The Sun Belt has grown to be one of the best group of five conferences in the nation in 2022. The conference already has existing powerhouses within group of five such as Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina and Louisiana. However, with the influx of new teams coming into the conference, the competition just got a lot tougher. The new teams that have come into the East Division consist of former C-USA powerhouse Marshall, James Madison who has dominated the FCS and former C-USA member Old Dominion who has given power five teams in the past troubles. This article will aim at predicting the outcome of who will win the Sun Belt East Division.
1. Appalachian State
Appalachian State has already had success within the Sun Belt Conference. The Mountaineers made it to the conference championship last season but suffered defeat to a ranked Louisiana team. In addition. the Mountaineers lost their Bowl game to WKU, which was a shock to many college football fans. However, this team has a chance to have another special year in 2022. The Mountaineers return Chase Brice who had an incredible season in 2021. He passed for over 3,000 yards and had 27 passing touchdowns. This team also touts a very good rushing attack with the combination of Nate Noel who had over 1,000 yards last year and Camerun Peoples who fell just short of the 1,000-yard mark.
Their defense is also impressive and will be a force for a lot of teams. They return two senior linebackers in Trey Cobb and Brock Hampton who were monsters at tackling and stopping the run. Cobbs had 75 tackles and Hampton had 69 total tackles. This team has a chance to make up for their disappointing finish last season. It is predicted that will do just that, as it is predicted that they will win the East and possibly a conference championship.
2. Coastal Carolina
There is another team who has turned a lot of heads over the past couple of years. Coastal Carolina has been an unstoppable football team recently as they have gone 22-3 over their past two seasons. It is likely that the Chanticleers will be a team to reckoned with in 2022 as well. Coastal brings back their great quarterback Grayson McCall. He had close to 3,000 yards in 2021 and 27 touchdowns. He will be one of the key players for this team to have success. They have lost some players from the previous teams; both of their star wide receivers Javon Heiligh and Isaiah Likely have moved on to the NFL. This should not hurt Coastal too much as they still have depth at receiver and a great quarterback.
Their defense should also be pretty good this year. They have Josiah Stewart now who broke former Coastal Carolina player Tarron Jackson’s record in sacks last season with 12.5. They also feature linebacker Teddy Gallagher who had 86 tackles and two sacks last season. However, they will miss Silas Kelly who led the team in tackles in 2021 as he has gone on to the NFL. Coastal will compete for the East division this year, but it is predicted that App State will just barely beat them out for that East Division title.
The Thundering Herd has been a contender in Conference USA for years. However, they played in a conference that really did not have a lot of great teams. Moving to the Sun Belt will give the Herd a lot tougher competition which means it will be a battle to win a lot of games. The Herd lost former quarterback Grant Wells to the transfer portal, as he will be playing for Virginia Tech in 2022. However, Marshall has replaced Wells with Texas Tech transfer Henry Colombi who has had success at the power five level.
In addition, Marshall returns one of the best running backs in the nation Rasheen Ali. He ran for over 1,400 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2021 as he put together a season no one expected out of the sophomore. Furthermore, Marshall touts one of the better linebacking corps in the nation with the likes of Abraham Beauplan and Eli Neal. The downside for the Herd is that they have lost several starters on both sides of the ball, which could take time to adjust too. Marshall has a chance to compete for an East Division title this year, but with all the competition, it is likely that Herd will fall short in the end.
4. Georgia State
Georgia State is another team that again can compete for a title in the Sun Belt East Division. This team had a record of 8-5 in 2021 but had a conference record of 6-2 which made them a contender in the East last year. They are led by dual-threat quarterback Darren Grainger who had over 1,700 passing yards and 19 touchdowns in 2021. Grainger also ran the ball for 646 rushing yards and three touchdowns last season. He will also have pair of two senior running backs helping him out. Tucker Gregg who led the team in rushing last year had 953 yards and nine touchdowns. The other senior running back Jamyest Williams had just as good of a year with 859 yards and nine touchdowns.
The defense is also not bad, they are led by a pair of linebackers in Jordan Veneziale and Blake Carroll. Veneziale had 96 total tackles and four sacks during the 2021 season. Carroll had 89 total tackles and five and a half sacks. They also have Antavious Lane coming back at safety. He produced 81 total tackles for the Panthers last year and five interceptions. As for now, it is predicted that the Panthers will finish fourth in the division, but do not overlook them as they could very possibly finish ahead of all the teams above them. This division is stacked.
5. Old Dominion
As said at the beginning, ODU is another C-USA team that has made its transition to the Sun Belt. This is a team that more than likely does not make a push for the East Division title this year. Hayden Wolff will more than likely be the starter at quarterback for the Monarchs this year. He had a little under 2,000 yards passing and 10 touchdowns in 2021. Furthermore, ODU is bringing back a 1,000-yard rusher in Blake Watson, which will definitely help the Monarchs out with their offensive production. At wideout, the Monarchs have Ali Jennings III who had a 1,000 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 2021.
As for the defense the ODU brings back safety R’Tarriun Johnson who can tackle and produce turnovers. He had 91 total tackles and two interceptions in 2021. Furthermore, ODU will have Marcus Haynes who let ODU in sacks with 4.5 in 2021. ODU has a tough schedule with games against two ACC teams in VA Tech and UVA. Then they will have to deal with a rough sunbelt schedule. ODU will not be the best team this year, but they will manage to get some wins over the season.
Transitioning from the FCS to FBS is tough for any college football team. However, JMU was a powerhouse in the FCS, as they contended for national championships over the past few years, their most recent being in 2016. The Dukes went 12-2 last season and captured a conference title, which is good momentum heading into the FBS. The Dukes will deal with stiffer competition in the Sunbelt and will probably be near the bottom of the east division by the end of the season. However, it should not take long for the Dukes to become real competition in this conference.
The Dukes lost Cole Johnson, who was an outstanding quarterback for them in the FCS. He had over 3,000 yards and 42 touchdowns 2021. Now, the Dukes will have to find a replacement for him. Furthermore, the Dukes do have Latrele Palmer, came close to the 1,000-yard mark in 2021 and had three rushing touchdowns. As for the defense they lost many key parts from last year, which will be another thing to deal with going into the 2022 season.
This concludes predicting the Sun Belt East Division.