The PFF Preseason College Football All-Sun Belt Team: Coastal Carolina duo Grayson McCall, Jaivon Heiligh earn first-team nods | College Football | PFF

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The PFF Preseason College Football All-Sun Belt Team: Coastal Carolina duo Grayson McCall, Jaivon Heiligh earn first-team nods

Orlando, FL, USA; Coastal Carolina Chanticleers quarterback Grayson McCall (10) throws a pass during the second quarter against the Liberty Flames at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

A locked-in college football schedule with no sudden changes. Tailgates with friends and family. Stadiums packed to the brim. Students storming the streets after a major upset win. It’s all coming soon — the college football landscape is returning to normal.

The 2021 college football season kicks off in just under two months, and what better way to prepare than by running through PFF’s preseason awards. The 600-page PFF College Football Magazine and PFF Preseason All-America Team dropped Monday, and 10 all-conference teams will be hitting PFF.com throughout the week.

Below is the PFF 2021 Preseason All-Sun Belt Team. The side was selected with the help of PFF grades and advanced statistics, which are now available to PFF’s CFB Premium Stats+ Subscribers.

QUARTERBACK

First-Team: Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina

McCall certainly did damage on the ground, but unlike most triple-option quarterbacks, he also showed an ability to carve defenses up through the air with pinpoint accuracy. McCall finished the season with the seventh-best big-time throw rate and fifth-lowest uncatchable pass rate on throws beyond the line of scrimmage. That led to a 92.5 passing grade on the year, trailing only now-New York Jet Zach Wilson for the best mark by a non-Power Five quarterback in the PFF College era.

Second-Team: Layne Hatcher, Arkansas State
Third-Team: Levi Lewis, Louisiana
Honorable Mention: Cornelious Brown IV, Georgia State

RUNNING BACK

First-Team: Camerun Peoples, Appalachian State

While his 2020 season was rather hot-and-cold, Peoples proved he has game-wrecking potential. His 29 runs of 10-plus yards — seven of which were touchdowns — tied for the most in the conference last season. Look for Peoples to rack up big runs on wide zone carries on a more consistent basis in 2021.

Second-Team: Amare Jones, Georgia Southern
Third-Team: Calvin Hill, Texas State
Honorable Mention: J.D. King, Georgia Southern

First-Team: Reese White, Coastal Carolina

White actually edged out Camerun Peoples to be the Sun Belt’s third-highest-graded ball-carrier of the 2020 season, behind only since departed Louisiana duo Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell. He’s not afraid of contact and will have no issue taking on more opportunities following C.J. Marable's departure.

Second-Team: Chris Smith, Louisiana
Third-Team: Logan Wright, Georgia Southern
Honorable Mention: Gerald Green, Georgia Southern

WIDE RECEIVER

First-Team: Jalen Tolbert, South Alabama

Tolbert made downfield plays week after week for the Jaguars in 2020. The 6-foot-3, 195-pounder finished the year with a 79.2 PFF grade, 13th among returning wideouts, and 15 receptions from passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield, tied with Jonathan Adams Jr. and DeVonta Smith for the most in the FBS.

Second-Team: Marcell Barbee, Texas State
Third-Team: Thomas Hennigan, Appalachian State
Honorable Mention: Malik Williams, Appalachian State

Orlando, FL, USA; Coastal Carolina Chanticleers wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh (6) is tackled by Liberty Flames safety Cedric Stone (23) during the second half at Camping World Stadium. Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
First-Team: Jaivon Heiligh, Coastal Carolina

Heiligh was an integral part of last year’s Chanticleer offense, evidenced by his 89.8 receiving grade. He was targeted on nearly one-third of his routes ran last year — the 11th-highest rate in college football — and teamed up with quarterback Grayson McCall for a 136.4 passer rating when targeted.

