With football season just around the corner, we wanted to take a look at the Top 10 games in the Sun Belt Conference this year.
Those games are below.
10) ASU @ Oregon - Sept 1 - Autzen Stadium: 54,000 - The beginning of the Gus Malzahn Era for Arkansas State. Oregon is a team that is similar to what ASU wants to be, albeit at a higher level. This game will certainly gauge how long ASU has to go on both sides of the ball and should they even keep it within 17 points, the Red Wolves should feel good about themselves. But IF they somehow pull the upset than Gus Malzahn will have arrived!
9) Western Kentucky @ Kentucky - Sept 15 - Commonwealth Stadium: 67,606 - Pretty cool that an SEC school will play an SBC school in the same state. But this game is quite winnable for the Hilltoppers. Western ought to be 1-1 heading into this one having beaten Austin Peay and then dealing with defending national champion Alabama. This will be the first real test as to what life will be like for WKU after Bobby Rainey. The 'Toppers only held the Wildcats to 14 points last year, but couldn't score much either and that was WITH Rainey. Kawuan Jakes will have to shoulder more of the load this time around.
8) UTSA @ USA - Sept 1 - Ladd-Peebles Stadium: 40,646 - This will be the inaugural FBS game for both of these teams, so it's kind of a big deal. This is a big deal for both schools trying to prove themselves to their respective conferences. With this being the first game for both teams at this level this game not to mention the season openers, this will certainly add some fuel for both to get the victory. And you can bank that both conferences will add a tally mark for this one against the other (CUSA vs SBC) if they win.
7) FIU @ Duke - Sept 1 - Wallace-Wade Stadium: 33,941 - Life without TY Hilton begins here. It should be interesting to see how FIU looks considering he single-handedly kept them in a lot of games over his career. This is a game FIU should have won last year but late lapses cost the Golden Panthers a BIG program win, even if it is Duke. A highly-touted defense will certainly be judged right off the bat in this game that FIU should win this go around.
6) Miss St @ Troy - Sept 15 - Veterans Memorial Stadium: 33,000 - This is a bounce-back year for Troy and what better way to show that you're back than with a statement win over an SEC school on your own turf. Of course another way to show you're back is to beat ULL the week prior to that but you better believe that Troy fans will be ready for this one even they lose to the Ragin Cajuns. This will be a true test of the offense against what is a traditionally stingy defense in Miss St.
5) ASU @ Nebraska - Sept 15 - Memorial Stadium: 81,067 - Another game of intrigue early in the Malzahn era at Arkansas State. Some pundits are saying ASU has a chance at pulling the upset which would be HUGE for the program. The last time looked ugly but it didn't seem as bad as the 38-9 score indicated. Will be another early test for a defense that could still be trying to gel within itself and going up against another Davey O'Brien watchlist member Taylor Martinez, who skill set is somewhat similar to Ryan Aplin's.
4) Louisville @ FIU - Sept 22 - FIU Stadium: 25,000 - Can the Golden Panthers sweep the home and home series with Louisville? Would be another huge win for a program that is on the rise and would also go a ways in changing the perception of the Sun Belt (at least until FIU leaves). This could be another low-scoring affair with both defenses being in the top half of the country last year and both defensive units returning quite a bit of talent on that side. Which offense breaks through this time and once again, a test for FIU's offensive unit WITHOUT T.Y. Hilton.
3) ULL @ FIU - Sept 29 - Cajun Field: 31,000 - The second game of a brutal 3-game gauntlet for the Golden Panthers. The Ragin Cajuns aren't sneaking up on anyone this year and have a potential player of the year candidate in quarterback Blaine Gautier. But this game will set the tone at the top of the standings and puts the losing team in quite a predicament in terms of winning the Sun Belt.
2) ASU @ FIU - Oct 4 - FIU Stadium: 25,000 - What is potentially the number one offense against the number one defense, at least in the preseason. Obviously this is another one of those swing games for FIU depending on how they fare against ULL. Come out of ULL and ASU 2-0, look to maybe start ordering rings for FIU, but a potential second heart-breaking loss in row here could derail big dreams for them. Road games have been tough for ASU traditionally, but last year the Red Wolves have proven they can do it. This game could determine which bowl games these teams could be going.
1) ASU @ ULL - Oct 23 - Cajun Field: 31,000 - Obviously a game that the Ragin Cajuns have had circled since last year, this time it's on their turf. This game has the potential to be just as meaningful and great as it was last year when the Red Wolves won in dramatic fashion. Both hard-hitting defenses and offenses that can short-circuit scoreboards guarantee that this nationally televised game will live up to the billing that Sun Belt is making strides. Depending on how both teams fare against FIU, this game could be a de facto conference championship game.
Other notable games to watch: Baylor @ ULM, ULM @ ULL, WKU @ ASU, Troy @ UAB, ULL @ Troy, Memphis @ ASU
Jay Bir's 'Two Cents with Jay' will be featured weekly on RedWolfReport.com. Jay is a photographer and on-air analyst for KARK Channel 4 and KARZ 42 out of Little Rock, Arkansas.
Keep checking with RedWolfReport.com for all of your Arkansas State athletic and recruiting news!