The 2022 campaign went well for the Sun Belt.
The league put seven teams in a bowl game, tied with The American for the most among Group of Five conferences. This helps show how good the league is from top to bottom, and how well it played in non-conference play. It did play a ho-hum out-of-conference schedule matching up against just 18 Power Five programs across the 14-team league. Nevertheless, you can’t knock the success the league had last season.
The 2023 schedule is similar, but with only 15 P5 programs appearing across the league-wide schedule. That should equal another successful season, especially for the top teams.
With no Week 0 games, Georgia State kicks off SB play against Rhode Island on Thursday, Aug. 31. Here are some other things to note from the rest of the schedule:
There are some noticeable season-altering stretches of games that immediately stand out when looking through the schedule. For James Madison, the Dukes visit Virginia in Week 2 before traveling to Troy and then again to Utah State. The matchup against USU isn’t the biggest test, but it’s never easy playing three consecutive road games. It doesn’t get much easier in the following contest as JMU hosts South Alabama.
In Week 7, Old Dominion plays host to App State before traveling to JMU, hosting Coastal Carolina, and then traveling again to Liberty. Only three of those are league games, but still, a tough stretch. Marshall also has a critical midseason where it will host JMU in Week 7 before traveling to CC and App State in the following weeks. Louisiana-Monroe begins conference play against some quality opponents in App State and South Alabama after visiting Texas A&M. The two league games are at home.
Division Champs Repeat?
If Troy has any chance at repeating as SB West and league champs, their schedule shouldn’t be an issue. The Trojans’ season starts off against some good teams at Kansas State in Week 2 and then at home against James Madison. There really aren’t any brutal situations for the rest of the season for Troy. It gets South Alabama and Louisiana at home and has to visit Southern Miss to close the season. Other than that, I think we can expect the Trojans to cruise through their schedule.
JMU, on the other hand, has huge conference games early. I mentioned that stretch of four games above, but only two are conference, and neither in-division. If the Dukes win at least one of those games, I think they can set themselves up well, but still have to visit Marshall, and then Coastal in the final week of the regular season.
Big Time In-Division Games In Week 12
Speaking of the last week of the regular season, this conference has some big-time matchups in Week 12. In other G5 schedules we’ve broken down, there haven’t been as many in-division games to close the season. The JMU and Coastal contest is just for starters. If everything plays out like we hope, this could be a huge game. Especially because we know how last year’s game went, and how JMU didn’t get a chance to play for the league title after “winning” the SB East. App State will play Georgia Southern, and Georgia State will visit Old Dominion to close the season in that division.
In the West, ULM hosts Louisiana, South Alabama visits Texas State, and then, of course, Southern Miss hosts Troy. The division winners could ultimately come down to Week 12 outcomes – how it should be.
It should be a fun season for this conference, especially if JMU can reach full FBS status and get a waiver passed to override the limitations that are included in the FBS transition that it’s going through. Included in this is no postseason play. If so, it will certainly make the schedule much more interesting.