In its young history, the Sun Belt Championship Game is finally being played between two teams that have yet to play.
Although Coastal Carolina entered title contention in 2020, the Chanticleers were unable to play after the game was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. So, this is the first SB title they have a chance at. Except Troy squandered those aspirations with a 19-point lead.
Yep, it’s also Troy’s first appearance in the SB championship game. The win, however, gave the Trojans their seventh conference title and first since 2017. Those seven titles now lead the league.
The conference established the 2018 championship game, which was previously awarded by the regular season champion. The other three games played since 2018 are Appalachian vs. Louisiana. Unsurprisingly, these teams were voted top in their divisions in preseason media polls.
Troy was selected for third overall in the Sun Belt West.College Football Preseason Odds Win the league with +1000.
Behind a strong defense, the Trojans took the league by storm in Jon Sumrall’s first year at the helm. After losing to App State in Week 3, they are on an 11-game winning streak. They finished the season with a win over UTSA in the Cure Bowl.
While the Trojans have been here, their presence is somewhat reminiscent of the 2020 Coastal, and that year’s Chants might have been crowned had the tournament played out. But that’s not the case, and neither are they. And, unfortunately, they weren’t crowned this year either.
CC started the season on a six-game winning streak, but they never seemed as solid as they have been the past two seasons. Three of those six games have been won by one point in games in which they have been held by 33, 10 and 13 points.
Good teams win, good teams cover.
The Anthems played better in their next three games, including a 47-7 loss to James Madison in the Birmingham Bowl and a 53-29 loss to East Carolina.
In its first season at FBS and part of SB, JMU immediately proved where it belongs. In fact, Duke would have been fighting the Trojans for the title if it weren’t for the NCAA’s transition rules.
With Duke’s victory over CC, they’ve clinched the top spot in the Eastern Sun Belt after being drafted sixth. It was ignited with a 5-0 and 3-0 start in league play before losing to Georgia Southern for the first time in the SB Conference. The 5-0 start even put JMU in the AP top 25. historic.
Can they repeat their season? Time will tell, but expectations are already high:
Besides the loss to Georgia Southern, Duke’s other divisional loss came in Marshall.
Also in his first season in the league, Marshall quickly became a contender. En route to a 9-4 record, the Thunder beat then-8th-ranked Notre Dame in Week 2 and finished the season with a five-game winning streak that helped them go 5-3 in the division. Negative grades. It’s a huge turnaround after going 1-3 in SB in late October.
All three league losses have come to good teams — CC, Troy and Louisiana.
While this year may have been a down year for Louisiana, you still can’t count the Ragin’ Cajuns out. We’ve mentioned their perennial success in meetings. The ULL has struggled against the better teams in the league this season, and three of their four division victories have come against teams in the league scoring below .500. Its three conference losses have come against teams with grades over .500.
One of them is South Alabama. What a year it has been for the Jaguars.
Perhaps it was a breakout season for South Alabama, which broke the program win record in a season with a 10-3 record. Its only conference loss was a 10-6 loss to Troy. It wasn’t necessarily a surprise, however, that the Jaguars were picked to finish second in SBW.
Still, they’re poised to be another contender in the future.
This will be one of the more five-man leagues to watch going forward. Miss Southern is competitive, going 4-4 in the league. Although this is the worst result since joining FBS in 2014, I think we can still look forward to the addition of App State.
With the addition of JMU, the rebound of Troy and the rise of Coastal and South Alabama, can the Sun Belt emerge as the top domestic G5 league anytime soon?
A new-look AAC might have something to say about it, but a new-look SB could give Americans a run for their money.