Sun Belt Odds: 2023 College Football Betting Preview
Over the course of a decade, the Sun Belt slowly and quietly built themselves into a conference giant. In the last bout of conference realignment, they watched teams like FAU, North Texas, and Middle Tennessee depart, all of whom had won multiple league titles. Instead, they added upcoming programs like South Alabama and Appalachian State, who rose from the FCS ranks. Fast forward 11 years, and the Sun Belt might be the best Group of Five conference.
Sun Belt odds are among the most tightly-contested in college football. Their two divisions each run three excellent teams deep, and the teams at the back of the divisions underwent radical shifts that should make them at least exciting to watch. Top to bottom, the Sun Belt provides as much bang for its buck as any league in the country.
So, let’s dive in deep to this fascinating conference. Below, you’ll find win projections, a longshot team to consider backing, coaching changes, and much more.
Sun Belt Odds: To Win The Conference
Compare Sun Belt odds from the best sports betting sites below.
You may notice an omission from the 13 listed teams above – James Madison. Unfortunately, the Dukes are again ineligible to win the Sun Belt or make a bowl game due to their transition period as dictated by the NCAA. Their absence creates an interesting dynamic in Sun Belt odds.
The Sun Belt still utilizes divisions and has no plans to ax them as of now. The top teams from each division square off at the higher-ranked team’s stadium for the Sun Belt Championship Game.
Troy () is a slight favorite over division mate South Alabama (). Both teams are strong favorites over the top contenders from the East, Coastal Carolina (), Marshall (), and App State (). Louisiana () creates a buffer before the real long shots.
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Sun Belt Odds: Projected Wins, Win Totals
Projected wins below are derived from aggregate power ratings, including SP+, FPI, and more. Win totals are pulled from FanDuel Sportsbook as of Aug. 10.
|Team||Proj. Wins||Win Total||Price|
|South Alabama Jaguars||7.5||7.5||-172/+140|
|Marshall Thundering Herd||7.3||7.5||+118/-144|
|Coastal Carolina Chanticleers||7.1||7.5||-122/+100|
|James Madison Dukes||7.1||8.5||+138/-170|
|Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns||7.0||7.5||+104/-128|
|Appalachian State Mountaineers||6.8||6.5||-132/+108|
|Georgia Southern Eagles||6.5||6.5||+118/-148|
|Georgia State Panthers||6.2||5.5||+138/-170|
|Southern Miss Golden Eagles||5.5||5.5||+118/-150|
|Arkansas State Red Wolves||4.9||4.5||-122/+100|
|Texas State Bobcats||3.9||4.5||+128/-158|
|Old Dominion Monarchs||3.9||4.5||-110/-110|
Sun Belt Power Ratings
Table Key (all ranks except power rankings are national):
– Rank (Power ranking, conference)
– Proj. Wins (Projected total wins)
– Return (Returning production, total)
– Returning O (returning offensive production)
– Returning D (returning defensive production)
– PPD (Points per drive scored)
– PPDA (Points per drive allowed)
– L5 (Last five years recruiting average, national)
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Sun Belt KFord Ratings
Sun Belt Odds: The Favorites
A Week 3 Hail Mary kept Troy from a potential unbeaten Sun Belt season. It was one of just two missteps on the season, the other coming at Mississippi State. First year head coach Jon Sumrall turned in one of the most impressive jobs nationally, nearly matching Troy’s three-year win total (15) in a single season (12). The Trojans’ defense was excellent, finishing 10th in points per drive and allowing the fifth-fewest 20+ yard plays.
That defense takes a big hit coming into 2023. Coordinator Shiel Wood left for Tulane and their top three tacklers depart; they return just 44% of defensive production, 120th out of 133 team nationally. To make matters worse, all-conference pass rusher TJ Jackson was suspended “indefinitely” during camp and the team can’t count on him to play at all this year. Instead, Troy will rely on a defensive secondary that ranks second-best in the conference, led by corner Reddy Steward (65 tackles, 12 PBUs).
