The top of the conference is pretty well defined
To many, the Sun Belt is just a conference to skip over when looking at a weekend college football card. To others, it's some fantastic football with good storylines and fantastic finishes. I continue my look around college football with a conference that will feature plenty of offense, and most likely plenty of losses to the SEC.
(Over 9 -120...Under 9 EVEN)
One of the best offensive triplets in the conference resides in Boone, N.C., in the form of QB Taylor Lamb, RB Jalin Moore and WR Shaedon Meadors. The offensive line also returns three starters. There is plenty of experience on the defensive side of the ball as well for the Mountaineers. Appalachian State has won 20 of its last 22 conference games. The Mountaineers also get their chance for a big season-opening win on the road at Georgia. If that doesn't work out then Wake Forest comes to town in week four. The over seems like a good play here. Appalachian State has the pieces in place to make a solid run in the Sun Belt.
(Over 7.5 +115...Under 7.5 -135)
Last year's Red Wolves team relied on the defense and finished strong, winning eight of their last nine games. This season it's about former Oklahoma recruit Justice Hansen at quarterback, who will be complemented by RB Warren Wand and TE Blake Mack. The biggest offensive issue facing Arkansas State is a rebuilt offensive line with five new starters. On defense, Ja'Von Rolland-Jones is the reigning Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year after racking up 13.5 sacks last season. Arkansas State is probably going to start slow again with games against Nebraska, Miami and SMU in the first month. I agree with the move to the under. I think six or seven wins is very realistic here.
(Over 4 -110...Under 4 -110)
It's year one in the FBS level for the Chanticleers, who went 10-2 as an FCS independent last year. Head coach Joe Moglia has gone 51-15 in his five seasons at the school so he's the right man to lead the transition. The problem is that he has a total of eight starters returning. The defense is undersized, but very few teams in Sun Belt are set on this side of the ball. There are wins potentially at the start of the year with UMass, UAB and Western Illinois on tap. Four wins is a pretty good number. If you think Coastal Carolina can sweep those first three games then consider the over, but I think four seems about right.
(Over 5 +110...Under 5 -130)
It was a rare down year for the Eagles, who switched to a more traditional spread offense rather than the option. But things didn’t go well, especially when they tried to throw the ball, so Georgia Southern is changing to a flexbone system under new offensive coordinator Bryan Cook, who previously coached at Georgia Tech under Paul Johnson. Only three starters return on that side of the ball, and they are all up front. Cook will need to identify new playmakers following the departure of three guys who accounted for 62 percent of the team’s 2,690 rushing yards last season. The defense isn’t much better off in terms of experience (four starters returning), and the Eagles also must replace one of the nation’s top kickers. The schedule is tough with early road games at Auburn and Indiana sandwiched around a home date with New Hampshire from the FCS ranks. I can't find a reason to take the over as it could be another long season for Georgia Southern.
(Over 5 -120...Under 5 EVEN)
Wide receiver Penny Hart is back after redshirting, meaning the offense should be a lot better than last year. The coaching staff will need to settle on a quarterback. The defense was fairly solid last season and returns eight starters. The secondary should be a strength with cornerbacks Chandon Sullivan and Jerome Smith anchoring the back end. I think first-year head coach Shawn Elliott is a good hire for this school and some improvement will be coming. The Panthers have three sets of back-to-back road games with the first Penn State and Charlotte. I think the over is a decent play here, but most likely I'd sit this one out.
(Over 4.5 -115...Under 4.5 -105)
This is Idaho's last season in the FBS as the school decided to move down to the FCS level starting next season. Matt Linehan is a very good quarterback that a lot of the country doesn't know about. He'll have to find some new targets following the graduation of his top two wide receivers. Linebackers Tony Lashley and Kaden Elliss are the defensive anchors. There will be some extra motivation to get to a bowl game in the program’s last last FBS season. The schedule is manageable with home games against FCS member Sacramento State and UNLV to start things off. I'll take the over here as I think the Vandals will start fast and finish strong with some struggles in the middle.
