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 Hardest Sun Belt Non-Conference Schedules
Louisiana-Monroe: @ Texas, vs Nichols State (FCS), @ Alabama, @ Army
By far the most difficult Sun Belt non-conference schedule belongs to the Warhawks of Louisiana-Monroe. UL-Monroe was not nearly as successful in 2021 as their Ragin’ Cajuns rivals. They split their non-conference slate last year…barely. They beat Liberty by three and were the lone blemish in the regular season for Jackson State (FCS) in a 12-7 win.
We ask again: is Texas back? Not yet but they do have some serious talent. They’re home to one of the best running backs in the nation and have a robust wide receiver corps. After a reprieve against Nichols State (FCS), the Warhawks earn the right to face off against Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama, predictably, will be one of the best teams in the nation. They return the Heisman Trophy winner and the top defender in college football. Needless to say, it’s going to take divine intervention from every major and minor religion for the Warhawks to upset the Tide. Finally, Army is a tough out no matter who you are.
Arkansas State: vs Grambling State (FCS), @ Ohio State, @ Memphis, vs UMASS
● QB Spotlight ●
James Blackman – Arkansas State
• Blackman is a Gun Slinger. In his career he’s thrown for 6,789 yards 51 TDs but also has 30 INTs. He’s completed 60.3% of his passes in his career and also added 1 rushing TD. pic.twitter.com/kmAtdNYyNW
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) June 7, 2022
Butch Jones’ squad struggled in 2021. The Red Wolves finished at the bottom of the Sun Belt and in ESPN’s Bottom 10. Last year, their only non-conference victory came against Central Arkansas (FCS). They did just drop their two contests vs AAC foes by just one score.
Playing at Ohio State is a tall task for anyone. They’ll have one of the best offenses in the nation and are led by Heisman hopeful, C.J. Stroud. The Buckeyes defense was suspect last year. Can a healthy James Blackman go toe-to-toe with Stroud if this game turns into a shootout?
Arkansas State’s game against Memphis last year was an instant classic. The Tigers will likely have a top-flight offense again in 2022. Five points separated these two teams in 2021. If the Red Wolves can manage to not trail by 18 points in the fourth and give up a 75-yard touchdown, we can chalk up an ASU win.
UMASS should be a win for Arkansas State. At the end of it all, where the Red Wolves may lack in wins on the football field, they make up in sweet helmets and unis.
Old Dominion: vs Virginia Tech, @ ECU, @ Virginia, vs Liberty
Realistically, it’s pretty close between the final five most difficult Sun Belt non-conference schedules. ODU and Georgia State got the nod because they will face four FBS foes. The Monarchs get to move up to the Sun Belt from Conference-USA this year. As a C-USA member, ODU won just one non-conference game and it was against an FCS team. They rallied to five straight wins to end the year to finish bowl eligible.
Virginia Tech and UVA are not premier programs in the ACC. The Hokies will be led by former First-Team All Conference-USA quarterback Grant Wells. He transfers in from Marshall with 5,626 yards and 34 touchdowns and a 14-9 W-L record as a starter. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers will be led by Brennan Armstrong, a quarterback who threw for 4,449 yards (best in the ACC) and 31 touchdowns last year.
ECU was a sneaky good AAC team last year. And Liberty has been on the rise of late. Charley Brewer transfers in with a few years of P5 starting experience.
Georgia State: @ South Carolina, vs North Carolina, vs Charlotte, @ Army
● RB Duo Spotlight ●
Tucker Gregg & Jamyest Williams
• Gregg is a former walk-on and Williams is a former DB who played for South Carolina, Now these two combine for one of the best RB duos in #CFB. They’ve rushed for a combined 2,672 yards 25 TDs & caught 16 passes. pic.twitter.com/2UbmcG6ORo
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) June 22, 2022
The Panthers finished second in the Sun Belt East after posting a (6-2) division record and (8-5) overall. They struggled against Army and UNC last year but took town Charlotte. The Panthers did make Auburn sweat a bit and were even leading with less than a minute to go.
