If you haven’t been following Sun Belt football, now is as good a time as any, because you haven’t missed a thing.
Eleven weeks into the season, absolutely nothing has been settled. The standings are a complete mess, with four teams tied atop the league with identical 5-1 records. The MAC is the only other conference that has as many of two teams tied for first.
With two weeks left to play, nearly half the conference — five of 12 teams — still have a chance to get a share of the league title.
Two of those teams — Georgia State and Appalachian State — meet this weekend. Both teams are already bowl eligible: The Panthers are 6-3 overall, while App is 6-4. It’s just the second time since App State moved to FBS that the Mountaineers will play a regular season game in which both teams are bowl eligible. A then 7-2 App State played at 7-1 Troy last November.
The other two teams tied for the lead — Arkansas State and Troy — will play each other next week. The two clashes of first-place teams should go a long way toward sorting out the league, although there are still scenarios where chaos reigns at the end of the regular season.
In addition to Georgia State, App has a game left against Louisiana, which is just a game out of first place at 4-2. With a combined overall record of 11-8, App State’s remaining strength of schedule is second-toughest among the contenders. Arkansas State faces teams with a 12-8 mark.
Louisiana has the easiest road, with a remaining 7-13 strength of schedule. Troy (8-12) and Georgia State (9-11) are next.
Here’s the Sun Belt’s doomsday scenario, starting with this weekend:
App State beats Georgia State
Troy beats Texas State
Arkansas State loses to ULM
Louisiana beats Georgia Southern
Louisiana beats App State
Arkansas State beats Troy
Georgia State beats Idaho
That would leave five teams tied for the league title with identical 6-2 records. The same thing could happen if Troy wins its showdown with Arkansas State but loses to Texas State the week before, while Arkansas State beats ULM.
Clearly, the key to taking home the Sun Belt is to win out. Two wins would guarantee Appalachian State of, at worst, tying one other team for the title.
The Mountaineers never lost to Georgia State, which is coached by Shawn Elliott, a defensive lineman and teammate of App coach Scott Satterfield when both played at App State. The two actually roomed together.
The teams have plenty of offensive star power. App’s Taylor Lamb is the top-rated quarterback in the Sun Belt and is one of just four quarterbacks in FBS with at least 20 touchdowns and a 5-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Georgia State’s Penny Hart is the top receiver in the conference.
App State’s defense could be the difference in the contest. Led by Sun Belt sack leader Ja’Von Rolland-Jones and co-interception leaders Clifton Duck and Tae Hayes, the Mountaineers have allowed just 23.9 points per game this year.