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Sun Belt announces new eight-year deal with ESPN running through 2027 season

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The four letter is signing up for more #FunBelt.

The Sun Belt conference announced on Thursday that they have agreed to a new eight-year contract with ESPN that will run through the 2027 football season and the 2027-28 academic year.

“The continuation of our agreement with ESPN marks one of the most historic announcements since the Sun Belt’s founding in 1976,” Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said in a statement.  “This is truly an ‘all in’ collaboration with ESPN, the Sun Belt, and our member institutions and the volume and accessibility of our games will have a profound impact on the future of the Sun Belt.  We have enjoyed a long relationship with ESPN since its founding in 1979 and we look forward to being featured on its newest platform, ESPN+, which promises to revolutionize how audiences view content.”

Most notably, it was confirmed that the inaugural Sun Belt Football Championship Game will be played on Saturday, December 1st and will be televised on either ABC, ESPN or ESPN2. Future championship games will also be on one of the three networks after the conference moved to a divisional format starting in 2018. The new deal also includes a guarantee that all Sun Belt home football games will be available on an ESPN platform and that at least 10 games will be televised on either ABC or one of the ESPN cable networks.

Naturally, many of the league’s other sports such as men’s basketball were also covered under the umbrella of the new contract. The bulk of those games from women’s basketball to soccer and beyond will wind up on the new ESPN+ streaming platform that the Disney-owned company is launching in the coming weeks.

No monetary terms were announced as part of the deal but it’s safe to assume that the TV revenues won’t be in the same ballpark as their Power Five peers such as the SEC or ACC. Still, given the challenges we’ve seen in the Mountain West and Conference USA (among others) in this new media environment, it seems the Sun Belt has locked up a quality partnership with ESPN for the long-term and granted some stability for the league in the coming years.

Sun Belt reveals 2018 schedule, first title game set for Dec. 1

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The Sun Belt on Tuesday announced its 2018 schedule, leaving the Mountain West as the only FBS league yet to reveal its slate. The 2018 season begins Thursday, Aug. 30, with Georgia State hosting Kennesaw State. The first conference game goes down Sept. 15 when Texas State visits South Alabama.

Tuesday’s announcement was significant for more than just the revelation of dates of games. It brings to a close the conference’s realignment moves that saw Idaho and New Mexico State get the boot and the league join the rest of its peers in adding a championship game. The inaugural Sun Belt Championship will take place on Saturday, Dec. 1, at a campus site and be televised on either ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.

The Sun Belt’s roster now consists of 10 teams, but unlike the Big 12, the Sun Belt will split into two divisions:

EAST
Appalachian State
Coastal Carolina
Georgia Southern
Georgia State
Troy

WEST
Arkansas State
Louisiana-Lafayette
Louisiana-Monroe
South Alabama
Texas State

Appalachian State and Arkansas State have been the kings of the Sun Belt over the past three seasons, each going 21-3 from 2015-17. The Mountaineers and Red Wolves did not play in 2016 or ’17, but will square off in 2018. The two will square off on Oct. 9, a Tuesday, in Jonesboro for an ESPN2 game.

Troy has gone 13-3 over the past two seasons and split the 2017 title with Appalachian State after the Trojans and Mountaineers also did not meet during the season. That also changes in 2018 (and every season moving forward with the new divisional structure) as Appalachian State hosts Troy on Nov. 24 in a game that figures to decide the first Sun Belt East championship. Troy clinched its share of the 2017 crown with a 32-25 win over Arkansas State (6-2 in SBC play in 2017) on the first Saturday in December, and now the rematch could come in an actual championship game.

Unlike the Big 12, the Sun Belt will not play a 9-game, round-robin schedule. The Sun Belt will remain an 8-game league.

 

One-time starting QB Garrett Smith transferring from Louisiana-Monroe

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Louisiana-Monroe’s quarterback room will have one fewer experienced voice heading into the 2018 offseason.

As is ofttimes the case these days, Garrett Smith took to Twitter to announce that, “after much consideration,” he has decided to transfer from the ULM football program. Smith stated he’s already been granted a release from his scholarship; what restrictions were placed on that release are unknown.