Second-Team: Corey Rucker, Arkansas State
Third-Team: Kyren Lacy, Louisiana
Honorable Mention: Reggie Todd, Troy

First-Team: Sam Pinckney, Georgia State

Pinckney has established himself as one of the top wideouts in the Sun Belt thanks to his catch radius, physicality and ball skills. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound wideout is coming off a year in which he earned the third-best receiving grade in the conference (79.4). He ranked 22nd among FBS receivers in drop rate on targets beyond the line of scrimmage (2.1%) and 13th in contested-catch rate (52.6%).

Second-Team: Dahu Green, Arkansas State
Third-Team: Cornelius McCoy, Georgia State
Honorable Mention: Jeff Foreman, Arkansas State

TIGHT END

First-Team: Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina

The former two-star wide receiver recruit who received only one FBS offer now has the third-best receiving grade in the FBS since 2019. Likely posted a 95.0 receiving grade over his last five games of 2020, the highest among FBS tight ends in that span. He hauled in 11-of-14 contested-catch opportunities over that same five-game stretch, and he did that while playing through a lower-body injury that required post-season surgery.

Second-Team: Roger Carter, Georgia State
Third-Team: Henry Pearson, Appalachian State
Honorable Mention: Reed Tyler, Arkansas State

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

First-Team: Max Mitchell, Louisiana

This Louisiana offense helps Mitchell out a bit, as he doesn’t see a significant rate of true pass sets. But when he has had such a rep over the past couple of years, it almost always went his way. He has been one of the 25 highest-graded tackles on true pass sets since 2019. Mitchell also cracks the top 25 in positively graded run-block rate.

Second-Team: Austin Stidham, Troy
Third-Team: Carlos Rubio, Louisiana
Honorable Mention: Russell Baker, Texas State

First-Team: Cooper Hodges, Appalachian State

Hodges is coming off a season in which he was nearly flawless as a pass blocker. He tied for the third-lowest pressure rate allowed among FBS offensive tackles (1.3%) en route to an 86.5 pass-block grade. He’s also been a feisty blocker in Appalachian State’s zone-heavy run scheme. Over the past two seasons, Hodges has racked up the second-most big-time blocks on zone runs among all FBS tackles, ranking behind only Kentucky’s Darrian Kinnard.

Second-Team: Brian Miller, Georgia Southern
Third-Team: Dalton Cooper, Texas State
Honorable Mention: Anderson Hardy, Appalachian State

INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE

First-Team: Baer Hunter, Appalachian State

Hunter will be making the move to center this fall to replace Noah Hannon after three quality years at guard. The 6-foot-2, 290-pound interior offensive lineman has been a consistently sound performer in pass protection for the Mountaineers, allowing multiple pressures in only three of his 39 total games since 2018.

Second-Team: Shane Vallot, Louisiana
Third-Team: Dylan Bradshaw, Troy
Honorable Mention: Sam Thompson, Coastal Carolina

First-Team: O'Cyrus Torrence, Louisiana

Torrence was thrown into the fire as a three-star true freshman after an injury to the previous starter during Louisiana's season-opener. He had a bumpy start, allowing a couple of hurries, but was crisp from there on out in 2019. The 6-foot-5, 332-pound guard — who was actually 420 pounds in the eighth grade — proceeded to be the highest-graded true freshmen interior offensive lineman in 2019.

That success carried into 2020, as he was nearly flawless in pass protection, posting an 89.0 grade in that facet — third-best among FBS guards. Torrence didn’t allow a single sack or hit across 713 pass-block snaps at guard as an underclassman. That’s the most snaps played without a sack or hit allowed among all FBS guards in that span.

Georgia reportedly made a late push to bring in Torrence as a member of the team's 2019 class, but he opted to join the Ragin’ Cajuns. He got his opportunity to shine early and is currently seizing it.

Second-Team: Aaron Dowdell, Georgia Southern
Third-Team: Andre Harris Jr., Arkansas State
Honorable Mention: Trey Carter, Coastal Carolina

First-Team: Jake Andrews, Troy

Andrews has established himself as one of the top offensive linemen in the Sun Belt after producing an impressive 79.7 PFF grade in 2020, sixth-best among returning Group of Five guards.

