Sun Belt Odds, Predictions, Betting Preview 2022 College Football

The Sun Belt is rapidly evolving and could quickly become the preeminent Group of Five conference in college football. Four new teams enter the fold this year – Old Dominion, Marshall, and Southern Mississippi from Conference USA and James Madison from the FCS. The Sun Belt could really earn its “Fun Belt” moniker this year, given the added competition level.

Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, and Louisiana have a combined 64-12 record since 2020, during which the rest of the conference has gone 56-96. However, the added teams inject new life into the conference, and there should be plenty of betting value throughout the conference this year. In this article, I’ll break down my picks on over-unders in the SBC and present a few bets on conference winners.

Sun Belt Betting Preview & Odds

The Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns won the Sun Belt Championship in 2021 and have won the West for four straight years. The Cajuns are the preseason favorite by media votes to win the West, but South Alabama also received first-place votes. Southern Miss is the only team of the four new programs in the conference to join the West, but the division could be wide open with plenty of departures from the Cajuns’ roster.

The East division is the stronger of the two in the Sun Belt, with four teams receiving first-place votes from the media, including reigning champions Appalachian State, the leader in votes. Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall will be one of the top talents in the conference, and the Chanticleers will be in the championship conversation. Marshall, James Madison, and Old Dominion join the West, hoping to make some noise as they enter the Sun Belt.

Appalachian State Mountaineers

Odds to Win National Championship:
Odds to Win Sun Belt:
Regular Season Win Total:

What to Know:

  • 2021 Record: 10-4
  • Head Coach: Shawn Clark
  • Key Players: QB Chase Brice, RB Camerun Peoples, RB Nate Noel, CB Steven Jones Jr.
  • Key Losses: OL Baer Hunter, WR Corey Sutton, LB D’Marco Jackson, DT Demetrius Taylor

The 2021 season ended in disappointment with a blowout bowl loss to Western Kentucky. Still, a ten-win campaign featuring a 7-2 conference record provides an excellent building block for future championship aspirations. Head coach Shawn Clark has done an excellent job of maintaining a high level of talent, and this team deserves to be the favorite to win the conference.

Chase Brice won the SBC Newcomer of the Year award last year with 3,337 yards and 27 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, but he lost his top three receivers from last year. Corey Sutton, Malik Williams, and Thomas Hennigan were all-star pass-catchers who combined for over 2,500 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns. The top returning pass-catcher is Christian Wells, who had just 12 catches for 243 yards last year.

The run game will have to shoulder a large portion of the offensive burden, and the returns of both all-star backs Nate Noel and Camerun Peoples are significant. Those two rushers combined for over 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2021. The offensive line lost its best player, All-SBC First Teamer Baer Hunter, but returns everyone else from a stellar 2021 unit.

The defense could be hurting after losing D’Marco Jackson, the SBC Defensive Player of the Year, but Trey Cobb returns after ranking with 72 tackles last year. Nick Hampton leads the pass rush after registering 11 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in 2021, while Steven Jones returns as one of the best cornerbacks in the conference.

App State had its fair share of losses on both sides of the ball, but plenty of talent remains from a team that finished top-30 in the country in points for and against in 2021. However, there are a few potential pitfalls on the schedule, and repeating a ten-win season is a lofty expectation. I’ll take a slight under here, but I’m pretty confident this team ends up with eight or nine wins.

Best Bet: under 8.5 wins

Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

Odds to Win National Championship:
Odds to Win Sun Belt:
Regular Season Win Total:

What to Know:

  • 2021 Record: 11-2
  • Head Coach: Jamey Chadwell
  • Key Players: QB Grayson McCall, OL Willie Lampkin, DT Josaiah Stewart, CB D’Jordan Strong
  • Key Losses: WR Jaivon Heiligh, TE Isaiah Likely, LB Silas Kelly, DT C.J. Brewer

The Chanticleers proved a breakthrough 11-1 2020 campaign was no fluke with a repeat 11-win season in 2021, but now the real work begins as they lost a ton of key contributors on both sides of the ball. With the Sun Belt improving around them, it will be fascinating to see how Coastal Carolina adjusts to newfound pressure and the rest of the conference gunning for them.

Grayson McCall returns for another season after totaling over 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2021, leading the fifth-highest scoring offense in the FBS. Now, he will be without his top three pass-catchers. Jaivon Heiligh and Isaiah Likely were All-SBC First Team talents at their respective positions, and they combined for over 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns. Georgia State transfer Sam Pinckney will take on a large passing game role.