Smith will not leave the school until he graduates in May. As a graduate transfer, he’ll be eligible at another FBS if that’s the direction in which he wants to head. Additionally, he’ll have two years of eligibility to use.

After redshirting as a true freshman in 2014, he started the first 10 games of the 2015 season before being sidelined for the remainder of the year by injury. Injuries again derailed Smith’s 2016 campaign, this time halfway through the year. That allowed Caleb Evans to take hold of the job, which he didn’t relinquish this season.

A sophomore, Evans put up one of the most statistically prolific passing seasons in Warhawks history. Evans’ age and production likely played a significant role in Smith’s decision to transfer.

Smith finishes his ULM career with 3,854 yards passing, 31 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. He also ran for another 632 yards and five touchdowns. All told, he started 17 games during his time with the Warhawks.

Jimbo-less Florida State keeps nation’s-best bowl streak alive by besting Louisiana-Monroe

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After a week of speculation culminated in their head coach deserting them for another joband a history-making contract — Florida State still had a game to left play that would determine whether their nation’s longest bowl streak would continue.  And, to the credit of the players and the remainder of the coaching staff, they proved to be up to what was a very challenging situation.

Playing in front of a very sparse crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee…

… FSU jumped on Louisiana-Monroe (4-8) early and never looked back, cruising to a convincing 42-10 win over the Sun Belt school.  This game had originally been scheduled for Week 2 but was canceled because of Hurricane Irma; because of its importance to FSU’s postseason, the contest was subsequently rescheduled.

With the win, the Seminoles moved to 6-6 on the season and became bowl-eligible.  Had they lost this game, or any of their last three games for that matter, FSU would’ve gone bowl-less for the first time since the 1981 season.  Instead, they’ll extend their bowl streak to 36 in a row, the best such streak in the country.

A significant portion of the credit for the win would have to go to Odell Haggins, the longtime defensive line coach who was named interim head coach when Jimbo Fisher left for the Texas A&M job Friday.  The players could’ve just gone through the motions Saturday afternoon, especially in front of such a sparse crowd; Haggins and the other assistants from Fisher’s staff didn’t allow it as the offense put up 504 yards of offense while the defense limited the Warhawks to just 1.7 yards per carry.

Of the Seminoles’ 302 yards rushing — they averaged nearly 7.0 yards per carry — Jacques Patrick accounted for 155 of them on just 19 attempts.  Cam Akers chipped in another 117 and a pair of rushing touchdowns to match Patrick’s two.  All told, the ‘Noles had five touchdowns on the ground.

 

Jimbo Fisher still planning to coach FSU on Saturday as Texas A&M board lays groundwork for potential contract

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In a perfect world for some, Jimbo Fisher has already been introduced as the next Texas A&M head coach and Florida State is formally beginning their search for a new face of the program. This is not a perfect world however and the dance between the Aggies and the head coach of the Seminoles appears like it will continue for a few more days.

Fisher reiterated on Thursday evening to reporters that he would indeed be coaching his current FSU team on Saturday as they look to make a bowl game against Louisiana-Monroe, according to the Tallahassee Democratand is not planning an early exit from the school despite numerous reports suggesting just that.

“We’re trying to finish the season,” Fisher said. “We’re trying to win the game and get to a bowl game.”

The 52-year-old has been coy about his future despite all indications being that he will soon take over at Texas A&M for the recently fired Kevin Sumlin. Should he do that — as many expect him to at this point — he will become just the fourth head coach to win a national title at a school and then depart for another job according to Associated Press reporter Ralph Russo.

While nothing formal has been agreed to based on reports, the groundwork is being laid by the Aggies to bring Fisher onboard — possibly as early as Sunday. The school’s board of trustees held a nearly three-hour private session on Thursday in College Station with A&M athletic director Scott Woodward and it seems like it’s all but a formality before a press conference happens next week.

Jimbo-to-A&M has been one of the worst kept secrets in college football the past several weeks and recent actions on both sides suggest a move is forthcoming as soon as Florida State wraps up their season on Saturday. While the process probably hasn’t played out as cleanly as some would like in either Texas or in Tallahassee, the good news is it looks like things are coming to an end shortly and the Aggies in particular are looking like they are moving at lightning speed to find a coach compared to others (cough, Tennessee, cough) in college football.