Second-Team: Willie Lampkin, Coastal Carolina
Third-Team: Grant Betts, Troy
Honorable Mention: Eddie Rivas, Texas State

PFF's 2021 College Football Preview Magazine offers a one-of-a-kind deep dive into every team and every conference in the FBS. You'll get PFF grades, position breakdowns, betting predictions, accuracy data and more, making it the only resource you'll need to prepare for the 2021 college football season.

INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE

First-Team: Zi'Yon Hill, Louisiana

Hill took his play to new heights in 2020 after earning PFF grades of 67.9 and 69.6 in 2018 and 2019, respectively. He earned an 88.4 PFF grade last season, tying for the sixth-best in the FBS, and he was one of the five interior defensive linemen who were able to generate an 80.0-plus grade against the run and as a pass rusher.

Second-Team: C.J. Wright, Georgia Southern
Third-Team: Thomas Gore, Georgia State
Honorable Mention: Gavin Adcock, Georgia Southern

First-Team: Will Choloh, Troy

After a couple of quality seasons playing mostly nose tackle, Choloh moved to exclusively 3-technique in 2020 and produced at an elite level as a pass rusher. He recorded a 90.3 pass-rush grade and an 18.3% win rate in 2020, both of which were top-five marks among FBS interior defensive linemen.

Second-Team: Dontae Wilson, Georgia State
Third-Team: C.J. Brewer, Coastal Carolina
Honorable Mention: Tayland Humphrey, Louisiana

EDGE DEFENDER

First-Team: Demetrius Taylor, Appalachian State

Taylor is among the group of players who will be making use of their “super senior” season. He returns to Appalachian State for his fifth year. That can only be good news for the program because he was among the few players who produced a 90.0-plus pass-rushing grade in 2020, and he came away with an impressive 20.6% pass-rush win rate that ranked 15th in the FBS.

Second-Team: Nick Hampton, Appalachian State
Third-Team: Kivon Bennett, Arkansas State
Honorable Mention: Chauncey Manac, Louisiana

First-Team: Jeffrey Gunter, Coastal Carolina

Gunter came back with a vengeance in 2020 after having to sit out in 2019. He finished last season with an 81.5 pass-rush grade. He recorded at least three pressures in 10 of his 12 starts and is one of the 10 highest-graded edge defenders returning in the Group of Five. Demetrius Taylor is the lone player among Sun Belt edge defenders with “elite” play on his resume, but Gunter could soon join him.

Second-Team: Richard Jibunor, Troy
Third-Team: Ty Shelby, UL-Monroe
Honorable Mention: Hardrick Willis, Georgia State

MTSU wide receiver Jimmy Marshall (6) runs the ball as Troy linebacker Carlton Martial (2) makes a diving tackle on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020 at MTSU.

LINEBACKER

First-Team: Carlton Martial, Troy

Martial walked on for the Troy Trojans in 2017, made his first start in 2018 and has since been in the conversation for the best off-ball linebacker in the Group of Five. He’s on the smaller end, standing at 5-foot-9 and 216 pounds, but that hasn’t held him back. Martial posted PFF grades of 90.9, 91.3 and 82.4 in his three years on the field. He has accumulated 159 defensive stops in that span, the most among all FBS off-ball linebackers.

While the lowest-graded season of his career came in 2020, that 82.4 mark was still good enough to rank 12th in the FBS. And over his last six games, he was college football’s highest-graded off-ball linebacker.

Second-Team: D'Marco Jackson, Appalachian State
Third-Team: Enock Makonzo, Coastal Carolina
Honorable Mention: A.J. Deshazor, South Alabama

First-Team: Brendan Harrington, Appalachian State

Harrington was a weapon in coverage last year, his first as a starter. He played 106 total snaps at outside linebacker, 287 at off-ball in the box and 304 in the slot, earning an 87.6 coverage grade that ranked fifth among all FBS linebackers. He allowed nine first downs (one was a touchdown) while intercepting four passes and breaking up another three.

