In about 2 months college football will be back in action. Teams are beginning to make their final preparations for the 2015 season. The Sun Belt Conference is poised to have another successful season, culminating at the R+L Bowl in New Orleans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 19, 2015. Our last conference preview covered the reigning R+L Bowl champs Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, Appalachian State and Arkansas State. Our second roundup will cover three more teams ready to start the road to the 2015 R+L Bowl.
The 2014 season was a year of firsts for Georgia Southern. It was the Eagles first year in the Sun Belt Conference, first year in the FBS and the team had a first year head coach in Willie Fritz. Even though the team came into the season in uncharted territory, they made a great first impression. The former six time FCS (I-AA) national championship program went 8-0 in Sun Belt conference play and 9-3 overall. Two of the three loses for the Eagles came against NC State and Georgia Tech, high profile division 1 programs by a combined 5 points. The Eagles will be led by junior running back Matt Breida and junior quarterback Kevin Ellison, both named first and second team Preseason All Sun Belt by Athlon Sports respectively. They are joined by six other Eagles that were selected to preseason honors in the conference, four of which are experienced defensive players back to anchor the defense. The story line this season for Georgia Southern will be seeing if the team can go undefeated in conference play for the second straight year. It will be a favorable schedule for the Eagles, not having to play Arkansas State and UL Lafayette. They will, however, play ULM (10/3) and Appalachian State (10/22) on the road. The Eagles will also play West Virginia and Georgia in non-conference play.
The Panthers are hoping to build on the momentum from the magical NCAA March Madness run by R.J. Hunter and the Georgia State basketball team. Last season, the team finished 0-8 in conference play and 1-11 overall, but the team has some veteran and experienced talent to work around in the 2015 season. Eight players were named to the Athlon Sports Preseason All-Sun Belt team. First team accolades went to senior receiver Donovan Harden and senior linebacker Joseph Peterson. Also on the offensive side, senior tight end Joel Ruiz was named to the second team, who is rated as a top five tight end prospect among this year’s senior class. With the senior leadership of Harden, Peterson and Ruiz, the Panthers hope to leave their mark on the Sun Belt Conference this season. Georgia State opens up their 2015 campaign against Charlotte (9/4) at home on ESPNU. The team will look to upset Appalachian State (10/10) and UL Lafayette (11/7) at home. On 9/19, the team will travel to Eugene to take on the Oregon Ducks, national runner-up in last year’s inaugural College Football Playoff.
Another team hoping to improve in the 2015 college football season are the Vandals. For the third straight year, Idaho finished with only one win at 1-7 in the Sun Belt and 1-10 overall. Quarterback Matt Linehan will run the offense again after an up and down redshirt freshman season. The up included throwing 11 touchdowns for 2,540 yards. The down included throwing 18 interceptions. Linehan will need to keep his interceptions down in 2015 to help his team be successful. Head coach Paul Petrino also welcomes back senior running back Elijhaa Penny, who had 589 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. The return of senior wide receiver Dezmon Epps and junior tight end Deon Watson should also assist the passing game. The defense led by senior cornerback Jayshawn Jordan and junior safety Russell Siavii will need to help the defense generate more stops and turnovers than the team did last year to be successfully. The Vandals open up the season on 9/3 against Ohio University at home, and then travel to Los Angeles, California to take on USC. In conference play, Idaho will face Georgia Southern (9/26), travel to Arkansas State (10/3) and battle Appalachian State at home (11/14). The team will also travel to Alabama to take on SEC powerhouse Auburn University on 11/21.
Our Road to the 2015 R+L Bowl Sun Belt Conference season previews will continue to bring you team updates before the 2015 seasons starts. Next up, Little Rock, University of Louisiana at Monroe and the New Mexico State Aggies.