College football is back and the Sun Belt Conference is looking to carry over its success from last year into this season. It’ll be tough going for several teams, however, in week one with multiple Power Five matchups and games against top Group of Five competition.
Sun Belt teams came close to knocking off major conference schools on a number of occasions last year with South Alabama being the lone upset with its win over Mississippi State.
Let’s check out tonight’s games that will officially kick off the Sun Belt season.
Tennessee State at Georgia State
It’s finally time to see what Shawn Elliot’s Georgia State team will look like this year as the Panthers open up the season in Georgia State Stadium. They hype has been very real in Atlanta and we’ll see if Georgia State can live up to it.
Tennessee State shouldn’t give the Panthers too much trouble, though it should be noted that former Florida quarterback Treon Harris will be starting for the Tigers. The Georgia State defense will be strong unit this year and should hold Harris and company in check.
The Panthers secondary was lights out last year and will be a force again this season. The Tigers may become one-dimensional early in this game, allowing Georgia State to key in on the run and contain the athletic Harris.
On offense, watch out for Georgia State wide receiver Penny Hart tonight. He missed last season after having over 1,000 receiving yards as a freshman in 2015. Another area to keep an eye on is the run game. Georgia State used a bevy of tailbacks last year and it’ll be interesting to see how the backfield is used under Elliot.
Hart and quarterback Conner Manning should prove to be too much in this contest. Georgia State should cruise to victory and Panthers fans can celebrate in a sold-out Georgia State Stadium.
Louisiana-Monroe at Memphis
The Warhawks season starts with as tough of a schedule as one could get in September. They’ll open tonight with a road trip to Memphis before travelling to Florida State next. Monroe will then play its home opener against Southern Mississippi.
This Warhawks team will be much over last year, though it may not show in the win column because of their schedule. As for tonight, quarterback Garrett Smith will have a chance to show what he’s really about when healthy. In his short season in 2016, he showed flashes of being a top quarterback in the Sun Belt.
He’ll have a young, yet experienced, group of playmakers surrounding him, as well. While head coach Matt Viator is bringing a solid defense to Memphis, it may not be enough to slow down the Riley Ferguson-Anthony Miller duo the Tigers will deploy in the Liberty Bowl.
The Memphis pass defense, on the other hand, was less than phenomenal last season. The Tigers lose nine of its 16 interceptions from a year ago as well. This particular matchup favors well for Monroe and could be the X factor in a possible upset.
The Warhawks have a high ceiling so don’t be too surprised if Monroe finds a way to steal a win. Monroe will be battle early on, but I would expect Memphis to slip away as the game wore on.