(Over 5 -120...Under 5 EVEN)
Running back Elijah McGuire has graduated, so this offense will look quite different. Jordan Davis gets the nod at quarterback after backing up LSU graduate transfer Anthony Jennings last season. Wide receivers Keenan Barnes and Ja'Marcus Bradley could be busy if the team throws the ball more. Six starters are back on a defense that did a good job against the run. The Ragin’ Cajuns have non-conference games at Tulsa, Texas A&M and Ole Miss. Five wins is a very good number. If I had to take something, I'd lean to the over, but I'm sitting this one out.
(Over 3.5 -110...Under 3.5 -110)
There have been some lean years for the Aggies as of late. They can be fun to watch on offense, but have been a train wreck on defense. QB Tyler Rogers and RB Larry Rose III are the key pieces on offense, but the top five pass catchers from last season are back too. Former Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani enters his second year as defensive coordinator and has his work cut out for him. New Mexico State gave up nearly 40 points per game in 2016. This is the Aggies’ last season in the Sun Belt before becoming an FBS Independent. The schedule features pairings of road and home games throughout, including a three straight away from home in the middle of the season. New Mexico State has to make home games count if it hopes to get over this total. And I don't think these Aggies can.
(Over 4 +105...Under 4 -125)
There are a lot of questions surrounding the Jaguars, who need to retool their WR corps and most of their offensive line. If they figure both of those things out then the backfield combination of QB Dallas Davis and RB Xavier Johnson will be more effective. It may be hard to believe, but South Alabama finished in the top 10 nationally in pass defense last season. A repeat may be difficult however with just two of the five starters in the secondary (South Alabama runs a 4-2-5) returning. If this team can fight the injury bug, the Jaguars could be a pleasant surprise. A home game against Oklahoma State is the first of three in a row in Mobile in September. I think the over is worth a look here, especially at this price.
(Over 2.5 -120...Under 2.5 EVEN)
It was a rough first season for head coach Everett Withers, who didn’t do himself any favors by saying this offseason that he didn't like his players. The Bobcats have 12 returning starters from last season, but will have a new quarterback. Damian Williams, a graduate transfer from Mississippi State, takes over following the graduation of four-year starter Tyler Jones. Texas State has only one way to go on offense after ranking near the bottom in FBS in scoring, rushing and total offense in 2016. On defense, the Bobcats have linebacker Bryan London, who finished second in the nation with 141 tackles as a freshman. Texas State opens up with FCS member Houston Baptist at home before things get considerably tougher. Four of the final six games are on the road. No play here for me here. With such a low number there's no room for error.
(Over 8.5 -125...Under 8.5 +105)
With so many low numbers in the conference, eventually someone had to benefit from it. I really like QB Brandon Silvers and RB Jordan Chunn. Most of the receiving corps is back too, including Emanuel Thompson. Depth could be an issue up front with only two returning starters. The defense has six returning starters, but four of those are in the secondary. This unit must do its job for the Trojans to challenge for the Sun Belt title. Troy plays at Boise State and LSU. This is a very good number by Vegas. I ran the schedule twice and came up with eight and nine wins. I'll pass.
(Over 3.5 EVEN...Under 3.5 -120)
The Warhawks couldn’t score (23.3 ppg) and couldn’t stop opponents from scoring (39.1 ppg), which is a bad combination and big reason why they went 4-8 last season. QB Garrett Smith missed the second half of the season because of injury, but he wasn’t all that effective when he played either. ULM leaned on its running game in 2016 but really needs to identify a primary ball carrier. The defense returns eight starters and has plenty of room for improvement, especially against the run. The Warhawks open with three of their first four games on the road, including trips to Memphis and Florida State. I think the under is worth a look here. ULM just doesn’t have a lot of talent and the schedule doesn't line up in its favor either.
— 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.
(Top photo courtesy of astateredwolves.com)