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The offense also lost leading rusher Shermari Jones, but look for Braydon Bennett to take on a more significant role in the backfield after his 931 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns in 2021. Reese White also returns after running for 515 yards last year. The offensive line should be a strength, especially with the return of all-star guard Willie Lampkin.

The Chanticleers’ offense gets the headlines, but the defense was also excellent last year. However, the losses of all-stars across the board loom large – linebacker Silas Kelly, safety Alex Spillum, and defensive linemen C.J. Brewer and Jeffrey Gunter are gone. D’Jordan Strong returns as one of the best cornerbacks in the conference, but the defense returns just three starters and will be a very young unit.

There’s no question that Coastal Carolina has established itself as a powerhouse in the Sun Belt, but no other team faces the combined losses of the Chanticleers. With a weakened defense and lost skill position talent, this team will often live and die by the arm of Grayson McCall. That’s not a bad place to be, but with a tougher schedule, it’s enough for me to take the under on the win total.

Best Bet: under 8.5 wins

Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns

Odds to Win National Championship:
Odds to Win Sun Belt:
Regular Season Win Total:

What to Know:

  • 2021 Record: 13-1
  • Head Coach: Michael Desormeaux
  • Key Players: RB Chris Smith, WR Michael Jefferson, DT Zi’Yon Hill, CB Eric Garror
  • Key Losses: QB Levi Lewis, OT Max Mitchell, OG O’Cyrus Torrence, C Shane Vallot

The 2021 season was tremendous for the Ragin’ Cajuns as they finished in the final AP Top 25 for the second straight year, won 12 games in the regular season for the first time in program history, and beat Marshall in the New Orleans Bowl to end the year. Head coach Billy Napier was rewarded with the Florida job, and Michael Desormeaux will be tasked with maintaining his overwhelming success after 24 wins in three seasons.

Desormeaux, a former Ragin’ Cajun star quarterback, starts his time as head coach without the team’s starting quarterback Levi Lewis. Chandler Fields and former Fresno State Bulldog Ben Woolridge will compete for the role, but replacing Lewis’s 2,917 passing yards and 20 touchdowns won’t be a breeze. That’s especially true behind an offensive line that lost all-stars O’Cyrus Torrence, Max Mitchell, and Shane Vallot.

Leading rusher Chris Smith returns after finishing with 855 yards and eight touchdowns, but Montrell Johnson followed Napier to Florida after registering 838 yards and 12 scores. The team also has a slew of young options to fill in. The receiving corps returns Michael Jefferson, who led the squad with 481 yards and four touchdowns while averaging almost 27 yards per reception. Kyren Lacy departs after a team-leading six touchdowns.

The offense got most of the attention in Lafayette, but the defense was dominant as it ranked 11th in the nation with just 18.5 points per game allowed. Longtime starter Zi’Yon Hill returns for another season to anchor the defensive line, while Andre Jones will look to improve on a four-sack season. However, the defense lost its top three tacklers in Lorenzo McCaskill, Ferrod Gardner, and Percy Butler. Chauncey Manac is also gone after leading the team with 14.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. The secondary returns veterans Eric Garror and Bralen Trahan.

After the best season in program history, you’d expect several big-time departures, and Louisiana will take its lumps with the loss of Napier and big-time talent on both sides of the ball. The Sun Belt is also improving around Louisiana with the addition of four programs. I’d be willing to bet the over if Lewis returned to bolster the offense’s consistency, but there are too many unknown variables here. I’m on the under.

Best Bet: under 8.5 wins

Georgia State Panthers

Odds to Win National Championship:
Odds to Win Sun Belt:
Regular Season Win Total:

What to Know:

  • 2021 Record: 8-5
  • Head Coach: Shawn Elliott
  • Key Players: RB Tucker Gregg, C Malik Sumter, LB Blake Carroll, S Antavious Lane
  • Key Losses: OL Shamarious Gilmore, WR Sam Pinckney, TE Roger Carter, DT Dontae Wilson,

The 2021 season was a tale of two halves for the Panthers as they started the year with two blowout losses to Army and North Carolina and got out to a 1-4 record before turning it around with a 7-1 close to the season, including a blowout win over Ball State in the Cramton Bowl. The Panthers now have three straight winning seasons, four bowl appearances in five years, and plenty of talent in place for another strong season.

