2019 Sun Belt Bowls Preview

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA - NOVEMBER 09: Zac Thomas #12 of the Appalachian State Mountaineers in the first half during their game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 09, 2019 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

It is the most wonderful time of the year! It’s time for the College Football bowl season! There are 40 bowl games (plus the National Championship game) to look forward to. In this series, I will be looking at all 80 teams who qualified for the postseason and breaking down their matchups. Each installment will focus on teams from a respective conference. This year, two teams will be making their bowl debut, one bowl-eligible team was left home, and there are 14 instances where the teams are facing for the first time in history! Let’s take a look at the 2019 Sun Belt Bowls. 

 2019 Sun Belt Bowls Preview 

FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl
Georgia Southern vs Liberty 

The 2019 Sun Belt Bowls slate kicks off with Georgia Southern taking on Liberty. The Eagles had a rough start to the year after falling to LSU 55-3. They did, however, upset Sun Belt Champion Appalachian State 24-21. When you have a rushing attack as the Eagles do, you may find yourself in more competitive games…or it could be a total disaster. It all depends on the opponents’ discipline. 

The Eagles run an unconventional triple-option offense, so they have a handful of playmakers who could end up with the ball on any given possession. They are led by their three-headed attack of Shai Werts, J.D. King, and Wesley Kennedy III. Together, they have a combined 23 touchdowns and 2,210 yards. King, the Oklahoma State transfer, made an immediate impact. His 772 yards on the ground lead the team. Liberty can shut him down, but they’ve still got two more monsters to deal with.

Kennedy is the more explosive of the three. His 6.6 yards per carry easily lead the team and has been prone to break out. The former wide receiver is a formidable back, but Werts is the leader of this offense. Remember, Werts is still a quarterback, so he can sling it when needed. He does only have 704 yards passing, but he has nine touchdowns compared to zero interceptions. Lack of attempts or not, zero interceptions for a run-first quarterback is impressive. 

Since they see it every day in practice, the Eagles’ rush defense is stout. Where they could get into trouble with Liberty is through the air. Georgia Southern is averaging 240 passing yards and 28 points allowed per game. Ultimately, look for this to be an exciting, high-scoring affair. As stated in the previous iteration, I do believe Georgia Southern will come out on top. In 2020, the Eagles’ non-conference slate includes contests at Boise State and Ole Miss while they host Campbell and Florida Atlantic. Assuming King, Werts, and Kennedy all return, look for the Eagles to make some noise in the Sun Belt next year. 

Camellia Bowl
Arkansas State vs Florida International 

Next up, we have Arkansas State vs the Panthers of Florida International. The Red Wolves’ season has been very interesting. After losing starting quarterback Logan Bonner to injury, true freshman Layne Hatcher stepped in. Hatcher quickly established a rapport with redshirt Senior receiver Omar Bayless, who went for 1,473 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. Bayless averages more than 17 yards per touch which is probably why the Red Wolves average nearly 34 points and 305 yards per game. Bayless is going to make some NFL team very happy with his play on Sundays in the near future. 

Wherein lies the problem with this team is its defense. While they do average 34 points a game, they give up 35. No matter what this potentially high-powered offense can do, the defense will probably let them down. The silver lining, if you want to call it that, is the fact that they are not much worse defending the pass compared to the run. They give up 257 yards passing and 225 yards rushing per game, so FIU might be able to pick their poison and go with it. I do think that ASU will come out on top in this contest. The connection between Hatcher and Bayless will be too electric for the Panthers. Losing Bayless in 2020 will hurt. The Red Wolves will have to go through AAC Champ Memphis and B1G foe Michigan in their non-conference slate without him. 

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Appalachian State vs UAB 

The Sun Belt Champions Appalachian State will take on UAB in this year’s New Orleans Bowl. The Mountaineers were in the Group of 5 conversations for their New Year’s 6 bowl berth all year long. If it weren’t for a letdown against Georgia Southern, perhaps this team would be facing Penn State in the Cotton Bowl instead of Memphis. They beat South Carolina, who then beat Georgia. So, App State > Georgia? Probably not, but this is why college football is the greatest. 

This offense is impressively balanced. The Mountaineers average 206 through the air and 230 on the ground. The rushing attack is led by stud Junior Darrynton Evans who amassed 1,516 yards from scrimmage and 22 total touchdowns. Evans is a weapon out of the backfield which keeps defenses honest. The passing attack is led by Junior quarterback Zac Thomas. Thomas is responsible for 2,576 passing yards and 26 touchdowns compared to only six interceptions. He does have three targets who went over 500 receiving yards this year: Malik Williams, Thomas Hennigan, and the injured Corey Sutton. In addition to Evans coming out of the backfield, there is a reason they are the 9th best scoring offense in the nation. 

