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2015 Sun Belt football power rankings, topped by Georgia Southern

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The 128-team preview countdown has completed its first conference. Below, a look at how the Sun Belt stacks up.

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At the end of each conference run-through, I take a look at how I perceive the conference's balance of power heading into the season. This is in no way based on schedules, so they are not predictions. They're just how I would rank the teams after writing thousands of words about each of them.

From a ratings perspective, the Sun Belt broke into three tiers in 2014, with Georgia Southern, Arkansas State, and UL-Lafayette pulling ahead of the field and some familiar names (Idaho, Georgia State, New Mexico State, and bottom-tier newbie Troy) weighing the conference down.

What changes? Perhaps not much. Arkansas State has a chance to make a serious breakthrough with an exciting offense and a second-year coach (a new concept in Jonesboro), and if Appalachian State maintains its late-season pace in 2015, the Mountaineers could make a run at the conference title.

Really, though, I think last year's top three is this year's top three.

Tier 1
1. Georgia Southern
2. Arkansas State
3. UL-Lafayette

Both Georgia Southern and UL-Lafayette have pieces to replace. Perhaps that gives ASU the edge, though I'm sticking with the champs for now.

Tier 2
4. Appalachian State
5. South Alabama

Either could end up in Tier 1, especially if Appalachian State closely resembles its version from last November. I'm going to stay conservative, but they were smoking hot.

Tier 3
6. Texas State
7. UL-Monroe
8. Idaho

Similarly, any of these could end up in Tier 2 with just a couple of successful answers to "if ..." questions. Yes, I'm including Idaho here. I'm not predicting bowl eligibility, but they're only a couple of breaks from that.

Tier 4
9. Troy
10. Georgia State
11. New Mexico State

Troy made a nice hire but is starting from low on the totem pole. GSU and NMSU still need another year.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

Team 2014 Record (Conf.) 2014 F/+ Rk 5-Yr F/+ Rk 2-Yr Rec. Rk 5-Yr Rec. Rk 2014 TO Luck/Gm Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)
2014 2nd-order wins
Georgia Southern 9-3 (8-0) 57 52 84 104 +1.7 12 (5, 7) 9.4 (-0.4)
Arkansas State 7-6 (5-3) 66 65 88 86 +1.3 14 (9, 5) 7.3 (-0.3)
UL-Lafayette 9-4 (7-1) 72 86 103 93 +0.2 10 (6, 4) 8.6 (+0.4)
Appalachian State 7-5 (6-2) 104 110 97 117 -1.2 20 (10, 10) 7.1 (-0.1)
South Alabama 6-7 (5-3) 89 97 107 100 -4.7 7 (3, 4) 6.4 (-0.4)
Texas State 7-5 (5-3) 95 116 101 88 +1.9 14 (7, 7) 6.5 (+0.5)
UL-Monroe 4-8 (3-5) 97 100 119 123 +0.7 13 (5, 8) 4.3 (-0.3)
Idaho 1-10 (1-7) 112 122 126 124 +0.0 13 (7, 6) 1.9 (0.9)
Troy 3-9 (3-5) 125 107 117 113 +2.2 13 (7, 6) 3.7 (-0.7)
Georgia State 1-11 (0-8) 122 123 122 128 -5.8 18 (8, 10) 1.7 (-0.7)
NMSU 2-10 (1-7) 124 127 127 115 -1.3 17 (8, 9) 2.1 (-0.1)