Spring Practice Preview: Sun Belt Spring Practice Storylines

Spring Practice Preview: Sun Belt Spring Practice Storylines

This article is part of our Spring Practice Preview series.

2023 Spring Practice Preview: Sun Belt Preview and Storylines

2022 was the first year of the expanded Sun Belt Conference and with the extra teams brought plenty of excitement. The James Madison Dukes made the jump from the FCS to the FBS and took the conference by storm, winning eight games but missing out on a bowl game appearance due to NCAA rules. This offseason brought about no major changes or structuring. No shifts from 2022-2023 in terms of teams or divisions. The transfer portal, graduations, and coaching moves are the main sources of storylines in the Sun Belt Conference entering 2023. We'll start with last season's Sun Belt Champs and work our way through the remainder of the West division before pivoting over to the East.

Troy Trojans Spring Storyline

 Wide Receiver Room

Coach John Sumrall and the reigning Sun Belt Champion Troy Trojans will enter the 2023 season riding the nation's second-longest winning streak, having secured 11 consecutive victories to end the 2022 campaign. Gunnar Watson will return for his fourth season as a starter but will have to build rapport with his young receiving corps throughout the Spring practices. Last year's leading receivers, Tez Johnson (863 yards) and RaJae' Johnson (713 yards) have both departed, leaving a void worth 49% of the team's total receiving yardage in 2022.

Deshon Stoudemire will look to step up as the Trojans' leading wide receiver after having success in four contests in 2022 in which he led the team in target share. Over those four games, Stoudemire produced 344 yards and one touchdown. Joining him will be transferred wideout Chris Lewis, who played last season as a member of the Kentucky Wildcats. Lewis had a minimal role as a redshirt freshman in 2022 but did find the endzone in one of his two opportunities on the season.

Kimani Vidal will return to the backfield for Troy after posting ten touchdowns and 1,132 yards in 2022. He was a member of the Sun Belt Conference first-team all-offensive team last season and will look to build on his draft stock before the 2024 offseason.

South Alabama Jaguars Spring Storyline

Can the offense repeat?

South Alabama made a massive leap forward in Kane Wommack's second season as Head Coach, winning a school-record ten games. That doubled last season's win total of five and shattered the previous school record of six.

Carter Bradley will return under center for the Jaguars after leading the Sun Belt Conference with 28 touchdown passes last season. He will have to make do without Jaylen Wayne, who led the Jaguars with nine receiving touchdowns last season but has left the team and put his name in the NFL draft pool. On a positive note, Devin Voisin and Caullin Lacy will both return as wideouts for 2023. The pair combined for 1,687 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, leading the team with 65 and 64 receptions, respectively. La'Damian Webb will also return after recording over 1,000 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in 2022. The Jaguars will look to make consecutive bowl game appearances for the first time in school history on the back of what projects to be a high-powered offense on all fronts in 2023.

Southern Miss Golden Eagles Spring Storyline

Frank Gore Jr. & Quarterback Change

Zach Wilcke took over after Week 1 as the starting quarterback in 2022. Wilcke was a true freshman last season, and the inconsistency of his performance would indicate such. Still, he flashed at times over his nine games, and the Golden Eagles managed to win five of his nine starts. He was benched after a blowout to Georgia State but will be the incumbent starter at quarterback entering Spring practices. He will be in an open competition with transfer quarterbacks Holman Edwards and Billy Wiles.

Regardless of the quarterback battle, the focal point of the offense in 2023 will remain on Frank Gore Jr., who put up a dominant 2022 season in which he ran for 1,382 yards and nine touchdowns. The sophomore running back even managed to throw for three additional scores. Gore wrapped up last season by running for a bowl game record, 329 yards. He enters the season as a top-10 running back in the country, and all eyes will be on him as Southern Miss looks to continue to improve after a seven-win season in 2022. 

Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns Spring Storyline

 Quarterback Battle

The Rajin' Cajuns entered the 2022 season on the back of three double-digit win campaigns under Head Coach Billy Napier. His success in Lafayette earned him the head coaching job at Florida in 2022 which opened the door for Michael Desormeaux to earn his first head coaching gig.

Louisiana also entered the offseason with question marks surrounding the quarterback position. Chandler Fields entered the season as the starter but split time with backup Ben Wooldridge from Week 1.  Wooldridge took over full-time in Week 7 and played well over the next five weeks, throwing 12 touchdowns and just four interceptions while posting 1,221 yards. An ACL injury ended Wooldridge's season after Week 11, and Fields stepped back in and played well over the last team's final three games. Wooldridge will not be ready for the opening of camp, but Fields will also miss the first week of spring practices due to an undisclosed injury. After an up-and-down 2022 campaign, the Rajin Cajun's will look to figure out their quarterback battle sooner than later this offseason, to move into 2023 with some stability at the most vital position on the field.

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks Spring Storyline

Fantasy Storyline: Filling the void(s)

The remaining roster is severely lacking in game experience. The quarterback room is made up of Jiya Wright, Garrett Hable, and Brian Garcia, who have thrown a combined 28 collegiate passes. Isaiah Phillips looks to lead the backfield room as a fifth-year senior. He saw 28 carries over nine games in the last two years. The road ahead for Louisiana Monroe and head coach Terry Bowden looks to be a bumpy ride in 2023.

Texas State Bobcats Spring Storyline

Fantasy Storyline: Can Kinne's offense translate to the FBS?

After four seasons and a 13-35 record, coach Jake Spavital is out as head coach of Texas State. Replacing him will be G.J. Kinne, who spent last season leading Incarnate Word to a 10-win season in the FCS, in his first season ever as a head coach. Incarnate Word scored an impressive 51.5 points per game which ranked first nationally in the FCS, led by Lindsey Scott under center. Scott threw for 4,686 yards and 60 touchdowns. A former quarterback himself, Kinne will look to bring a high-powered offensive philosophy to Texas State.

The question that remains is who will lead the offense under center, and will they be up to the challenge. Holdovers from last season are Ty Evans and CJ Rogers, neither of whom have thrown a pass at the collegiate level, and who were both beaten out by Layne Hatcher in 2022. Coach G.J. Kinne recruited Malik Hornsby to transfer from Arkansas in January. Hornsby enters the offseason as the presumed frontrunner for the starting job. Hornsby has elite-level speed and arm strength, but never found a meaningful role for the Razorbacks. He will look to combine his powers with Kinne's offensive game plan for an explosive turnaround in 2023.

Arkansas State Red Wolves Spring Storyline

Quarterback Competition Incoming

The Red Wolves are coming off a disappointing 2022 season in which they finished last in the Sun Belt West with an overall record of 3-9. Head coach Butch Jones is now 5-19 over his first two seasons in Arkansas, and the 2023 season could prove to be a make-or-break year for his future with the program. Last year's starting quarterback, James Blackman, will return for this season after an efficient 2022 campaign where he threw 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He will be met with some new competition however, as J.T. Shrout is transferring from Colorado after Deion Sanders became head coach and brought his son in to replace him under center. Shrout threw seven touchdowns and eight interceptions for the Buffaloes last season but will look to compete for the starting role this preseason. Whoever lands under center for Week 1 will be in for an uphill battle to bring the Red Wolves back to relevancy in 2023.

Coastal Carolina Chanticleers Spring Storyline

Head Coaching Change

Jamey Chadwell is out after an extremely successful tenure as head coach of Coastal Carolina. Over his four-year tenure as head coach, the Chanticleers have a combined record of 36-13, reaching two Sun Belt Championship games, winning one. Replacing Chadwell will be head coach Tim Beck, who spent the last three seasons as Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks coach with North Carolina State. Beck's offense at NC State threw the ball on 53 percent of plays over the last two seasons, compared to just 39.9 percent for Coastal Carolina over that stretch.

