Oddsmakers see four of the Group of Five college football conferences as relatively open this season. The Sun Belt is the exception.
Appalachian State has won the league three straight years, including last season’s inaugural conference championship game, and is expected to reign once again. The Mountaineers are the only Group of Five team offered at less than Even money to win their conference in futures. They’re as chalky as minus-135 (risking $1.35 to win $1) to prevail in local sports books. Since joining the Sun Belt in 2014, the Mountaineers have yet to lose more than one conference game.
Talking Points isn’t ready to concede the conference just yet though as the blog will still go through every team as part of its ongoing series picking every college football win total.
Total: 9 (over minus-135, under plus-115)
Last Season: 11-2 straight-up, 9-4 against the spread
The Mountaineers’ only conference loss last year came in a fluky performance at Georgia Southern where they lost both their quarterback, the returning Zac Thomas, and five turnovers. Their only non-conference loss came at Penn State in a game where they outgained the Nittany Lions. And Appalachian State should be even better this year. With 16 starters back, including their entire offense, the Mountainteers look like the best Group of Five conference team with the Sun Belt’s lackluster perception the only thing standing in the way of a New Year’s Six bowl berth.
Play: Over 9 wins at minus-135
Total: 4.5 (over plus-145, under minus-165)
Last Season: 5-7 straight-up, 7-5 against the spread
The Chanticleers’ worst season came in 2017 when new coach Jamey Chadwell was at the helm in an interim capacity. Coastal Carolina had one of the country’s least efficient defenses last year, giving up 7.4 yards per play, and remains too young to call for the significant improvements that will be necessary to reach bowl eligibility.
Lean: Under 4.5 wins at minus-165
Total: 6.5 (over minus-130, under plus-110)
Last Season: 10-3 straight-up, 9-4 against the spread
Coach Chad Lunsford looks like a miracle worker after he took over a winless team at the end of the 2017 season and has since gone 12-7 straight-up, 13-6 against the spread. But some of last year’s success was a mirage. The Eagles led the nation with a plus-22 turnover margin and gave up fewer points than their expectation based on defensive efficiency.
Guess: Under 6.5 wins at plus-110
Total: 3.5 (over minus-150, under plus-130)
Last Season: 2-10 straight-up, 2-9-1 against the spread
There’s no overstating the extent to which the Panthers struggled last season, when they fielded the nation’s second worst defense, allowing 7.8 yards per play against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. Coach Shawn Elliott is promising a revamped offense this year, but defense is where they must show strides.
Lean: Under 3.5 wins at plus-130
Total: 7 (over minus-150, under plus-130)
Last Season: 10-3 straight-up, 9-3-1 against the spread
Troy is tied with UCF for the best winning percentage among Group of Five conference teams over the last three seasons. That’s tough to ignore even with a potentially troubling coaching change from Neal Brown to former Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. The Trojans seem to come into every season with questions and leave as one of the Sun Belt’s two best teams along with to Appalachian State. Notably, Troy gets Appalachian State at home this year in the regular-season finale.
Lean: Over 7 wins at minus-150
Total: 7.5 (over minus-165, under plus-145)
Last Season: 8-5 straight-up, 6-7 against the spread
For a program that’s been lethally consistent — the Red Wolves have won seven to nine games in each of coach Blake Andersen’s five seasons — there are a lot of variables this year. Arkansas State lost three-year starting quarterback Justice Hansen to graduation and saw the departure of both coordinators. The Red Wolves still deserve to be the West division favorite, but not to the extent the betting market is implying.
Guess: Under 7.5 wins at plus-145
Total: 6 (over minus-145, under plus-125)
Last Season: 7-7 straight-up, 9-5 against the spread
Former Clemson and Alabama assistant Billy Napier crushed expectations in his first season in Lafayette, La., and followed it with an equally impressive offseason. Napier brought in one of the highest-rated Sun Belt recruiting classes of all time. The question is how much can be expected out of freshmen to contribute immediately, but the Ragin’ Cajuns have plenty returning in addition — including their entire offensive line and top three rushers. No team in the league has more exciting potential.
Guess: Over 6 wins at minus-145
Total: 5 (over minus-125, under plus-105)
Last Season: 6-6 straight-up, 4-8 against the spread
Last season was a heartbreaking one for the Warhawks, as they came within a field goal of beating Louisiana and clinching the second bowl game in school history. That somehow kept intact of a streak of what feels like perennial disappointment. They made a leap on defense, giving up 1.5 less yards per play from the season prior, but the expectation for this year should fall somewhere in the middle of two extremes.
Lean: Under 5 wins at plus-105
Total: 2.5 (over minus-125, under plus-105)
Last Season: 3-9 straight-up, 5-6-1 against the spread
The Jaguars may appear set up to fail this year considering there was an exodus of players via transfer after last year’s disastrous season where they were outscored by 175 points. Reports are that they may have found a keeper in their sixth quarterback in six years, Cephus Johnson. With so many bottom-scraping teams in the Sun Belt, there’s going to be too much variance to take under on a win total this low.
Lean: Over 2.5 wins at minus-125
Total: 4.5 (over minus-110, under plus-110)
Last Season: 3-9 straight-up, 6-5-1 against the spread
To reach its first bowl game, Texas State is going to need Jake Spavital to represent a coaching upgrade over Everett Withers. It’s certainly possible considering Withers’ systematic struggles in close games, including an 0-4 record in games decided by less than a touchdown last year. Withers left Spavital plenty to work with as the Bobcats return more contributors than any team in the conference, a group that outperformed their record last year.
Lean: Over 4.5 wins at plus-110