Gunnar Watson returns for his sixth year as Troy’s QB. Watson is fourth in QBR among returners in the Sun Belt, but his TD-to-INT ratio left a lot to be desired (14:12). Kimani Vidal also returns in the backfield after rushing for over 1,100 yards and scoring 10 times on the ground last season. However, the offensive line in front of him has to replace two all-conference players and, although Sumrall likes the depth on the unit, it lacks the top-end talent seen last year.
Despite the holes needed filled on the roster, Troy should again be great defensively and win games. They play just one top-100 conference foe on the road (per SP+). Although Troy finished 6-1 in one-score games, the combination of excellence on defense and sound special teams mean they should again play above the mean.
South Alabama Jaguars
South Alabama was a gust of wind away from pulling off an improbable upset at UCLA and just five total points away from an undefeated regular season. They were a 10-6 rock fight with Troy away from their likely first Sun Belt title. But Kane Wommack turned a team that had never finished above .500 as an FBS member into a 10-win juggernaut. And this season, they’re better positioned than ever to capture that first conference title and find themselves ranked for the first time in program history (one of 18 teams never to be).
Eighteen total starters and 77% of total roster production return this season, eighth-most nationally. Starting QB Carter Bradley is among those, as are 1,000-yard rusher La’Damian Webb, South Alabama’s top two receivers, and top six tacklers. The Jaguars roster the best all-around defense in the league and likely one of the top offenses. They tack on a sound special teams unit, as well. Free-floating nickel Yam Banks landed on Phil Steele’s fourth team preseason All America list after recording 50 tackles, 11 PBUs, six interceptions, five TFLs, and five more QB hits.
But the biggest obstacle in 2023 is their schedule. They open the season at Tulane and also visit Oklahoma State. In league play, South Alabama draws James Madison and Marshall from the East, and plays Troy on the road.
So long as their offensive line holds up – which, at the top has plenty of talent, but lacks depth pieces – then the Jags are in good shape. But as is the case with other tough divisions like the Big Ten East and SEC West, having to traverse the talent in the Sun Belt West makes South Alabama’s trip to a conference title a steep uphill battle.
Sun Belt Odds: The Ineligible favorite
Although the Dukes have to wait another year to compete in the postseason after their waiver to the NCAA was denied, James Madison brings plenty of intrigue to the table. In their first year up from the FCS, JMU exceeded all expectations, winning their first five games and final three games, finishing 8-3. They dabbled in the AP Top 25 and closed the year with a resounding 47-7 victory over Coastal Carolina.
But many of the pieces that made JMU so dangerous are gone. Prolific passer Todd Centio (25 TDs, five INTs) graduated and 1,000-yard receiver Kris Thornton moved on. Just one of the Dukes’ top five receivers returns for 2023, senior Reggie Brown. However, the foundation of this team is back, headlined by all five offensive linemen and seven starters on defense.
That defense is what JMU fixes to hang their hat on again after they finished inside the top 10 in points per drive. James Carpenter and Taurus Jones land on Phil Steele’s preseason All-Sun Belt first team and two others grace other teams defensively. The group of opposing offenses could be worse, too, as five opponents fell outside the top 100 in points per drive a season ago.
James Madison isn’t creeping up on anyone this year – the secret is out. But with the foundational blocks on the team, a 105th-ranked strength of schedule, and continued sound coaching from Curt Cignetti, JMU will find themselves in the win column more often than not. I make them for 7.1 wins in 2023.
Sun Belt Odds: The Contenders
Marshall Thundering Herd
While James Madison, App State, and Coastal Carolina stole headlines in the SBC East, Marshall enters this season rated the highest. They began 2022 with a stunning upset of Notre Dame, but followed it up with a loss at Bowling Green. At 4-4, Marshall appeared to be bogged down by a lethargic offense. But the Herd went on a 5-0 tear in which the defense allowed just 13.6 points per game and Marshall finished the season 9-4.
Just four starters return on defense and DC Lance Guidry headed to Miami with a 45-minute layover at Tulane. Leading tackler Eli Neal happens to be one of those four after notching 98 tackles (6.5 for a loss), nine QB hits, and three sacks. Charles Huff again hit the portal to bolster the front seven, landing two Power Five transfers headlined by Florida’s Chris Thomas. Marshall’s defensive line ranks second in the Sun Belt, per Phil Steele.
