2021 College Football Preview: Over/unders for every Sun Belt team

By Bruce Marshall  (VSiN.com) 

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VSiN’s 2021 College Football Betting Guide is now available for order. Get access to over 300 pages of information, including over/under picks for all 130 FBS teams and our experts’ favorite season win total bets right here.

Here is the 2021 CFB betting guide preview for the Sun Belt Conference.

Coastal Carolina

With 19 of 22 starters back from last year’s stunning 11-1 breakthrough, with a double-digit number of seniors and graduates returning for an extra year of eligibility and, most importantly, with coach Jamey Chadwell resisting the temptation to cash in elsewhere and instead signing a contract extension, it would be a surprise if the Chanticleers failed to match last season’s win total. The 37-ppg offense returns sophomore QB Grayson McCall, earning mention as a Heisman Trophy long shot after tossing 26 TD passes as a freshman, and returns nearly all of his weapons in Coastal’s triple-option spread. One of the Sun Belt’s best defenses also returns nearly en masse, spearheading an opportunistic team that ranked ninth nationally in turnover margin at + 13. The real reason we like the Over is that we don’t see two losses on the schedule. Coastal has an even softer nonleague slate than a year ago, as BYU is replaced by Buffalo, whose coach bolted in late spring, and only two Sun Belt foes played Coastal within single digits a season ago. Now, can the Chanticleers improve on their No. 12 finish in the final College Football Playoff rankings?

Pick: Over 10

Appalachian State

Maybe Chase Brice can blame COVID-19 and the oddities it caused for his failures last season at Duke, where he arrived with some ballyhoo as a transfer from Clemson only to fall flat on his face. Brice gets one more chance at QB, this time at Appalachian State. He’s still looking to match his career highlight at Clemson in 2018, when he came off the bench to bail out the Tigers in an early-season game against Syracuse that ended up as the closest call of an undefeated national title season.

Brice might have more weapons at his disposal than he had in Durham, especially with junior RB Camerun Peoples off a 1,124-yard rushing season that included five TDs in the Myrtle Beach Bowl romp past North Texas. But if the Mountaineers plan to give Coastal Carolina a run in the Sun Belt East, it will probably be due to a robust defense that returns nine starters, bolstered by DEs Demetrius Taylor and Caleb Spurlin, “super seniors” taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic. Appalachian State does get Coastal at Boone on Oct. 20 but faces some challenges in nonleague play, traveling to Miami and facing East Carolina in Charlotte, while also hosting dangerous Marshall. Landing on 9-3 seems the most likely outcome.

Pick: Push 9

Troy

While several Sun Belt entries have been punching above their weight the last couple of seasons, Troy hasn’t, failing to crack .500 since coach Chip Lindsey moved from Auburn’s staff in 2019. Since Neal Brown left for West Virginia, the offense has regressed, down more than a TD a game than in 2019, a troubling trend under Lindsey. Despite all 11 starters returning on offense, Lindsey was conducting auditions for all positions in the spring, even at QB. Sophomore Gunnar Watson won’t be assured of running the first string even after a promising debut season of 16 TD passes, as competition arrived with Missouri transfer Taylor Powell. Lindsey’s offense was also trending toward imbalance a year ago, ranking 117th rushing, and serious downfield threats among the receiving corps have yet to emerge. The defense did improve last year, fortified by transfer LBs Richard Jibunor from Auburn and Jayden McDonald from Iowa. And defensive coordinator Brandon Hall welcomes more manpower from the portal, including a trio of ACC transfers led by ex-NC State CB Taiyon Palmer. But after inheriting a functional roster from Brown, there is no reason that Lindsey shouldn’t have been able to get above .500 either of the last two seasons, suggesting he could be another respected coordinator who has trouble transitioning to the top spot.

