Wilson’s 2019 Sun Belt Betting Guide: New-Look FunBelt Provides Betting Opportunity
USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Zac Thomas
The best way to describe the ‘Funbelt’ entering 2019 may be vicissitude, which means unwelcome change.
Here I’ll break down those changes and give out my favorite futures bets at the bottom.
The Sun Belt is full new faces with four new head coaches and six coaches total with less than two years under their belts. There should be no shortage of unpredictability one season after Appalachian State won the first ever Sun Belt Championship Game against Louisiana.
The longest tenured coach now resides at Arkansas State with Blake Anderson, who took over the Red Wolves in 2014. While Anderson continues his battles off the field, the Red Wolves welcome new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Living out of a suitcase is the norm in the Sun Belt as Appalachian State, Troy, Coastal Carolina and Texas State welcome new head coaches.
Other teams may have retained a head coach but lost a long term quarterback such as Arkansas State, Louisiana, and South Alabama. Most every team returned positive marks in offseason returning production grades with the lone exception being South Alabama.
Look for Appalachian State to be the most potent offense, ranking 5th in offensive returning production from a 2018 team that was 15th in explosiveness.
The best defenses in the league should be Troy and Georgia Southern, ranking 24th and 30th in returning production respectively. Both Troy and Georgia Southern posted top 30 defensive ratings in IsoPPP, which is desperately needed against Appalachian State.
Per The Action Network projections for 2019, Appalachian State has the clear edge in the East division. The West is compiled of new coaches, quarterbacks and skill positions making a contender out of anyone not named South Alabama.
Sun Belt East Notes
Most people mention Appalachian State as the most talented team in the conference, but per 247Sports, the Mountaineers have not had a recruiting class inside the Sun Belt top 3 since 2016. The schedule is kind to the defending conference champions with no cross division game against Arkansas State.
The biggest hurdle for Appalachian State may be its second bye week before the Oct. 9 game with Louisiana. And Georgia Southern’s triple option may be the toughest on five days rest — they got blown out 34-14 against the Eagles on five days rest last season.
This division is certainly not an Appalachian State slam dunk with this schedule and new head coach, but quarterback Zac Thomas could be the best in the league.
Troy, with new head coach Chip Lindsey, hosts the toughest teams in the conference with Arkansas State, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern. A game against RPO run heavy Coastal Carolina will give the Trojans plenty of practice the week before the Georgia Southern triple option. The Sun Belt will run through Veterans Memorial Stadium in Troy, but the Trojans do face three teams off a bye (Missouri, South Alabama, Coastal Carolina) and a Georgia Southern team who is on extra rest.
Georgia Southern misses Texas State in the West, but that may be a bigger advantage for the Bobcats. Scheduled visits to Arkansas State, Appalachian State and Troy make this the toughest slate in the conference. With one of the biggest negative second-order win total from 2018 — they went 10-3 — expect regression for the Eagles.
There is plenty to be optimistic about with Jamey Chadwell taking over at Coastal Carolina. In his time as interim coach in 2017, the Chants put up plenty of points and came within a score of beating Appalachian State and Arkansas.
The credit for the offensive explosion in the 39-38 loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks all goes to Chadwell. Despite the offense, a 2018 S&P+ defensive rank of 129th is expected to carry over to 2019.
If there is a team to watch in the East, it is Georgia State. Continuity in the coaching and skill positions should see improvement. The Panthers get Arkansas State, Troy and Appalachian State in Atlanta in great situational spots. Appalachian State will be on back to back travel off South Carolina. Arkansas State may be on hangover in a back-to-back travel spot off Troy. While having Army on your schedule is never fun, it is perfect prep for a later season game against the Georgia Southern triple option.
Sun Belt West Notes
The West starts with Arkansas State, which loses quarterback Justice Hansen. The Red Wolves dodge Appalachian State in conference scheduling. Arkansas State also gets two weeks to prepare for division rival Louisiana and 9 days to prepare for Texas State.
The Red Wolves’ road games include South Alabama, UL-Monroe and Georgia State. If the new quarterback is competent, the Red Wolves should make the Sun Belt Championship Game (they have two more projected wins than anyone else), but considering there is close to zero experience under center, it’s no guarantee.