Three-time Sun Belt Conference player of the year Grayson McCall will return under in 2023 after a brief stint in the transfer portal. Also returning are wide receivers Sam Pinckney and Jared Brown, both of whom narrowly missed 1,000 scrimmage yards in 2022. The change in offensive philosophy should lead to a more high-powered offensive attack for the Chanticleers. McCall will look to catapult his name to the upper echelon of NFL draft boards in 2024 as Coastal Carolina seeks their third Sun Belt Championship game appearance in the last four seasons.

James Madison Dukes Spring Storyline

Can the Dukes' Rise to Success Continue?

James Madison made one of the most successful transitions from the FCS to the FBS of all time in 2022.  In just their first season at the highest level of collegiate football, The Duke's earned co-champion status in the Sun Belt East division and would have secured a bowl game appearance had NCAA rules granted them eligibility. They routed Coastal Carolina in the Eastern championship game, 47-7. Just five games into their tenure in the FBS, the Dukes cracked the AP Top-25 rankings. Their success can be attributed to the dominance of their offense, which is in a prime position to repeat this season.

Todd Centeio is set to return under center in 2023 after winning Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week honors on four separate occasions in 2022. Centeio threw 25 touchdowns last season while running for seven more. His mobility helped unlock the next level of the offense, which enabled James Madison to finish 13th in the country in points per game, scoring an average of 37 points per contest.  The senior gunslinger will be joined by Percy Agyei-Obese in the backfield, who led the team in 2022 with 908 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.  Also returning from 2022 is Kris Thornton, who cleared 1,000 receiving yards for the second consecutive season.  With so many holdover pieces from last season, we expect James Madison to maintain their high-powered offensive attack while continuing their meteoric rise to success in the FBS.

Marshall Thundering Herd Spring Storyline

The Champ is Back? 

As a redshirt freshman in 2022, Cam Fancher began the season behind Henry Colombi on the depth chart. After seven weeks, he had earned the starting job and went on to perform well to finish the season, albeit inconsistently. Last season's leading receiver, Corey Gammage, will play for Memphis in 2023 as a graduate transfer, but Fancher will have his first offseason as a starting quarterback to build rapport with his new receiving corps.

In 2021 Rasheen Ali led the nation with 23 rushing touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. Just for good measure, he added 1,400 yards rushing to his resume, good for a top-10 finish nationally. He missed the first 10 contests of 2022, which proved no big deal for the Thundering Herd, as redshirt senior Khalan Laborn stepped up and ran for 1,513 yards (good for tenth in the nation) and 16 touchdowns. Ali returned to the field for the final three games and ran for 273 yards and one score. The Thundering Herd return four of five offensive linemen from last season, which should keep the ground game humming in 2023. With Laborn declaring for the NFL draft, Ali will presumably retake his position as a workhorse back.  He appeared to be back in 2021 form at the tail end of last season, and the junior runner will look to prove it this season.

Appalachian State Mountaineers Spring Storyline

Quarterback change

Last season, the Mountaineers had an impressive 10 different pass catchers secure at least one touchdown reception from signal caller Chase Brice. Brice tossed 27 touchdown passes in total, which tied him for the second most in the Conference. He was drafted third overall by the USFL's Houston Gamblers this offseason, leaving a void at signal caller for App State.

Junior gunslinger, Brady McBride, will take over under center and look to fill the void left behind by Brice. Seven of the ten offensive weapons who hauled in a touchdown last year will be returning for the 2023 campaign, but it remains to be seen whether McBride can feed them the rock or not. The last season he spent as a starter, he threw 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions over seven contests for Texas State in 2021. Appalachian State won just six games in 2022, the lowest win total since moving to the FBS in 2014. Their success will largely hinge on the success of McBride.

Georgia Southern Eagles Spring Storyline

Replacing Vantrease

Kyle Vantrease transferred to Georgia Southern in 2022, setting fire to the school's record books. In his only season in Statesboro, he managed to break the team's single-season records in both passing yards and passing touchdowns. Unfortunately for the Eagles, he also threw 16 interceptions, which held the team back in the win column, as they finished with a 6-7 record. Vantrease will not be back in 2023, after exhausting his collegiate eligibility. He will try his luck in the 2023 NFL draft.

