The best way to measure one conference up against another is to look at non-conference. The 2022 Sun Belt non-conference schedules are all over the place but every team has at least one Power 5 team (or Notre Dame) on the schedule.
In this series, we will continue to look at each team’s out-of-conference slate and rank them based on difficulty. There are some teams who have serious gauntlets. Other teams have a cakewalk. With a strong showing, the Sun Belt can challenge the AAC as the top Group of 5 conference in the nation.
The Easiest Sun Belt Non-Conference Schedules
Louisiana: vs Southeastern Louisiana (FCS), vs Eastern Michigan, @ Rice, @ Florida State
Last year, the lone blemish on an otherwise dominant Louisiana season was a 38-18 loss to Texas. After dropping its opening game, the Ragin’ Cajuns rattled off 13 wins in a row, the longest active win streak in the nation. Only four teams won at least 13 games in 2021: Louisiana and three CFP teams. New coach (who is a former Louisiana quarterback), new quarterback, new season.
Despite a whole lot of change, the defending champs have the easiest of the Sun Belt non-conference schedules for this fall. Eastern Michigan is a middle-of-the-road MAC program right now. As the champs of arguably the best Group of 5 conference, Louisiana should have no issue dispatching the Eagles.
Rice is a below-average Conference-USA program and the Ragin Cajuns should be able to travel to Houston and take care of business against the Owls. Florida State is a bit of a mess. Even though they are a Power 5 program from the ACC, they have struggled mightily lately. The Seminoles took a page out of the SEC playbook and scheduled this Louisiana for the week before Rivalry Week expecting an easy win.
Even with its extensive roster turnover, Louisiana has a very good shot of running the table in these four contests. Honestly, they don’t face any of the top Sun Belt East programs this year. I expect that 13-game win streak to grow.
Coastal Carolina: vs Army, vs Gardner-Webb (FCS), vs Buffalo, @ Virginia
Grayson McCall was all over the QB leaderboards last season, but one thing that went under the radar was how well he played when his team was losing.@McCall_Grayson led the FBS with a 151.9 IQR when @CoastalFootball was losing (min 50 attempts)#TEALNATION pic.twitter.com/onxzo8rM5X
— SIS_Football (@football_sis) June 15, 2022
One of the latest darlings of the national media picking up Group of 5 teams, Coastal Carolina followed up its stellar 2020 with an (11-2) 2021. Those two losses were within conference, so the Chanticleers won all four of its non-conference schedule. That included a Power 5 team. Okay, it’s Kansas, but that still counts, right?
Future NFL Draft pick, Grayson McCall, will have to succeed with a few new names as Isaiah Likely, Jaivon Heiligh, and Shermari Jones have since graduated. Thankfully, they’ll have one of the easier Sun Belt non-conference schedules, so they can contend for the division once again. The rush defense was meh in 2021, allowing nearly 150 yards per game on the ground. If they can hold Army to that, it’s a win.
Buffalo had a down year in 2021. It goes to reason that they will be a little better in 2022, but Coastal Carolina should be able to dispatch the Bulls as they did last year. Finally, Virginia attended the SEC school for non-conference scheduling. Unfortunately for them, scheduling the Chanticleers for the second-to-last week of the season will result in a loss. Maybe don’t schedule one of the best Group of 5 teams for an easy win?
Georgia Southern: vs Morgan State (FCS), @ Nebraska, @ UAB, vs Ball State
Rebounding from a (3-9) season could be slightly easier as the Eagles have the third-easiest Sun Belt non-conference schedules. The lone non-conference win Georgia Southern secured was after a five-point win over Gardner-Webb (FCS). They’ll have a new quarterback this fall: Kyle VanTrease. VanTrease transfers in from Buffalo and brings three years of starting experience with 4,380 yards and 23 touchdowns under his belt.
The Eagles will start off with Morgan State (FCS) before traveling to Nebraska. Nebraska has not been what they once were. Last year, however, they lost a number of close games. UAB went (9-4) last year but has since lost its coach, quarterback, and a whole lot of pieces on offense.
Finally, Ball State had a down 2021 after failing to defend its 2020 MAC title. They’ll be replacing their quarterback but return the best name in MAC football, wide receiver, Yo’Heinz Tyler, to go with Jayson Jackson.
