2023 Sun Belt Conference Preview: Sleepers, Busts and All-Conference Teams

2023 Sun Belt Conference Preview: Sleepers, Busts and All-Conference Teams

This article is part of our Conference Preview series.

We continue our conference preview coverage with the Sun Belt, which is the most intriguing to me among all of Group of Five conferences. In Bill Connelly's final preseason SP+ rankings, he has the AAC as the top Group of Five league, even with the loss of a few teams to the Big 12, but the Sun Belt is next in line, and by season's end, I could easily see the Sun Belt finishing as the top conference outside the Power Five (in the last year of that configuration). There are some great players, and great fantasy options, in this conference. Let's get to it.

Check out the 2023 College Fantasy Football Draft Kit, sleepers, busts and all-conference fantasy teams below.

2023 College Fantasy Football Draft Kit

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Sun Belt All-Conference Fantasy Teams

First-Team All-Sun Belt

Second-Team All-Sun Belt

Third-Team All-Sun Belt

Sun Belt Fantasy Sleepers

QB: Davis Brin, Georgia Southern

Brin was decent as Tulsa's starting quarterback last season, but now he is with Georgia Southern. He's stepping into the starting quarterback role for the Eagles, and he's got a notable head coach in Clay Helton to work with now. Yes, Helton was not ideal at USC, but coaching at the Sun Belt level is perhaps more his speed, and perhaps the Sun Belt will be Brin's speed as well. It definitely helps that in Derwin Burgess, Brin will be throwing the ball to the conference's best receiver. The weapons around the quarterback will be better than what he had at Tulsa.

QB: Ben Wooldridge, Louisiana-Lafayette

Wooldridge wasn't the starter for the Ragin' Cajuns when the 2022 season started, but he took over and was getting into a good groove. Then, he tore his ACL and missed the last three games. However, Wooldridge rehabbed well and was cleared for fall football activities. With that clearance, the job is his. A healthy Wooldridge with the starting job from the beginning of the campaign could emerge this year, in what could be his first full season as a collegiate starter.

RB: Nate Noel, Appalachian State

The Sun Belt has quite a few good running backs, so standing out is hard. Noel might be flying under the radar as a result. He started last year with gusto, rushing for 116 yards and two touchdowns, but also getting hurt in the process. Injuries lingered all season, but then in the season finale he ran for 171 yards and three scores. Though Noel only carried the ball 87 times, he ran for 604 yards and six touchdowns, having averaged 6.9 yards per carry. Camerun Peoples led the Mountaineers in carries with 101, but finished with 593 yards. Now, Peoples is gone, and Noel is healthy. In 2021, Noel rank for 1,126 yards, and I think he's primed to run for over 1,000 yards once again in 2023.

RB: Marcus Carroll, Georgia State

Entering his fourth season with Georgia State, Carroll wasn't involved much in the first couple of years on campus, but he stuck it out. In truth, even when his junior season began, Carroll was not a key back, only really showing out against Charlotte, maybe the worst defense in the FBS. However, over his last five games, he ran for six touchdowns, and the two times he had over 20 carries he ran for over 100 yards. Now, Darren Grainger runs the ball a lot from the quarterback position, but Tucker Gregg carried the ball 172 last season and he's gone. Carroll looks to be the lead back, and he has shown what he can do with over 20 touches in a game.

WR: Corey Rucker, Arkansas State

Rucker's college career has come full circle. He started at Arkansas State, where he excelled. In 2021, he had 59 catches for 826 yards and nine touchdowns. Thanks to his Sun Belt resume, Rucker worked out a transfer to South Carolina. SEC football! On his first target, Rucker caught a 52-yard touchdown. It ended up his only target of the season, as he suffered a knee injury, limiting him to 18 snaps as a Gamecock. Rucker has decided to return to Arkansas State, where it all began. We know what he has done at this level. Can he do it again? If so, look for Rucker to be one of the three or four best receivers in the conference.

WR: Jakarius Caston, Southern Miss

Caston is definitely a sleeper, but the talent is there. All he needs to do is stay healthy – and he did miss time in concussion protocol this offseason – and hope that, for the first time in years, Southern Miss will have decent quarterback play. Not good, mind you. I do not dare dream of good quarterback play for the Golden Eagles. No, I'm just hoping they don't have a disaster situation under center, but they have brought in multiple quarterbacks in the portal to try and make that happen. As for Caston, he started off the 2022 season well, had injury issues that left him either not playing or barely playing in five games, and then finished strong with 151 yards and two touchdowns over the final two outings. This is with the quarterback Southern Miss had last year, as bad a situation as any program had. If head coach Will Hall struck…not gold, but maybe bronze, with one of his QB transfers, Caston could benefit big time.

