2023 College Fantasy Football Preview SBC

Sun Belt Conference

by Corey Pieper
2023 College Fantasy Football SBC

The 2023 college fantasy football preview for the SBC (Sun Belt Conference) is a must-read for college fantasy football players. Geographically, the Sun Belt conference is located in the American Southeast. That also happens to be the location of America's preeminent football conference, the SEC. Guess what often happens when those prominent recruits find themselves buried on a depth chart at a powerhouse program like LSU or Alabama? They stay in the area, but move down a level to find playing time. If you can find those transfers early, it can be CFF gold as the "big fish small pond" that CFFers look for in transfers.

While this list certainly has transfers, it also has players who have spent their whole careers in the Sun Belt. In my opinion, the football talent within the Sun Belt is at an all-time high. Actually, while researching this article I found some information that may prove that it is not just my opinion, but a fact. In the 2023 NFL draft, the Sun Belt had a record nine players selected by NFL teams. Those nine players only included one skill position player (tight end Zack Kuntz to the Jets). However, I think that there are at least three players-Grayson McCall, Rasheen Ali, and Frank Gore Jr.-listed below who have a chance to hear their names called by an NFL team in their future.

You'll have read the 2023 college fantasy football preview for the Sun Belt conference to see what those players can do for your college fantasy football teams this season!

2023 College Fantasy Football Sun Belt Conference Preview

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Nate Noel, RB, Appalachian State Mountaineers

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Historically, Appalachian State has been a goldmine for predictable running back production for college fantasy football. Appalachian State has been a member of the Sun Belt Conference since 2014. Last year, was the first season that they didn't have at least one 1,000 yard rusher in that span. Nate Noel has been a thousand-yard back already, but that was in 2021 when he rushed for 1,128 yards but only four touchdowns as part of a committee with Camerun Peoples.

Both Noel and Peoples were back at Appalachian State last season, but the split became pronounced with even more players receiving carries. By the end of the season, four running backs received more than 75 carries, but none had more than 101 carries. When the carries are split in that manner, no running back becomes appealing. This season, I predict that Noel will be closer to the almost 200 carries that we saw in 2021 than the only 87 we saw last season. Noel is a player who is likely to be taken around pick 150 who we've already seen have a 1,100 yard season in the same offense.

Corey Rucker, WR, Arkansas State Red Wolves

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Corey Rucker learned last season that the grass isn't always greener elsewhere. In the 2021 season, Rucker led Arkansas State in receptions, yards, and touchdowns with a total line of 59 receptions, 826 yards, and nine touchdowns. He parlayed that season into a transfer to the SEC level with South Carolina. It was a lost season as Rucker only had one total reception (a 52 yard touchdown) in his career with the Gamecocks. In the offseason, Rucker decided to return to the Red Wolves.

I expect that Rucker steps right back into being the top receiving option on the Red Wolves roster. What that means for production though is hard to quantify. Right now, it appears that there is a competition for who is going to play quarterback for the Red Wolves. I'm thinking it will be Jaxon Dailey, but he's completely unproven having attempted only 10 passes last season. You probably won't be drafting any Red Wolves player in a standard size league, but Rucker is one whose production I will be watching early in the season.

Grayson McCall, QB, Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

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Coastal Carolina had a full coaching staff turnover in the offseason with a new head coach, and offensive and defensive coordinators coming in. Tim Beck is receiving his first opportunity to be a head coach at the collegiate level. He's an offensive-minded coach who has been an offensive coordinator at prolific programs like Nebraska, Ohio State, and Texas. He has some very big shoes to fill as previous head coach Jamey Chadwell put together prolific offenses at Coastal Carolina with Grayson McCall as his dual-threat quarterback.

McCall has put together three very consistent seasons for fantasy production. In his first season, he averaged 32.4 fantasy points per game. That number dipped to 30 points per game in his second season. Last season, it dipped again to 28 fantasy points per game. Just because he has dipped three straight seasons, doesn't mean he will dip again. Even if he just repeats the 28 points per game of last season, that is likely good enough for a top-30 finish at quarterback. That is where you should value him in your fantasy drafts.

Khaleb Hoob, WR, Georgia Southern Eagles

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Clay Helton stepped into Georgia Southern's head coaching vacancy and cranked up the passing volume. Last season, there were only three programs in all of college football that had over 600 attempts passing the football-Mississippi State, Western Kentucky, and Georgia Southern. That type of volume makes plenty of Georgia Southern players appealing to fantasy. Quarterback Davis Brin, running back Jalen White, and Derwin Burgess, and Khaleb Wood at wide receiver should all be drafted in a standard fantasy league.

