NEW ORLEANS (SunBeltSports.org) – The dawn of a new era in the Sun Belt Conference began today as new members Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Idaho and New Mexico State officially joined the league as part of its expansion effort originally announced on March 27, 2013.
"The additions of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern along with Idaho and New Mexico State put the Sun Belt Conference in a great spot in the national landscape of college football," Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Karl Benson said on Tuesday. "Expectations will be high this season after the SBC had its best football season in league history last year, and I know expectations and excitement will be at all-time highs for Appalachian State and Georgia Southern with their jumps from FCS to the FBS level."
"While Idaho and New Mexico State are both undergoing a rebuilding process, I am very confident it won't be long before the Vandals and Aggies are going to bowl games and contending for the Sun Belt football championship," Benson said.
Appalachian State and Georgia Southern join the Sun Belt Conference as full members while Idaho and New Mexico State join as football-only members. The additions bring the Sun Belt Conference's all-sports membership to 11 schools and its football membership also to 11 schools. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern will be immediately eligible to compete for Sun Belt Conference championships in all sports but will not be eligible for bowl games until the 2015 season.
For Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, July 1 marks the completion of their first years in a two-year transition from the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). Both schools feature rabid fanbases and a storied, rich and most importantly winning tradition surrounding their football programs. Appalachian State (3) and Georgia Southern (6) have won nine combined FCS national titles since 1985. This includes Appalachian State's back-to-back-to-back national titles from 2005-07 and Georgia Southern's back-to-back titles in 1985-86, 1989-90 and 1999-2000.
Idaho and New Mexico State are familiar partners with the Sun Belt Conference as both begin their second affiliations with the league. Idaho was a football-only member from 2001-04 while New Mexico State was an all-sports member from 2000-05.
The Sun Belt Conference begins its new era with additional members as well as new bowl affiliations in 2014. The Sun Belt Conference holds primary bowl tie-ins with the R+L Carries New Orleans Bowl and GoDaddy Bowl while it adds the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., to its list of primary bowl tie-ins beginning in 2014. The Sun Belt also adds the Cure Bowl in Orlando, Fla., to its primary bowl tie-in list beginning in December 2015. In addition to these bowl games, the Sun Belt Conference is also part of a coalition that will send teams to the Miami Beach Bowl and the Bahamas Bowl on a rotating basis beginning in 2014.
The future is bright for the Sun Belt Conference as beginning in 2014 it becomes an exclusive member of the College Football Playoff. Not only will Sun Belt Conference teams be eligible to compete for college football's ultimate title, but one spot is guaranteed in the College Football Playoff's six non-semifinal bowl games for the highest-ranked champion of the Sun Belt Conference or its four peer conferences (American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, Mid-American Conference and Mountain West Conference).
The Sun Belt Conference begins the 2014 football season following its most successful campaign in league history. The Sun Belt's 21 non-conference football wins in 2013 were a new record for the league - eclipsing the mark of 19 set the year prior. Additionally of note for the league's non-conference win total was that the Sun Belt fared well against its peer opponents. The Sun Belt finished a combined 8-1 against members of Conference-USA (4-1), the Mid-American Conference (3-0) and the Mountain West Conference (1-0). The Sun Belt also had the best overall non-conference win percentage when comparing the four non-AQ conferences.
The 2013 football season also saw two teams take home bowl championship trophies, as UL Lafayette won its third consecutive R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and Arkansas State won its second consecutive GoDaddy Bowl.
Appalachian State University is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Boone, N.C. At an elevation of 3,333 feet, Boone began as a frontier outpost named after pioneer Daniel Boone, who first explored the area in the 1760s. Boone now attracts those seeking a breathtaking location, adventure and a quality education. Appalachian is a member of the 16-campus University of North Carolina system and offers a challenging learning experience. The university combines a small-town atmosphere with a strong academic reputation. Appalachian's academics are supported by an accomplished faculty, close, personal interaction between students and faculty, and intimate class sizes that average 25 students.
Originally founded as a teachers college, Appalachian now cultivates leaders in business, science, the arts, communication, music, nursing, education and other careers. Innovation and creativity are hallmarks of Appalachian graduates, many of whom are leaders in communities in North Carolina and around the world. Appalachian also emphasizes the importance of sustainability and service to communities, both locally and globally. Today, Appalachian is a leader in the fields of energy-focused green technology and the health sciences.
