By David Rogers. BOONE, N.C. — It was a day that included upset wins and nail biter losses for the Sun Belt Conference on Sept. 10, the athletic conference that defied recent national trends. Instead of broadening its geographic scope to create cross-country footprints like the SEC and Big 10, the Sun Belt opted to strengthen regional rivalries. Arguably the strongest “non-autonomous” athletic conference now, the Sun Belt registered significant football successes over the weekend. Some highlights:
- Appalachian State plowed through No. 6 Texas A&M on Saturday, winning 17-14 with a coaching game plan that was executed by the players to perfection. Keeping the powerful. SEC-member Aggies’ offense off the field for all but 18 minutes and 30 seconds, the Mountaineers controlled the ball for more than 41 minutes with long drive after long drive and featured a defense that proved worthy of any Power 5 program.
- Marshall surprised No. 8-ranked Notre Dame, 26-21. The Thundering Herd poached three INTs from the Fighting Irish passers while RB Khalan Laborn carried the ball 31 times for 163 yards and a TD for Marshall.
- Georgia Southern was a three TD underdog going into its Saturday tilt at Nebraska, but the Eagles turned that betting line upside down with a 45-42 upset. New head coach Clay Helton, formerly the head coach at the University of Southern California, now has an unblemished, 2-0 early record in his first year leading a Sun Belt program.
- Only a week after App State nearly pulled off an upset vs. Mack Brown’s North Carolina team, an ACC member, the Tar Heels escaped Atlanta with a narrow, 35-28 win over Georgia State. The Panthers’ QB, Darren Grainger, passed for 186 yards and three TDs, but Georgia State also featured a balanced attack with 235 yards rushing among five runners.
- A resurgent South Alabama defeated Mid-American Conference power Central Michigan, 38-24. A week earlier, the Chippewas had scared No. 12 Oklahoma State in a 58-44 shootout loss while South Alabama dominated Nicholls, 48-7.
- New Sun Belt member James Madison, moving up from the FCS level, all but destroyed Norfolk State, 63-7.
- Last year’s Sun Belt champion, Louisiana, rallied to defeat Eastern Michigan, 49-21. Trailing 14-0 at halftime, the Ragin’ Cajuns outscored the Eagles in the second half, 49-7.
- Another up and coming Sun Belt program, Texas State roasted Conference USA member, Florida International, 41-12. QB Layne Hatcher, a transfer to the Lonestar State from Arkansas State, riddled FIU’s secondary for 226 yards and three TDs, while the Bobcats’ rushing attack matched their aerials with 226 yards on the ground, led by RB Calvin Hill’s 195 yards on 28 carries and a TD.
In other Sun Belt games…
- Coastal Carolina barely got by FCS level adversary, Gardner Webb, 31-27/
- ULM dispatched Nicholls, 35-7.
- Troy (App State’s next opponent) proved an inhospitable gridiron host to Alabama A&M, 38-17.
- New Sun Belt member Old Dominion, which last week upset ACC power Virginia Tech, lost at East Carolina, 39-21.
- Southern Miss lost to Miami, 30-7.
- Arkansas State was dominated by Ohio State, 45-12.