The offense wasn’t always great last year, but the run game was excellent. Tucker Gregg and Jamyest Williams return after combining for 1,812 yards and 18 touchdowns, while quarterback Darren Grainger chipped in with 660 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. All-SBC First Team offensive lineman Shamarious Gilmore is gone, but all-star linemen Malik Sumter and Pat Bartlett return to a stout group.

Grainger wasn’t always the most accurate passer, but he threw for 19 touchdowns to four interceptions in addition to his contributions on the ground. The offense returns a talented receiving corps for him, despite the loss of Sam Pinckney to Coastal Carolina, as leading pass-catcher Jamari Thrash returns after 32 catches for 452 yards. Tight end Aubrey Payne led the team with seven touchdowns in 2021.

The defense has to improve, but there are solid pieces in place with a slew of potential all-stars. Leading tacklers Jordan Veneziale (96 stops) and Blake Carroll (89 stops) return, and they provide pass-rush juice with 9.5 combined sacks. Jamil Muhammad also returns after a 5.5-sack season. Safety Antavious Lane has been one of the best defensive backs in the Sun Belt over the past few years, and he made the All-SBC First Team in 2021.

The sharp market has hammered the under on 7.5 wins for Georgia State, and the line is currently set at -150 on most books. I hate to buck the sharp betting action, but I can’t fathom taking the -150 juice on the under for a team this talented. I’d lean towards the over, and it’s easily the side for me at +130 value. The Panthers play in the East, but I’d still consider a small bet on them to win the conference.

Best Bet: over 7.5 wins, bet to win the Sun Belt at +800 or better

Marshall Thundering Herd

Odds to Win National Championship:
Odds to Win Sun Belt:
Regular Season Win Total:

What to Know:

  • 2021 Record: 7-6
  • Head Coach: Charlies Huff
  • Key Players: QB Henry Colombi, RB Rasheen Ali, LB Abraham Beauplan, CB Steven Gilmore
  • Key Losses: QB Grant Wells, WR Willie Johnson, TE Xavier Gaines, S Nazeeh Johnson

In Marshall’s first season in the Sun Belt, they will be hoping to build on a 7-6 campaign in 2021 that represented their fifth-straight winning season. The end of the year was disappointing, with three losses in the final four games, but Charles Huff has a strong foundation of talent to build on in his second season as the head coach.

The Thundering Herd offense finished second in C-USA last year in total yardage, but it lost starting quarterback Grant Wells to Virginia Tech. Henry Colombi transfers from Texas Tech to replace him, and his dual-threat capability makes him a strong fit for the offense. He’ll have to navigate a transitioning offensive line that led C-USA in fewest tackles for loss allowed, but it lost three of five starters. All that said, this could end up the best offense in the Sun Belt.

Rasheen Ali is tremendous – he ran for 1,401 yards and 23 touchdowns last year and returns as one of the best workhorse backs in the G5. All-star leading receiver Corey Gammage returns after catching 78 passes for 869 yards. The losses of Willie Johnson and Xavier Gaines sting, but offensive coordinator Clint Trickett should have no problem piecing together production from ancillary pieces.

The defense should be excellent, as well. Steven Gilmore and Micah Abraham represent perhaps the best cornerback duo in the conference. At the same time, the pass-rush production remains in place as Eli Neal (5.5 sacks) and Koby Cumberlander (4.5 sacks) return. The transfer additions of Isaiah Gibson (Kentucky) and Anthony Watts (Purdue) help shore up the interior defensive line and should improve the run defense.

In its final two games last year, Marshall was blown out by superior competition, but its first four losses came by an average of 4.5 points per game. The Sun Belt greatly favored the Herd by placing its most difficult conference games – Louisiana, App State, Georgia State, Coastal Carolina – at home. With loads of returning talent on both sides of the ball, I’m betting on Marshall making a splash in its first season in the Sun Belt.

Best Bet: over 7 wins, bet to win the Sun Belt at +500 or better

Troy Trojans

Odds to Win National Championship:
Odds to Win Sun Belt:
Regular Season Win Total:

What to Know:

  • 2021 Record: 5-7
  • Head Coach: Jon Sumrall
  • Key Players: OL Austin Stidham, WR Tez Johnson, DL Javon Solomon, LB Carlton Martial
  • Key Losses: QB Taylor Powell, WR Luke Whittemore

Troy finished with just five wins for the third straight year under Chip Lindsey in 2021, resulting in him being fired before the end of the season. Jon Sumrall is a first-time head coach with a defensive background in the SEC and a former Troy assistant coach. He has plenty of veteran talent to work with, and the expectation will be for Sumrall to lead the team back to a winning record and bowl competition.