There is plenty to love about Louisiana, ranking fifth overall in explosiveness during 2018. The Ragin’ Cajuns should be just as explosive on offense, which may be needed as the defense continues to produce sub-100 ranks in stuff rate and passing S&P+. The biggest scheduling issue for Louisiana is facing both Arkansas State and Appalachian State off their bye weeks.
Louisiana-Monroe will return quarterback Caleb Evans, who went for 26 total touchdowns and was the team’s leading rusher in 2018. Evans will lose his top running back and wide receiver Marcus Green who had eight touchdowns. In comparison to Green, the rest of the ULM receiving targets combined for just nine touchdowns.
The schedule includes a bye week on September 14th between Florida State and Iowa State. In conference play the Warhawks get 5 days to recover from Memphis to play Texas State, who is coming off a bye week. Road trips to Appalachian State and Georgia Southern should keep them out of the Sun Belt championship.
South Alabama has one of the worst ranks in returning production at 123rd overall. After a 3-9 mark last season, second-year coach Steve Campbell has a roster that’s been gutted at quarterback, skill positions and the secondary. The only good news is the Sun Belt’s top programs come to Mobile. The bad news is The Action Network power ratings have the Jags just a shade higher than UTSA as the worst team in FBS.
Texas State the Team to Watch
If there is one Group of Five team I am pinning money on improvement, it is Texas State. With a Week 1 wager on the Bobcats at +35 vs. Texas A&M in The Action Network App, there are plenty of expectations around the kids in San Marcos.
Texas State is third overall in returning production, including an offensive line retains every career start and a secondary with its top eight tacklers back. The quarterback battle between Tyler Vitt, Jaylen Gipson and Montana transfer Gresch Jenson completes a very experienced roster.
The coaching staff should be able to compete with the top teams in the Sun Belt. New head coach Jake Spavital imported former Montana head coach Bob Stitt as offensive coordinator. Spavital kept it in the family, reaching to Texas Tech to his brother Zac Spavital as the defensive coordinator.
The 2017 top recruiting class in the Sun Belt should be ready to make the leap, as well.
The schedule is incredibly advantageous. Texas State does not have to spend a week preparing for the Georgia Southern triple option. Appalachian State may have lookahead to Troy the weekend before Thanksgiving. Texas State gets a bye week before playing Louisiana-Monroe, which will be just five days removed from a boat race with Memphis.
There isn’t a better combination in the Sun Belt of coaching upgrade, roster turnover and scheduling than Texas State. The defense returns plenty from a 2018 team that was top 40 in rushing and passing S&P+. If Bob Stitt continues masterful work in the quarterback and offensive coordinator departments, this team should flirt with an FBS bowl for the first time in history.
Bets to Watch
- Arkansas State to win Sun Belt +400: Someone has to represent the Sun Belt West in the title game. Despite losing their quarterback, Arkansas State has the best talent in the division. The Red Wolves host Texas State, ULL and Georgia Southern while dodging Appalachian State altogether.
- Texas State to win Sun Belt +10000: Breaking plenty of my own handicapping rules with this selection, I am supporting a first year coach with new schemes on both sides of the ball. If there is any place to do that, the weakest division in the Sun Belt conference is a place to take a shot. The schedule screams opportunity while all the talent returns for a respected coaching staff.
- Texas State Over 4.5: Home games against Nicholls, UL-Monroe and South Alabama have the Bobcats projected favorites. Coinflip games against Coastal Carolina, Wyoming, and Louisiana should be enough to get the Bobcats to 5.
- South Alabama Under 2.5: Depth issues will plague the Jags in 2019 along with a tough schedule. South Alabama will be a double-digit underdog in 10 games this season. The Jags are expected to be touchdown underdogs at Georgia State, while a victory over FCS Jackson State is not a cake walk.
- Troy Over 6.5: Chip Lindsey had his play calling taken away at Auburn last season after a successful 2017 that had victories over Georgia and Alabama. A move to Kansas as offensive coordinator for Les Miles came to an end when Troy came calling. Lindsey is a former North Alabama player and Troy quarterbacks coach, which should help in recruiting the area. As mentioned earlier, the road to the Sun Belt title comes through Troy, but the road schedule is where this ticket will cash. Troy visits Akron, Georgia State, Coastal Carolina, Texas State and Louisiana.