It’s the most wonderful time of the year! As I did in 2019, I will preview each of the 2020 Sun Belt bowls as well as every other conference (plus the FBS Independents). Bowl games will likely look different this year. Many states have their own restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so we will likely see even fewer fans than normal. Additionally, a number of bowl-eligible teams elected to opt-out of the postseason, so there will be fewer matchups this year.
Seven teams with losing records made bowls this year (four from the SEC; imagine that). This year, one team will be making its bowl debut. Plus, this season will feature ten first-time matchups. Strap in, it’s time for 29 bowl games!
2020 Sun Belt Bowls Preview
Myrtle Beach Bowl (December 21, 2:30 p.m., ESPN)
Appalachian State vs North Texas
Appalachian State bowl record: 5-0
The 2020 Sun Belt Bowls slate gets off to a strong start as the Mountaineers of Appalachian State take on North Texas. This will actually be the first-ever meeting between the two programs, so each will look to cement its place in history. At 8-3, App State had a down year by their standards, but they are still a very good team.
Offensively, the ‘Neers leaned on the rushing attack. Quarterback Zac Thomas was able to make plays through the air (2,075 yards, 19 touchdowns) and on the ground (278 yards and two touchdowns). He has been prone to turnovers, unfortunately, as he threw 11 interceptions.
Regardless, they have four different athletes with over 400 yards on the ground, led by Camerun Peoples (807 yards, 7 touchdowns) and Daetrich Harrington (595 yards, 7 touchdowns). Unfortunately, ASU will be without Harrington for this game as he is out with an undisclosed injury. Overall, this offense averages 31.8 points per game off of 191.6 yards through the air and 243.6 yards on the ground.
The defense is quite good, only allowing 19.3 points per game. They are led by linebackers Brennan Harrington and Trey Cobb as well as stud defensive lineman Demetrius Taylor. It’s going to be tough sledding for North Texas as this App State defense only allows 169.8 yards per game through the air and 144.4 yards on the ground.
North Texas is 4-5 and has not faced a team quite like this Appalachian State team. I’ll be rolling with the Mountaineers. The 2020 Sun Belt bowls slate should get off to a good start.
New Orleans Bowl (December 23, 3:30 p.m., ESPN)
Louisiana Tech vs Georgia Southern
Louisiana Tech bowl record: 8-3-1
Next up on the 2020 Sun Belt bowls slate is the New Orleans Bowl between Louisiana Tech and Georgia Southern. This is Tech’s seventh straight year of making a bowl game and they won the previous six. As with the Myrtle Beach Bowl, the New Orleans Bowl is the first-ever meeting between these two programs.
Louisiana Tech, in terms of attempts, is balanced between the rush and pass. In terms of productivity, they are a better team through the air. All year, senior transfer quarterback Luke Anthony led the team. However, due to a rather gruesome injury against TCU, the Bulldogs will turn to redshirt sophomore Aaron Allen. Anthony accounted for 1,479 yards and 17 touchdowns, so he will definitely be missed.
Allen is not the quarterback Anthony is, but it is likely due to being thrust into the role. He has thrown for 561 yards and four touchdowns, but also five interceptions. Israel Tucker is the teams leading rusher with 525 yards and four touchdowns. That is not going to get the job done. The team only averages 97.7 yards per game on the ground.
This Bulldogs defense has been gashed in 2020. They allow 34.3 points per game off of an average of 425 yards per game. If Georgia Southern wants to get yards, they will. The leader of this defense is senior linebacker, Trey Baldwin. He leads the way with 43 tackles and six for loss. The secondary is headed by Bee Jay Williamson and his three interceptions.
Tech is going to have its work cut out for them against Georgia Southern. The Eagles have a potent rushing attack and will be able to move the ball easily. At this point, the 2020 Sun Belt Bowls record will stand at 1-1.
Lending Tree Bowl (December 26, 3:30 p.m., ESPN)
Georgia State vs Western Kentucky
Head-to-head: GSU 0-2 WKU
Georgia State bowl record: 1-2
The Lending Tree Bowl between Georgia State and Western Kentucky has all the makings of a high-flying, exciting game. Only the third meeting all-time, the Panthers hope to have more success this time around.
This offense can move the ball. Outside of their abysmal effort against the eventual undefeated co-champ of the Sun Belt, Georgia State averages 456.6 yards per game. The offense is led by redshirt freshman Cornelious Brown and his 2,046 yards and 14 touchdowns. He can also beat you on the ground, considering he added 261 yards and seven scores.
