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Coastal Carolina came out of nowhere to burst on the national scene with an 11-1 record in 2020. They lost their bowl game to a similar Liberty team 37-34 in overtime at ruin a perfect season. In addition, they return nine starters on offense and ten on defense so they are ready for an encore. They have to find a replacement at running back and they lost the league’s Defensive-Player-of-the-Year, defensive end Tarron Jackson. This team is deep and well-coached and they have a chance to run the table if they can avoid reading all their press clippings and are able to handle the pressure of being nationally ranked and being on everyone’s radar.
Players to Watch: QB, Grayson McCall (277 yards total offense per game with 26 TDs), WR, Jaivon Heiligh (54 receptions), TE, Isaiah Likely, DE, Jeffrey Gunter, DT, C.J. Brewer, LB, Silas Kelly, CB, D’Jordan Strong, S, Alex Spillum
Must Wins: The Citadel, Kansas, UMass, Louisiana-Monroe, Troy, Georgia State, Texas State, at South Alabama
Toss-Up Games They Need to Win But Could Lose: at Buffalo, at Arkansas State, at Appalachian State, at Georgia Southern
Probable Losses: None
Predicted Finish: 1st Place in the Sun Belt East Division Overall Record: 11-1
This is a model program for a non-Division 1 team to follow. They are consistently good, know how to recruit the players to fit their system and they have great support from the university and the community. They finished 9-3 in 2020 which is a disappointing year for them. They have the tools to climb back on top and win another league title in 2021. They lost the quarterback but got a boost from the transfer portal when Chase Brice joined the team this spring. He might even be an upgrade. The offense should be solid. Defensively, they are stacked and have 10 starters back from the second-best unit in the conference. They get Coastal Carolina at home on October, 20th, and that likely will decide the division title even though there are some other tough league games on the schedule.
Players to Watch: QB, Chase Brice (transfer from Duke), RB, Cameron Peoples (1,124 rushing), WRs, Thomas Hennigan and Malik Williams, LB, D’Marco Jackson, CB, Shaun Jolly
Must Wins: Elon, Louisiana Monroe, at Arkansas State, East Carolina, South Alabama, Georgia Southern
Toss-Up Games They Need to Win But Could Lose: at Georgia State, Marshall, at Louisiana, Coastal Carolina, at Troy
Probable Losses: at Miami
Predicted Finish: 2nd Place in the Sun Belt East Division Overall Record: 9-3
This is a program that is consistently getting better. They were 6-4 in 2020 and lost two close games to conference powers Louisiana and Appalachian St. They return all 11 starters from last years’ offense including the 2nd most productive passer in the conference. They are deep at running back and they are loaded at receiver. They lost some people on defense and replacing those pieces will determine how good they will be.
Players to Watch: QB, Quad Brown (2,878 passing yards) RB, Destin Coates, WR, Sam Pinckney, WR, Cornelius McCoy, LB, Blake Carroll (74 tackles), CB, Quavian White, S, Antavious Lane
Must Wins: Charlotte, Georgia Southern, Texas State, Arkansas State,Troy, at Louisiana Monroe
Toss-Up Games They Need to Win But Could Lose: Army, Appalachian State
Probable Losses: at North Carolina, at Auburn, at Louisiana, at Coastal Carolina,
Predicted Finish: 3rd Place in the Sun Belt East Division Overall Record: 7-5
The Trojans are coming off a 5-6 season in 2020 in which they lost four games by a combined 16 points. They have 18 starters returning from that team and if they can learn to win the close games, they could be in the thick of things for the East title. They have two returning quarterbacks battling for the job and there his depth at running back and receiver. The defense was weak against the run and had a poor pass rush and needs to settle those issues. As usual, the non-conference has some tough games and it will be difficult.
Players to watch: QBs, Gunnar Watson (2,141 yards, 16 TDs) and Jacob Free (1,051 yards and 6 TDs), RB, Kimani Vidal, WR, Reggie Todd, LB, Carlton Martial, LB, Jayden McDaniel
Must Wins: Southern, at Louisiana Monroe, South Alabama, Georgia Southern
Toss-Up Games They Need to Win But Could Lose: at Texas State, at Georgia State, Liberty
Probable Losses: at Southern Miss, at South Carolina, at Coastal Carolina, Louisiana, Appalachian State
Predicted Finish: 4th Place in the Sun Belt East Division Overall Record: 6-6
The Eagles are coming off an 8-5 season and have 13 starters back, but they lost 4-year starting quarterback Shai Werts. He will be hard to replace. There ia talent on board and they are coming off a 38-3 spanking over Louisiana Tech in the New Orleans Bowl. They might surprise some people and I might have them too low in the East. But their non-conference schedule is tough and and they have games against the top four teams in the conference.
Players to Watch: QB, Justin Tomlin, RBs, J.D. King and Logan Wright, WR, NaJee Thompson, NT, C.J. Wright, LB, Randy Wade
Must Wins: Gardner-Webb, Arkansas State, at South Alabama
Toss-Up Games They Need to Win But Could Lose: at FAU, Georgia State, at Troy, at Texas State
Probable Losses: at Arkansas, Louisiana, Coastal Carolina, BYU, at Appalachian State
Predicted Finish: 5th Place in the Sun Belt East Division Overall Record: 5-7
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