I chose to focus on Hood though because I think he should be the first of those players selected in a fantasy draft. Hood finished as the leading receiver for the Eagles last season. Burgess may have led but did miss the last three games with a leg injury. I wouldn't be surprised if both players finished over 1,000 yards receiving. I prefer Hood because I tend to play in leagues that have some PPR aspect and I think Hood is more consistent in that format. That being said, both players should be selected in the top-75 picks.

Darren Grainger, QB, Georgia State Panthers

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While they have similar-sounding names, Georgia State is almost the polar opposite of the high-flying offense of Georgia Southern. Georgia State finished in the bottom 10 teams in the country in passing attempts with only 297. Instead, they ran the ball 577 times which meant they finished top-5 in rushing attempts per game at 47.9. With rushing volume like that, it would be assumed that the recommendation for Georgia State is a running back. The issue with the running back position in the Panthers' offense is that the team tends to split carries between multiple backs which can limit the ceiling of all of them.

Meanwhile, Darren Grainger is the unquestioned quarterback who will receive plenty of carries of his own. Last season, Grainger led the team in rushing yards with 733 and six touchdowns. While the team may not pass the ball a lot, Grainger also has two seasons of being very efficient with the passes he does complete. Even though he only completed 174 passes last season, he was able to throw 18 touchdowns. Assuming he posts similar production to the past two seasons, Grainger likely finishes as a top-40 quarterback who can be used in the right matchups.

Reggie Brown, WR, James Madison Dukes

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James Madison could not have asked for more in their first season at the FBS level. The team finished 8-3 and was even temporarily ranked in the AP Top-25 poll. Unfortunately, the team was ineligible to play in a bowl game or for the conference championship. The question becomes whether or not year two will go as well as year one. On offense, the team is looking to replace their top quarterback, running back, and receiver from last season. I'm looking at one of the returning players to help fill some of that production.

Reggie Brown started the season quickly with 22 receptions, 346 yards, and three touchdowns in the first five games of the season. Unfortunately, a hand injury would affect Brown the rest of the season and he would only have two more receptions, 55 more yards, and a touchdown the rest of the season. Even with only 401 receiving yards, he still finished second on the team behind Kris Thornton who has exhausted his collegiate eligibility. Thornton went over 1,000 receiving yards last season. There is a path for Brown to duplicate the production of Thornton from last season as someone you could likely select in the last rounds of your fantasy draft.

Terrence Williams, RB, University of Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

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For a long time, Louisiana was a team that we could look to for running back production. The team still runs the ball well and often, but now it is split between many different options. Last season, seven different players carried the ball at least 20 times! With that much division, the top running back, Chris Smith, was only able to receive 126 carries. Chris Smith has moved on from the Ragin' Cajuns which leaves Terrence Williams as the top returning running back.

Top returning running back isn't saying a whole lot though. Williams could only generate 420 total yards on 113 touches meaning he averaged less than four yards per touch. I would expect Williams leads the way in touches again, but it doesn't mean that I'm looking to roster him in most standard college fantasy football leagues.

Tyrone Howell, WR, University of Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks

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I wouldn't expect a single Warhawks player to be drafted in a standard college fantasy football league. That being said, there are a lot of intriguing options that I'm going to be watching early in the season. If quarterback Jiya Wright officially gets the starting nod, he has the dual-threat skillset that could make him fantasy viable. At running back, transfer Thad Franklin steps down to a lower level of competition after two relatively productive seasons at Miami of Florida.

Tyrone Howell took that same step down in competition the year before. Howell's collegiate career started at the junior college level. Then, he played one single season at Kansas State before stepping down to ULM last season. His first season as a Warhawk was successful even with erratic quarterback play. The team didn't even pass for 2,500 total yards, but Howell still managed 852 yards and six touchdowns. If the team offense takes a step forward, Howell could have a 1,000-yard receiving season.

Rasheen Ali, RB, Marshall Thundering Herd

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Rasheen Ali was drafted as a first-round selection in college fantasy football drafts last season. It was easy to understand why coming off a 1,700 total yard season with 24 touchdowns! Then, right before the season began Ali took a leave of absence from the team. It was unknown at the time how long he would be gone, or if he would be back at all. In his absence, Khalan Laborn stepped in as the primary back and had a 1,600-yard season with 16 touchdowns himself!

Ali returned for the final three games of the season and showed very little rust. Even splitting carries with Laborn, Ali was able to generate 283 yards on 49 touches with two touchdowns. Laborn has moved on from Marshall leaving Ali alone as the top running back. As that primary back again, I would say that Ali is the current favorite to lead the nation in carries. As such, he is a safe first-round pick in college fantasy football drafts.

