2023 Sun Belt West college football preview: Burning questions, players to watch

With Gunnar Watson back at quarterback, Troy projects to be near the top of the Sun Belt West again. AP Photo/John Raoux

Editor's note: This story was updated in late July to reflect the latest projections and changes to teams and rosters.

Appalachian State beat Texas A&M and hosted College GameDay for a game against Troy that it won via Hail Mary. Troy won 12 games and a conference title and finished ranked for the first time. South Alabama won 10 games for the first time. James Madison found itself ranked barely one month into its first FBS season.

Coastal Carolina spent time ranked for the third straight year, and while the Chanticleers lost their head coach, they kept their star quarterback for a fourth season. Southern Miss enjoyed its first bowl win in six years with a running back who set an all-time bowl record. He's back too.

It was a good year to be part of the Sun Belt, in other words. And with the American Athletic Conference taking a potential hit in conference realignment -- it lost Cincinnati, Houston and UCF to the Big 12 and replaced them with six Conference USA programs, not all of which have been good at football recently -- it's possible that the Sun Belt's stature could continue to grow within the Group of 5 ranks.

That's more of a long-term topic, though. We're here to talk about 2023. The new, seven-team Sun Belt West produced a pair of sudden powers last fall -- Troy and South Alabama went a combined 14-2 in conference play, and Troy stomped Coastal in the conference title game -- and at first glance it appears the Trojans could lead the way again this fall. Or are we in for a surprise? Let's preview the Sun Belt West!

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 133 FBS teams. The previews will include 2022 breakdowns, 2023 previews and burning questions for each team.