Offensively, there’s a lot more continuity. Rasheen Ali, a career 5.8-yard rusher, rejoins the team after sitting out most of last season. Quarterback Cam Fancher also returns as do four of Marshall’s top five receivers. But this offense finished 116th in points per drive and scored 30 points against FBS competition once – in that 34-31 overtime loss to Bowling Green.
Despite the vacancies on defense, Marshall should again be sound on their stop unit. I make them for 7.3 wins, the most in the East division.
Appalachian State Mountaineers
After a blistering start to 2022, Appalachian State ran out of juice and finished the year bowl ineligible due to two of their six wins coming against FCS competition. They dropped three of their last four games behind a defense that finished 95th in points per drive. A lot of good returns offensively, namely running back Nate Noel (6.9 yards per carry), but starting QB Chase Brice does not. Redshirt freshman Ryan Burger fixes to rise as QB1 with just six pass attempts under his belt.
The Mountaineers hit the portal to help bolster a struggling defense. Marshall safety EJ Jackson, Richmond corner Tyrek Funderburk, and Rutgers defensive end Shawn Collins all project to start. But depth throughout this unit is a concern, just as it was last year. App State went back to the well to fill a couple of coordinator vacancies. It hired on Frank Ponce as OC (App State OC from 2013-18 & 2021) and Scot Sloan as DC (assistant from 2010-17).
App State runs back a game at North Carolina (last year’s edition famously featured 124 combined points) and visits Lamarie to face a physical Wyoming team. Immediately following, the Mountaineers face three consecutive teams coming off a bye – ULM, Coastal Carolina (also off a bye), and Old Dominion. While far from a murderer’s row, continued rest disadvantages mixed with the arduous non-conference could have these games closer than they should be.
Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns
Things got off to a rocky start for Michael Desormeaux. The Ragin’ Cajuns snuck by Southeast Louisiana 24-7 in his debut and lost to both Rice and ULM in consecutive weeks. Louisiana finished the season 0-3 in one score games, including their bowl loss to Houston. It was a tough tumble down from the 34-5 record pieced together by Bill Napier.
The defense was the clear strength to Louisiana and just three starters on that side of the ball return. Their best defensive backs – Kam Pedescleaux and Trey Amos – both transferred out after spring ball. Four projected starters are sophomores with little experience. On offense, QB Ben Woolridge returns after missing much of last year with an injury. In his limited games, he played well, throwing 15 touchdowns and just five picks, but he completed only 56.6% of his passes. Go-to receiver Michael Jefferson went to the NFL. The team expects to lean into their run game thanks to a good sized offensive line, but a top back has yet to show his face.
Luckily for Louisiana, it plays the easiest schedule in the Sun Belt. The Ragin’ Cajuns avoid any of the top teams from the East, instead drawing ODU and Georgia State. There’s a notable gap between them and the top two teams from the West, but their advantageous schedule puts Louisiana in bowl contention.
A Sun Belt Longshot To Back: Texas State Bobcats
First and foremost: I do not recommend betting Texas State to win the Sun Belt. The league is far too deep and this roster is far too unproven to even consider that bet. But the overall temperature on the Bobcats is at an all-time low, with many projections putting them last in the league and under their win total being a popular bet.
But on a week-to-week basis, there’s worse teams to back than Texas State. After finishing 114th in points per drive and 110th in EPA per play last year, the Bobcats hired Incarnate Word head coach GJ Kinne, who brought along his offensive staff. In 2022, the Cardinals scored 51.5 points per game and produced FCS player of the year Lindsey Scott. Kinne recruited four-star transfer Malik Hornsby at QB, part of a monster class made up of 37 commits. Leading receiver Ashtyn Harris also returns along with all five leading rushers. The biggest concern on the roster in the offensive line, which lost its two best players from last year.