Pick: Under 6.5

Georgia State

We can understand why many might have lost the scent on the Panthers even before the season begins, as one look at the nonconference schedule — at North Carolina and Auburn, plus hosting always awkward Army — is enough reason to pause. Georgia State should be commended for tackling the sort of slate most schools from power conferences wouldn’t dare risk. But fifth-year coach Shawn Elliott has patiently built the program, targeting 2021 as the potential payoff. He has practically everyone back, including all 11 starters on offense, from last fall’s bowl winner that scored better than 33 ppg. The roster is now loaded with experienced upperclassmen, though sophomore QB Cornelious Brown IV detonates the offense after accounting for 24 TDs as a freshman. Look for Brown to be a bit more comfortable with the passing game this fall with all of his targets still in the fold plus UCF transfer wideout Ja’Cyais Credle. Elliott has some concerns with a defense that leaked last fall, allowing almost 32 ppg, and lost the nation’s sacks leader, LB Jordan Strachan, who transferred to South Carolina. But the secondary returns intact and should improve on the conference’s ninth-rated pass defense. Another bowl bid for Elliott would not surprise.

Pick: Over 5.5

Georgia Southern

The marketplace still assumes that Sun Belt teams are likely to take their licks in nonleague play, hence a general reduction in most of the season win numbers. But a look at some of the Sun Belt’s nonconference victims last year should dispel some of those notions, and in Georgia Southern’s case it is coming off an eight-win season and a 38-3 drubbing of Louisiana Tech in the New Orleans Bowl. Having returned to their option roots a few years ago when Chad Lunsford took over as coach, the Eagles have been the Sun Belt’s version of Air Force since. Lunsford is looking for a new QB after Shai Werts transferred to Louisville, but Werts was a one-dimensional threat. Georgia Southern believes holdover Justin Tomlin, who flashed some upside in brief work last fall, can run the option just as effectively and maybe even improve the aerial dimension after the Eagles finished 124th in passing last year. Scot Sloan’s 3-4 defensive looks have proven sticky for most Sun Belt foes and even had league champ Coastal Carolina confounded into the fourth quarter last October. Arkansas and BYU (at Statesboro) provide tough nonconference challenges, but with several potential wins on the slate, it is not asking much for the Eagles to get to at least five wins and perhaps threaten another bowl visit.

Pick: Over 4.5

Louisiana

This might end up being the Sun Belt’s best team, and the Under call is strictly a reaction to a schedule with several potential potholes. The Ragin’ Cajuns will have to at least split road games at Texas and Liberty and a home pair against Frank Solich’s ever-capable Ohio and Sun Belt East contender Appalachian State to have a shot at an Over. That will also require avoiding banana peels in the other games. It will be tricky, but expect Louisiana to give it a go as coach Billy Napier (28-11 the last three years) has resisted the temptation to accept higher-profile jobs. Twenty of 22 starters return from last season’s 10-1 team that won a bowl over UTSA and notched the program’s first finish in the top 20, ranking 15th in the final poll. With a senior-laden lineup, many Sun Belt insiders suspect Napier might be planning to bolt after this season, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. If the roster has a hole, it might be at running back, where the long-standing duo of Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell have finally departed for the NFL. But senior QB Levi Lewis is 24-4 as a starter, and the seasoned defense returns 22 players who were on the field for at least 100 snaps a year ago. We’d be tempted to change our tune on the Under if fully convinced Napier could open with an upset at Texas in Steve Sarkisian’s debut. But after Louisiana beat Iowa State to start last season, we suspect the Longhorns will be on high alert.

Pick: Under 9.5

South Alabama

After spinning their wheels for three years under Steve Campbell, the Jaguars decided to start anew in 2021 by hiring former Indiana defensive coordinator Kane Wommack, at 34 one of the youngest head coaches in FBS. Wommack, who knows the territory after serving as USA’s defensive coordinator in 2016-17, is not the only new face. Transfer QB Jake Bentley, most recently at Utah and before that a starter at South Carolina, gets one more kick at the can after already passing for 8,409 yards and 61 TDs in his career, with holdover sophomore Desmond Trotter another alternative after throwing for 1,917 yards as a sophomore. The problem is an offensive line that too often resembled a sieve last season and allowed a whopping 40 sacks. Indeed, line play on both sides of the ball left a lot to be desired. Plenty of roster questions remain, with new offensive coordinator Major Applewhite tasked with generating a running game after the Jaguars ranked 112th in rushing a year ago. Wommack hopes his new defense can create more havoc than Campbell’s, which sorely lacked a big-play dimension. If Wommack doesn’t get the Jaguars to five wins by Halloween, we’re thinking he won’t get there with a rugged November slate that includes top Sun Belt contenders and a trip to Tennessee, with the only home game at the Jaguars’ modern, second-year stadium against conference favorite Coastal Carolina. Getting above four wins looks like a chore.

