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The Sun Belt Conference keeps growing

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Photo by: Victor Rodriguez | Staff Photographer

Texas State has been a member of the Sun Belt Conference since 2013, but in the last five years, the conference has grown.

With growth comes stronger opponents and better competition. This is especially true when it comes to the conference’s football division, with six teams gaining eligibility for bowl games last season.

“If you look at post-season bowl success as a measurement,” Karl Benson, commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference, said. “Last year for the first time in history, we had six teams go to bowl games, and four of those teams won bowl games, which was better than our peer conferences.”

Benson, who took over as commissioner around the same time Texas State joined the conference, has seen progress.

“The Sun Belt has improved as a football playing conference in those five years,” Benson said.

South Alabama’s Head Football Coach, Joey Jones, the longest tenured Sun Belt coach, shared similar feelings as Benson about last season’s success carrying over into 2017.

“I think this league is as good as it’s ever been,” Jones said. “We’ve got a bunch of teams that have got to the point where they can compete with the other peer conferences. There used to be two teams that dominated the conference, now you have a bunch of teams that have been able to catch up with those guys.”

Benson discussed the differences between Power 5 conferences that have two top teams and the SBC that has many different teams all fighting for the top spot

“We’ve had six bowl-eligible teams. Last year is a demonstration that we have depth in our conference membership,” Benson said. “That’s a fact. We had a team last year for the first (time) in history break into the (AP) Top 25. It didn’t last very long, unfortunately, but Troy jumped into that top 25 ranking for the first time. Those are probably the measurements you could use.”

Coach Jones got his start with the team in 2009, and continued as the team’s head coach as the school transitioned from Division I FCS to a Division I FBS school in 2012.

Since then, Jones had a 49-46 overall record, which could be a testament to how quickly the competition in the conference is increasing.

“I think it’s the universities that have put in the money and the effort to become great,” Jones said. “You’ve got people putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to spending money to be competitive. That’s why they have competitive teams. That’s why the league has become much better.”

One of the reasons some Sun Belt teams have been able to recruit better players is a number of conference games teams have played and who they’ve played. Recently, the Sun Belt Conference has been able to compete with teams from bigger conferences.

“I think that the only way that a team from the Sun Belt Conference is going to get on a New Year’s Eve bowl by being almost undefeated or being 11-1–that’s the only way to get into a New Year’s Bowl,” Jones said.

Commissioner Benson agrees with Coach Jones, and said anyone who beats a Power 5 team gets the recognition that comes with it.

“I’ve said many times that it’s just as important to win those games against our peer conferences as it is to win those games against the Power 5,” Benson said. “It’s a combination of those wins against the Power 5s and the wins against the group of five conferences.”

Benson said he would like to see the team improve this year.

“(In five years) I’d like to see us be the highest-ranked conference among our peer, and I’d like to see our champion the highest-ranked champion in the nation,” Benson said.

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