College football conference odds: Can Louisiana take the Sun Belt crown back?

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South Alabama quarterback Ross Metheny, left, is brought down by Troy defensive end Jadarius Garner, top right, and linebacker Wayland Coleman-Dancer during an NCAA college football game in Troy, Ala., Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013. Troy won 34-33. (AP Photo/Jay Sailors)

We’ll preview every major conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision between now and the start of college football season on Aug. 26 through the lens of sports bettors. Each preview will include a shallow dive into the favorites, long shots and our favorite pick(s).

We will provide the full list of odds for the conference, as well as links to other conferences, toward the end.

We’ll start with the non-power five conferences and work our way toward the big fish in the pond, finishing with the Southeastern Conference. When the season begins, you’ll have a comprehensive look at the top divisions in the sport.

We’ll continue today with the Sun Belt.

Last season

We’ve seen title winners who were perhaps not the conference’s best team before — Alabama comes to mind as one of the teams to accomplish this feat. The Crimson Tide won the 2012 BCS National Championship, despite not finishing atop its own division, let alone conference. We saw this phenomenon in the Sun Belt in 2022, although the situation was completely different.

The Sun Belt title game saw Troy (12-2) defeat Coastal Carolina (9-4) by a score of 45-26. However, a notable name was missing from the championship as James Madison (8-3) was ineligible to play in the postseason, despite demolishing the Chanticleers 47-7 in November.

The Dukes made the jump from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in 2022. Newly introduced FBS teams are subject to a two-year postseason ‘ban’ of sorts as they make the transition. Thus, you won’t find odds for James Madison to win the Sun Belt in 2023.

South Alabama (10-3) and Marshall (9-4) were the other notable finishers in 2022. Amid all of the changes throughout college football, the Sun Belt is one of the only conferences that remains unchanged for the upcoming season.

Favorites

This conference hasn’t earned the nickname “Fun Belt” for its monotonous tendencies. There’s a new name that’s been thrown into the ring by oddsmakers for next season, South Alabama (+300). The Jaguars are co-favorites alongside the reigning Sun Belt champion, Troy (+300), to win the conference.

In order to win the conference, though, they’ll have to get through each other. The Trojans topped the Jaguars in a decisive 10-6 contest last season. Both teams return their starting quarterbacks and leading rushers, but departures in the trenches and out wide mean they have some work to do on offense.

Oddsmakers at Caesars Sportsbook believe that Appalachian State (+500) will pose the biggest threat out of the East Division. The Mountaineers were a mediocre 6-6 last season, but the record doesn’t tell the full story. Appalachian State lost a whopping five games by one score. If Shawn Clark and Co. can flip those results in their favor, they can make some noise.

The Mountaineers will also need to get a new QB up to speed after Chase Brice’s departure. Running back Nate Noel’s return will help with this as he averaged nearly seven yards per carry last season.

Coastal Carolina (+550) is going to be a contender next year for one big reason: Grayson McCall. McCall, arguably the Sun Belt’s top quarterback, returns after taking his name out of the transfer portal a few months ago. The Chanticleers bring back many of their key players on both sides of the ball. They will be hoping former North Carolina State offensive coordinator Tim Beck and his staff can fix the defensive issues that cost Coastal Carolina the Sun Belt championship game in 2022.

Marshall (+700) is a very popular pick to win the Sun Belt in preseason media previews. The Thundering Herd get gun slinger Cam Fancher back after he helped lead the team to a 6-1 record in its last seven games in 2022. He’ll lose some receiving weapons, but RB Rasheen Ali looks ready to go after missing most of last season through injury.

Marshall returns only a handful of defensive starters. New defensive coordinator Jason Semore has his work cut out for him surely. A few transfers on the defensive side of the ball will elevate a young unit, but it’d be difficult for them to replicate last season’s conference-leading success.

Longer shots

Louisiana-Lafayette (+750) is the only other school with shorter than 10/1 odds to win the Sun Belt. When almost half the conference sits at +1000 or better, though, short odds can become long shots rather quickly.

For all intents and purposes, Michael Desormeaux did a fabulous job leading the Ragin’ Cajuns to a 6-7 record in 2022. The program went through some major changes and there were bound to be growing pains. He has Louisiana on the right track heading into 2023, though.

The Cajuns have to figure out their quarterback situation and replace a ton of important starters across the board. Desormeaux will have to hit the ground running to avoid lagging behind some of the aforementioned programs. Even at +750, I’d stay away from picking Louisiana to win the conference for at least another year while the new staff works through kinks in the armor.

Georgia Southern (+1200) is another team looking to disrupt the status quo in the Sun Belt. Clay Helton’s offensive overhaul saw the Eagles knock off App State, James Madison and Nebraska last season. It was the defense that was highly questionable and the same remains true in 2023.

Southern Mississippi (+2500) has a familiar name on its offense that could lead it to victory this season. Frank Gore Jr. returns for his senior season as he’ll look to top the 1,500+ total yards he racked up last year. The Golden Eagles return a lot of the defense too — aside from the secondary. It’s no secret that the key to victory in Hattiesburg will be some ole’ fashioned, tough football.

Value picks

If you’re looking to pick between the co-favorites, Troy (+300) seems to be the safer choice. Las Vegas seems to think the Trojans will be the slightly better team based on their win total (see below). Not to mention Troy has established a winning culture after topping the Sun Belt last season.

Jamey Chadwell’s departure as head coach in Conway has many skeptical about backing Coastal Carolina (+550). McCall and his experienced offensive weapons are good enough to get the Chanticleers back to the Sun Belt’s big dance, so +500 odds seem like a bargain.

If you’re looking for a true long shot, look no further than Georgia State (+3000). Shawn Elliott’s team failed to post a winning record for just the second time in his six seasons with the Panthers in 2022. Sure, there are many unknowns with a lot of roster and coaching turnover, but Elliott has shown time and time again that he is a winner.

Many of Georgia State’s losses last season came in single-digit contests (five, to be exact). If the Panthers’ fortune takes a turn for the better in 2023, they could be in the mix for a Sun Belt East Division crown.

Full Sun Belt odds and win totals

(Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook, as of Tuesday, July 25)

 Team  Division  Title odds  Win total
 South Alabama  West  +300  8
 Troy  West  +300  8.5 (o-120)
 Appalachian State  East  +500  6.5 (o-135)
 Coastal Carolina  East  +550  7.5 (o-130)
 Marshall  East  +700  7.5 (u-160)
 Louisiana-Lafayette  West  +750  7.5 (u-135)
 Georgia Southern  East  +1200  6 (o-125)
 Southern Miss  West  +2500  5 (o-130)
 Georgia State  East  +3000  5.5 (u-180)
 Texas State  West  +5000  4 (u-120)
 Arkansas State  West  +6000  4.5
 Old Dominion  East  +8000  3.5 (o-140)
 Louisiana-Monroe  West  +20000  3
 James Madison  East  N/A  8.5 (u-150)

College football conference pieces

July 12: MAC

July 13: Conference USA

 

July 19: Mountain West

July 26: Sun Belt

Aug. 2: American Athletic

Aug. 9: Pac-12

Aug. 15: Big 12

Aug. 16: ACC

Aug. 22: Big Ten

Aug. 23: SEC

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