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CFB: Sunbelt Conference Week 1 Release

WEEK 1 SCHEDULE
Thursday, Aug. 31
Rhode Island at Georgia State 6:00 p.m. ESPN+

Saturday, Sept. 2
Arkansas State at No. 20/19 Oklahoma 11:00 a.m. ESPN
Gardner-Webb at App State 2:30 p.m. ESPN+
The Citadel at Georgia Southern 5:00 p.m. ESPN+
Bucknell at James Madison 5:00 p.m. ESPN+
Albany at Marshall 5:00 p.m. ESPN+
Army at ULM 6:00 p.m. NFL Network
Alcorn State at Southern Miss 6:00 p.m. ESPN+
Texas State at Baylor 6:00 p.m. ESPN+
Stephen F. Austin at Troy 6:00 p.m. ESPN+
Old Dominion at Virginia Tech 7:00 p.m. ACC Network
South Alabama at No. 24/23 Tulane 7:00 p.m. ESPNU
Northwestern State at Louisiana 7:30 p.m. ESPN+
Coastal Carolina at UCLA 9:30 p.m. ESPN

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

KICKOFF CONTESTS
Georgia State will officially open the 2023 Sun Belt football season when it hosts Rhode Island at 6 p.m. on Thursday, August 31, on ESPN+. The contest is 1-of-8 Sun Belt season-openers against FCS opposition in 2023. App State, which has won more games than any other non-autonomy conference program since 2015, will host in-state foe Gardner-Webb at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 2, on ESPN+. Other in-state matchups include Alcorn State at Southern Miss at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 2, on ESPN+ and Northwestern State at Louisiana at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept.2, on ESPN+. Reigning Sun Belt champion Troy will put its 11-game winning streak—the second-longest in the nation—on the line when it hosts Stephen F. Austin at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 2, on ESPN+. The Trojans will retire DeMarcus Ware’s No. 94 at halftime, after Ware became the first Sun Belt student-athlete to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer.

GAMEDAY VIBES
Following the conclusion of ESPN’s College GameDay on Saturday, Sept. 2, stick around to catch Arkansas State at No. 20/19 Oklahoma at 11 a.m. on ESPN. Still a youthful club with just 12 seniors on the roster in their third season under head coach Butch Jones, the Red Wolves will attempt to showcase their ability to return to postseason form in 2023. Despite rebuilding years in 2021 and 2022, Arkansas State is just three years removed from a run of nine-straight bowl appearances from 2011-19—a span that included five Sun Belt titles and four bowl victories.

FAMILIAR FOES
ULM and Texas State will open with familiar foes on Saturday, Sept. 2. The Warhawks will host Army at 6 p.m. on NFL Network, while the Bobcats will visit Baylor at 6 p.m. on ESPN+. This will be the third meeting between ULM and Army over the past four seasons, with this year’s matchup being the first time one of the service academies has visited Monroe. Texas State will square off against Baylor for a third-straight year as it opens the GJ Kinne era. Kinne’s connections to the Bears program run deep—his father Gary Joe was a four-year player and two-time team captain for the Bears and his brother Landry is currently a redshirt junior for the team.

ONE FOR THE AGES
One of the premier non-conference matchups between non-autonomy conference foes will take place in Week 1 when South Alabama makes the 150-mile trek to No. 24/23 Tulane at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 2, on ESPNU. Both teams were among the eight 10-win programs to hail from a non-autonomy conference a year ago. The teams have met on two prior occasions, with the road team winning both by a margin of three-or-fewer points. The Jaguars, whose 10-3 record in 2022 was a program best at the FBS level, will aim to keep that road winning streak alive. Fellow Sun Belt foe Southern Miss handed the eventual Cotton Bowl champion Green Wave one of their two regular-season losses a year ago—27-24 on Sept. 24.

CREAM OF THE CROP
The Sun Belt Preseason Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year—Coastal Carolina redshirt senior quarterback Grayson McCall and Old Dominion junior linebacker Jason Henderson—will attempt to kickstart the Sun Belt season with a victory over an autonomy five foe in Week 1 play. Each has been a part of a Week 1 win over an autonomy five opponent during his career—McCall led Coastal Carolina to a 38-23 season-opening win at Kansas in 2020 and Henderson aided Old Dominion to a 20-17 win over Virginia Tech in 2022. The Monarchs will visit in-state foe Virginia Tech at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 2, on ACC Network, while the Chanticleers will travel to UCLA at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN for their first game under first-year head coach Tim Beck in Week 1.

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