Consistently ranked among U.S. News and World Report's best public universities in the Southeast, Appalachian is also noted as a "best value" by Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and other publications.
Notable Alumni: Eric Church, Nashville recording artist; Dexter Coakley, former NFL Pro Bowler; Stephen J. Dubner, journalist/author; Armanti Edwards, two-time Walter Payton Award Winner (NCAA Division I FCS Player of the Year) winner and current member of NFL Chicago Bears; Charles Frazier, novelist; Alvin Gentry, former NBA head coach; Melissa Morrison-Howard, two-time Olympic bronze medalist (100m hurdles); Mary Ellen Snodgrass, author; J. Bradley Wilson, former Chairperson, University of North Carolina Board of Governors and current President and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.
Georgia Southern University offers more than 100 academic majors in a comprehensive array of baccalaureate degrees and selected master's and doctoral programs. The University has earned a reputation for providing all of the benefits of a major university with the feeling of a much smaller college. In 2011, Georgia Southern was named the fourth most popular university in the country in the U.S. News & World Report's "Top 20 Most Popular Universities." One of the top choices in Georgia for new freshmen, including HOPE Scholars, Georgia Southern enrolls an increasingly selective student body representing the United States and nearly 100 nations.
The nearly 700 acre park-like campus continues an era of capital construction that has opened new facilities for colleges and academic programs, student recreation and development, university housing, athletics, and public service. The learning environment is enhanced by a museum of cultural and natural history, a botanical garden, a unique wildlife education and raptor center, a performing arts center, the Center for Art and Theatre, and a continuing education and conference center. The campus is located in Statesboro, a classic Main Street community near historic Savannah and Hilton Head Island.
Notable Alumni: Daniel Cathy, President Chick-Fil-A; Tony Townley, co-founder of Zaxby's Restaurant; Hala Moddelmog, President of Arby's; Luke Bryan, Country Music Singer; Mike Davis, Executive Director, USGA.
The University of Idaho is the State of Idaho's oldest public university located in the rural city of Moscow in the northern portion of the state. UI is the state's primary research university, and enrolls more national merit scholars than all other institutions in the state combined. In January 2012, the university enrolled the highest number of National Merit Scholars of any school in the Northwest; more than the other flagship institutions in the region with significantly larger enrollments.
The university presently has an enrollment exceeding 12,000, with over 11,000 on the Moscow campus. The university offers 142 degree programs, from accountancy to wildlife resources, including bachelor's, master's, doctoral, and specialists' degrees. Certificates of completion are offered in 30 areas of study. At 25% and 53%, its 4 and 6 year graduation rates are the highest of any public university in Idaho, and it generates 74 percent of all research money in the state, with research expenditures of $100 million in 2010 alone.
As a rural land-grant university, UI has the largest campus in the state, located in the rolling hills of the Palouse region at an elevation of 2,600 feet (790 m) above sea level. In addition to the main campus in Moscow, the UI has branch campuses in Coeur d'Alene, Boise, Twin Falls, and Idaho Falls. It also operates a research park in Post Falls and dozens of extension offices statewide.
Notable Alumni: Frank A. Shrontz, former chairman and CEO (1986–96) of Boeing; Dan O'Brien, Olympic gold medalist (decathlon); Sarah Palin, 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate; W. Mark Felt, former top official of the FBI, Watergate informer "Deep Throat."
New Mexico State
New Mexico State University is a major land-grant university in Las Cruces, New Mexico. It is the second largest four year university in the state in terms of total enrollment across all campuses, with campuses in Alamogordo, Carlsbad, Doña Ana County, and Grants, with extension and research centers across New Mexico.
NM State was founded to teach agriculture in 1888 as the Las Cruces College, and the following year became New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. It received its present name in 1960. NM State offers a wide range of programs and awards associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees through its main campus and four community colleges.
NM State offers a wide variety of programs through the Graduate School and the colleges: Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, Engineering, Extended Learning and Health and Social Services. The 21 doctoral programs are limited primarily to agriculture, education, engineering, and the sciences; the specialist in education degree is offered in 4 study areas; the education doctorate degree is offered in 3 study areas; there are 51 master's degree programs and 87 baccalaureate degree programs. In accord with its land-grant mission, New Mexico State University provides informal, off-campus educational programs through the Cooperative Extension Service.