The offense finished just 103rd in the country with 22.8 points per game last year, and much has to change in 2022. Gunnar Watson threw for just eight touchdowns and four interceptions in eight games as a rotational quarterback last year, and the starting role is now all his after Taylor Powell transferred to Eastern Michigan. Leading receiver Tez Johnson returns after 67 catches for 735 yards and four touchdowns, and Jabre Barber and Deshon Stoudemire are also back in the mix.

The offensive line wasn’t terrible last year, but it should improve significantly with four returning starters, including all-star left tackle Austin Stidham. The run game should be excellent, provided the blocking can improve as Kimani Vidal and Jamontez Woods return after combining for 1,354 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns in 2021.

The defense finished second-best in the Sun Belt, and the pass rush led the conference with tons of talent. Defensive lineman Javon Solomon returns after making the All-SBC First Team a redshirt freshman with 11 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. Bandit Richard Jibunor also returns after eight sacks and ten tackles for loss, and Will Choloh is a dangerous veteran on the inside.

Troy also returns all-world Carlton Martial, its leading tackler with 127 stops, and KJ Robertson, who came up with 65 tackles, the second-most on the team. Martial is the likely favorite to win the conference Defensive Player of the Year award. The secondary also makes a ton of plays, and TJ Harris returns after ranking third on the team with 57 tackles, seven for loss.

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The Troy defense is loaded with talent, and with the introduction of Jon Sumrall as head coach, this could be the best defense in the Sun Belt. The offense also has a lot of continuity, and if Gunnar Watson can develop a tad more consistency, the strong skill position talent should emerge. The conference schedule is also reasonably manageable, and I’m banking on this roster playing more to its talent level this season.

Best Bet: over 6.5 wins, sprinkle to win the Sun Belt at +900 or better

James Madison Dukes

Odds to Win National Championship:
Odds to Win Sun Belt:
Regular Season Win Total:

What to Know:

  • 2021 Record: 7-1
  • Head Coach: Curt Cignetti
  • Key Players: QB Todd Centeio, WR Kris Thornton, DE Isaac Ukwu, S Jarius Reimonenq
  • Key Losses: QB Cole Johnson, WR Antwane Wells, DE Bryce Carter, LB Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey

James Madison is making the leap from the FCS to the FBS this year, and it’s a program used to lots of winning with a combined 18-1 record in the three-year Curt Cignetti era. The Dukes have appeared in the 24-team FCS Playoffs for eight straight seasons and most recently won the National Championship in 2016. They will hope that winning pedigree translates against much-improved competition.

The Dukes had the top offense in the CAA last year, but CAA Offensive Player of the Year Cole Johnson needs to be replaced. Todd Centeio transfers from Colorado State after a 15-touchdown, ten-interception season as a good fit for the offense with his rushing chops. The offense lost three of its top four receivers, but Kris Thornton returns after catching 83 passes for almost 1,110 yards and 13 scores.

The offensive line returns four starters, including all-star tackle Nick Kidwell, and it will be incredibly stout in run-blocking. Former Pitt running back AJ Davis joins 941-yard rusher Latrele Palmer in a talented backfield. James Madison ranked 17th in the FCS with 2,228 rushing yards last year.

The defense allowed just 15 points per game in 2021, but the losses are significant at all three levels. Leading pass-rusher Bryce Carter is done, but all-star Isaac Ukwu returns alongside a solid defensive line rotation featuring veteran Tony Thurston. Leading tackler Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey (116 stops, four picks) transferred to Texas, and second-leading tackler Kelvin Azanama also moved on.

The secondary should be in much better shape, despite only two starters returning, but safety Sam Kidd is tied for the team lead in returning tackles. The transfer portal also brought in safeties Jarius Reimonenq (Arkansas State) and Deon Jones (Maryland, Boston College) along with a handful of Power Five cornerbacks to round out the secondary.

The Dukes have just an 8-25 record all-time against Sun Belt teams. Keep in mind that the Dukes play an eleven-game schedule rather than twelve, which likely had something to do with the steam move on the under 6.5 wins. It wouldn’t be shocking to see James Madison acclimate to regular FBS life quite quickly, but the margin of error is small when predicting a 7-4 result from an eleven-game slate. The all-star losses on defense and transitions on offense are enough for me to follow the sharp money on the under.

