| March 24, 2018

Ben’s Sun Belt Conference Picks

September 12, 2015

Appalachian State @ No. 12 Clemson (-18), 9:30 a.m., ESPN3

The Appalachian State Mountaineers and Georgia Southern were the hottest teams in the Sun Belt Conference in the second half of last season. The Mountaineers won their last six games after starting out 1-5.

After demolishing Howard last week 49-0, Appalachian State (1-0) travels to take on playoff contender and No. 12 Clemson (1-0). Clemson is fresh off a 49-10 win over Wofford, who Idaho will play next week to start off the season.

The Mountaineers are famous for their 2007 win over No. 5 Michigan, but since then, Appalachian State has lost by an average of 38 points in its five games against power-five conference teams. While Appalachian State won’t be a pushover like Wofford was, the Tigers are just too talented and shouldn’t have any problems in this one.

My prediction: No. 12 Clemson 45, Appalachian State 17


Western Michigan (-4.5) @ Georgia Southern, 3 p.m., ESPN3

Getting shutout and losing by 44 points wasn’t exactly what Georgia Southern (0-1) had in mind for the season opener against West Virginia, especially after the Eagles went 9-3 last season and kept it close in all their games against power-five opponents.

While star quarterback Kevin Ellison sits out the last game of his two-game suspension, Favian Upshaw is expected to be the starter again after throwing four picks last week.

Western Michigan (0-1) comes off a loss to No. 5 Michigan State, in which the Broncos looked impressive at times.

If Ellison were eligible, this would be a different story. Without him last week, the Eagles were a disaster while Western Michigan hung around with a national title contender. If Western Michigan doesn’t regress from last week, it should handle Georgia Southern easily.

My prediction: Western Michigan 31, Georgia Southern 23


Northwestern State @ Louisiana-Lafayette (no line), 4 p.m., ESPN3

It came close, but Louisiana-Lafayette (0-1) wasn’t able to upset Kentucky last week on the road thanks to a Wildcats touchdown with 57 seconds left.

Kentucky may have gotten the win, but ULL still looked impressive doing that on the road to an up-and- coming Southeastern Conference team. This week, ULL will take on Northwestern State (0-1), an FCS school in the Southland Conference. Northwestern State finished 6-6 last year but did pull a three-point upset at Louisiana Tech. The Demons are coming off a loss to Southeastern Louisiana last week. Nothing is impossible, but ULL is just too talented and has no excuse to lose this game.

My prediction: Louisiana-Lafayette 24, Northwestern State 13


Nicholls State @ Louisiana-Monroe (no line), 4 p.m., ESPN3

It was a rough loss for Louisiana-Monroe (0-1) to No. 10 Georgia last weekend as it fell 51-14. ULM should be able to right the ship this week against a cupcake in Nicholls State (0-0).

The Colonels are playing their first game of the season after finishing 0-12 last year and are currently riding an 18-game losing streak spanning the last two seasons.

For ULM, Garrett Smith looked impressive at quarterback against such a tough opponent, while receiver Rashon Ceaser had 153 yards on 13 receptions and two touchdowns. The running game only averaged 1.7 yards per carry against Georgia, but it should get a good confidence boost this week against such an overmatched FCS opponent. In fact, the whole team should get a boost in morale. Nicholls State lost its three games last year against FBS teams by a combined score of 194-26.

My prediction: Louisiana-Monroe 48, Nicholls State 10


Prairie View A&M @ Texas State (no line), 4 p.m., ESPN3

Texas State (0-1) was overmatched by No. 11 Florida State last week on the road, but still looked impressive at times. The Bobcats will be able to get things smoothed out this week against a weak Prairie View A&M (1-0) team. The Panthers are an FCS school in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. They went 5-5 last year. Meanwhile, Texas State should hit the panic button if they lose this one. Prairie View A&M’s win came over a weaker Texas Southern school last week, but they will be handed their first loss of the season this week.

My prediction: Texas State 56, Prairie View A&M 9


Charleston Southern @ Troy (no line), 4 p.m., ESPN3

Be on upset watch, because this is a dangerous game for Troy.

Charleston Southern is a talented team that has been in the top five of the FCS the past two years and finished 8-4 last year.

A critical loss to Presbyterian and then a loss to national-power Coastal Carolina prevented Charleston Southern from getting into the playoffs. But a one-point loss to Vanderbilt last year should be enough indication the Buccaneers can beat Troy.

The Trojans went 3-9 last year with a loss to a transitional FCS team in Abilene Christian and now have a new head coach.

Count on Charleston Southern with the upset at Troy this weekend.

My prediction: Charleston Southern 33, Troy 29


No. 21 Missouri (-13) @ Arkansas State, 4 p.m., ESPN3

It’s a huge game for Arkansas State (0-1), even if it most likely won’t win. Hosting a ranked opponent, let alone a nearby SEC team in Missouri (1-0), is a big event for fans and players and the fans will probably pack the stadium.

The Red Wolves are coming off an ugly whipping at the hands of Southern California, 55-6. An offense that scored over 40 points six times last year looked lost.

Missouri, coming off a win over FCS school Southeast Missouri State, should be an easier opponent than USC. But an Arkansas State win this Saturday is hard to imagine.

My prediction: Missouri 38, Arkansas State 14


Georgia State @ New Mexico State (-4), 5 p.m., ESPN3

Ah, what a game this one will be.

The only two teams in the Sun Belt bad enough for Idaho to beat will square off in Las Cruces, New Mexico, for what easily could be either team’s one conference win this year.

Georgia State (0-1) suffered an ugly loss to transitional FBS member Charlotte last week in Atlanta, while New Mexico State (0-1) was spanked by Florida 61-13.

New Mexico State won by three over Georgia State last year in Atlanta, but the Aggies are in the midst of an 11-game losing streak. Georgia State is riding a 12-game losing streak and is a combined 2-34 since 2012.

This is really a toss up, but New Mexico State has home-field advantage and did win by three last year when these schools played. This won’t be pretty to watch.

My prediction: New Mexico State 22, Georgia State 13



South Alabama @ Nebraska (-27), 5 p.m., Big 10 Network

Nebraska (0-1) comes in as the 27-point favorite after losing on a last-second Hail Mary to BYU last week.

South Alabama (1-0) isn’t bad as far as Sun Belt teams go or even as far as the five power conferences go. But Nebraska is Nebraska and the Cornhuskers will not start the season with two straight home losses.

South Alabama’s Xavier Johnson had a 92-yard touchdown run last week while teammate Terrance Timmons had his own 49-yard scamper. Both Jaguars’ touchdowns through the air against Gardner-Webb were 50-yard and 56-yard scores.

Nebraska will need to limit the big plays to ensure a victory, but it shouldn’t be too hard for the Cornhuskers.

My prediction: Nebraska 46, South Alabama 16

Ben Evensen can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @BenE_VN

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