The 5 Most Interesting Sun Belt OOC Matchups This Season

Welcome to The Most Interesting Matchups, the series about interesting gridiron matchups (get it?) from the upcoming season, as taken from the series’ history. Think of it as “Drunk G5 History” or “Trivial Pursuit: CFB Edition.”

Each week, I’ll highlight one conference and its particular out-of-conference matchups. I have to rule out teams like South Alabama and Georgia State, since their programs are so young, and my methodology is not the least bit scientific—though numbers play a huge part. This week is the Sun Belt Conference.

5. Southern Miss at Appalachian State

2018 Date: Saturday, September 1
Series: Southern Miss, 2-0

This series stands out because the teams had literally only met once before the year 2000. In 1937, the Mountaineers thrashed every opponent, going undefeated and outscoring opponents 206-0. You read that right.

Meanwhile, Coach Reed Green had just taken the reigns of his Golden Eagles, leading them to a 7-3 record and slipping into a postseason game against App State. I only know three things about that game:

  1. It was called the “Doll and Toy Charity Game,”
  2. it was played in Biloxi, Mississippi (PDF pg. 187) and
  3. Southern Miss won 7-0.

Green’s Golden Eagles silenced the Mountaineers, ruining their absolutely perfect season. The two teams didn’t meet again until 2014, in a game with smaller stakes but a similar outcome. I think this is the year the Mountaineers get a win in this series, but neither outcome would surprise me.

4. South Carolina State at Georgia Southern

2018 Date: Saturday, September 1
Series: Georgia Southern, 7-0

Southern and S.C. State met off and on for 11 years, but the Bulldogs have never come closer than two touchdowns to beating the Eagles. From 1985-1996, Southern won six games in the series by an average of about 22 points. The last meeting between these two came by chance: the first round of the 2010 FCS Playoffs.

S.C. State was fresh off a 9-2 season, and in its third-straight playoffs appearance, the No. 11 Bulldogs traveled to Statesboro. The No. 22, 7-4 Eagles were led by first-year coach Jeff Monken, who took over after two .500 seasons. The stage was set for the Bulldogs to advance to their first quarterfinal in 16 years.

The Eagles smothered S.C. State 41-16, and they advanced to the semifinals. Four years later, they joined the FBS. Since, they’ve won a conference title, but despite last year’s collapse I expect a similar result to the 2010 game.

3. Florida A&M at Troy

2018 Date: Saturday, September 8
Series: Troy, 3-2

The Rattlers and the Trojans first met during Troy State’s 1984 national title season. A&M had no chance, losing 17-3 to the eventual D-II champions. Twelve years later the teams met in the I-AA (now FCS) Playoffs—the first of three matchups over the next four years.

State again won the game, but only by four points. Two years later, the Rattlers would even the series in back-to-back games, 27-17 and 17-10. That 1998 Florida A&M team won the national black college championship.

The Trojans moved to I-A in 2001, and the next year the teams met in Mobile. Ladd-Peebles Stadium hosted Troy State’s 24-7 victory, and 16 years later it will host a South Alabama team whose defensive coordinator played in the first game of this series.

Troy has only gotten better over the next 15 years, so I don’t expect the Rattlers to tie it up.

2. Southeastern Missouri at Arkansas State

2018 Date: Saturday, September 1
Series: Southeastern, 8-4-1

This series defies convention. Arkansas State won its first matchup 13-0 in 1915. I’m not sure if the RedHawks held a grudge, but the Indians didn’t score, much less win, for another 32 years.

That’s completely true: in 1921, neither team scored. Arkansas State didn’t host the game until 1929, but that only made it worse. Southeastern Missouri State won 25-0, the same margin as the previous two years put together.

The series ended in 1947, as both teams began the move to either the NCAA or NAIA, but the Indians left the RedHawks with a parting gift: its first win since before World War I… 25-0. Nearly 50 years later, Arkansas State invited the RedHawks back and throttled them 38-9.

In 2003, the teams met up again, with a similar result: 21-3. The streak cut Southeastern’s series lead to four games, and I expect it to decrease again this year. However, it may be another 50 years before ASU catches up.

Honorable Mention: Texas Southern at Texas State

2018 Date: Saturday, September 8
Series: Texas State, 9-0

Each of the previous series featured some sort of drama, whether it was a meaningful matchup or a lopsided series for the Sun Belt team. This one has neither.

These two teams have never been in a conference together, but from 1988 to 1992 they played each other. Well, one team showed up. The ’88 game was the only one in San Marcos til 2002, and the Bobcats won 38-7.

The game moved to Houston for the next four games, but the result was the same—the average score was 34 to 22 in Texas State’s favor. For a decade this series did not return, but the Southland’s TSU became the home team again. It did not change the outcome either.

The last four matchups (2002, 2006, 2008 and 2009) were all at the FCS or I-AA level. Following Texas State’s 52-18 smackdown in 2009, it began the move to FBS, and three years later the Bobcats were in the WAC. Unfortunately for the 2018 Tigers, I don’t feel the winds of change.

1. Southeastern Louisiana at Louisiana-Monroe

2018 Date: Saturday, September 1
Series: Southeastern, 25-11

This is the most interesting out-of-conference matchup in the Sun Belt this year by far. I say this mostly because of the series lead, but also because of the sheer number of games. No other game on this list comes close.

Oh, and there’s the winning streaks.

The teams first met in 1951. Southeastern Louisiana blanked ULM (then Northeastern Louisiana) 33-0, kicking off a 15-1 run. The Warhawks (then Indians) only won the 1958 game in that span.

In 1967 the tables turned. Northeastern won at home 30-14, its first home win and the beginning of a 5-1 run. Southeastern only won the 1969 edition in that span.

For those keeping track at home, Southeastern owned the series 16-6 by the end of 1972. The next year, it won 17-0, the start of an 8-1 run for the Lions. Northeastern’s only win in that time was 1977, 24-19.

In 1981, the Indians were down in the series 24-7. They began to catch up over the next three years, but unfortunately the 1985 game would be Southeastern’s last. The Lions took it 19-17, and the team folded with a 25-7 lead in this series.

They were revived in 2003, however, and by then Northeastern had become Louisiana-Monroe, a member of the Sun Belt Conference. Later, the Indians became the Warhawks and scheduled the new-look Lions in 2010.

The 21-20 win continued ULM’s streak across 25 years, and I suspect this year’s matchup won’t be much different. Should ULM take care of business though, it will still need more wins than it has to take back the series.

Next time on Most Interesting Matchups: The Mountain West.

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