• Joe Broback

Sun Belt Conference 2020 Preseason Superlatives

If you're predicting anything for the Sun Belt, it all starts with Appalachian State. The Mountaineers have been the top dog in the conference for a while, but the competition behind them continues to grow stronger. However, even with another new coach, it will be tough to take them down with the amount of talent on their roster. They're not the only team with talent, though, so let's take a look at some "superlatives" for the Sun Belt in 2020.

Best Offensive Player: QB Zac Thomas, Appalachian State

Even with all of the coaching changes, Thomas deserves this title. His consistency at a high level has been unmatched over the last couple years, but he's also shown improvement. While his rushing yards and touchdowns went down, he improved as a passer. In 2018, he threw for 2,039 yards and 21 touchdowns, and improved both numbers to 2,718 and 28 while keeping his interceptions the same. Darrynton Evans left for the NFL, meaning that the Mountaineers could rely on Thomas to carry the football more this year. If that's the case, expect a career year for him in 2020.

Best Defensive Player: LB Carlton Martial, Troy

He doesn't possess the typical size for a linebacker (5'10", 216 pounds), but he's pound for pound one of the best players in the country. Martial not only tackles everything (127 last year), but he does so violently. His motor only knows one speed, and it's the biggest reason why he's successful. Troy's coaching staff knows they have a leader who will get the guys around him to play with the right effort, but also produced on the field (18.5 TFL, three interceptions).

Underrated: RB J.D. King, Georgia Southern

People forget that King could have been the guy for Oklahoma State. Until Chuba Hubbard emerged, King waited behind Justice Hill for his shot. When it didn't come, he decided a fresh start is what he needed. His first season at Georgia Southern saw him run for 804 yards and eight touchdowns, which seems like just the start. Even in an offense that features multiple efficient runners, King can be the best of the group. Shai Werts and Wesley Kennedy III get most of the attention in the offense, which leaves room for King to surprise us.

Newcomer: QB Brady McBride, Texas State

At one point, McBride was supposed to be the next starting quarterback at Memphis. When current starter Brady White took a step forward in 2018, the writing seemed to be on the wall for McBride. In Jake Spavital's offense, he'll get a fresh start just like his new team. The Bobcats are looking to turn things around under Spavital, and the right quarterback could help them surprise the conference.

Best Unit: Louisiana Running Backs

Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas combined for almost 2,000 yards in a three man rotation that's now down to just them. So don't be surprised if they break that mark in 2020. Louisiana's the biggest threat to Appalachian State's reign as champs, and the rushing attack plays a big role in that. It helps any offense when the running backs average over six yards per carry. Combine them with quarterback Levi Lewis, who broke out last year, and the Ragin Cajuns are on a mission for a title.

Top Position Battle: Arkansas State Quarterback

Alabama transfer Layne Hatcher is getting a lot of love for his performance last year, but the job isn't his quite yet. Logan Bonner returns after an injury thrust Hatcher into the starting spot, and rumors have Bonner as the projected starter in 2020. Both players are extremely talented, and we should expect to see both on the field each week. Hatcher threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 27 touchdowns in 10 games, while Bonner threw 10 touchdowns to just one pick in the four games he played. Arkansas State will compete for the West crown this year, and it's just a matter of who leads them there.

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