The 2022 college football season is quickly approaching! With that comes predictions on how each team could perform this upcoming season. The Sun Belt saw the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns be crowned the champions in their 24-16 win over Appalachian State. There were plenty of great matchups that came from the Sun Belt in 2021, but there are plenty of crucial coaches and players that won’t be back for 2022. That could lead to some things being shaken up for certain teams. College football analysts Marissa Myers and Tristen Kuhn break down their predictions with Marissa evaluating the West and Tristen evaluating the East.
South Alabama: 6-6
UL- Monroe: 1-11
Texas State: 4-8
Arkansas State: 3-9
Southern Miss: 5-7
Louisiana lost their head coach Billy Napier to Florida and starting quarterback Levi Lewis to the NFL. Other than that they are returning 65% of the team that was there for their 13-1 season in 2021. Michael Desormeaux will take over as the head coach and will provide some continuity as he was the team’s co-offensive coordinator in 2021. They face Florida State which will most likely be a loss, but other than that their talent still outmatches the rest of the west.
Another team with a new head coach that is coming into a spot to have success in year one is Troy. Jon Sumrall will have a team full of experience as they return 21 starters from the team that went 6-6 in 2021. It’s rough to start the year with opponents like Ole Miss, Appalachian State, and Marshall but from there it gets relatively better until November when they face Louisiana. The key for Troy will be to find more balance between the passing game and run game on offense.
South Alabama has steadily been improving each year but wide receiver Jalen Tolbert is going to be hard to replace. Luckily at quarterback, they had Carter Bradley transfer in from Toledo. Bradley came in and impressed during the spring game completing 7-of-13 passes for 93 yards and three touchdowns. The Jaguars’ defensive front seven was great last year and with the returning talent like Charles Coleman III, CJ Rias, Wy’Kevious Thomas, and getting transfer James Miller from Indiana will help keep this group at the top. The Jaguars should be good enough to make a bowl game this season as outside of Louisiana, the other Sun Belt teams on the schedule they face had a combined record of 27-58 in 2021.
For the rest of the Sun Belt West, it’s a bit rough. Southern Miss went 3-9 last year. They will now have to adjust to the Sun Belt West while hoping quarterback Ty Keyes takes a leap forward in his second season. They have a good roster that should help the team improve but they have a rough start to the season with Liberty and Miami. Arkansas State was decent offensively last season but will need the four new offensive linemen to be better than last year’s starters. They also had the worst defensive unit in the Sun Belt and facing non-conference teams like Ohio State and Memphis won’t be easy.
Texas State has the offense to compete but their defense isn’t solidified and could be an issue. UL- Monroe could be better production-wise this season but having to face Texas, Alabama, Coastal Carolina, Army, Louisiana Georgia State, Troy, Southern Miss, and South Alabama does not look favorable. On top of that, for the third year in a row they will have new offensive and defensive coordinators.
Appalachian State: 11-1
Coastal Carolina: 8-4
Georgia State: 7-5
Georgia Southern: 3-9
James Madison: 6-5
Old Dominion: 2-10
Appalachian State has been a Sun Belt powerhouse since joining the conference and FBS in 2014. They enter 2022 as likely the best team in the Sun Belt despite losing nearly 13 starters from the team that went 10-4 in 2021. They feature one of the best running back rooms in college football with Cam Peoples, Nate Noel, Daetrich Harrington, and Wake Forest transfer Amani Marshall. On defense, potential top-100 draft picks Nick Hampton, Steven Jones Jr. and Tyler Cobb lead a veteran-led defense. The schedule is also incredibly favorable for Sean Clark and the Mountaineers despite starting the season against UNC and at Texas A&M (which is the only loss I have them projected with). There will be tough games against Marshall, Coastal Carolina, and Georgia State but Appalachian dealt with them all favorably last year. The team features likely the best coaching and talent in the Sun Belt which could drive them to a top-25 finish.
Coastal Carolina lost a lot of talent to the NFL last year and it’s going to take a hit on their record despite featuring the best quarterback in the conference with Grayson McCall. The landing of transfer wide receiver Sam Pickney will do well for an offense that looks to rank in the top-30 of the FBS again. The defense features good returning talent with Dre Pinckney, and D’Jordan Strong to pair with Georgia Tech transfer defensive tackle JaQuon Griffin and FCS standout Adrian Hope. It’s a brutal schedule for Coastal, however, having to face Army and Buffalo, two teams they have struggled with in the past. The back half of the season will be their true test facing Marshall and Appalachian State (on a short week) back-to-back then traveling to Virginia only a week later. The Chanticleers are a good team, but not as good as years past which saw them being ranked as high as the 13th best team in college football. They could push for a Sun Belt championship appearance but it’s going to be a fight.