Second-Team: Blake Carroll, Georgia State
Third-Team: KJ Robertson, Troy
Honorable Mention: Nick Mobley, South Alabama

CORNERBACK

First-Team: D'Jordan Strong, Coastal Carolina

Strong went from JUCO to being a top cornerback in the Group of Five in just a year’s time. He started right from the get-go in his first year with Coastal Carolina in 2020, and he finished with a top-three coverage grade among non-Power Five cornerbacks (81.5).

Second-Team: Mekhi Garner, Louisiana
Third-Team: Steven Jones, Appalachian State
Honorable Mention: Asjlin Washington, Louisiana

First-Team: Derrick Canteen, Georgia Southern

Georgia Southern returns a true ballhawk to its zone-heavy defense in Derrick Canteen. He came to the Eagles as a two-star recruit in 2019 and didn’t play a down at corner until he was thrust into a starting job in 2020. Last year, he finished with six interceptions and seven pass breakups en route to an 80.8 coverage grade, fourth in the Group of Five.

Second-Team: Eric Garror, Louisiana
Third-Team: Darrell Baker Jr., Georgia Southern
Honorable Mention: Quavian White, Georgia State

SAFETY

First-Team: Bralen Trahan, Louisiana

Led by defensive coordinator Patrick Toney, one of the rising defensive minds in college football, Louisiana fielded one of the best secondaries in the Group of Five in 2020. Trahan was the leader of that group. He trusts what he sees out there and was a true playmaker on the back end, with 11 combined pass breakups and interceptions, which led all FBS safeties.

Second-Team: Cameron Solomon, Louisiana
Third-Team: Alex Spillum, Coastal Carolina
Honorable Mention: Kaiden Smith, Appalachian State

First-Team: Keith Gallmon, South Alabama

Gallmon ended his 2019 sophomore campaign with a 76.8 PFF grade and then took his play to new heights in 2020, raising that grade by over 10 points to 86.9. He paired his 88.4 run-defense grade with an 84.7 coverage grade and missed only seven of his 92 tackle attempts in 2020.

Second-Team: Antavious Lane, Georgia State
Third-Team: Anthony Wilson, Georgia Southern
Honorable Mention: Troy Lefeged Jr., Texas State

FLEX D

First-Team: Percy Butler, Louisiana

Butler established himself as one of the top safeties in the Sun Belt ever since taking over a starting job in Week 1 of the 2019 season. Over the past two years, Butler is one of the five highest-graded safeties in the Group of Five. In 2020, Butler enjoyed much-improved ball production. He recorded seven combined pass breakups and interceptions in 2020, six more than in 2019. Look for that trend to continue this fall.

Second-Team: Shaun Jolly, Appalachian State
Third-Team: Kam Pedescleaux, Louisiana
Honorable Mention: TJ Harris, Troy

KICKER

First-Team: Noel Ruiz, Georgia State
Second-Team: Diego Guajardo, South Alabama
Third-Team: Massimo Biscardi, Coastal Carolina
Honorable Mention: Kenneth Almendares, Louisiana

PUNTER

First-Team: Xavier Subotsch, Appalachian State
Second-Team: Jack Brooks, South Alabama
Third-Team: Seamus O'Kelley, Texas State
Honorable Mention: Charles Ouverson, Coastal Carolina

KICK RETURNER

First-Team: Chris Smith, Louisiana
Second-Team: Steven Jones, Appalachian State
Third-Team: Amare Jones, Georgia Southern
Honorable Mention: Reggie Todd, Troy

PUNT RETURNER

First-Team: Amare Jones, Georgia Southern
Second-Team: Eric Garror, Louisiana
Third-Team: Khaleb Hood, Georgia Southern
Honorable Mention: Malik Williams, Appalachian State

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