Best Bet: under 6.5 wins

South Alabama Jaguars

Odds to Win National Championship:
Odds to Win Sun Belt:
Regular Season Win Total:

What to Know:

  • 2021 Record: 5-7
  • Head Coach: Kane Wommack
  • Key Players: TE Lincoln Sefcik, WR Jalen Wayne, CB Darrell Luter Jr., S Keith Gallmon Jr.
  • Key Losses: QB Jake Bentley, WR Jalen Tolbert

After a 4-2 start to the season, it looked as though Kane Wommack’s team might be ready for bowl eligibility in his first year as head coach, but it didn’t last as they were 1-5 over their final six games. The Jaguars return plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, and there should be high hopes in Wommack’s second season at the helm.

The Jaguars are in the unenviable position of needing to replace their starting quarterback, Jake Bentley, and leading receiver, Jalen Tolbert. Tolbert will be tough to return after he ranked sixth in the FBS with 1,471 receiving yards. However, the remaining receiving corps remains in place as 53-catch Jalen Wayne, and all-star tight end Lincoln Sefcik (five touchdowns) return.

The quarterback battle will be between the returning Desmond Trotter and Toledo transfer Carter Bradley, and either player will likely be solid. The backfield returns leading rusher Terrion Avery – who ran for just 508 yards and a score – and the offensive line needs to improve to help the rushing attack be more consistent. Transfers Marco Lee (Virginia Tech) and Omni Wells (Mississippi State) help round out the run game.

While the offense has its question marks, South Alabama’s defense might be the best in the conference with seven starters returning and two interior starters from 2020 who missed all of last season with an injury. The pass-rush will benefit from transfers Nathan Rawlins-Kibonge (Oklahoma) and James Miller (Indiana) alongside leading sacker Charles Coleman (4.5 sacks).

Leading tackler A.J. DeShazor (64 stops) also returns alongside 45-tackle Quentin Williams. The secondary features First Team All-SBC corner Darrell Luter, who had four interceptions and ten pass breakups. The Jaguars also have a standout safety tandem of Keith Gallmon and Yam Banks, who combined for 119 tackles, four interceptions, and four pass breakups.

The offense already needed to improve, and that was before losing Bentley and Tolbert. However, the defense will be stout with great talent and Wommack’s defensive coaching background. The schedule offers some benefits with no App State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia State, or Marshall on deck, and every game should theoretically be winnable save for the trip to UCLA. I’ll bank on the offense, figuring out some semblance of consistency, and the defense powering the Jaguars to a bowl game.

Best Bet: over 5.5 wins, sprinkle to win the Sun Belt at +1800 or better

Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Odds to Win National Championship:
Odds to Win Sun Belt:
Regular Season Win Total:

What to Know:

  • 2021 Record: 3-9
  • Head Coach: Will Hall
  • Key Players: QB Ty Keyes, RB Frank Gore Jr., CB Natrone Brooks, S Malik Shorts
  • Key Losses: OT Khalique Washington, TE Grayson Gunter

With the Golden Eagles joining the Sun Belt, Will Hall hopes to turn around the team’s recent fortunes in his second year as head coach. Southern Miss has just a 6-16 record over the last two seasons, and their last bowl win came in 2016. However, the two wins to close out the season provide decent momentum, and there are reasons for optimism this season.

The offense was incompetent last year – the Golden Eagles didn’t score 20 points against an FBS team until November 19 – and six different quarterbacks threw at least 11 passes due to several injuries. Ty Keyes will be the starter after a strong offseason, and he will have help thanks to the return of leading receiver Jason Brownlee, who had 46 catches for 643 yards and eight touchdowns in 2021.

Frank Gore Jr. leads the backfield with NFL bloodlines, and he will hope to build on his 801 yards and five touchdowns. The offensive line allowed the most tackles for loss in the country, so Gore’s 5 yards per carry was quite impressive. The offensive line brought in a new coach and a handful of transfer portal additions, so it should be better.

The defense dealt with short fields and an offense that couldn’t maintain possession, and it still had a solid season. The secondary is deep with cornerback Natrone Brooks (team-leading eight pass defenses) and Malik Shorts (team-leading 89 tackles) returning. The transfer portal brought in a handful of pass-rushers alongside all-star Josh Carr, who led the team with 4.5 sacks. The linebacker corps also returns heavy hitters Hayes Maples, Santrell Latham, and TQ Newsome.

