College Football Futures, Win Totals: 3 Sun Belt & Conference USA Picks for 2024

College Football Futures, Win Totals: 3 Sun Belt & Conference USA Picks for 2024 article feature image

Eakin Howard/Getty Images. Pictured: An Appalachian State football helmet.

The rollout of Group of Five futures has taken a phased approach, with the American and Mountain West releasing win totals in mid-May. Now, those numbers are available for three more conferences: the MAC, Sun Belt and Conference USA.

With college baseball and the NBA seasons quickly winding down, the focus of the sports world will soon turn to college football with media days scheduled in July.

This article will look at the latest win total selections from the recently released conferences.

With Game of the Year up next, full conference previews will start at the end of June.

But first, the spotlight lands on our three teams for this selection — Appalachian State, UTEP and Jacksonville State — starting with schedules and projected point spreads for every game.

Appalachian State Mountaineers

Over 7.5 Wins · Projection: 10.0

The Mountaineers had a horrible start to the 2023 season, only to fire back on the second half of a schedule that included a win in the Avocados From Mexico Cure Bowl.

The Mountaineers ended their season with a positive number in second-order win total while finding their quarterback of the future in Joey Aguilar.

The California junior finished the season with 33 passing touchdowns while also generating 264 yards on the ground from scrambles.

Sheesh Joey Aguilar, what a ball

— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) October 22, 2023

The Appalachian State offense returns 78% of experience from a team that found its offensive groove late.

Kanye Roberts returns at running back to give the Mountaineers their workhorse back in a heavy outside and inside zone scheme, but the additions at receiver through the portal will help Aguilar generate quick scores.

The defense brings back more than the offense, as 84% of returning experience is more than any other defense in the Sun Belt entering 2024.

The unit takes a hit in tackling with the departures of its top two players, but more than 80% of pressures and pass breakups return.

The hybrid 3-3-5 and 3-4 defense did enough against the run and pass but shined when opponents entered scoring position. The Mountaineers finished 20th in Defensive Finishing Drives, allowing just 3.1 points on opponent drives that crossed the 40-yard line.

The schedule is conducive to a plethora of wins, as Appalachian State will be projected as a double-digit favorite in nine games. The Mountaineers will also be touchdown favorites or less against Liberty and Louisiana.

If there's one game that's supposed to count as a loss, Clemson will host the 'Neers as a two-touchdown favorite in Death Valley. But considering head coach Shawn Clark went to College Station and left with a victory over Texas A&M in 2022, anything is possible when App comes to town.

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UTEP Miners

Under 4 Wins · Projection: 2.2

Nothing jumped off the page like UTEP when looking at Group of Five win totals.

Miner Nation will return less than 33% of experience on both sides of the ball as the team introduces a new head coach.

The Dana Dimel era is over with Scotty Walden taking the reins in El Paso. Walden previously coached at Austin Peay, reaching the FCS Playoffs for the first time last season.

While the resume is impressive for the 34-year-old coach, changing schemes with a new roster could be problematic in 2024.

Scotty Walden gets it. I’m all the way in and he’s still 6 months from coaching a single game for UTEP. This ROCKS.

— Brett Gibbons (@roadtocfb) February 23, 2024

Walden implemented plenty of empty-back sets on offense, a change for a Miners program that relied on play-action passes to generate explosives.

Defensively, UTEP is expected to stay in a 3-3-5 scheme similar to Austin Peay from a season ago, but changes in secondary coverage and blitz rates are expected from new coordinator J.J. Clark.

The schedule is the most daunting part of the upcoming season.

UTEP will start on the road as a heavy underdog to Nebraska before hosting an FCS program in their home opener — but Southern Utah could even enter that matchup as a favorite. More nonconference road games remain in underdog roles at Liberty and Colorado State.

UTEP projects as a favorite over just one FBS opponent, with new conference opponent Kennesaw State coming to El Paso on Nov. 9. With a win total projection at 2.2, Walden should win Coach of the Year if the Miners eclipse four wins.

Jacksonville State Gamecocks

Under 8 Wins · Projection: 7.3

The Gamecocks had a tremendous opening season in Conference USA, winning nine games, including the New Orleans Bowl over Louisiana.

Head coach Rich Rodriguez returned to FBS action with an uptempo ground-based offensive attack, but it was the other side of the ball that was responsible for so much success.

Jacksonville State finished top-25 in Defensive Finishing Drives, Opponent Quality Drives and Defensive Line Yards.

Now, Rodriguez is tasked with replacing nearly the entire personnel on offense while returning 57% of experience on defense.

“𝐑𝐮𝐧 𝐢𝐭 𝐚𝐠𝐚𝐢𝐧!”

Head Coach @RealCoachRod Mic’d up🎙️#HardEdge |

— Jax State Football (@JaxStateFB) April 17, 2024

The spring game was a wash of weather delays, but UConn transfer quarterback Zion Turner was under center with the first team. The junior lost his position after starting 13 games as a true freshman in 2022, so Jacksonville State represents a clean start.

There's depth at the position, as former Nebraska quarterback Logan Smothers will challenge Turner in the fall.

The issue on offense is a depleted running back stable for an offense that prefers to focus on the ground game. Only two running backs are on the roster for an offense that ran more than 100 plays in 21 personnel.

Rodriguez is still combing the portal for talent that can help against a tough 2024 schedule.

After a coin-flip game in the opener against Coastal Carolina, the Gamecocks will travel to Louisville as a minimum three-touchdown underdog.

The midweek Conference USA schedule also has the Gamecocks playing two games in a five-day span against Kennesaw State and New Mexico State. Heavy underdog spots against Liberty and Western Kentucky give this schedule a high probability of finishing well below nine wins.

Our projection for Jacksonville State lands at 7.3 wins — well below a flat 8 that sits in the market.

Expect the defense to take a step back, while the offense looks for depth at running back and a pulse at quarterback.

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