Pick: Under 4.5

Texas State

A sure sign that a coach is feeling pressure is when transfers and jucos are the only additions for the incoming class. That means no freshmen, and it’s a sure sign that third-year coach Jake Spavital knows the score after winning just five times in two years at Texas State. Not wanting to take a manager’s job at the nearby Buc-ee’s, Spavital knows he must get his offense in gear. Spavital has shown little hint of the Dana Holgorsen influence he was supposed to bring from West Virginia a couple of years ago. The offense did improve somewhat in Spavital’s second season, but no clear-cut front-runner has emerged at QB, with former Memphis transfer Brady McBride now being pushed by NC State transfer Ty Evans after injuries disrupted the position a year ago. Spavital hopes the portal will provide the upgrades the OL needed after unconvincing work a year ago. Meanwhile, the defense returns seven of its top 10 tacklers, but we’re not sure that’s a good thing after TSU ranked in triple digits in every major defensive category. Expecting South Alabama to more than double its win total of two from last season looks problematic.

Pick: Under 4.5

Arkansas State

It’s been awhile, but if that face looks familiar on the Red Wolves’ sideline, it should: Butch Jones returns to the head coaching ranks three years after getting moved out at Tennessee. Jones has spent the last three autumns watching how Nick Saban does it while on the Alabama staff, and he was a consistent winner at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. He’s inheriting a bit less than a full cupboard from Blake Anderson, who moved to Utah State, but he does have some experience at QB in junior Layne Hatcher (19 TD passes last fall) and Florida State transfer James Blackman, who at one time generated faint comparisons to Jameis Winston. Four starters are back along an OL that Jones hopes will better balance the offense after ASU evolved into nearly an all-pass offense a year ago. Hatcher and Logan Bonner, who transferred to Utah State, paced a 364-ypg offense that ranked second nationally. Serious concerns hover over the defense, especially in the secondary, after the Red Wolves ranked a lowly 126th against the pass last year. New defensive coordinator Rob Harley (via Pitt) is transitioning from a 3-4 to four-man fronts to try to take better advantage of the talent on hand. The upside might be limited in Jones’ debut at aptly named Jonesboro, but we suspect the Red Wolves can find at least four wins in this slate.

Pick: Over 3.5

ULM

After swallowing an 0-10 doughnut that cost coach Matt Viator his job, it looks a bit risky to project a couple of wins from the Warhawks. It’s riskier still, perhaps, to entrust a recovery to Terry Bowden, who was an offensive analyst on Dabo Swinney’s Clemson staff the last two years before resurfacing in Monroe. But before dismissing the chance Bowden can pull a couple of wins out of his hat, remember his debut year at Auburn in 1993, when he took a probation-saddled team to an 11-0 record. And seeing what happened at Akron after he left his most recent head coaching assignment should generate further appreciation, as Bowden’s Zips looked like Ohio State compared with the post-Bowden Akron under Tom Arth. The late 1990s look of the staff is augmented by veteran offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez, who has put together potent offenses at a variety of stops, including Tulane, West Virginia and Arizona, the last two as head coach, despite his Michigan misadventure. He has brought along son Rhett, who passed for 578 yards in limited work at Arizona, to compete for the QB job. Bowden has already worked the transfer portal hard in an attempt to immediately upgrade the roster. Former Purdue WR Jared Sparks and ex-USF TE Jacob Mathis also could make immediate impacts. We expect ULM to beat Jackson State on Sept. 18, and Bowden is still clever and resourceful enough to find one more win to get above this modest total.

Pick: Over 1.5

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