The Sun Belt East is one of the toughest conferences in football, and Georgia State is just another one of those schools fighting for their spot at the table. Head coach Shawn Elliot has done a great job recruiting and landing transfers for the Panthers. Their defense will be the strong point of this team and how they win games led by an excellent defensive line trio to pair with Quavian White, Jaylon Jones, Cody Jones, and Jalen Tate in the secondary. They will struggle with depth losing nearly 18 players to the portal including offensive star Sam Pickney to previously mentioned Coastal Carolina. Like the rest of the teams on this list, it’s a rough schedule starting the season likely 0-2 vs South Carolina and UNC then facing a stretch of Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, and Army. It gets easier after their week seven bye but still have to travel to Boone and Marshall. They are a good team whose schedule is going to hold them back but will for sure be in a good bowl game.
Georgia Southern is in a prove-it year under former USC head coach Clay Helton. He’s already shown to be bringing a Power Five mindset to the school but they are going to need a lot more to be competitive. There is an interesting quarterback battle to play out with Buffalo transfer Kyle Vantrease and JUCO transfer Richie Lankford joining sophomore Connor Cigelske. All three have different play styles so we may see the Eagles go with a two or even three-quarterback system to start the year. The defense has some interesting talent mainly with standout cornerback Tyler Bride and pass rushers Justin Ellis, Quin Williams, and Parker Devine but nowhere do they top out the three previous teams on this list or Marshall. Out-of-conference games vs Nebraska, UAB, and Ball State don’t help this team, and ending the year post-bye week with South Alabama, Louisiana, Marshall, and a rivalry game vs Appalachian State is rough. The talent isn’t there yet and the schedule is one of the hardest in the conference, it likely won’t be a great first year for Helton.
JMU is one of the hardest teams to predict for next year. The FCS powerhouse is joining the Sun Belt and has a favorable schedule for them to win despite playing Louisville, Appalachian State, Marshall, and ending the year against Coastal Carolina. They won’t be bowl eligible due to NCAA regulations but I do think they end up with six-plus wins due to the sheer talent on this team. The team lost FCS First Team stars in edge rusher Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey to Texas and cornerback Wesley McCormick to West Virginia. However, they added two former four-star transfer cornerbacks in Antoine Booth (Michigan State) and Nehki Meredith (N.C. State). They lost a ton of talent including their best passer ever in Cole Johnson but a solid replacement is behind him with Todd Centeio. It will be interesting to see how they match up against the top of the Sun Belt this year.
The previous C-USA powerhouse, Marshall joins the Sun Belt this year and likely is one of the best teams the conference has. Marshall killed the portal this year landing Texas Tech standout quarterback Henry Colombi to form a dangerous offensive trio with All-American running back Rasheen Ali, and star wide receiver Shadeed Ahmed. They also added Florida State running back Khalan Laborn, Kentucky defensive tackle Isaiah Gibson, Purdue defensive tackle Anthony Watts, and Miami defensive tackle Quentin Williams to form a dangerous front seven. The team features returning defensive starters with Owen Porter, Charlie Gray, and Steven Gilmore rounding out a dangerous unit. Their schedule is favorable too with the only losses I have projected being to Notre Dame and Appalachian State. Upsets over Coastal Carolina and Louisiana are bold picks but it’s a great team and might be the most talented team overall in the Sun Belt. Week 11’s game vs Appalachian State should decide the winner of the Sun Belt East.
Old Dominion isn’t good, they just joined the Sun Belt for their baseball and basketball presence but regardless this is about football. The team lost a ton of talent to the transfer portal but do have some solid veteran starters returning. Ricky Rahne is likely in the final stretch of his coaching career for the Monarchs so they’ll be making every last effort to win this year. Cornerback Tre Hawkins, tight end Zack Kuntz, wide receiver Ali Jennings, and safety Tahj Ra-El are the biggest standouts to watch this year. They could be a good team in the future if their talent can develop well this year. A rough schedule isn’t great either facing Virginia Tech, ECU, Virginia, Liberty, Arkansas State, Appalachian State, Coastal, and Marshall. It’s hard to find more than three wins on this schedule.
Appalachian State vs Louisiana