Southern Miss: vs Liberty, @ Miami (FL), vs Northwestern State (FCS), @ Tulane
Coming over from Conference-USA, the Southern Miss Eagles will have a shot to prove themselves right off the bat. Last year, their lone non-conference win was over Grambling State (FCS). Two of those losses came to their new Sun Belt peers, South Alabama and Troy.
Liberty will have to replace Malik Willis this fall with former Baylor and former Utah quarterback, Charlie Brewer. Miami (FL) will be a difficult game, honestly. Mario Cristobal has seemingly rejuvenated the program and quarterback Tyler Van Dyke looks like the real deal.
Finally, Tulane was a two-win AAC team last year.
James Madison: vs Middle Tennessee State, vs Norfolk State (FCS), @ Louisville
Today marks the beginning of a new era of the Sun Belt Conference. Marshall, James Madison, Southern Miss, and Old Dominion are now officially members of our conference. Welcome aboard! #SunBelt pic.twitter.com/14Ablmq4xJ
— Sidelines – Sun Belt (@SSN_SunBelt) July 1, 2022
Welcome to the FBS level, James Madison! The Duke begin their full transition to the FBS this year, thus keeping them ineligible for post-season play. The largest reason JMU has one of the easiest Sun Belt non-conference schedules is the fact that they only face three opponents.
Last year, the Dukes fell in the FCS Semifinal to North Dakota State. This year, they begin Sun Belt football! Middle Tennessee State will be a litmus test for this team to start. The Blue Raiders were a meh (7-6) in Conference-USA last year but they’ll be the first FBS opponent on this Duke schedule.
Personally, I am higher on Louisville this season. Malik Cunningham looks like the real deal and he has two new toys at receiver in Dee Wiggins (transfer from Miami (FL)) and Tyler Hudson (transfer from Central Arkansas (FCS)).
South Alabama: vs Nichols State (FCS), @ Central Michigan, @ UCLA, vs Louisiana Tech
The Jaguars finished 2021 just (5-7) but won three of its four non-conference games (they were the victim of the SEC non-conference tradition via a 60-14 beatdown to Tennessee).
South Alabama was able to take down a MAC team in Bowling Green last year. Central Michigan was a little better. Led by Lew Nichols, the Chippewas rushing attack will likely test the Jaguars defense. Future Big Ten member, UCLA, was decent last year but had its issues; they managed to lose to Fresno State and Arizona State.
Finally, South Alabama will have its fill of Louisiana teams. They play both Louisiana and Louisiana-Monroe in addition to facing Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs were not very good in 2021, finishing with just three wins.
Marshall: vs Norfolk State (FCS), @ Notre Dame, @ Bowling Green, vs Gardner-Webb (FCS)
● RB Spotlight ●
Rasheen Ali – Marshall
• Ali was a TOUCHDOWN machine last season. He rushed for 1,423 yards 23 TDs averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Ali is also a big receiving threat with 45 receptions for 334 yards 1 TD. pic.twitter.com/0enQJTXFvn
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) June 21, 2022
Welcome to the Sun Belt, Marshall! As a Conference-USA squad in 2021, The Herd finished its (7-6) season with a loss to now fellow Sun Belt team, Louisiana. They split their non-conference slate last year which included a thrilling 31-30 loss to Appalachian State.
The Herd will have transfer quarterback Henry Colombi calling the shots but the star of this offense is running back Rasheen Ali. Admittedly, Notre Dame will be a difficult bout. However, the Fighting Irish dropped a game to Cincinnati last year, so anything can happen.
To say that Bowling Green is one of the better MAC programs at this time would be less than disingenuous. Marshall should be able to take care of business on the Falcons’ home turf.
Premier Group of 5 Football
With the recent success of Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF, the casual college football fall would think the AAC is the premier Group of 5 conference. After this year, the Sun Belt will have its say. Appalachian State, Marshall, Louisiana, Coastal Carolina, and even Georgia State are lined up to have good seasons.
With the conference realignment chaos taking place, can or will a Sun Belt team get poached by the ACC/SEC/Big Ten? Only time will tell, so let’s enjoy this superb conference as it is.
Mid-American: Easiest; Hardest
Conference-USA: Easiest; Hardest
Mountain West: Easiest; Hardest
Sun Belt: Easiest; Hardest
American Athletic: Easiest; Hardest
Pac-12: Easiest; Hardest
Big 12: Easiest; Hardest
ACC: Easiest; Hardest
SEC: Easiest; Hardest
Big Ten: Easiest; Hardest
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