Appalachian State – over 9 (-135) – 2*
Nine almost feels like the floor for them, provided the new coaching staff isn’t a disaster, which…it could be. Eliah Drinkwitz has never been a HC before and I don’t love that he’s also the OC. Ted Roof is the DC and if you listen to fans of places he’s worked previously, there aren’t a ton of positives said about his work.
But there’s a ton of experience coming back from an 11-2 team, especially on offense. In Sun Belt games where Zac Thomas actually got to play more than a series, the Mountaineers outscored opponents by more than 23 PPG.
Troy – over 7 (-150) – 1*
It’s tough to know what to expect after the Trojans lost HC Neal Brown and replaced him with Chip Lindsey, who’s in his first head role. They get QB Kaleb Barker back after tearing his ACL midway through last season. His top three targets are gone, but first-teamer BJ Smith is back at RB.
The run defense should be awesome again. The schedule indicates that they’ll probably be favored in nine or ten games this year, but again, coaching changes can change everything.
Georgia Southern – over 6.5 (-120) – 3*
The Eagles took advantage of a favorable schedule last year and went 10-3. They were aided in a big game with App State by Zac Thomas getting hurt nearly immediately. Thomas’s backups threw 4 INTs in the game and GSU rolled. But still, a very good season either way.
They have seven starters back on each side of the ball. The most important on offense is QB Shai Werts, who definitely was not doing any cocaine and that foreign substance was merely bird poop on the interior of his car.
The defense made huge strides last year, especially in the run game. They lose their leading sack man, but they return DEs Raymond Johnson and Quan Griffin, who were both actually more disruptive in the pass game. The linebackers could be the best in the league and have depth. It’s hard to argue that the Eagles also don’t have the top secondary with two All-Sun Belt senior CBs back to anchor the defense.
I don’t think I’ve made a single comment about special teams this year, but I’d like to point out that GSU has an awesome kicker in Tyler Bass. He was 45-45 on PATs last year and 19-21 on FGS, going 10-11 from beyond 40.
You pretty much know what you’re going to get with the schedule. Barring a sizable upset, they’re probably not going to win at LSU, Minnesota, or App State. On the flip side, you can pencil in five wins against Maine, South Alabama, Coastal Carolina, NMSU, and Georgia State. They’ll be clear favorites against ULM, too, but they did lose to the Warhawks on the road last year.
If you’ve got those six wins, they just have to win one more of these three: Louisiana at home and road games against Troy and Arkansas State. None of them will be easy, but Troy and ASU both have much bigger question marks entering the season and they get the Ragin’ Cajuns at home and coming off a bye when Louisiana will be at Ohio the week before.
Georgia State – under 3.5 (+135) – 1*
The offense made minor improvements last year, but still didn’t put up many points. The defense went off the deep end and then some. They held Kennesaw State and ULM to 10 and 14 points, respectively. The other 10 opponents scored a minimum of 34 each.
Coastal Carolina – over 4.5 (+140) – 1*
There’s a lot of winnable games on the schedule for the Chants. It’s not inconceivable that they start the season 4-0.
Arkansas State – under 7.5 (+120) – 1*
A difficult one to discuss right now as HC Blake Anderson took a leave of absence from the team as his wife, Wendy, passed away from breast cancer last week.
Louisiana – over 6 (-135) – 2*
There’s a lot to love about the Ragin’ Cajuns this year. The offense should be awesome with a trio of All-Conference level backs and the entire starting O-line returns with them. They have to replace their starting QB, but Levi Lewis will be the guy and Billy Napier played him in every game last year and he played well.
The defense should continue to make strides this year. The Hudspeth era left Napier a disaster to start with. A great recruiting class will probably make some contributions this year.
The schedule is a real problem. They play a neutral site game with Mississippi State and road games at Ohio, Georgia Southern, and Arkansas State. They also have to play App State and Troy at home.
UL Monroe – over 5 (-125) – 1*
The Warhawks have similar production returning without maybe the high-end talent their in-state rivals have. They also have a tough road with away games at Florida State, Iowa State, App State, Georgia Southern, and Louisiana. They also play Memphis at home out of conference.
Texas State – under 4.5 (+135) – 1*
They have a ton coming back, but it was a 3-9 team last year and a program that hasn’t averaged 20 PPG since 2015. I can’t help but think there’s been so much steam on the over lately since a couple of fairly popular podcast hosts recommended the over.
South Alabama – under 2.5 (-115) – 1*
Their four home conference games are all against teams that made a bowl last year. They also have a home game with Memphis and road games at Nebraska, UAB, and Troy.
BEST BET TO WIN SUN BELT
App State is the clear favorite for obvious reasons and there are good arguments to be made to take the Mountaineers, but I’m not willing to pay the juice in these situations. I’d rather take a team like Louisiana in a low-risk, high-reward scenario with a team that has a ton of potential to take off this year.
I obviously also really like Georgia Southern, but the schedule doesn’t set up great for them in the league and it’s much more crowded at the top in the East.