Javon Harvey, WR, Old Dominion Monarchs

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Another team that has some intrigue in the Sun Belt Conference is the Old Dominion Monarchs. Head coach Ricky Rahne has been the head coach for the Monarchs for a few seasons and will continue to be this season. It's his hiring of offensive coordinator Kevin Decker that makes me pay closer attention to the Monarchs. Decker was most recently offensive coordinator at Fordham which just finished a season where they averaged over 600 yards of offense per game and just shy of 50 points!

It's hard to envision his offense translating immediately to that extent at the upper levels. I will take wide receiver, Javon Harvey, later in drafts regardless of how quickly it takes for Decker's offense to develop at this level. Harvey showed his ability already last season with a couple of 100-yard receiving games. He is the top returner in the Monarchs' offense for receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. Harvey is a player I'm looking to select in the double-digit rounds.

La'Damian Webb, RB, South Alabama Jaguars

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If you want a demonstration of what can happen when a player transfers from the Power 5 level of college football to the Group of 5 level at college football, look no further than La'Damian Webb. Webb had some success in 2020 with Florida State. Then, in 2021 transferred to Jones Community College in Mississippi and was forgotten for college football. Last season, he resurfaced at South Alabama.

And what a reappearance it was! Webb accumulated almost 1,300 total yards to go along with his 15 touchdowns. It could have been an even better season had Webb not dealt with an injury toward the end of his 2022 season. He only missed one entire game, but there were some games toward the end of the season where he was clearly limited. Webb missed the spring game after having foot surgery on his right foot but is expected to be ready for the season. Assuming that happens, Webb is a player who should be off the board in the first three rounds of fantasy drafts.

Frank Gore Jr., RB, Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles

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Frank Gore Jr. is going to have a hard time replicating his famous father's Hall of Fame career in the NFL. However, he has more yards in college than his dad did. I think it is also undeniable that he is also the single most important player in any team's offense. Last season, Gore Jr. rushed the ball 223 times for 1,382 yards and 9 touchdowns. He also caught 19 passes for another 219 yards. As if that wasn't enough, he completed seven passes for an additional 179 yards and three more touchdowns! You may think that the passing was a fluke, but he threw for 189 yards and four touchdowns the season before!

Gore's incredible all-around skillset ensures that if healthy he is going to be the focal point of this offense. He may have also had the best bowl game of any player in all of college football last season. Southern Mississippi played in the LendingTree Bowl against Rice. Gore Jr. took 21 carries in that game for 329 yards and 2 touchdowns and also threw for another touchdown.

Even though Gore Jr. is slight in stature at just 5 foot 8 inches tall, he is full of talent. Much like La'Damian Webb, Gore Jr. should be selected in the first 40 picks of your fantasy drafts.

Malik Hornsby, QB, Texas State Bobcats

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Amongst all of college football, Malik Hornsby is the most boom or bust selection in fantasy drafts. The upside is that of a top-10 quarterback, but the downside is that he is unusable for fantasy as the backup quarterback in his own offense. Texas State brought in three key figures for their offense this season. Firstly, the team hired G.J. Kinne to be their head coach after his season at Incarnate Word where his offense averaged almost 600 yards and over 50 points per game! Kinne then needed to bring in a quarterback to run his offense. He would end up bringing in two SEC transfer quarterbacks: Malik Hornsby from Arkansas and TJ Finley from Auburn.

Hornsby committed first and has the greater upside because of his rushing ability. Hornsby may be the most explosive quarterback in all of college football with the ball in his hands. Here is just a short clip to show his explosiveness.

If Kinne chooses to go with Finley instead who just transferred in August, he could also be attractive for fantasy purposes. In theory, Finley is a talented enough passer that two different SEC programs (started his career at LSU) wanted him to play quarterback. In actuality, we have seen just a few glimpses of that talent such as this play here.

Watch the practice reports closely as the season approaches to see who is starting as the primary quarterback. If it appears to be Hornsby, I'll select him as a top-25 quarterback option. If Finley is tracking toward the starting job, he is someone who I would take in the last few rounds of a fantasy draft as my backup quarterback.

Kimani Vidal, RB, Troy Trojans

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Jon Sumrall was the first-year head coach last season at Troy. He did what all coaches in that situation should do and leaned on his best player. That player was running back Kimani Vidal who was also the lead rusher in 2020 and 2021. Each year, Vidal has increased his rushing total. In his 2020 season, he rushed for 516 yards. The 2021 season saw that number rise to 701 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Last season, he made another jump to 1,132 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns!

It's hard to predict someone to increase his production for a fourth season in a row. What I do feel confident predicting is that Vidal is a safe bet to get the ball early and often. Once the calendar turned to November last season, Vidal carried the ball at least 20 times in five of six games. It also happens that Troy would win all of those games as the Trojans finished with the best record in the Sun Belt at 12-2. If it's not broken, don't fix it. I expect Vidal to see plenty of carries again to make him a safe mid-round fantasy selection.

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