March, 20 2023
The Sun Belt Conference proved on Saturday that while Group of Five schools rarely get invited to the big ball in January, they certainly can have a say in which of the Power Five schools get to dance. They can also impact job security.
In a wild sequence on Saturday, two CFP hopefuls fell to Sun Belt opponents and a former Big Ten power’s loss to another SBC foe led to a coaching dismissal.
Marshall defeated Notre Dame in South Bend (IN), 26-21. The Thundering Herd took a 19-15 lead with just over five minutes to play after a 94-yard scoring drive. Minutes later, defensive back Steven Gilmore intercepted Irish QB Tyler Buchner and returned the pick 37-yards for the clinching touchdown.
Shortly after the conclusion of the Marshall-Notre Dame game, Appalachian State put the finishing touches on a 17-14 upset of sixth-ranked Texas A&M in College Station. The Mountaineers limited the Aggies to just 186 yards of total offense. This was App State’s second victory over a Top Ten opponent. They famously defeated fifth-ranked Michigan in Ann Arbor during the 2007 season.
These two victories marked the first time in almost twenty years that two schools from the same Group of Five conference defeated Top Ten opponents on the same day. On September 20, 2003, MAC schools Toledo and Marshall (there’s that name again!) pulled off the feat. The Rockets defeated ninth-ranked Pitt 35-31 and Marshall downed sixth-ranked Kansas State 27-20.
The Mountaineers victory was so impressive that ESPN announced College GameDay will broadcast from Boone, NC this weekend before App State opens SBC play against Troy.
The Sun Belt was just getting started as the sun went down. Saturday night Georgia Southern won a wild shootout against Nebraska in Lincoln, 45-42. The Eagles gained more than 600 yards in total offense, including 119 yards on a school-record twelve receptions by Derwin Burgess, Jr. Less than 24-hours after the defeat, Nebraska relieved Scott Frost of his head coaching duties. In fairness to Georgia Southern, Frost was not terminated for losing this game, but for having an overall record of 16-31.
It is unlikely that a member of the SBC will be in the College Football Playoff this year. Given the performance of App State, Marshall, and Georgia Southern this weekend, however, the SBC Championship Game on December 3 may be must-see TV.