in this system under his belt, but he’s going to need a lot of help. The defense will be the key. Obviously you can’t win consistently giving up the yards & explosive plays that they did in 2021. There isn’t much pointing to a huge turnaround but they should be able to show some improvements.
- UL-Monroe: It doesn’t look like there is a whole lot to get excited about this year. While this team returns 9 starters on offense, they we’re last in the Sun Belt in total production last year and scored only 20.9 points per game. It doesn’t get any better on the defensive side of the ball. They return only 4 starters from a unit that allowed 453 yards per game, 33.5 points per game, and ranked 125th in pass defense. Once again it looks like the secondary will be a big concern this year. It’s hard to see them pulling out too many wins in 2022.