In our Sun Belt West football preview for 2019, we see Arkansas State as being one of the best. This Sun Belt West football preview finds they’ll battle it out with Louisiana for the top spot. Also, the Arkansas State Red Wolves and Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns are the two teams in the SB West that are most likely to earn bowl bids.
We don’t feel that the ULM Warriors possess the depth to make it into the postseason. Plus, despite having a decent number of experienced players returning, the Texas State Bobcats and South Alabama Jaguars look to be out of the running.
Our 2019 Sun Belt West Football Preview
The Arkansas State Red Wolves have a major advantage over all other teams in the West. It’s their defense. They are solid, and along with a sound rushing offense, they will be in a good position to secure first place. In our Sun Belt West football preview, we like the O-line of the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. They will certainly help establish what is probably the best rush attack in the conference. In 2019, we see the Ragin’s Cajuns taking second, while the ULM Warriors, with sound quarterbacking but a weak D, finish third. The final two spots will go to the Texas State Bobcats and the South Alabama Jaguars respectively. Each team has issues on both sides of the ball.
1. Sun Belt West Football – Arkansas State Red Wolves (8-5)
The Red Wolves finished a strong second last season, as they averaged 30.4 PPG (54th) and racked up 466.2 total yards per game (17th). The team’s pass attack was noteworthy as it averaged 281.5 YPG (21st). Their ground attack, which was good for 184.8 YPG, was better than averaged, earning a ranking of 49th. There will be a battle for the QB spot, but junior Logan Bonner, who saw limited action last season, looks to get the initial nod. Leading pass catcher Kirk Merritt, a senior, returns having made 83 receptions and caught seven TD passes. Eight receivers with experience are back. Last season as a freshman, RB Marcel Murray averaged 5.6 YPA, scoring eight times while gaining a total of 860 yards. The O-line has experience but is still a work in progress.
Defense and Special Teams
Last season, the Red Wolves went to the Arizona Bowl where they lost in OT to Nevada 13-16. During the season, Arkansas State held opponents to 25.6 PPG (54th) and to total yards averaging 369.5 YPG (45th). The passing defense gave up just 177.8 YPG (11th), while the rushing defense allowed 191.8 YPG (91st). The Red Wolves have the best defensive line in the SBC. Returning are NG Forrest Merrill, who notched 58 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and three TFL, and DT Kevin Thurmon, who recorded 63 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 8.5 TFL. The LB unit is very solid. Former corner Darreon Jackson, who led the team last season with 90 tackles, moves to NB, making this group exceptionally strong. The D-backs include corner Jerry Jacobs, who notched four picks, and safety B.J. Edmonds, who took in three INTs. On special teams, they have to replace their punt returner, but otherwise this unit is sound.
2. Sun Belt West – Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (10-3)
In 2018, the Ragin’ Cajuns took first in the SB West. In the conference championship game, Louisiana lost to Appalachian State 19-30. Our Sun Belt West football preview notes that the team’s rushing game was ranked a strong 22nd (218.7 YPG), while their pass attack came in at a weak 92nd (205.6 YPG). They were 40th in points scored, putting up 31.9 PG. The team’s overall yardage came in at 424.3 PG (44th). The Cajuns feature a premium O-line and a topnotch rush attack that returns three top runners. In 2018, junior Trey Ragas, gained 1,181 of the 2900-plus yards recoded by the trio. Together, they scored 28 TDs. The QB situation is tenuous. We expect junior Levi Lewis, who tossed 59 passes last season, completing 62.7%, to start. Top receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley returns after making 40 catches and scoring 10 times.
Defense and Special Teams
The Ragin’ Cajuns allowed opponents 34.2 PPG (105th). Their ground defense was 112th (219.1 YPG), while their passing defense was 55th (216.8 YPG). Total defensive yardage came in at 435.9 YPG (97th). The Louisiana defensive line is good but not outstanding. DE Chauncey Manac posted four sacks, four TFL, and five QBHs. DT Bernie Higgins recorded 58 tackles, four sacks, and three TFL. The Linebacking group is the strongest unit on this side of the ball. It features top-tackler MLB Jasques Boudreaux. He had 93 tackles, 3.5 TFL, and three PBU. Senior corner Michael Jacquet, who accumulated nine PBU and two INTs, anchors the secondary. The special teams are solid overall but need help on punt returns.
3. Sun Belt West – ULM Warhawks (6-6)
The ULM Warhawks, who last season finished third in the Sun Belt West, averaged 26.6 PPG (T-85th) and averaged 414.8 YPG (T-52nd). They put the 50th-ranked passing game on the field and 69th rush attack. Senior QB Caleb Evans, a dual threat, passed for 2,869 yards and rushed for 632 more. He tossed 16 TD passes and ran for 10 scores. The receiving unit loses its top player, but there’s decent talent. Still, three pass catchers will need to step up big time. The rushing game will be a challenge, due to losses and inexperience. A very solid O-line will serve this side of the ball well.
