The four Sun Belt Conference teams going bowling this season all have shown signs of greatness and adversity. While Arkansas State, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State battled at the top of the league, Georgia State rallied from the bottom of the standings to reach bowl eligibility.
Arkansas State had a poor start to the season, but turned it around in conference play. And both Appalachian State and Georgia Southern didn’t let tough losses keep them from impressive seasons.
Arkansas State won the outright Sun Belt championship, although SBC commissioner Karl Benson and other conference officials didn’t make the trip to Jonesboro to award the trophy. But the Red Wolves did get the trophy and did get an invite to play in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 19 against Louisiana Tech.
After starting the season 1-3 against tough opponents like USC, Missouri and Toledo, Arkansas State went undefeated through Sun Belt play, thanks to an offense that broke school and conference records in SBC play in touchdowns and points.
Also, the Red Wolves will be making its fifth straight bowl appearance after four straight appearances at the GoDaddy Bowl.
Louisiana Tech will be a tough challenge for Arkansas State. The Bulldogs have a high-powered offense led by running back Kenneth Dixon and from Florida quarterback Jeff Driskell. Dixon has scored 83 touchdowns in his college career, tied with former Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and current Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds.
While Arkansas State is making its fifth straight bowl, the other three Sun Belt teams will be playing in their first-ever bowl games.
Probably the most consistently strong of the four teams is Appalachian State. The Mountaineers won 10 games this season, only the fourth time a Sun Belt team has reached that mark in the regular season. Appalachian State has won 16 of its last 18 games overall and 13 of its last 14 Sun Belt games.
The Mountaineers will head to Montgomery, Ala., to play in the Camellia Bowl against Ohio on Dec. 19. The matchup against the Bobcats should be an entertaining one, as Ohio went 8-4 this season, including a big win over Northern Illinois to end the regular season.
Georgia Southern also will face a Mid-American Conference team as the Eagles will meet Bowling Green in the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Dec. 23.
Bowling Green won the MAC championship on Friday over NIU, but also saw head coach Dino Babers announce he would be leaving to take the head job at Syracuse.
While the Eagles are obviously excited to make its first bowl game ever, there is some concern after their offense was stagnant in a 34-7 loss to Georgia State on Sunday. The key is running back Matt Breida, who sprained his ankle in the game on Saturday. No word from the Eagles if he can play in the bowl game.
But Georgia State’s win was huge for the Sun Belt to help the conference to fulfill its bowl tie-ins. But for the Panthers, making it to the brand-new Cure Bowl in Orlando against San Jose State on Dec. 19 is a momentum-changer for the program.
Three years removed from a winless season and after a 2-6 start to the season, Georgia State won four games in a row to get to bowl eligibility. The resurgence comes from senior quarterback Nick Arbuckle, who is sixth in the nation with 346.7 yards per game.
San Jose State finished 5-7, but got into a bowl thanks to a strong APR rating. The Spartans have lost three of their last four games, but they have running back Tyler Ervin, who is second in the FBS with 2,410 all-purpose yards and 15 touchdowns.