Ultimately, Texas State projects to run a more up-tempo offense likely capable of scoring in their league. The Bobcats avoid the top defenses in the East (Marshall and James Madison) and play three teams outside the top half of the NCAA in points per drive in the non-conference (Baylor, Nevada, UTSA). Perhaps most interesting is the possibility to back overs in Texas State games should the market be slow to react to a new staff and system.
A Sun Belt Team To Fade: Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
One of the nation’s most prolific passers returns for Coastal: Grayson McCall. His favorite target Sam Pickney and two leading rushers also return. But otherwise, Coastal was gutted this offseason.
Head coach Jamey Chadwell left for Liberty and took his system and assistants with him. The Chants’ top offensive lineman transferred, as did their stud defensive end. To replace Chadwell, Coastal hired NC State OC Tim Beck. Beck is lauded among other coaches, but his system in place in Raleigh left a lot to be desired, mishandling a talented QB in Devin Leary and never piecing together a top-50 offense. He hired on Travis Trickett of USF to coordinate the offense, a far cry from the impressive system Chadwell ran in Conway.
Once Chadwell began shopping at Liberty (which was pretty clear to have began in Week 12), the Chants fell completely off. They lost three straight by a combined 145-62, including a conference championship blowout and bowl game loss. The defense has majorly been a secondary focus and hurts from the high-tempo and high-scoring offense. But they also lack the true top-end talent to be a great unit even with more rest.
The departure of Chadwell severely hurts this offense. McCall is a great player, but his numbers were definitely helped along by the system. Barring a serious surprise, I don’t anticipate Beck keeping that Coastal offense in place and this team could be in for major regression.
Arkansas State Red Wolves
It’s a season of major turnover on the roster as starting QB James Blackman and four of the top five receivers depart. The Red Wolves landed Colorado QB JT Shrout in the portal, who had the highest rate of turnover-worthy plays in the country last year (7.9%!). Courtney Jackson comes in from Syracuse and Arkansas State returned Corey Rucker from South Carolina in the receiving room. Six starters return from a defense that finished 107th in points per drive. Ultimately, Arkansas State isn’t at the back of the pack with roster talent, but they have a steep uphill battle to even think about a bowl game.
Georgia Southern Eagles
Just one season removed from the triple option, Georgia Southern produced a 4,000-yard passer. Clay Helton brought in talented Tulsa QB Davis Brin, who has all-conference Khaleb Hood and Syracuse transfer Anthony Queeley at his disposal. The Eagles hired Buffalo DC Brandon Bailey to help shore up a dreadful unit from a year ago and they play an advantageous group of opposing offenses: UAB, Ball State, ULM, Texas State, Marshall, and Old Dominion. It’s likely more of the same for Georgia Southern, although more wins may be inbound thanks to drawing the second-easiest schedule in the Sun Belt and the projected two bottom teams from the West, Texas State and ULM.
Georgia State Panthers
Dual threat QB Darren Grainger returns as the team’s leading passer and rusher. However, he loses top target Jamari Thrash in the portal and his top running back. The Panthers play the second-toughest schedule in the Sun Belt, including Troy and Louisiana from the West (Louisiana off a bye), plus a late game at LSU. Coming off their bye is a particularly brutal stretch where Georgia State plays Marshall, at Louisiana, at rival Georgia Southern, JMU, App State, and at LSU. Although this team might be more talented than others in the East, their schedule likely pushes them to the brink of bowl eligibility.
Old Dominion Monarchs
ODU plays the most difficult schedule in the Sun Belt despite avoiding Troy and South Alabama from the West. They play two Power Fives and Liberty in the non-conference and have a stretch which they host App State, visit JMU, host Coastal, and then visit Liberty. QB Hayden Wolff transferred out and All America tight end Zach Kuntz left for the NFL. Instead, they hired on Fordham OC Kevin Decker and he brought his QB, true sophomore Grant Wilson (77% completion!). After a few years of abysmal offense, ODU should at least field a fun offense to watch and are an overs candidate early in the season.
Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Few teams have had worse injury luck than Southern Miss, particularly at the QB position. In 2021, Frank Gore Jr. ended up running the Wildcat offense, a tactic that bled into last year. Starting QB Zach Wilcke managed just eight touchdowns to nine interceptions, so the Golden Eagles brought on Houston’s Holman Edwards. Five of the top six receivers from last year and four starters along the offensive line return. Defensively is where they expect to take a hit, as hotshot DC Austin Armstrong left for Florida. Most of the entire secondary needs rebuilding and Southern Miss plays one of the toughest slates in the Sun Belt, highlighted by games at Florida State and Mississippi State.
Expectations in Monroe are perennially low. It’s the toughest job in the FBS, without the allure of adequate facilities or draw of an attractive college town. Terry Bowen has managed four wins in each of the past two seasons, but ULM has never broken .500 since rejoining the FBS in 1994. Their lone bowl game came in 2012 and ended in a 45-14 drubbing at the hands of Ohio. They play a tough slate this year, featuring two SEC West schools, and handle App State from the East. They lost starting QB Chandler Rogers to North Texas and must rely on an inexperienced QB room and just 10 returning starters total to keep the ship afloat.
Top Difference Makers To Know
Grayson McCall, QB, Coastal Carolina: For the last three years, McCall has been one of the most efficient and dynamic QBs in the country. He has a ridiculous career QBR of 186.8 and has thrown 78 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. McCall dabbled with the NFL and transfer portal when his head coach left, but decided to stick out one more season in Conway.
Frank Gore Jr., RB, Southern Miss: Gore is truly a do-it-all weapon for Southern Miss. When the Golden Eagles needed a QB, Gore ran Wildcat for half a season. When they needed to hand him the ball 21 times, he set a bowl game record with 329 yards. Expect Gore once again to be one of the most-worked players in the country, coming off a season with 228 carries.
Jason Henderson, LB, Old Dominion: Henderson isn’t just a contender for All-Sun Belt considerations, but All America. He logged a ridiculous 186 tackles last season including nine for a loss; Henderson also played in 11 of 12 games and was on pace to set the all-time single season tackles record (191, Luke Kuechly). He returns to Norfolk to perhaps chase his own personal record.
Yam Banks, SAF, South Alabama: Another defensive stud that transcends all-conference honors, Banks lands on Steele’s fourth team preseason All America list. In 2022, Banks notched 11 PBUs and picked off six passes as a versatile nickel defender (“Husky”). He also notched five tackles for loss and five additional QB hits.
Coaching & Coordinator Changes In The Sun Belt
Most Impactful Hires
GJ Kinne, HC, Texas State: Last year, Texas State finished 114th in points per drive and cleared house in the coaching ranks. It brings in Incarnate Word head coach GJ Kinne, who led the Cardinals to 51.5 points per game and produced league MVP Lindsey Scott at QB. Only out done by Colorado, Kinne brought in a ridiculous 37 transfers to revamp this team in his image. Get ready for a very different team in San Marcos.
Kevin Decker, OC, Old Dominion: Like Texas State, Old Dominion finished 115th in points per drive and decided to go radically in another direction. Decker helped lead Fordham to 49.5 points per game and he brings along his QB, Grant Wilson. Even if it doesn’t translate to wins, Old Dominion will go from a snooze fest to an up-tempo and high-flying offense in 2023.
Brandon Bailey, DC, Georgia Southern: Bailey is perhaps most notable for being the youngest coordinator in the FBS last season at Buffalo. He led the Bulls to a strong defensive showing, ranking 47th in points per drive allowed. Georgia Southern desperately needed an improvement on defense (115th) and bringing in a young new mind could be the dramatic shift they need.
- Tim Beck, HC, Coastal Carolina (NC State OC)
- Frank Ponce, OC, Appalachian State (former App State OC)
- Travis Trickett, OC, Coastal Carolina (USF OC)
- Mack Leftwhich, OC, Texas State (Incarnate Word OC)
- Scot Sloan, DC, Appalachian State (Army SAFs)
- Craig Naivar, DC, Coastal Carolina (SMU special teams coordinator)
- Dan O’Brien, DC, Southern Miss (SAFs)
- Jonathan Patke, DC, Texas State (Incarnate Word DC)
- Greg Gaspirato, DC, Troy (Army co-DC)