Replacing Vantrease is projected to be Davis Brin, who transferred to Georgia Southern from Tulsa this offseason. He had limited success as a starter over the last two seasons in Tulsa, throwing 17 touchdowns to eight interceptions across 9 games in 2022. The Eagles' three leading receivers from last year, Khaleb Hood (918 yards), Derwin Burgess (717 yards), and Jeremy Singleton (713 yards) will all return to help Brin acclimate to the new offense. The Eagles threw for the fourth most yards per game in the nation last season (329.9), leaving some mighty big shoes for the new QB to fill.

Georgia State Panthers Spring Storyline

Fantasy Storyline: Will the wide receiver one carousel continue?

Darren Grainger was the offense for the Panthers in 2022, leading the team in both passing (2,443) and rushing (734) yards while accounting for 24 total touchdowns. He will be back under center for his third season with the Panthers and will look to improve his numbers, along with the team's success. His leading receiver, Jamari Thrash, who accounted for a whopping 35 percent of the teams' receptions and totaled 1,122 yards in 2022, has transferred to Louisville.

The loss of Thrash leaves a huge hole in the receiver room, which will open the door for a new number-one option in the passing game. However, this isn't unchartered territory for Georgia State, as 2021's leading wideout, Sam Pinckney transferred to Coastal Carolina prior to the 2022 campaign. That departure opened the door for Thrash, who became a first-team all-conference selection. Robert Lewis hopes to do the same with his newfound opportunity after hauling in six touchdowns in eight games in 2022 before an injury derailed his season. Lewis consistently made plays last year, finding the end zone in four consecutive games to open the year and will look to build on his hot start in 2023.

The Panthers also lost started running back Tucker Gregg (graduation) in the offseason. Gregg found paydirt 12 times in 2022 and led the running back room in attempts and yards in each of the last two seasons. His departure creates a massive opportunity for Marcus Carroll, who turned 127 rushing attempts into 622 yards and six touchdowns in a complimentary role last season.

Old Dominion Monarchs Spring Storyline

Replacing Last Year's Studs

The Monarchs had a disappointing season in 2022, finishing last in the Sun Belt East with a 3-9 record. The poor have gotten poorer this offseason, as the Monarchs have lost their leading rusher and receiver from 2022 to the transfer portal. Running back Blake Watson posted 2,028 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground over the last two seasons and will continue his career at Memphis. Ali Jennings, the team's No. 1 wide receiver from 2022, also transferred, taking his talents to Virginia Tech after posting 2,025 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns over the last two seasons.

Old Dominion will get back 2022's starting quarterback Hayden Wolff, but he will have to adjust to a new cast of characters around him in hopes of a turnaround in 2023. Javon Harvey will return at wideout after a strong finish to 2022, in which he hauled in four touchdowns over the team's final five games.

RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only College Football Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire College Football fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
Anthony Morehouse
Anthony Morehouse is a remote writer for RotoWire. If he isn't watching or writing about sports, he is either enjoying time with his family or playing golf with his friends.
Spring Practice Preview: Big 12 Spring Practice Storylines
Spring Practice Preview: Big 12 Spring Practice Storylines
Spring Practice Preview: Pac-12 Spring Practice Storylines
Spring Practice Preview: Pac-12 Spring Practice Storylines
Spring Practice Preview: Big Ten Spring Practice Storylines
Spring Practice Preview: Big Ten Spring Practice Storylines
College Football National Championship Odds and Expert Picks
College Football National Championship Odds and Expert Picks
Spring Practice Preview: ACC Spring Practice Storylines
Spring Practice Preview: ACC Spring Practice Storylines
Spring Practice Preview: SEC Storylines
Spring Practice Preview: SEC Storylines