Two of the Conference USA's three bowl victories last season came from the Eastern division. You'll notice a lot of big-time names have moved on while other schools hope to build off an optimistic finish to their 2015 campaigns. Can Charlotte get things going in year two of FBS action?
There are seven teams in Conference USA's East Division. This article will apply the win totals from one Vegas casino and discuss if there is any value in these numbers. A selection is made based on the team's schedule, in which the games are broken down into three categories - easy wins, toss-ups and certain losses. Most conference games are in the toss-up category unless there is a clear difference in talent.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of South Point Casino
Conference USA East Division
(Over 2.5 wins -145...Under 2.5 wins +125)
Record Last Year: 2-10, 0-8
Returning Starters: 16 (8 on offense, 8 on defense)
Offense: Quarterback was a massive issue for the 49ers, which couldn't find any consistency under center. Running back Kalif Phillips returns and he nearly had 1,000 yards on the ground. Austin Duke is a solid WR. There are a lot more seniors on this side of the ball so improvement should occur.
Defense: The 49ers didn't provide much resistance last season, allowing 36.3 points per game. Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi is back leading a front four that is intact from 2015. More seniors on the depth chart here as well.
Schedule: Charlotte opens at Louisville before returning home to host Elon and Eastern Michigan. The 49ers also get a return matchup with Temple in Philadelphia. Two of their final three are at home with the road tilt at UTSA.
Selection: Getting Elon and EMU at home should be victories for this fledgling team. There are a few chances in conference to add to the win total so I'd consider the over although not at this price. It's a little much to pay for a meager win total.
(Over 4.5 wins -125...Under 4.5 wins +105)
Record Last Year: 3-9, 3-5
Returning Starters: 12 (6 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: Jaquez Johnson is gone and taking over at QB is either Daniel Parr or Jason Driskel. Greg Howell and Jay Warren form a solid rushing attack, which will be needed considering the lack of talent at other positions. The offensive line is back for the most part.
Defense: FAU had a middle of the road defense last year with Trey Hendrickson’s 13.5 sacks leading the way and coming in second in the nation. He's back along with two linebackers and three defensive backs.
Schedule: The Owls host Southern Illinois before taking on Miami and Kansas State on the road. Luckily they come back home to play Ball State before conference play. FAU has two of its last three at home.
Selection: I think this one is an over unless the offseason reports continue to show struggles at QB. It's a battle between a freshman and a sophomore. I think the defense improves and helps the offense along in C-USA play.
(Over 6 wins -110...Under 6 wins -110)
Record Last Year: 5-7, 3-5
Returning Starters: 13 (9 on offense, 4 on defense)
Offense: Continuity is the theme for the offense. QB Alex McGough, RB Alex Gardner, WR Thomas Owens and TE Jonnu Smith are all back to lead the way. The Panthers had a good passing attack, finishing 52nd nationally with 237.8 yards per game through the air.
Defense: Michael Wakefield and Denzell Perine have both moved on so the front four will be looking to improve. Linebacker Anthony Wint had 88 tackles in 2015. Depth could be an issue as well as certain spots being a bit younger.
Schedule: It's a big-time opportunity for FIU as the Panthers host Indiana and Maryland as well as UCF outside conference play. The Panthers lost by 14 points last year against the Hoosiers. Three of FIU’s final five games are at home.
Selection: I think six is a good number. If you follow my articles during the season, you'll see this team on there a lot especially early on against their Big Ten opponents. The offense should score a lot in this conference. The question will be if the defense can make the stop when needed.
(Over 8.5 wins -125...Under 8.5 wins +105)
Record Last Year: 10-3, 6-2
Returning Starters: 12 (8 on offense, 4 on defense)
Offense: Quarterback Chase Litton was a revelation after the Thundering Herd lost Michael Birdsong early last year. The then-true freshman threw for 23 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. Wide receivers Deon-Tay McManus and Justin Hunt and tight end Ryan Yurachek figure to benefit from Litton’s return.
Defense: I didn't think the defense could improve from last year, but it did, allowing just 17.8 points per game (10th nationally). Defensive end Ryan Bee is just one of four returning starters and he will provide solid pressure. The special teams will have to be fixed as well after graduations at punter and snapper.
Schedule: Marshall hosts Morgan State, Akron and Louisville before playing at North Texas. The Thundering Herd get Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky at home.
Selection: Small lean to the under. I'll say it again that the defense has to take a step back. The schedule is tougher, but the better opponents come to Huntington. Not the most confident selection on the board.
(Over 7.5 wins -110...Under 7.5 wins -110)
Record Last Year: 7-6, 6-2
Returning Starters: 11 (6 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: Quarterback Brent Stockstill is one of my favorite players in the conference and he'll be just a sophomore in 2016. Stockstill threw for 30 touchdowns compared to just nine INTs last year. Richie James and Terry Pettis are his two leading returning receivers. Running back I'Tavius Mathers started his college career at Ole Miss.
Defense: Five of the top six tacklers from last year are gone so this team could be in a bunch of shootouts. Mike Minter and Jeremy Cutrer are one of the better cornerback duos in C-USA.
Schedule: Middle Tennessee plays Alabama A&M at home while traveling to Vanderbilt, Bowling Green and Missouri. The Blue Raiders have a stretch of four of their final six at home. It's an ugly slate overall with just five home contests.
Selection: I think the under is the play here. I'm concerned about all the road games even with a pretty good offense. This is the case of a good team with a tough schedule.
(Over 5 wins EVEN...Under 5 wins -120)
Record Last Year: 5-7, 3-5
Returning Starters: 16 (9 on offense, 7 on defense)
Offense: David Washington started last season at wide receiver but ended up at quarterback due to the struggles of Shuler Bentley. Both are back this fall and whoever ends up with the starting job will have a stacked WR corps to throw to led by Zach Pascal. Don’t forget about running back Ray Lawry and his 1,136 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.
Defense: The Monarchs continue to be a porous defense, one that allowed 437.3 yards per game last year. Linebacker T.J. Ricks racked up 123 tackles in 2015. Special teams will need to get better.
Schedule: The Monarchs host Hampton and UMass while playing at Appalachian State and NC State. ODU lost to the latter two teams at home by a combined score of 87-14 in 2015. Three of ODU’s last four games are at home.
Selection: This team screams 6-6. It has an offense that will be towards the top of a lot of categories in the conference, but it'll continue to lag behind on defense. I'll be on the over quite a bit in ODU games.
(Over 8 wins -125...Under 8 wins +105)
Record Last Year: 12-2, 8-0
Returning Starters: 10 (6 on offense, 4 on defense)
Offense: No more Brandon Doughty at quarterback means someone new will be leading this offense. Whoever wins the job in fall camp will have Anthony Wales and D'Andre Ferby in the backfield. Taywan Taylor also returns after catching 17 touchdown passes in 2015.
Defense: The defense took a massive step forward in 2015 improving its scoring defense by 14 points (from 39.9 ppg in 2014 to 25.9). However, this unit could take a step back this year with just four returning starters. Linebacker T.J. McCollum had 106 tackles and three sacks.
Schedule: The Hilltoppers open up with a conference game against Rice before playing non-conference foes Alabama, Miami (Ohio), Vanderbilt and Houston Baptist. WKU gets Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee on the road.
Selection: Slight lean to the under and that's assuming that WKU beats Vanderbilt at home, which is no guarantee. Last year the Hilltoppers won 14-12 in Nashville. Head coach Jeff Brohm’s teams are known for their offense, but WKU may not be scoring as many points this season because of the QB change.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.