Sun Belt East college football preview: Projections, storylines in Group of 5's best division

Start with two of the best recent Group of 5 college football programs (Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina), plus a rising Georgia State. From Conference USA, add a borderline top-50 program (Marshall) and a high-potential young program in a fertile recruiting area (Old Dominion). Throw in the second-best program in FCS (James Madison). What do you get? The best division in the G5 ranks: the Sun Belt East.

If the SEC was the biggest winner of this recent round of conference realignment, the Sun Belt came in second. It plucked three programs from C-USA -- a decade after C-USA had done something similar to the Sun Belt, no less -- and beat C-USA for JMU's services. It raised its already blossoming football ceiling without overstretching its borders. And it could give us the best division title race in the mid-major ranks this fall. Welcome to the G5 thunderdome.

Every week through the offseason, Bill Connelly will preview another division from the Group of 5 and Power 5 exclusively for ESPN+, ultimately including all 131 FBS teams. The previews will include 2021 breakdowns, 2022 previews and burning questions for each team.

Earlier previews: MWC West | MWC Mountain | AAC (Nos. 6-11) | AAC (Nos. 1-5) | MAC East | MAC West | Sun Belt West