Life’s salad days are no zestier than the hours leading up to the first week of college football. For at this moment, all is possible. Everything is shiny and bright, like a Mazda Tribute fresh off the assembly line. Even ULM is undefeated heading into Week 1.
With seven of 11 games being played at home, Week 1 is when #SunBeltHeat burns hottest. All weakness are lost within the stark shadows of potential. We don’t care that Texas State, Georgia Southern and ULM are breaking in new head coaches, or that Georgia State and Arkansas State are replacing their QBs. It doesn’t matter that Appalachian State’s leading defensive back won’t play in 2016, or that Larry Rose is starting the season on New Mexico State’s training table. It’s all good. Ain’t no defeat in Heat.
Remember, #SunBeltHeat is derived by the following top secret formula that was developed by sports scientists and sorcerers in a secret laboratory beneath the Mercedes Benz Superdome:
P5 Condescension x ESPN3 + Righteous Fury / “Any given Saturday” = #SUNBELTHEAT
As always, #SunBeltHeat can only be administered to non-Sun Belt opponents and is programmed to become self-aware sometime in the 32nd century.
Appalachian State vs. #9 Tennessee, September 1, 6:30 CST, SEC Network
Chance for winning (ESPN FPI): 4.9%
The team many have picked to lead the Sun Belt in 2016 fires the first salvo of #SunBeltHeat with the first SBC game of the season. Seasoned veteran quarterback Tyler Lamb helms a solid Mountaineer offense, but it’s the defense that will crumble Rocky Top in Knoxville. Look for John Law, the Sun Belt Preseason Defensive POY, to menace Josh Dobbs of the Volunteers all night long. Sorry, Tennessee! Somebody had to be first. It’s you. Deal with it.
Sun Belt Heat Index: 70% plus a 0.1% markup to cover the deep chagrin of SEC Network Announcers
Adjusted Chance for Winning: 75%
Montana State vs. Idaho, September 1, 8:00 CST, ESPN 3
Chance for winning (ESPN FPI): 78.6%
Idaho, who is Big Sky bound after 2017, takes on a solid Big Sky program in Montana State. Do not be fooled. This isn’t a FBS program giving an FCS team a shot at glory. THIS IS A SIGNATURE PAUL PETRINO MOVE OF INTIMIDATION! The Vandals are coming for you, Big Sky! Watch helplessly as a Sun Belt-hardened Idaho dices your Bobcats and sprinkles them onto a chef salad of sorry. Does this make you angry, Montana State? Your anger is a chuckle compared to Paul Petrino’s plasma hot rage. The Kibbie Dome is your tomb!
Sun Belt Heat Index: 2% plus 1,000% Petrino Fury
Adjusted Chance for Winning: 1,086.6%
Ball State vs. Georgia State, September 2, 6:00 PM CST, ESPN 3
Chance for winning (ESPN FPI): 57.2%
The first time in history Georgia State delivered a solid blast of #SunBeltHeat was against these Ball State Cardinals last October. And that was in Muncie. Now the Cardinals get to face a second dose of Heat in Atlanta, where Georgia State will deploy the Sun Belt’s best wide receiver tandems (Penny Hart and Robert Davis) against a defense that ranked 122nd in defensive pass efficiency in 2015. That smells like touchdowns for the Panthers, who have yet to win an opener over an FBS opponent. Sorry about that, Ball State. You’re gonna be another Georgia State first. You might not want to list that on your LinkedIn or Tinder pages.
Sun Belt Heat Index: 2.8% – 2.8% for enduring the haunting echoes of the Georgia Dome.
Adjusted Chance for Winning: 57.2%
Toledo vs. Arkansas State, September 2, 8:00 PM CST, ESPNU
Chance for winning (ESPN FPI): 61.6%*
The Red Wolves have had just about enough of the Rockets, who beat A-State in the GoDaddy Bowl and during the regular season in 2015. That’s disrespecting the Heat. Now it’s time for some Sun Belt Payback™. Coach Blake Anderson leads a whopping 12 All-Sun Belt selections into Centennial Bank Stadium to face a Toledo team with a new head coach and 3 players on suspension, including two projected starters. Still, Toledo continues to deliver a stout running attack led by Kareem Hunt, and though the defensive line loses six seniors, it’s still a tough nut. Screw it. Your savage MAC-attack against the State of Arkansas comes to an inglorious end September 2, Toledo! Can’t say it was a pleasure knowing you. Because it wasn’t.
Sun Belt Heat Index: 20% for GoDaddy revenge, plus another 30% advantage for a kick off temperature 90º higher than an average MAC game
Adjusted Chance for Winning: 111.6%
*Percentage increase from 58.7% since original publication – JH
Boise State vs. Louisiana, September 3, 11:00 AM CST, ESPN3
Chance for winning (ESPN FPI): 11.9%
Boise State ain’t used to regular heat, let alone concentrated #SunBeltHeat. The Broncos steam down to Lafayette to take on a Cajuns program that thrives on a level of humidity that would make the prison road crew from Cool Hand Luke cry. It doesn’t help Boise State that it appears that head coach Bryan Harsin is attempting to out-pump Cajun head coach Mark Hudspeth. NOBODY OUT-PUMPS THE HUDS! Harsin and his Broncos will need plenty of electrolytes in their protein shakes if they expect to survive an afternoon in the boiling crawfish pot that is Cajun Field. This is a must-win for the Sun Belt, so don’t expect Hudspeth to show mercy. Look for super RB Elijah McGuire to bolt past dehydrated and vomiting Broncos by the third quarter.
