During the conference realignment run of the early 2010s, Conference USA attempted to assert its power by adding a number of Sun Belt programs to its roster: Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Middle Tennessee, North Texas and Western Kentucky. The Sun Belt responded by adding football programs. Georgia Southern found quick success, while Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina have become two of the most celebrated programs in the Group of Five.
A decade after that round of realignment, the Sun Belt got to assert power in its own way. In addition to beating C-USA for FCS powerhouse James Madison, it also added C-USA members Southern Miss, Marshall and Old Dominion. The pluckee has become the plucker.
The effects of this power move will be felt more in the Sun Belt East, where JMU, Marshall and ODU will reside. It might be the best division in the Group of Five this season. But first, let’s talk about the West. Southern Miss joins the fray, while a thankful Troy joins from the East, and the overriding storyline is pretty clear: Can anyone knock off the champs?
Louisiana has won four straight West crowns, and South Alabama could serve as a sleeper because of a high-potential defense, while the biggest threat to Ragin’ Cajun dominance might come from one of two underachieving newcomers.
Let’s preview the Sun Belt West.
Every week through the offseason, Bill Connelly will preview another division from the Group of 5 and Power 5 exclusively for ESPN+, ultimately including all 131 FBS teams. The previews will include 2021 breakdowns, 2022 previews and burning questions for each team.