AP Photo/Matthew Hinton
Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018 | 2 a.m.
One of the most shocking upsets of last year’s college football season came when Troy defeated LSU at Tiger Stadium. Two years ago, South Alabama similarly stunned Mississippi State on the road.
The Sun Belt Conference seems to annually produce a big-time upset or two, and yet, it also always appears to get the least amount of attention out of all the conferences in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Sun Belt sits with the Conference USA as the only leagues to never make either a New Year’s Six bowl game or a BCS bowl game.
But at least Conference USA teams have been in the conversations over the years, which is more than can be said for the Sun Belt. Despite the Trojans soiling coach Ed Orgeron’s first full year at LSU, last year didn’t ultimately do much to change the perception of the Sun Belt.
The league went 13-29 straight-up, 15-27 against the spread in non-conference games. Hope springs eternal with every new season, however, and perhaps this is the season the Sun Belt busts out of the shadows.
Check below for the blog’s picks on each Sun Belt team’s over/under win total to conclude the Group of Five conference portion. Picks are separated into three confidence categories — plays, leans and guesses.
over/under: 8.5 (minus-105, minus-125)
Last Year: 9-4 straight-up, 6-7 against the spread
Look to bet on the Mountaineers at Kidd Brewer Stadium, where they have one of the most underrated home-field advantages in the nation. Unfortunately, they only have six games there. There’s a lot of turnover on the roster, which could make it a challenge for Appalachian State to win its third straight conference title.
Guess: Under 8.5 wins at minus-125
over/under: 4 (plus-120, minus-150)
Last Year: 3-9 straight-up, 5-7 against the spread
The Chanticleers were better than their 3-9 record in their inaugural Football Bowl Subdivision season last year, as they went 1-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less. They’re more experienced this year and get back sharp long-time coach Joe Moglia, who missed last season with an illness.
Lean: Over 4 wins at plus-120
over/under: 5.5 (minus-180, plus-150)
Last Year: 2-10 straight-up, 4-7-1 against the spread
The Eagles’ program had ranged from a respectable to excellent since moving up to FBS in 2010, but bottomed out last season. It’s usually worth banking on teams like that to bounce back in the following season — especially one like the Eagles who fostered some valuable experience and had young, exciting skill players emerge — but nearly 2-to-1 is a hefty price tag.
Guess: Under 5.5 wins at plus-150
over/under: 4.5 (minus-105, minus-125)
Last Year: 7-5 straight-up, 5-7 against the spread
In contrast to its rivals at Georgia Southern, Georgia State peaked last year to secure its first winning season at the FBS level. Shawn Elliott is recruiting well enough that the Panthers will likely peak again soon, but it won’t be this year. It looks like a transitional year, as Georgia State breaks in a lot of new players against the conference’s toughest schedule.
Lean: Under 4.5 wins at minus-125
over/under: 7.5 (minus-130, Even)
Last Year: 11-2 straight-up, 6-7 against the spread
Troy ranked 14th nationally in sack rate last year and returns all of its best edge rushers, including senior Hunter Reese, on what should be the Sun Belt’s best defense. Even if it takes the offense a little while to get going after losing quarterback Brandon Silvers and running back Jordan Chunn, the defense should put the Trojans in position to reach the conference championship game.
Play: Over 7.5 wins at minus-130
over/under: 8.5 (minus-150, plus-120)
Last Year: 7-5 straight-up, 7-5 against the spread
Arkansas State has the unfortunate task of playing at Alabama in week 2, where it should be more than a 30-point underdog. Other than that, the Red Wolves should be favored in every game. They’re the class of the conference, with senior quarterback Justice Hansen a unanimous choice for preseason player of the year.
Play: Over 8.5 wins at minus-150
over/under: 4.5 (minus-110, minus-120)
Last Year: 5-7 straight-up, 4-8 against the spread
The Ragin’ Cajuns gave up 6.5 yards per play last year, ranking in the nation’s bottom 15 — and they’ve since lost their few good defensive players. They’ve also brought in a new coach in former Clemson and Alabama offensive assistant Billy Napier, who’s only hope in year 1 will be outlasting opponents in shootouts.
Guess: Under 4.5 wins at minus-120
over/under: 5.5 (minus-150, plus-120)
Last Year: 4-8 straight-up, 6-6 against the spread
This is the season third-year coach Matt Viator has built towards, as the Warhawks have the most returning production in the conference. That includes quarterback Caleb Evans and receiver Marcus Green, which make up arguably the Sun Belt’s top connecting duo. It could be Monroe’s turn to break through, but paying a high price for a team to get to bowl eligibility for the first time in five years is typically ill-advised.
Guess: Under 5.5 wins at plus-120
over/under: 4.5 (plus-110, minus-140)
Last Year: 4-8 straight-up, 6-6 against the spread
Steve Campbell doesn’t step into the standard first-year coaching job in the Sun Belt, as former coach Joey Jones may have recruited better than anyone in the conference. The talent is there, and a fresh voice might be what pulls the Jaguars up to their potential.
Guess: Over 4.5 wins at plus-110
over/under: 3.5 (minus-105, minus-125)
Last Year: 2-10 straight-up, 5-7 against the spread
With 14 returning starters including some particularly promising players in the defensive front seven, Texas State looks better than 3.5 wins. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will win more than 3.5 games, however, because of an unfavorable schedule. The Bobcats may have to pull a pair upsets to eclipse their win total, something they haven’t done since 2014.
Guess: Under 3.5 wins at minus-125