It was arguably a significant accomplishment for Southern Miss to get to three wins last year, given the revolving door of quarterbacks. Better luck in the injury department should go a long way this year. The Golden Eagles have a stout secondary and rebooted front seven with transfer portal talent. With that added talent and plenty of returners, bowl eligibility should be in the cards this year.

Best Bet: over 5.5 wins

Arkansas State Red Wolves

Odds to Win National Championship:
Odds to Win Sun Belt:
Regular Season Win Total:

What to Know:

  • 2021 Record: 2-10
  • Head Coach: Butch Jones
  • Key Players: WR Te’Vailance Hunt, WR Jeff Foreman, LB Kivon Bennett, DT John Mincey
  • Key Losses: WR Corey Rucker, RB Lincoln Pare, DE JoJo Ozougwu, S Elery Alexander

The Red Wolves went just 2-10 in Butch Jones’s first year as head coach, but the well-regarded Jones can make that troublesome season a blip on the radar and an opportunity to rebuild. Arkansas State fans will be hungry for at least a return to bowl eligibility, given the success of other SBC programs over the last couple of years.

Former Florida State transfer James Blackman gets the quarterback spot to himself this year, and he had eight touchdowns to eight interceptions in limited time last year. The team’s leading receiver, Corey Rucker, is gone after making the All-SBC Second Team in his freshman season. Still, Te’Vailance Hunt and Jeff Foreman are solid veterans who combined for over 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns last year.

The rushing offense was nonexistent last season, and it has to be much better. The offensive line is a massive work in progress with youth and new starters, which doesn’t help the ground game. The Red Wolves ran for under three yards per carry last year. Leading rusher Lincoln Pare entered the transfer portal after registering 455 yards and a touchdown in 2021.

The Red Wolves’ defense struggled mightily as it gave up over 500 yards and 38.6 points per game and ranked last in the country against the run. Kivon Bennett led the team with 7.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss, and fellow Tennessee transfer John Mincey should help shore up the run defense on the interior. Last year, the team’s leading tacklers were safeties Elery Alexander and Jarius Reimonenq (combined 152 stops), and neither is still in Jonesboro.

The key for the Red Wolves on both sides of the ball will be the run game – they have to find a more balanced offense and a way to stop opponents from gouging them on the ground. They seem to be a ways off from doing either, and while fans should have some optimism about Butch Jones, the overwhelming losses on both sides of the ball won’t help Arkansas State find its footing this season.

Best Bet: under 5 wins

Texas State Bobcats

Odds to Win National Championship:
Odds to Win Sun Belt:
Regular Season Win Total:

What to Know:

  • 2021 Record: 4-8
  • Head Coach: Jake Spavital
  • Key Players: QB Layne Hatcher, OL Dalton Cooper, DL Jordan Revels, LB Sione Tupou
  • Key Losses: QB Brady McBride, DL Caeveon Patton, S Zion Childress

Jake Spavital has been praised for his aggressive transfer portal strategy, and Texas State might be ready to finally break through this year with its first-ever bowl game appearance. A four-win 2021 was a significant step forward after just a 5-19 record in Spavital’s first two seasons, although it will get more challenging this year in an improved Sun Belt.

The Bobcats’ Air Raid style worked well at times last year, but limiting turnovers and focusing on moving the chains will be the top priority. Quarterback Layne Hatcher enters from Arkansas State, and he should be a significant upgrade with 65 touchdowns to 25 interceptions over his three starting seasons. He’ll be well protected behind an experienced offensive line featuring all-star tackle Dalton Cooper.

The receiving corps is deep and talented, with a few transfer adds alongside Javen Banks and Marcell Barbee, who combined for over 1,000 yards and ten touchdowns last year. Leading rusher Calvin Hill also returns after registering 791 yards from scrimmage last year. Jahmyl Jeter led the team with eight touchdowns and was second with 384 rushing yards.

Texas State’s defense was the worst in the Sun Belt at generating sacks and pressure, and it was terrible against the run. Second-leading tackler Sione Tupou returns after a 75-stop season, and the defensive front has solid size returning. Keep an eye on outside linebacker Jordan Revels who was named to the Bednarik Award Watch List. The secondary lost star safety Zion Childress, but cornerback Kordell Rodgers and safety DeJordan Mask hold down a solid group.