Defensively, App State is set. They are the 22nd best scoring defense in the nation and held seven opponents to 15 points or less. In an era where scoring is rampant and spread offenses seem to rule, this distinction is usually reserved for the elite defenses like Ohio State and Clemson within Power 5 conferences. UAB’s offense is going to have a tough time moving the ball, so I will be riding with the Mountaineers in this one. Next season, App State will have to travel to Wake Forest and Wisconsin. Both matchups will be interesting to watch but expect the Mountaineers to be right back into the thick of it all after winning three out of four non-conference games. 

Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl
Georgia State vs Wyoming 

The Arizona Bowl will feature the Georgia State Panthers and the Wyoming Cowboys. This year, the Panthers bust out the gate with an upset at their SEC foe Tennessee and finished their non-conference slate with a 3-1 record. That one loss was to the MAC opponent Western Michigan, so that brought them back to Earth. 

Offensively, Georgia State is nothing too special. They average 201 yards through the air and 245 on the ground. Senior running back Tra Barnett leads the team in rushing with 1,389 yards and 12 touchdowns. Barnett will look to establish himself in his final game in a Panther uniform to take the pressure off of Senior quarterback Dan Ellington. Ellington completed 65% of his passes for 2,291 yards and 21 touchdowns. He did throw seven interceptions in addition. The only wide receiver that stands out is sophomore, Cornelius McCoy. McCoy managed 679 yards and only four touchdowns. 

Junior linebacker Trajan Stephens-McQueen leads this defense, but that is not saying too much. This season, the Panthers defense allowed more than 450 yards and 36 points per game. Compare that to their average of 447 yards and 32.4 points scored, it sure makes one wonder about this matchup. I feel like this game is going to be a toss us up, so I will be riding with Wyoming. Georgia State very well could be back next year if they can continue to play well in conference play and take three out of four non-conference games. Who knows, maybe they can upset Alabama like they did Tennessee. 

Lending Tree Bowl
UL-Lafayette vs Miami (OH) 

Finally, we have UL-Lafayette taking on a surprising Miami (OH) Redhawks team. Louisiana is sporting a 10-3 record. Somehow, even that’s misleading. They hung with SEC foe Mississippi State and lost to eventual champion Appalachian State twice by a combined 17 points. Outside of those, the only other close game they were in was their rivalry game against UL-Monroe. This is quietly a good team. 

First-year coach Billy Napier led this team to become the 12th best scoring offense in the nation with nearly 39 points per game. Junior quarterback Levi Lewis leads the way with 2,804 passing yards and 24 touchdowns. His favorite target to the tune of 818 yards and eight touchdowns is redshirt senior Ja’Marcus Bradley. In addition to this, the Ragin’ Cajuns have three running backs with over 780 rushing yards: Elijah Mitchell (1,092), Raymond Calais (882), and Trey Ragas (781). Miami has its hands full game-planning for all of these weapons. 

Head and shoulders above anyone else on the defense is Senior linebacker, Jacques Boudreaux. His 102 total tackles show that he is the tone-setter on a defense that is averaging less than 20 points allowed a game. Honestly, I would be surprised if the Redhawks get much going against this UL-Lafayette team. I have the Ragin’ Cajuns winning this matchup convincingly. Barring any letdowns, look for this team to win another 10 games in 2020. They have four winnable non-conference games against McNeese State, Wyoming, New Mexico State, and Missouri. 

2019 Sun Belt Bowls Results 

Sun Belt teams are fun to watch. That’s why they call it the “Fun Belt.” Considering most of the teams in this conference were FCS not too long ago, they are all looking to legitimize themselves at the FBS level. At the end of the day, I think that the matchups favor these teams and they will finish the 2019 Sun Belt bowls with a record of 4-1.

Georgia Southern will look to build upon their 2-0 bowl record in their first-ever matchup with Liberty. Arkansas State has not had nearly as much success, considering they are 3-6 all-time and 0-1 in the Camellia Bowl. Appalachian State is 4-0 in bowls since making the jump to the FBS level. Look for them to become back-to-back New Orleans Bowl champions when they beat UAB in their first-ever meeting. Georgia State is 1-1 in bowls. Let’s see if playing in a bowl other than the Cure Bowl will help them out as they face Wyoming for the first time. Finally, Louisiana is officially 2-2 in bowl games after having two victories vacated. Look for the to get their first win over Miami (OH), who owns the series with two wins to none. 

Next up: Conference USA

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