Though we all knew the Eagles’ disappointing 5-7 season wouldn’t end with a postseason bowl game, several other Sun Belt teams were invited to bowl games, and many of them fared very well.
The Sun Belt sent 6 teams bowling–Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Idaho, Louisiana-Lafayette, South Alabama, and Troy–and they went 4-2, finishing with a win percentage of .667.
This win percentage was second only to the Atlantic Coastal Conference, which had both the Heisman winner and a team in the National Championship and could be called the best conference this season all around. For the conference many are calling the Fun Belt, it was an impressive showing for a Group of 5 conference.
The two most remarkable wins were Troy’s dramatic win over Mid-American Conference (MAC) foe Ohio and Idaho outlasting Mountain West Conference (MWC) opponent Colorado State in the highest scoring bowl game of the season. All season, the nation became fascinated by the turnaround season of the Troy Trojans who, a season before, posted a 4-8 record. This Troy team had the best start to a season in Sun Belt history (8-1), with their lone loss by six points to the number 2 team Clemson. A 9-3 Troy team that finished 3rd in the Sun Belt facing an 8-5 MAC runner-up Ohio team on a Friday night in the Dollar General in Mobile, AL on paper didn’t seem too attractive but it would end up being one of the most watched bowl games. It was a game where both teams showed incredible passion and interestingly was on the same field where last year the Georgia Southern Eagles defeated the Bowling Green Falcons in their first bowl game. Both teams kept it close but ultimately Ohio could never come back from the touchdown lead Troy created in the first quarter and the Trojans would clinch their 10th win of the season with a score of 28-23 over the Bobcats of Ohio.
The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl held a completely different game with a couple high scoring offenses in Idaho and Colorado State. The Vandals of Idaho silently put together an 8-4 regular season and ended the season on a 5 game win streak. Despite finishing 4th in one of the best Group of 5 conferences and the game being in their own state, Idaho entered the Potato Bowl as 16 point underdogs. However, this bowl season’s trend of the underdogs winning would continue as Idaho took a 41-14 lead into the 3rd quarter. After Idaho benched many of its’ starters, the Rams cut into the lead. The outstanding performance of Idaho and returning many key players makes the Vandals look like an early Sun Belt favorite for 2017.
Though tying the Big 12 and PAC 12 for the fewest teams sent, the Sun Belt definitely held their own against other Group of 5 conference teams. Hopefully, Georgia Southern can earn the opportunity to join in on the fun this next season. But even without teams like Georgia Southern and Georgia State, the Sun Belt poses a national threat to powerhouses and maybe we’ll see more chances for these teams to compete against Power 5 schools.
TOTAL BOWL RESULTS
American Athletic Conference Record: 2-5 .286
Atlantic Coast Conference Record: 8-3 .727
Big Ten Conference Record: 3-7 .300
Big 12 Conference Record: 4-2 .667
Conference USA Record: 4-3 .571
Mid-American Conference Record: 0-6 .000
Mountain West Conference Record: 4-3 .571
Pac-12 Conference Record: 3-3 .500
Southeastern Conference Record: 6-6 .500
Sun Belt Conference Record: 4-2 .667
Wins: Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Idaho, Troy
Losses: Louisiana-Lafayette, South Alabama
Independents Record: 2-0 1.000