With the addition of coach Bobby Petrino and the return of star running back Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky looks to be one of the better Sun Belt teams this season. However, the Hilltoppers will be moving to Conference USA in 2014 and the Sun Belt will look much different over the next few years.
When Western Kentucky moves, they will be the fifth school to drop out of the Sun Belt for Conference USA in the last two seasons. Sun Belt 2012 members Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic, FIU, and North Texas already left for C-USA this season.
The Sun Belt is now the smallest conference in the FBS according to number of programs. For 2013, there will be just eight members, but in 2014, the SBC will add four new members including Appalachian State and Georgia Southern in all athletics and Idaho and New Mexico State as football only.
Arkansas State has some tough road non-conference and conference games that will likely end up as losses. The Red Wolves play away at Auburn, Missouri, ULM, and Western Kentucky. While ASU is projected to lose those games, they should still easily become bowl eligible and have a chance to win one of the pre-mentioned conference road games which could give them a third consecutive SBC Championship.
Louisiana, like most Sun Belt schools, play two challenging non-conference opponents away from home at Arkansas and at Kansas State. The Ragin' Cajuns are projected to lose conference road games against Western Kentucky and Arkansas State, but ULL could pull out a close win at home against ULM in a late season rivalry.
ULM has a couple Big 12 opponents on the schedule that will probably give them losses, but the Warhawks have a good shot to beat ACC opponent Wake Forest. Louisiana-Monroe may lose in a close conference matchup against Louisiana-Lafayette, but should still capture the Sun Belt Championship with a 6-1 record and a victory over Western Kentucky for the tiebreaker.
If ULM does not win the conference championship, Western Kentucky is the next favored to do so and the Hilltoppers are projected to tally more wins than the Warhawks overall. If WKU reaches 10 wins or even a bowl season, Petrino could be a one and out coach since he will almost surely be scooped up by another program. Other than at ULM, the only other projected loss for WKU is at Tennessee.
The Sun Belt could send five teams to bowl games this season, but four is more probable. Texas State is projected to win six games, but the Bobcats may have to apply for a waiver since the they play an FCS opponent and Georgia State, an opponent in transition to the FBS. Even if a waiver is given or not needed, Texas State may not be invited since bowl eligible Sun Belt schools have been previously left out of postseason play.
Last season marked the first time in Sun Belt history that the conference had wins in consecutive weeks against SEC teams. The SBC could get a couple more decent non-conference wins this season if Western Kentucky defeats Kentucky again and ULM beats Wake Forest. There will be other numerous opportunities as well with only seven conference games for Sun Belt teams and each team is likely