This Week In the Sun Belt
t's opening weekend in college football. Around the Sun Belt, more often than not, that means a guarantee game against a high profile conference opponent. And, in many cases, that's the case. But there are others where the league might have a chance to pick up an out of conference win. Besides the Cajuns' trip to Lexington, here are the matchups around the league.
Thursday, September 3
Ohio (-8) at Idaho - 8 p.m (ESPN3)--The Vandals get to open the season in the Kibbie Dome and start the season on opening night, hosting the Bobcats in a rematch from last season when the Vandals only trailed 20-17 heading into the fourth quarter before falling 36-24. Idaho is never an easy target at home and their offense is going to score some points this year. If the Vandals can avoid turnovers, they'll have a shot.
Charlotte at Georgia State (-7) - 2:30 p.m. (ESPNU)--A very unusual weekday afternoon game featuring two teams that are looking for their first ever win over an FBS school. Charlotte is in its first year in Conference USA and Georgia State is a rare favorite. The Panthers opened with a win last year against Abilene Christian but never dented the win column again. Getting this one is pretty important.
Saturday, September 5
UL Monroe (+35) at Georgia - 11 a.m. (SEC Network)--=It's a pretty big bite to take for the Warhawks, heading between the hedges to take on a team that's picked to win the SEC East. Georgia's bruising ground game will be a test for a ULM defense that might be the best in the Sun Belt. The Warhawks are breaking in a redshirt freshman quarterback. Heckuva way to start your career.
Howard at Appalachian State - 2:30 p.m. [ESPN3/App State TV]--It's a rare season opener at home for the Mountaineers, who won their last six games to finish 7-5 a season ago. With 20 starters back, expectations are high (pun intended) in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Howard lost six of its first seven a year ago, but rallied to win its last four. But the Bison out of the MEAC will be heavy underdogs at the Rock.
Troy (+26) at NC State - 5 p.m. (ESPN3)--After a 3-9 season when the Trojans couldn't stop anyone, there'll be a new face calling the shots as former Kentucky OC Neal Brown takes over for Larry Blakeney. He's got plenty of playmakers on offense, but that defense has a long way to go. They won't get any sympathy from the Wolfpack, who won eight games a year ago and scored 40 or more points five times. After almost stumbling against Georgia Southern in last year's opener, Troy won't sneak up on the 'Pack.
Gardner-Webb at South Alabama - 5 p.m. (ESPN3)--Joey Jones lost 40 lettermen from last years Camellia Bowl squad, but returns plenty of collegiate experience as he welcomes transfers from UAB, who went to Mobile after the announcement the Blazers would drop football. Jones will have an influx of junior college players as well as the Jaguars try to insure 2015 won't be a rebuilding year. They should get off to a good start against the Bulldogs, a member of the Big South in football that went 4-8 a season ago.
Georgia Southern (+19.5) at West Virginia - 6:30 p.m. (FSN/Root Sports)---It was quite a first season in the FBS for the Eagles who went unbeaten in the league and 9-3 overall, which included near misses at North Carolina State and Georgia Tech. They'll head to Morgantown without quarterback Kevin Ellison who is ineligible for the first two games. It will be interesting to see how the Eagles unusual offense fares against a Big 12 team. Missing Ellison hurts.
New Mexico State (+37) at Florida - 6:30 p.m. (SEC Network)--Doug Martin's team won their first two a year ago, then dropped ten straight and one look at the stats tell the story. The Aggies, who played a half dozen freshmen on defense, allowed nearly 500 yards a game. Their quarterback, Tyler Rogers threw for 19 touchdowns, but he also threw the most interceptions of any quarterback in the FBS. Martin likes the way his quarterback is growing up. But is that defense close to being ready to hang with Florida? NMSU turned it over 33 times last year. The quest to cut down on that number begins Saturday.
Texas State (+30) at Florida State - 7 p.m. (ESPNEWS)---Dennis Franchione's club returns quite a few offensive weapons from last year's 7-5 club, but how will they fare against that Seminole's defense? Texas State also has to replace the second leading tackler in the country, LB David Mayo, who was the SBC Defensive Player of the Year. Notre Dame transfer Everett Gholson takes over for Jameis Winston.
Arkansas State (+28) at Southern California - 10 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)--The Sun Belt's leading offense from last year returns almost all of its firepower, but they'll get a test against a USC defense that is a prime reason why many believe the Trojans will be playing in the Pac-12 title game. As far as AState's defense is concerned, well, it had better be better if they're going to have any kind of shot.