As if preparing for Brown wasn’t enough, the Panthers have a pair of dynamic junior running backs in Destin Coates (652 yards, six touchdowns) and Tucker Gregg (441 yards, six touchdowns). Even including their worst game of the year, this offense averages 32.7 points per game.
The reason this game has high-scoring potential is that whatever the offense can do, the defense can allow. The good thing in this game is the fact that the Hilltoppers’ offense has been sub-par this year. Of the entire bowls slate, the Group of Five has quite a few matchups within itself that are intriguing. This one is no different. Georgia State should be able to take care of business to elevate the 2020 Sun Belt bowls record to 2-1.
First Responder Bowl (December 26, 3:30 p.m., ABC)
Louisiana vs UTSA
Louisiana bowl record: 5-2
The co-Sun Belt Champion Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns take on UTSA in this year’s First Responder Bowl. At 9-1, the Cajuns had a legitimate shot at shocking the NY6 slate if they won the Sun Belt Championship game, avenging their lone loss. Alas, it was canceled, but at least they can hang their hat on the fact that they smacked NY6 Bowl-bound Iowa State who was close to winning the Big XII.
The Louisiana offense is as dynamic as you could find in the nation, led by senior quarterback Levi Lewis. As just about everyone did, Lewis took a step back. He still had a phenomenal year passing for 2,124 yards and 17 touchdowns. He can also do it with his legs. Lewis ran for 310 yards and five touchdowns.
Taking the pressure off of Lewis is a pair of stud running backs in Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas. Mitchell leads the way with 751 yards and seven touchdowns, whereas Ragas amassed 662 yards and nine touchdowns. Good luck defending this three-headed monster. The Cajuns play fast and the game can be over before you know it.
The defense is not the nation’s best, but they did manage to hold opponents under 300 yards four times. That includes three consecutive games and does not include the 303 against them in their week one win over Iowa State.
Louisiana is easily one of the two best teams in this conference. They epitomize the “Fun Belt” moniker. UTSA is going to have a rough time containing this offense, so the Cajuns will most certainly be Ragin’.
Cure Bowl (December 26, 12:00 p.m., ESPN)
Coastal Carolina vs Liberty
Head-to-head: 7-7 (FCS)
Coastal Carolina bowl record: 0-0
Picked to finish at the bottom of the Sun Belt, Coastal Carolina had something to prove. And boy, they proved it. The Cure Bowl will be the first matchup of these programs as well as the bowl premier for the Chanticleers. If you’re a fan of physical football, fighting chicken mascots, and mullets, Coastal is the team for you. This is the first meeting of the two since 2016 when both were part of the Big South Conference in the FCS.
The Chants burst onto the scene in just their fourth season at the FBS level. They are led by quite possibly the best player in all of the Group of Five, freshman quarterback Grayson McCall. 2,170 yards and 23 touchdowns later, McCall has led Coastal to a perfect 11-0 record with a magical win over BYU on a short week. There are not enough words to describe how much fun this team has been this year.
McCall has a favorite target and his name is Jaivon Heiligh. The stud number six accounted for 820 yards and 10 touchdowns. It seems like all he does is make plays. Capitalizing on the focus on McCall and Heiligh is senior running back Torrance Marable. In a normal season, he would easily eclipse 1,000 yards rushing. He does have 1,064 total scrimmage yards to go with his 19 touchdowns.
Against normal offenses, Coastal tends to bend-but-not-break. Their best games came against each of the aforementioned “Georgia S” teams. They did, of course, hold a high-flying BYU offense to 405 yards and 17 points. When they needed to come up with a stop, they did.
Liberty is a great team. Coastal is a great team. Of all of the matchups within the 2020 Sun Belt Bowls as well as the entirety of the College Football bowls, I am most excited to watch this one. It’s going to be a great game, so sit back and enjoy two of the best non-Power Five teams.
I’m rolling with Coastal here. With a win, they go 12-0. Pull a 2017 UCF and claim a National Title, Chanticleers. I’ll buy 2020 Coastal Carolina National Champions merch.
2020 Sun Belt Bowls Will Not Disappoint
The Fun Belt. Who says non-Power Five conferences are boring? At 4-1, the Sun Belt has a real chance of finishing the bowl season with the highest winning percentage among all conferences. If the Group of Five had a legitimate shot at the CFP title, Coastal Carolina and Louisiana would likely match up well with some of the top teams. Expand the playoff and we just might get to see.