GSU gets to run through the Carolinas this year. Darren Grainger came in last year against UNC in mop-up duty and never relinquished the starting job. That resulted in Cornelious Brown IV entering the transfer portal. As for South Carolina, they are going to be a bit more exciting than they were last year with Spencer Rattler calling the shots.
GSU took down Charlotte last year, 20-9 in an otherwise uninspiring win. Hopefully, Grainger starting will give the Panthers a better shot against Army, unlike last year.
Troy: @ Ole Miss, vs Alabama A&M (FCS), @ Western Kentucky, vs Army
The Troy Trojans had a disappointing year last year. They split their non-conference slate by taking down now Sun Belt peer, Southern Miss along with an FCS team. But, they dropped games against Liberty and South Carolina, narrowly. They’ll return leading passer, Gunnar Watson, rusher, Kimani Videl, and receiver, Tez Johnson.
Johnson will get to run around with a trio of transfers into the program and, as a unit, they’re pretty young. Ole Miss will be a legitimate challenge for Troy. The last time Troy took down an SEC school was in 2017 over LSU. The Rebels have to replace Matt Corral but Jaxson Dart leads a large class of transfers set to make their mark in Oxford, MS.
WKU led the nation in scoring with a ridiculous 619 points. They graduate Bailey Zappe but receive former BGSU and former West Virginia quarterback, Jerret Doege. And, as is the case with four Sun Belt teams, Army is a tough out with that triple-option.
Texas State: @ Nevada, vs Florida International, @ Baylor, vs Houston Baptist (FCS)
The Bobcats of Texas State were the second-best team in the Sun Belt West division…but that’s not saying much. They finished (4-8) overall after winning just one non-conference game. They lost to Incarnate Word (FCS), Eastern Michigan, and Baylor. Only one of those teams was good last year.
Former Alabama and Arkansas State quarterback, Layne Hatcher, will try to lead a different team in passing after being the Red Wolves’ signal-caller for the past three years. Florida International was on the schedule last year and the Bobcats came out on top, 23-17 in overtime.
Nevada was a decent MWC team last year but they’ll need to replace their NFL quarterback with former LA Tech quarterback, Nate Cox. Cox took over for Carson Strong in the bowl game.
Finally, the most difficult on the schedule: Baylor. The Bears won the Big 12 last year en route to an NY6 victory in the Sugar Bowl over Ole Miss. Blake Shapen led the team in the final three games, including the Big 12 Championship.
Appalachian State: vs North Carolina, @ Texas A&M, vs The Citadel (FCS), vs Robert Morris (FCS)
Chase Brice has eclipsed 300 passing yards today and set a program record for single-season passing yards.
The old record of 3,291 was set by Armanti Edwards in 2009. pic.twitter.com/2SkucrpqZT
— App State Football (@AppState_FB) December 18, 2021
Appalachian State won the Sun Belt East but ended up losing the whole thing to Louisiana, their second loss to the Ragin’ Cajuns in the season. Outside of the Sun Belt, the Mountaineers won three of their four. That one loss? Two points at Miami (FL). One of those wins, however, was a narrow, one-point win vs Marshall.
As with Georgia State, Appalachian State gets to face in-state P5 rival, North Carolina. Whatever the spread, I’d take the Mountaineers and the points because they’re going to be good yet again.
The only other difficult team on the non-conference schedule is Texas A&M. Regardless of how over-hyped the Aggies seem to be on a yearly basis, they may be for real this fall. They
paid for signed a legendary recruiting class and were actually pretty close to running the table in 2021, losing by just ten, four, ten, and three points, respectively.
Walkin’ on Sun [Belt] Shine
The Sun Belt, as a whole, looks to be gearing up for a really good season in 2021. They have half of a dozen teams who could end up ranked at one point or another. People tend to overlook any and all Group of 5 teams. If your favorite P5 team has to suit up against any of the top half of the Sun Belt teams, don’t overlook them.
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
Join the conversation! Follow @LWOSports on Twitter!