2015-08-23

FBS - Preview 2015 - Offseason and Sun Belt Conference

I did think long about doing another preview for the college football world, but I'm still a bit addicted to the sport and I still want to share this with you so I said to my self, DO IT.

There is one small thing I have to say up front.
I will do my best to give very week a preview and a review, but I'm not sure I will have the time to do so.
But something is better than nothing, I think.

At 1st I will start with a tiny review of last season, the 1st one with the college football playoffs in FBS history.
I think the format did great, it gave more teams the chance to compete for the national title and at the end did Ohio State win it, which not many people had in mind, when the season started.

If we assume that the old BCS rankings would have produced similar rankings like the playoff committee did (which is not 100% likely, but in case of the first few teams, I think it's quite valid) then only 2 teams, #1 Alabama and #2 Oregon), would have played for national championship.
Fans can discuss the outcome of that, but the main fact is, Ohio State wouldn't have had the chance to play for the title at all.

So the new format did serve well from that point of view.
But of cause there are also unsatisfied teams.

The BIG12 were not able to send any team to the playoffs (and also no Non-Big-5-Conference team had the chance) which was overall no surprise, since there were 4 spots, but 5 so called power5-conferences.
One conference was destined to be left out. For some it came as a surprise that this was the BIG12, which had 2 contenders this season.
But without a conference championship game the conference were not able to name a single champ.
Many people do see this circumstances as the reason for the missed playoff spot, but even if they had a single champ and they would have made the playoffs, some other conference champion would have been left out.
In case of last season, this could have been Ohio State.
You can be sure, the BIG10 would have made big noise about that one.

Because of this, I think we will see latest in the next few seasons a change in the system. They will probably put in 8 teams.
How those teams will be selected is an open debate, but most likely will there be 5 Big-5-Conference-Champs + 3 others.
If they are clever, they do put in a team from the non-big-5-conferences as well, or at least give them a valid chance and add 2 teams worth the rest spots based on rankings.

For this season, we will have again 4 spots, so the debates will return, once the december comes.

Another positive effect of the College Football Playoffs is the value of the schedule.
Pushover-wins will be a minus in the committee evaluation. So the power5 conferences start to add more games against better teams in their non conference schedule and less FCS teams.
The down side of this development might be, that it will be hard for the non-power5-conferences teams to get good games scheduled to add in best case signiture wins on a championship season.
Imagine how people might have ranked Boise State in their best season, if they wouldn't have won against top 25 teams?
They would have been ranked, but not that high.
They might never have been invited to a BCS-Bowl.
And that can happen now.
A season worth a college football playoff spot stopped, because no ones of the big teams was willing to play the supposed to be weak team.
Keep in mind, that schedules are done years ahead, sometimes 5-10 years!
Nobody knows, how good a team will be at that time.
And normally a team from the non-power5-conference might have 1 or 2 seasons in a row to play with the big boys and then take a few reloading seasons.

There is no solution for that problem, except the 8 team playoff with at least 1 of the non power five conference teams included each year.

One major event of the last season, or better, after the last season, was the decision of UAB to cancel their football program.
UAB did play in the Conference USA and did finish with a 6-6 record but did not went to a Bowl.

Some people in the UAB organisation and the University of Alabama Board of Trustees decided to close football (and other sports). The main reason for this was an in-depth analysis, which estimated additional cost for the next 5 years of about 49 mio. $.
The annual cost so far were around 20 mio$. It was also estimated, that the costs overall will rise even further after the 5 years.

The team was closes, many players did transfer, the public did show support for the players and fans and an independed review was done, to verify the numbers.

Surprisingly was a few days ago anounced, that the football program will be brought back, based on the review, the public oppionion and 27 mio. $ raised by public fundings so far.

I like the decision, but we will have to see, what this means to the team.
They have a coach, but no players.
At the moment they aim to play again 2017.

What I can't get my head around on this story is, how they did stop the program, without making the figures public before and then see, how the public reacts.
I mean, if the realitiy is, that the team can't be kept alive by the income, this has to be made public and it has to give the people the chance to react on that.
They would have had a contending team, now. Instead they have an empty locker room.

