Sun Belt Showdown Looms

It’s November and that means championship-caliber football games every week. There’s a showdown in the Sun Belt on Saturday with Arkansas State-UL Lafayette. Since we won’t have space to cover this  games in the Notebook’s weekly preview of TV games, let’s give the Sun Belt, it’s well…uh, day in the sun I guess (really didn’t intend that pun) and look at Saturday’s big game.

UL Lafayette-Arkansas State (3 PM ET): It’s a contrast in styles, as Lafayette has the best offense in the Sun Belt—by a lot, while Arkansas State has the best defense—again by a lot. What they have in common is that both offenses are heavily reliant on their quarterbacks to do pretty much everything. Lafayette’s Blake Gautier should be Sun Belt Player of the Year, ringing up big passing yardage consistently and also being the team’s steadiest ball carrier. Ryan Aplin is similarly versatile for Arkansas State, though the caliber of the team’s defense doesn’t put quite as much pressure on him.

There’s a third team in the championship mix and that’s Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers and Lafayette each have one conference loss, while Ark State is unbeaten. Western Kentucky beat Lafayette earlier in the year, so the possibility for a three-way tie for the championship still exists. Although for Saturday, Western has bigger problems—a trip to LSU. Although if nothing else, if there was ever a week you wanted to play the Tigers, I guess they would be it.

The race for the championship is significant for the postseason picture, because the Sun Belt is only guaranteed two automatic slots. If power conferences can’t fill their commitments that total can rise to high as six, but clearly you don’t want to be left out in the three-team dance that currently exists. If bids open up further down the line, the NCAA will have a problem, because right now Florida International is the only other team with a serious chance at bowl eligibility at 5-4.

For the Lafayette-Ark State battle, I look for State to win this game and lock up an outright Sun Belt title. They’ve got the better defense and they’ve got homefield, so without some help for Gautier, Lafayette is in over its head.