Straight from its secret Mercedes Benz Superdome headquarters, Karl Benson unleashed the Sun Belt football schedule to the adoring masses on Wednesday, leaving much to unpack for fans and pundits who enjoy bitching about Sun Belt scheduling. What’s to complain about? Mostly, those mid-week games that look awful on ESPN 2 because the stadium is a quarter-full, provoking monocle-polishing commentary from the Privileged Five aristocracy.
There’s other stuff, too. Like, How did Appalachian State manage to avoid Troy and Arkansas State this year? Or, Damn, we got to play at Idaho (sorry, all teams playing at Idaho)? Listen, I’m not troubling myself into dissecting every petty beef in the Belt. But I will give you three (3) penetrating observations and insights that only
a trillion other guys I can provide.
The #SunBeltHeat will be extra spicy in 2017
Not only will the Sun Belt square off against the usual menu of Power Five and plucky G5 foes, the SBC will play host to some of the juiciest, starting with Arkansas State welcoming Miami (FL) to Jonesboro on September 9th. Also visiting beautiful Sun Belt venues: Oklahoma St. at South Alabama (Sept 9), Memphis at Georgia State (Sept 30), Southern Miss at ULM (Sept 16), and Wake Forest at Appalachian State (Sept 23).
Arkansas is guilty of an egregious Sun Belt double dip
It’s not enough for the Arkansas Razorbacks to ignore their in-state Sun Belt brother, located a mere 287.5 miles apart. Nope! In 2017, the Hogs are hosting not one, but two Sun Belt teams not named Arkansas State: the New Mexico State Aggies on September 3oth and Coastal Carolina Chanticleers on November 4th. Please note that New Mexico State was 3-9 last year and that Coastal Carolina is making the jump from FCS this season. Way to challenge yourselves, Hogs!
Georgia State is throwing a housewarming party (and everyone is invited)
Georgia State purchased the Atlanta Braves old baseball stadium and turned it into the Panthers’ new football stadium. The inaugural football season at swanky Georgia State Stadium starts with the August 31 opener against Tennessee State, which will be one of two Thursday Night games for the Panthers. Hopefully, the new digs will look better on the tube than the cavernous Georgia Dome.
A few Bonus Observations (now that I’ve thought about it)
Does the schedule meet Karl Benson’s request for more “peer-to-peer” scheduling?
Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson has encouraged Sun Belt athletic directors to schedule fewer “body bag” games and more contests between other G5 programs. Did the ADs respond? There are, indeed, many Group of Five programs on the schedule this year, and some are enticing (like Charlotte vs Georgia State, Texas State vs UTSA and Arkansas State vs SMU). Building up rivalries between the AAC and CUSA makes geographical sense for all three conferences.
Are the meaty conference rivalries being televised?
The Sun Belt tends to go dark nationally during conference play, which means the conference’s most intense games need the most TV exposure. Appalachian State vs Georgia Southern, Arkansas State vs Louisiana, and Troy vs South Alabama all get mid-week exposure.
How does the conference newbie look?
Welcome to the Belt, Coastal Carolina. The Chants open strong enough with a G5 opponent in UMASS, and follow it up with the newly rebuilt UAB program. But the Sun Belt schedule is definitely Rush Week material, with consecutive road trips to Appalachian State and Arkansas State. Oh yeah, and Troy visits after a late season dust-up with the SEC’s Arkansas. Torture turned Wade Wilson into Deadpool, so maybe it transforms the Chanticleers into Angry Birds. I dunno.
Who has the toughest OOC?
Man, it’s a toss up between New Mexico State (@Arizona St, @ New Mexico (9-4 last year), UTEP and @ Arkansas) and ULM (@ Memphis, @ Florida State, Southern Miss and @ Auburn late in the season). If I had to choose, I’d go with the Warhawks. The Aggies get a manageable home game with UTEP, but I don’t see any rest for second year head coach Matt Viator.
Who has the most manageable OOC?
Coastal Carolina really get to ease into the FBS with a home opener at UMASS and then a bye week to prepare for a rebuilding UAB and FCS Western Illinois. But the Chanticleers get a mulligan for being conference rookies. Texas State may have the most manageable OOC, though it is by no means easy. The Bobcats open with Houston Baptist, host UTSA and visit an intriguing Wyoming squad and face only one P5, Colorado. Again, nothing easy about the schedule, but plenty of opportunity to impress.
Who’s got it hardest in conference?
You can make a case for Coastal Carolina, but its soft OOC schedule makes the conference schedule easier to digest. So my chip is on New Mexico State, who only only endures a terribly difficult OOC (with a hosting of Troy right in the middle of it), but also suffers a three week road trip to Arkansas, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern before hosting Sun Belt co-champ Arkansas State. RIP, Aggies!