Another big story this off season was graduate transfers, mainly pin pointed by the transfer of once hopefull QB Everett Golson, who graduated this offseason and was therefor free to transfer to any school he liked (or better which liked him to be on their roster) and Notre Dame accepted.
Golson had lost his starter spot in the bowl and felt he had to play somewhere else for his final season.
Undertandable, since with no playing time, the draft stock will dive fast.

After some speculations, he was granted to transfer to Florida State.
Florida State had until end of last season Jameis Winston as QB, so they might need a new one, but they have overall 6 QBs on the roster, so no starting spot is sure.

Based on the case of Golson was the graduate transfer rule discussed, but I don't think they NCAA will change it. It's once rule which is in favor of the player and I don't think it would be popular for the public to change it.
Coaches and organisations probably would like to change it, but reality is, there are only a few cases every season and it's not worth the effort.

That's it for the off season.

So let's start with the first, probably weakest, conference.

Sun Belt Conference
I did feel at the start of last season, they might give up the red lantern of college football strength, but it was quite clear after the season, that they are probably the weakest one.

No changes since last season, so maybe we have a stable situation at last.
But, the conference is 1 team short a championship game, so maybe they will try to get another one.
Since this is the bottom of the FBS conference strength ladder, the conference could probably only attract FCS teams, willing to step up into the FBS.
I don't see teams moving into this conference from other FBS conferences.
More likely is, they might lose a team, if some movements happen again in the other conferences.

So far, no changes are known for the 2016 season.

The teams are:
Appalachian State University Mountaineers
Arkansas State University Red Wolves
Georgia Southern University Eagles
Georgia State University Panthers
University of Idaho Vandals
University of Louisiana at Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns
University of Louisiana at Monroe Warhawks
New Mexico State University Aggies
University of South Alabama Jaguars
Texas State University Bobcats
Troy University Trojans

Now let's get a bit into the details:

Appalachian State Mountaineers
They came into the FBS last season after a very long time being a very good team in the FCS.
The won 3 FCS National Championships in a row in 2005-2007 and changed the head coach after the 2012 season.
Scott Satterfield, a longtime Assistant on the Mountaineers staff, is now in his 3rd year as Headcoach and I think he might have another 1 or 2 season left until he has to deliver more wins.
Last season was finished 6-2 in conference and 7-5 overall.
For a FBS starter a very good result, but the losses against Georgia Southern (also FBS Starter) and Liberty (FCS) did probably hurt.
The Mountaineers fans and administration is a bit spoiled with wins, so I would be surprised, if the expectations wouldn't be high this season.
Except the Clemson game all games this season are at least winable for the team.
It's hard to predict an outcome here, but I think they will get better than last season.
They don't play one of the worst teams of the conference (New Mexico State) and do have all the contenders on their schedule, so improving won't be easy.
Bowl eligiblity is a must I think, but anything else depends on character and a bit luck.
A finish in the TOP 3 is possible, even the conference championship might happen, since they play most of the toughest teams at home.

Arkansas State Red Wolves
The Red Wolves did have some strange seasons sind 2011.
A long time Headcoach (Steve Roberts) left after the 2010 season and went to become an athletic director.
The school selected Hugh Freeze (their OC from 2010) as succesor, only to see him go to Ole Miss after a very successfull season at ASU (Conference Champiosnhip and Bowl loss).
For 2012 the school selected Gus Malzahn, who was Auburns OC/QB coach during Cam Newtons great season.
Malzahn left after 2012 (Conference Champiosnhip and Bowl win) to become the new Auburn HC, so the school of ASU did chose Bryan Harsin for 2013.
Harsin was the Texas Longhorns OC at that time. After one season (shared conference championship and a bowl win), Harsin left to become the new Headcoach of Boise State.
Then came 2014 and Blake Anderson came into town, from North Carolina, where he was the OC.
And since 2010, they have this season the first time a HC they had the season before.
They were not able to win the conference in 2014 and it might get tough for them to win it this season, also.
As a boost they have a softer schedule inside the conference, avoiding Georgia Southern, but they play Missouri and USC as non conference games in week 1 and 2.
I think they can make it to the TOP 3 this season, even winning the conference is possible, this is probably very much depended on the game against Appalachian State on the road.