The Bobcats had their fair share of issues last season, but there are significant reasons for optimism in Jake Spavital’s fourth year. The offense should be better with a big-time quarterback upgrade, and the defense adds ten transfers to bolster the ranks. I like the over on the win total for this program, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they work their way into bowl game eligibility.

Best Bet: over 4.5 wins

Old Dominion Monarchs

Odds to Win National Championship:
Odds to Win Sun Belt:
Regular Season Win Total:

What to Know:

  • 2021 Record: 6-7
  • Head Coach: Ricky Rahne
  • Key Players: RB Blake Watson, TE Zack Kuntz, DE Marcus Hayes, LB Ryan Henry
  • Key Losses: DT Sokoyo McDuffie, LB Jordan Young, CB Roger Cray

Since joining the FBS in advance of the 2014 season, Old Dominion has compiled just a 37-49 record overall. However, Ricky Rahne led the team to a 6-7 record in 2021 and its second-ever bowl appearance ahead of joining the Sun Belt. The Monarchs likely won’t be competing for the conference championship this year, but Rahne’s youth and talent reflect the status of his roster moving forward.

Hayden Wolff led the Monarchs to a five-game win streak to close last season, and he should be expected to take a step forward in his sophomore season. He has strong pass-catching talent as First Team All-CUSA tight end Zack Kuntz returns after a 73-catch season with 692 yards and five touchdowns. The wide receiver room is deep and talented, featuring 1,000-yard receiver Ali Jennings.

The offensive line had its struggles, but it should improve with four starters returning, including all-star caliber tackles Khadere Count and Nick Saldiveri. Blake Watson also returns after a standout season with 1,112 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He’s joined by power runner Lala Davis, who added six touchdowns last year.

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The defense doesn’t have the same level of returning talent, but Marcus Hayes (5.5 sacks) anchors the pass rush after a part-time role last year. Leading tackler Jordan Young is gone (93 stops), but Ryan Henry is an all-star caliber linebacker with 75 tackles in 2021. Tre Hawkins was an All-CUSA cornerback, and he’ll be the team’s top player in the secondary alongside a standout safety tandem of R’Tarriun Johnson and Terry Jones.

The Monarchs have a rising talent at quarterback, a stacked skill position group, and all-star caliber talent on both sides of the ball. So much of the program is still new and unproven, especially with second-year coach Ryan Rahne, but the upside for this team is tremendous. Old Dominion has all the makings of a team that will push for some upsets this year, and I’ll take the over on the win total with plenty of upside baked in.

Best Bet: over 4.5 wins

Georgia Southern Eagles

Odds to Win National Championship:
Odds to Win Sun Belt:
Regular Season Win Total:

What to Know:

  • 2021 Record: 3-9
  • Head Coach: Clay Helton
  • Key Players: WR Khaleb Hood, OG Khalil Crowder, DE Justin Ellis, S Anthony Wilson
  • Key Losses: QB Justin Tomlin, RB Logan Wright, DT C.J. Wright, LB Eldrick Robinson II

After a disappointing 3-9 record in 2021 that followed up three straight winning seasons, former USC head coach Clay Helton enters to fix a broken offense. Helton may not have been the guy to break through and return USC football to national competition, but he’s well regarded and has high expectations for turning this program around.

The Eagles barely averaged 20 points per game last year. The offensive overhaul begins with Buffalo transfer Kyle Vantrease who should provide an upgrade over a quarterback room that registered 12 interceptions and five touchdowns in 2021. Leading receivers Khaleb Hood and Amare Jones return after combining for 848 yards last year, and tight end Beau Johnson returns after catching three of the team’s five passing touchdowns.

The running back room lost leading rusher Logan Wright (793 yards, eight touchdowns), but juniors Gerald Green and Jalen White combined for over 800 yards and nine touchdowns in 2021 with solid efficiency. All-star guard Khalil Crowder returns as one of the better interior linemen in the conference, but the offensive line has to improve.

The Eagles struggled all year on defense, but six starters return with hopes of improvement. The pass-rush should be solid, with Justin Ellis and Dillon Springer combining for 8.5 sacks in 2021. However, the bigger question is the linebacker room with Eldrick Robinson and Michael Edwards departing. All-star safety Anthony Wilson, the team’s leading tackler with 77 stops, returns as the leader of the defense.

The Eagles aren’t entirely starting from scratch, and there should be confidence in Clay Helton’s ability to make the 2021 season look like an aberration. However, the schedule doesn’t favor this team with several challenging road games, and it could take some time for the pieces to fall into place. The Eagles could be a sneaky upset team against the higher-profile SBC teams, but the under is the correct bet here.

