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September College Football Review, Part One: Conference USA/Sun Belt

We’re breaking up our weekly CFB recap into five parts this week as we see where everyone sits as the season’s first month comes to a close.

Ron Turner, the first FBS coaching casualty of the 2016 season.
Ron Turner, the first FBS coaching casualty of the 2016 season.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The first month of the season is basically over. Yes, there are some games on September 29-30, but they belong to the more generic October 1 weekend, so it’s fair to close the book on September rather than get mired in technicalities.

And with that — and the not-coincidental timing of the end of most non-conference play — it’s a good time to take a look at each conference and see where they sit overall, rather than simply judging them on the week they’ve just had. We’re going to cover two conferences a day this week in order to make each read a little less daunting. Today, we start with the two conferences at the bottom of the totem pole.

Conference USA (14-29)

To say C-USA is at the bottom of the totem pole is grossly unfair — to the totem pole. In reality, when you look at any tall cylindrical structure, there’s one thing you generally tend to forget: there’s a part you can’t see. It’s underground, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that C-USA has been so horrifically bad this season that this is exactly where the conference is.

C-USA was already at the bottom of our rankings last week, and a dismal 0-5 showing in non-conference action this past weekend was just piling indignity atop injury. Marshall was obliterated by Louisville, which really wasn’t a surprise. Charlotte got run by Temple and FIU was shellacked by UCF. Florida Atlantic put on a decent showing against Ball State, but came up short, while Western Kentucky lost a heartbreaker to Vanderbilt in overtime.

If there’s one dubious honor C-USA can claim, it’s that they have zero losses to FCS teams. The problem is that they’ve gone 1-14 against Power 5 schools, Southern Mississippi’s win over Kentucky being the only positive. But even removing those games from the equation leaves the circuit 13-15 against all other competition. Yuck.

Middle Tennessee State (3-1, 1-0) and Southern Miss (3-1, 0-0) are atop the standings at this point. The only other team that looks like a contender is Western Kentucky (2-2, 1-0). Old Dominion (2-2, 1-0) has a conference win in the bank, but they’re still an unknown quantity. Marshall (1-2, 0-0) and Louisiana Tech (1-3) could still insert themselves, as is their custom, but they’ve done precious little to actually make a case so far.

The bottom end is pretty awful. Florida International (0-4, 0-0) has already fired Ron Turner. Rice is also 0-4, and they’ve got a conference loss already as well. Charlotte (1-3) and Florida Atlantic (1-3) look pretty bad; also at 1-3 are UTEP and UTSA, who will probably look better by season’s end but don’t appear to be any threat to the guys at the top.

Sun Belt (13-18)

The Sun Belt has had some fine moments this season. Appalachian State’s overtime loss to still overrated Tennessee, South Alabama’s win over Mississippi State, Georgia State scaring the pants off a Wisconsin team that crushed Sparty, Troy giving Clemson fits... of course, the problem here should be apparent. Only one of those four games actually resulted in a win for the Sun Belt.

There was no grand moment for the Sun Belt this week. Georgia Southern had the only real shot, and even that would have just involved a win over unbeaten Western Michigan; they lost by 18. Texas State was drummed by Houston, but that was expected. Both Arkansas State and South Alabama had their hands full with FCS squads; the former lost to Central Arkansas, while the latter needed overtime to escape Nicholls State, a team which took Georgia to the brink a couple of weeks ago. Louisiana-Lafayette lost in OT to Tulane, which isn’t even a moral victory, and Idaho won in OT at UNLV, which isn’t a good team at all anyway.

So the only real bright spot for the league this weekend was Appalachian State’s win over a moderately decent Akron squad, and when that’s your best moment you’re not living a blessed existence.

The league’s 13-18 record isn’t terrible, given their usual September schedule. But it’s not good. On the bright side, Arkansas State’s loss to Central Arkansas is the conference’s only FCS hiccup. The Belt went 1-10 against Power 5 teams, which means they’ve gone 12-8 against everyone else. Again, not terrible.

Georgia Southern (3-1, 2-0) is in the driver’s seat, largely due to the fact that they’ve already banked two conference games, winning both. But they haven’t played any of their potential challengers yet, and that includes Troy (3-1, 1-0), who are looking pretty solid thus far. Appalachian State (2-2, 0-0) and Louisiana-Lafayette (2-2, 1-0) should also be in the mix, and Idaho (2-2, 0-0) might be a sleeper.

On the other end of the spectrum, Georgia State (0-3, 0-0) is hapless, and so is — to the surprise of pretty much everyone — Arkansas State (0-4, 0-0). Normally part of the conference race, their play so far has made even the possibility of finishing in the top half of the league questionable at this point.