2023 Sun Belt Fantasy Busts

QB: Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina

Now, I am not saying McCall won't be good. He's had the best career of any Sun Belt quarterback. He's been bandied about in the past as a guy with an NFL future of some sort. However, he's projected to be the top quarterback in the conference, and I am far from convinced that is a certainty. I think, even if McCall's talent hasn't declined, his production could. Jamey Caldwell is no longer McCall's head coach. Tim Beck is. Beck is a head coach for the first time, and he has, frankly, an underwhelming resume as an offensive coordinator. What if McCall's excellent completion percentages and low interception numbers were system based? It wouldn't be the first time that's happened. I'm not out on the Chanticleers signal caller. I am hesitant to buy in.

QB: Ryan Burger, Appalachian State

I feel like, all these years later, the Mountaineers upsetting the Michigan Wolverines still permeates the reputation of this program, and thus any names associated with it. There are people out there who look at the Sun Belt roster of teams and Appalachian State stands out to them. They might think, "Okay cool, whoever is the Mountaineers' quarterback is a guy to believe in." However, App State only went 6-6 last year. It had more talent at running back, and also effectively the same receivers. Chase Brice was also the starting quarterback. Burger is a redshirt freshman who has barely seen the field. There's a solid chance he's not even a good college quarterback. It's as likely he is out of a job before the season ends as it is that he stands out on the fantasy front.

RB: Brian Snead, Arkansas State

Touchdowns can be alluring. Snead scored six of them in 2022, and he did that in only eight games. It only took Snead 81 carries to score six times, so the idea of him as a healthy back is enticing in a vacuum. Ah, but we are not in a vacuum. Snead also ran the ball for a mere 299 yards. He averaged 3.7 yards per carry. That won't cut it, and prior to 2022, Snead was playing at the FCS level. Maybe he was just a guy with a fluke touchdown run last season. I have a lot I need to see from Snead.

RB: OJ Arnold, Georgia Southern

There is a lot of enthusiasm, relatively speaking, in the Georgia Southern offense. I'm part of that. When that happens, though, there can be percolations of excitement where fantasy-minded folks go from A to C in trying to find a sleeper. Arnold is one such player. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry in limited touches in 2022, and Georgia State's lead back Jalen White missed the spring with an injury. That means Arnold served as the primary back during spring practices. White ran for 914 yards and 10 touchdowns in this offense last season. Arnold has earned the role of the secondary back, and what if he eats into White's carries? What if White's hurt and Arnold steps into the lead role? That's too many "What ifs" for me. White missed the spring but has a clean bill of health for the fall. Helton's staff gave him 162 carries in 11 games last year. Now, some number-two backs have been fantasy successes in the past, but right now Arnold is the clear number-two back, and he's not yet proven it with production.

WR: DeMarcus Harris, Marshall

I have two prongs of concern when it comes to Harris. Yes, he spent his first three college seasons at Kentucky playing SEC football. When a guy who saw action in the SEC drops down to a conference like the Sun Belt, it's easy to do some quick, theoretical math and get hyped. Well, over three years with the Wildcats, he had 21 catches for 327 yards, and the Wildcats weren't loaded with receiving talent. Second, there's the quarterback situation. TJ McMahon has transferred in from Rice and seems to have won the starting role. However, playing Conference USA ball he may have thrown 18 touchdowns in 10 games, but he also threw 14 interceptions. I have questions about Marshall's quarterbacks, who might be better off just handing the ball to Rasheen Ali and calling it a day.

WR: Jabre Barber, Troy

Part two of my, "Sorry, don't believe in the quarterback" series. Barber had two 100-yard games and was racking up receptions before being hurt last season. He returned from his ankle injury in the spring, but you know who else is returning? Gunnar Watson as the starting quarterback. What Jon Sumrall pulled off at Troy last year was done in spite of Watson, not because of him. He played in 13 games but only threw for 14 touchdowns against 12 picks. Entering his senior year, Watson has thrown 864 passes with 38 touchdowns against 23 interceptions. There is only so much upside Barber can have with Watson under center.

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Chris Morgan
Chris Morgan is a writer of sports, pop culture, and humor articles, a book author, a podcaster, and a fan of all Detroit sports teams.
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