Best Bet: under 4.5 wins

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks

Odds to Win National Championship:
Odds to Win Sun Belt:
Regular Season Win Total:

What to Know:

  • 2021 Record: 4-8
  • Head Coach: Terry Bowden
  • Key Players: QB Chandler Rogers, WR Boogie Knight, LB Zack Woodard, S Jabari Johnson
  • Key Losses: OT Willie Tyler, DE Ty Shelby, CB Josh Newton, S Nick Roberts

For a brief moment last year, it looked as though ULM might be onto something as they started 4-3, but they lost their final five games. In Terry Bowden’s second season as head coach, the Warhawks will be hoping to recapture that early-season magic. However, with significant departures and a much more demanding schedule, it could be tough to build on last year’s results.

Chandler Rogers had a decent season in part-time duty, as the sophomore led with 1,311 passing yards and nine touchdowns to three interceptions. He’ll likely get the full-time starting role this year. The offense returns all-star Boogie Knight, the leading receiver with 45 catches for 588 yards and three scores. He’s joined by tight end Zach Rasmussen, who also had three touchdowns.

https://twitter.com/ojhodgkinson/status/1559532166496804864

The Warhawks also return leading rusher Andrew Henry (482 yards and four touchdowns), and Malik Taylor is expected to be more of a full-time receiver after 451 rushing yards in 2021. The offensive line must be better in front of them. The departure of left tackle Willie Tyler is significant, but Zarian McGill joined via the transfer portal to provide stability at the center.

The defense is in rough shape for the Warhawks as they returned just four starters from an awful unit last year – they allowed 33.5 points per game, ranking in the bottom 20 in the country. The secondary is almost starting over with third-leading tackler Jabari Johnson the primary hold-over. The defensive line is solid, although the departure of 5.5-sack Ty Shelby is significant. Zack Woodard is the lynchpin of the group after his 89-tackle season (9.0 for loss), but we should hardly expect this defense to be a strength.

In many ways, ULM caught lightning in a bottle over the beginning of the 2021 season, and the team we saw over the second half is likely the accurate representation of this roster. With five of the team’s first eight games on the road, a hot start like last year seems unlikely, and there isn’t enough talent on this roster to scare the better teams in the conference. I’ll take the plus money on the under.

Best Bet: under 2.5 wins

Sun Belt 2022 Predictions

The Sun Belt should be fascinating in 2022, but there is a clear difference in the caliber of teams between the East and West. Three of the four teams with +500 odds or better to win the Sun Belt Championship play in the East – App State, Coastal Carolina, and newcomer Marshall. Oddsmakers highly respect the Thundering Herd, and they could make a splash in their first season in the conference with an excellent offense and defense.

Still, I’m betting on the conference favorite, Appalachian State, making it out of the Sun Belt and representing the East in the championship. The Mountaineers have tons of returning talent on both sides of the ball, including eight all-stars from last year. I have them facing Louisiana in the championship, despite the loss of quarterback Levi Lewis and head coach Bill Napier. The competition level in the West isn’t quite good enough for me to knock Louisiana off the top spot.

However, my favorite value in the championship market is Troy. Gunnar Watson gets the starting quarterback role to himself this year, and his leading receivers return to help support a high-level passing offense. The offensive line is poised for improvement in front of a strong backfield, and the defense has plenty of returning talent after finishing second-best in the Sun Belt. Louisiana could be primed to be picked off, given the concerns mentioned above.

The Sun Belt has some excellent sleeper teams to watch out for. South Alabama is a dark horse to have the best defense in the conference, with tons of returning talent joined by some high-level players in the transfer portal. Old Dominion could also make a splash in its first year in the Sun Belt with an offense full of talent and a defense with a few high-level playmakers.

Championship Prediction: Appalachian State over Louisiana

Favorite Over: South Alabama over 5.5 wins

Favorite Under: Arkansas State under 5 wins

Biggest Sleeper Team: Old Dominion Monarchs

Due for Regression: Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks

I've been a huge sports fan for as long as I can remember and I've always loved writing. In 2020, I joined the Lineups team, and I've been producing written and video content on football and basketball ever since. In May 2021, I graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in sport management. My goal is to tell enthralling stories and provide meaningful insight on the sports I write about while helping you cash some bets along the way.

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