Georgia Southern Eagles
This team had a very estonishing season in 2014.
They came into the FBS, fresh and new, came into the conference, not eligable for Bowling by default and did win the conference!
First year on that level and they did beat everyone except Navy, NC State and GT.
Granted, they did avoid Louisiana Lafayette, but still an amazing run.
If Willie Fritz, 2nd year coach now, does repeat, he will be one of the hottest coaching candidates in the offseason for sure.
Chances are very good, since they have one of the softest conference schedules of all teams, avoiding Louisiana Lafayette and Arkansas State.
They play only Appalachian State on the road of all tougher teams.
If no surprises do happen, they will battle for the conference championship again.
And I think they are in favor here.
If they lose against the Mountaineers, they for sure will finish TOP 3.

Georgia State Panthers
This team did suck badly last season.
The Panthers do play like everyone does expect a FCS team going up to the FBS, which they did in 2013.
Last season they did win 1 game, against a FCS team.
Now they are in their 3rd season in the FBS and thinks should improve, right?
Not so fast.
They do avoid only Louisiana-Monroe and Idaho, both teams I do not expect to be the powerteams of the conference.
So, that means they have to play all the contenders.
But, they probably will get better and Trent Miles will probably turn the team around in his 3rd season.
They play one FCS team (Citadel) and one FBS newcommer (Charlotte, playing their 3rd season overall in football) and also New Mexico State, so they have the chance to get their win total higher against quite weak teams.
I doubt they will win more than 5 games, but you never know.
Overall those Sun Belt teams go down fast, if injuries happen, so the season might get better or worse for the Panthers, fast.
I pick them as bottom 3 team, but not as the favorit for the last place.

Idaho Vandals
This team is in rebuilding mode. Or better stated: Reconstruction-Mode.
Paul Petrino (Brother of Bobby Petrino) was hired for the 2013 season and so far he has 2 wins on his record. 2! Out of 23 games.
Not that I'm surprised, since the Vandels were a mess, a history car wreck, a nightmare.
A little history here:
The Vandals decided to play in the now called FCS in 1978 and returned to the FBS in 1996. Before the FCS shift they were not really a good team, having their best times 50 season ago.
In the FCS they were quite good, winning several conference championships and made the FCS playoffs several time, never won a national championship.
When they came back into the FBS they started OK, winning once the conference (Big West) but when their head coach decided to coach Nevada, the misery started.
Since that year, 2000, the team did record 40 wins and 115 losses.
Since 2011 they won (including Pauls 2 wins) 5 games.
That's the situation in the State of Idaho. The same state Boise State comes from and goes from one win to another one.
If you ask me, what to expect from this season, I would say, almost nothing.
There is only 1 hope for the Vandals, they might have a team in their conference even worse.
Unfortunatelly, I see New Mexico State as that team and they have to play them on the road.
So maybe they will lose that one.
They also play some other not so good teams and they might score there some wins, but I doubt that.
Bottom line is, they might win only one game, against FCS team Woffard.

Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
With this team every team in the SBC should be carefull.
Under Mark Hudspeth as coach they have 4 consecutive 9-4 seasons with 1 shared conference championship and 4 consecutive bowl wins.
Now it's Hudspeth 5th season with the team and each year you think they are bound to win the conference alone and make the next step, playing a better bowl, but at some point they stumble over a conference opponent.
Losses against non conference teams are quite normal for a SBC team, but last season they lost against Appalachian State, at home, which did cost them another conference title, even if it would have been again a shared one.
So, we have a strong team here, bound to fall at least once a season.
This season they again don't have to face Georgia Southern which will help to have a good conference record and they don't play Idaho, which is a bit of a pitty, since the would have been another W in the books.
Bad luck for them they play Applachian State and Arkansas State on the road.
I expect them to fall in one of those two games.
The Ragin' Cajuns will play for the conference title, but I expect them, to fall short.
With a bit easier non conference schedule they might still get to their 9 wins from last season.