Sun Belt Heat Index: 100% Humidity
Adjusted Chance for Winning: 111.9%
South Alabama vs. Mississippi State, September 3, 11:00 AM CST, SEC Network
Chance for winning (ESPN FPI): 2.3%
The week’s second game in the Annual Sun Belt vs. SEC Deer Jerky Football Series, South Alabama enters Starksville with a newly anointed starting quarterback in Dallas Davis and not a whole lot of expectations (picked to finish 7th in the conference). But that’s where Cheeky Joey Jones likes to be – on the peripheral! The Bulldogs won’t see the masterplan cooked up by Jones and his super-stud TE Gerald Everett until it’s too late! Sorry, Dan Mullins! Your pipe dream of seizing control of the SEC West has been foiled by last year’s 93rd ranked scoring offense. Too bad. Sometimes, that’s how the Heat bakes.
Sun Belt Heat Index: 16% x 7 for SURPRISE!
Adjusted Chance for Winning: 114.3%
Texas State vs. Ohio, September 3, 2:30 PM CST, CBS Sports Network
Chance for winning (ESPN FPI): 18.2%
Battle of the Bobcats! No wonder CBS marketing ate this game up. But clearly, the FPI wonks at ESPN are not aware that the Texas State Bobcats are under new management. Everett Withers is pounding a new culture and excitement in San Marcos, and he’s got a pretty good punter (Lumi Kaba) and a very decent offensive lineman (Ryan Melton) to get the TXST Dynasty rolling. Pst. Between you and me, Withers has a lot of rebuilding and refueling to do at Texas State, but his hire is a giant leap in the right direction. Ohio, picked to finish second in the MAC East behind Bowling Green, will just have to accept being Withers’ first Sun Belt victory. Nobody remembers the first game of the season anyway.
Sun Belt Heat Index: 200%, equal to the scrapping power of a southern bobcat over a yankee bobcat
Adjusted Chance for Winning: 218.2%
Savannah State vs. Georgia Southern, September 3, 5:00 PM CST, ESPN3
Chance for winning (ESPN FPI): 99.7%
Guys, last year, Savannah State came in dead last in the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference with a 1-9 overall record. In four of ten games, the only kind of points the Tigers scored were field goals. My God, Howard beat Savannah State 55-9. You couldn’t schedule a more certain win to begin the Tyson Summers Era. Bravo, Eagles! Your schedule maker brought the #SunBeltHeat!
Sun Belt Heat Index: 0.3% for even numbers
Adjusted Chance for Winning: 100%
Austin Peay vs. Troy, September 3, 5:00 PM CST, ESPN3
Chance for winning (ESPN FPI): 98.6%
You think Savannah State is terrible? Get a load of Austin Peay, who occupied a moldy cot in the Ohio Valley Conference basement in 2015 with a perfect 0-11 record. Impeaching the Governors right off the gridiron will likely make 2nd year head coach Neal Brown and his Trojans feel pretty good about themselves. And who says they don’t deserve it? Not me! Punish with gusto, Troy Trojans! Wins don’t win themselves.
Sun Belt Heat Index: 1.4%, jus pay’n me respects to dah Guvnahs!
Adjusted Chance for Winning: 100%
Southern vs. ULM, September 3, 6:00 PM CST, ESPN3
Chance for winning (ESPN FPI): 89.2%
The Sun Belt Tour of FCS Punching Bags continues when the Warhawks destroy Southern, who went a very respectable 6-3 in SWAC action last year. The Southern Jaguars surrendered and average of 33.5 points last year, so if new head coach Matt Viator is looking to give starting quarterback Garrett Smith a boost in confidence, the schedule couldn’t be more accommodating. The Warhawks are rebuilding after canning Todd Berry before the end of the 2015 season. Viator brings vigor to a program that appeared listless and directionless. Look for Garrett to be hooking up with superstar wide receiver AJalen Holley all night long.
Sun Belt Heat Index: 14%, equal to the tax Louisiana slaps on wine
Adjusted Chance for Winning: 103.2%
New Mexico State vs. UTEP, September 3, 7:00 PM CST, (NO TV LISTED)
Chance for winning (ESPN FPI): 48.2%
Nothing will give the Aggies more pleasure than delivering a sizzling blast of #SunBeltHeat to Pay Dirt Pete and the UTEP Miners. Why? Because a victory over their CUSA neighbor would go a long way to helping fans forget about the last couple of weeks. It won’t be easy, though. Preseason Sun Belt Offensive POY Larry Rose III is sitting this one out with a sports hernia, leaving the team’s pretty decent offensive line to punch holes for junior running back Osirius Burke. Meanwhile, UTEP is projected to finished 4th in CUSA West Division, which means nothing major is expected from the Miners this year. A win for New Mexico State would certainly deepen Karl Benson’s regret for kicking the Aggies out of the conference.
Sun Belt Heat Index: 1.9% because, quite frankly, Heat needs a quarterback
Adjusted Chance for Winning: 50.1%