Defense and Special Teams
The Warhawks defense came in tied for 92nd in the nation in points allowed (31.8 PPG). They were 90th in total defensive yards allowed (429.8 YPG). Their rushing D gave up 182.7 YPG (82nd), while their passing defense offered up 247.1 YPG (94th). The frontline has some question marks, which could affect this unit’s overall performance. Kerry Starks and Jaylen Veasley, two important performers, may not play due to suspensions. The LB unit brings back some fine contributors, including senior WLB Cortez Sisco, the top returning tackler (53). The deep backs are thin. Junior corner Corey Straughter, who grabbed two picks and had six PBU, anchors the group. On special teams, all of the primary performers except premium punter Jared Porter have to be replaced.
4. Sun Belt West – Texas State Bobcats (3-9)
The Bobcats look to improve from their fifth-place finish last season. In 2018, Texas State scored just 19.8 PPG (T-121st) and averaged 330.3 YPG in total yards (120th). The offense passed for 182.2 YPG (104th) and ran for 148.1 YPG (95th). Quarterback Gresch Jensen, a junior college transfer, will likely win the starting spot. The receiving group sees three-of-five top performers return, including senior Hutch White who grabbed 30 passes last year. The offensive line should show improvement, but it’s still not where it needs to be. The top five running backs from 2018 return, including Robert Brown who averaged 4.5 YPA. This group’s depth should help this unit’s production.
Defense and Special Teams
In 2018, the Bobcat defense allowed 383.9 YPG (53rd) and 27.7 PPG (74th). Their 201.6 YPG in passing ranked them 39th, while the team’s 182.3 YPG in rushing-allowed earned them a ranking of 81st. The defensive line includes senior DE Ishmael Davis who made 51 tackles and recorded 3.5 sacks, 4.5 TFL, and three QBHs. The LB group is strong. The number one and number two tacklers from last season, Bryan London (109) and Nikolas Daniels (108), are on this unit. Together they combined for 11.5 TFL, 10 PBU, and seven QBHs. There’s a lot of experience in the secondary, which includes quality junior corner Kordell Rodgers. Last season, Rodgers had two picks and five PBU. New special teams coach Nick Whitworth should help this unit. We expect the return game to improve, but kicking and punting may still be weak.
5. Sun Belt West – South Alabama Jaguars (3-9)
Last season, the South Alabama Jags were fifth in the Sun Belt West. The offense was good for 24.2 PPG (100th), while they averaged 355.3 total yards per game (T-105th). South Alabama tied for 92nd in rushing yards (152.0 PG), while their passing game came in at 94th (203.3 PG). The quarterbacking group takes a step back this year. There’s minimal experience here. Sophomore Cephus Johnson, who saw limited action in 2018, looks to start. The pass-catching group has also seen limited experience. The top two rushers from 2018, including premium performer Tra Minter who rushed for 801 yards and six TDs, return. The O-line is improved and experienced. Look for more production in the ground attack.
Defense and Special Teams
Our Sun Belt West football preview notes that the South Alabama defense was ranked 122nd in points allowed (38.8 PG). They were 101st in rushing yards given up and 90th in passing yards allowed. The 448.7 total yards allowed per game earned them a ranking of 107th. The D-line won’t be spectacular, but they should be better than they were last season. Senior DE Tyree Turner, who had 51 tackles, four sacks, six TFL, and three QBHs last year, is tops on this unit. The linebacking group loses two starters. It includes sophomore Nick Mobley, who posted 56 tackles, at WLB. The defensive backs will be challenged as they have been thinned out from last season. Tra Minter returns to special teams. He’s fine at run backs. The team’s punter and PK must be replaced.
2019 Sun Belt Postseason
Arizona Bowl, Dec. 31 – Fresno State Bulldogs and Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns
Mobile Alabama Bowl, Jan. 6 – Western Michigan Broncos and Arkansas State Red Wolves
2019 Sun Belt West Football Preview
Projected Best Bets
Aug. 31 – Grambling @ ULM – We like the Warhawks in this one.
Sep. 7 – Jackson State @ South Alabama – Bet the Jaguars.
Sep. 14 – Texas Southern @ Louisiana – We like the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Sep. 28 – Nicholas @ Texas State – Take the Bobcats.
Oct. 5 – Arkansas State @ Georgia State – Red Wolves win.
Oct. 17 – Louisiana @ Arkansas State – Bet the Red Wolves.
Nov. 2 – South Alabama @ Texas State – Home Cats over visiting Jaguars.
Nov. 7 – Louisiana @ Coastal Carolina – Ragin’ Cajuns take down the Chanticleers.
Nov. 16 – Coastal Carolina @ Arkansas State – Wager on the home team.
Nov 30 – Texas State @ Coastal Carolina – Bobcats beat Chanticleers.
Utilize this 2019 Sun Belt West preview to give yourself an added edge this NCAA football season. For more information on the Sun Belt, go to our Sun Belt East preview. You can access other conferences through our hub page.