There are six undefeated Group of Five teams after four weeks of college football action. Three of those six teams – Georgia State, James Madison, and Marshall – play in the Sun Belt East.
There’s a strong case to be made that the Sun Belt is the best non-Power Five conference in the country. That case relies heavily on the talent and depth in the Sun Belt East.
Winning the division will be a grind, even with JMU expected to be ineligible to win the division title due to NCAA transition rules. Every team, perhaps outside of Old Dominion, looks like it’s capable of finishing first in the division.
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Power Five winners
JMU (4-0, 1-0 SBC) picked up a win over Virginia in Week 2, grinding out a 36-35 win over the ACC opponent. The Dukes have since added wins over Troy, the 2022 Sun Belt champion, and Utah State. The Dukes are a perfect 3-0 on the road, matching their 2022 road win total.
Despite not playing a “complete” game yet, the Dukes look destined for a winning record at the very least this fall.
Marshall (3-0) added to the division’s Power Five win total on Saturday, defeating Virginia Tech 24-17. The Thundering Herd leaned on star tailback Rasheen Ali and an elite defense to defeat the Hokies, who looked overmatched for much of Saturday’s contest.
Charles Huff’s Marshall program also defeated Notre Dame last season, and the Thundering Herd will face N.C. State on Oct. 7 with another chance at a Power Five victory.
Both Marshall and JMU are balanced, with each side feeling mostly confident about their offense and defense. JMU’s passing defense appears to be a weakness, but it hasn’t cost the Dukes quite yet. The Dukes’ defense leads the country in rushing yards allowed per game (41.5) and sacks (18), relying on a strong defensive front to stop opposing offenses.
It’d be a surprise to see either team drop out of the Sun Belt East race before November, given their talent on each side of the ball.
JMU and Marshall meet on Oct. 19 in West Virginia, with the Thursday night game being broadcast on either ESPN or ESPN2. The two Sun Belt East contenders should provide casual fans with an entertaining weeknight clash.
Georgia State, Southern good
Elsewhere in the division, Georgia State (4-0, 1-0 SBC) and Georgia Southern (3-1) appear to have two of the most dangerous offenses across the Group of Five level.
Georgia Southern leads the conference in passing yards per game, racking up 340 yards per contest through the air. Georgia State leads the conference in passing efficiency, and the group has a dynamic running game with quarterback Darren Grainger and running back Marcus Carroll both ranking in the top 15 among Sun Belt players in individual rushing yards per game.
Georgia State is 4-0 this fall, beating Coastal Carolina 30-17 last week. The Panthers are 3-0 against FBS teams, winning all three contests by at least 13 points.
Georgia Southern dropped a game to Wisconsin earlier this fall, losing 35-14 and turning the ball over six times. The Eagles bounced back with a 40-3 win over Ball State on Saturday, giving them three wins of at least 14 points. The offense has scored at least 34 points in each of its three games against teams outside the Power Five.
Each team, due to their offenses, could realistically win the division.
Coastal, App State still dangerous
App State looks like one of the best Group of Five teams, even with the Mountaineers losing one-possession games to North Carolina and Wyoming. They’ve thoroughly passed the “eye test,” even if the overall record doesn’t show that yet.
Three of the Mountaineers’ next four games are against ULM, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss, giving the team an ideal chance to reach 5-3 or 6-2 (Coastal Carolina also appears on the October schedule) if they play up to their level. That comes before a brutal November schedule.
Coastal Carolina, despite an average start to the season at 2-2 overall and 1-1 in the Sun Belt, still has Grayson McCall at quarterback and several dynamic offensive playmakers. The Chanticleers host Marshall and JMU, and road contests with Arkansas State and Old Dominion look quite manageable on paper.
Both teams should factor into the Sun Belt East race. It’s only September, but tracking the Sun Belt East might be the most compelling story of the Group of Five season.