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks
Granted, this team plays the big boys quite regularly but of cause they don't win too often.
Last season was a set back for them, and I'm not sure, what we can expect from this team in 2015.
Good thing is, the head coach Todd Berry is in his 6th season, so everybody should be well set under his management.
The question here is, will he lose the grip, as some coaches does, when the first few season are over, or will he rebound, as the good coaches do?
Conditions are mixed, playing the probably 4 best teams in the conference (lucky for them 3 of them at home) and don't play South Alabama and Georgia State, which would have been much easier to play.
They also play non conference Georgia and Alabama, so mark those as losses.
It would be a surprise, if the team really could lose less than 6 games.
So, the turnaround probably has to wait another season.

New Mexico State Aggies
The Aggies might make a step into the right direction this season.
Doug Martin is in his 3rd season with the team and maybe he gets the team heading for the right direction.
The last 2 seasons the team did win each season 2 games, 1 against a FCS team and 1 against one of the worst teams in that season. 2013 it was Idaho, 2014 it was Georgia State.
This season?
The don't play a FCS team, but Georgia State AND Idaho, both at home.
So chances are good to get at least 2 wins.
There are not many teams which I would mark as 'beatable'.
The play the Rio Grande Rivalry against New Mexico on the road, do only avoid Appalachian State of all the top teams, have quite heavy non conference opponents and from that point of view have to hope for a good game against Troy at home and a very good game against Texas State on the road.
It's possible they get a 3rd or even 4th win, but not very likely.
I think the teams will again play against the last downfall and will end up under the bottom 3 to 4 teams in the conference.

South Alabama Jaguars
The Jaguars did improve over the last few years, step by step.
Joey Jones did bring the teams from the FCS into the FBS and is now in his 7th season with the team.
He managed to win 6 games each the last 2 season and went even bowling (a loss) last season.
Their non conference start will probably result in an 1-3 record, with the only win against a FCS team.
They also have one of the toughest SBC schedules of all teams, plaing not New mexico State and ULM, which both would probably be much easier than some other games.
Lucky for them they play of the top 4 teams 3 at home, only having to visit Geogia Southern on the road.
What does that mean?
They will have to be GOOD to top the 6 wins of last season.
I think 7 would be a very good season, 6 wins are possible, 5 more likely.
It depends a bit on how good do the recruits get onto the team, since many do see the Jaguar on top 3 of the list for the SBC.
Means, if the coach can transfer that talent onto the field, the team will get better.
Maybe not this season, but maybe next one.

Texas State Bobcats
Dennis Franchione is in his 5th season and last season went 7-5.
The biggest question here is, are the Bobcats in for a reloading season?
Maybe. But they might even then reach the same win total as last season.
The play a FCS team and Southern Miss as non conference games with a big chance to win those. Florida State will be a loss and Houston a big question mark, since they have a new coach and that might change a lot.
But add Georgia State, ULM, New Mexico State and Idaho and it gets clear that there are not many games in the SBC which have to be won to get the 7 wins again.
Best bet would be the South Alabama game at home.
May guess is, they will stumble a bit on the way and will end up with 5 to 6 wins.
This will give them a nice spot in the middle.

Troy Trojans
For many season, the Trojans were the lock for the conference title in the SBC.
Larry Blakeney did win 5 in a row from 2006 to 2010.
But since then he did win only 19 games and lost 31.
He retired after 24 seasons after the last game of 2014.
So, a new coach is here. Neal Brown was the last 2 seasons the OC of Kentucky and will have to get the Trojans back on track.
Blakeney did set the level very high and they expectations will be high.
They will not complain this season, but I think Brown will have to deliver quickly.
This season they have a FCS team on the schedule and Georgia State, Idaho AND New Mexico State.
Good starting point.
They avoid Arkansas State and Texas State, so an easier schedule overall.
Crucial games will probably the 2 home games against South Alabama and ULM.
Winning both could happen, but it's not very likely.
Still, the team could rebound from last season 3 wins very fast and might end up with 4 to 6 wins.

So my TIP is:
Appalachian State Mountaineers
Georgia Southern Eagles
Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns
Arkansas State Red Wolves
South Alabama Jaguars
Troy Trojans
Texas State Bobcats
Louisiana Monroe Warhawks
New Mexico State Aggies
Idaho Vandals
Georgia State Panthers

No comments:

Post a Comment