Top Odds & Picks for College Football Conference Champion Futures: Sun Belt (2022)

Aug 4, 2022 - 10:37 AM

As the College Football season approaches, today we will look at the always action-packed and unpredictable Sun Belt Conference, which has produced a new champion for four straight years.

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(Odds courtesy of DraftKings)

2021 Results

Louisiana-Lafayette started 2021 with a loss to Texas 18-38 and never looked back. They reeled off 13 straight wins, including a 24-16 win over Appalachian State, to secure their first Sun Belt Championship in three attempts. The Ragin Cajuns had one of the most fortuitous seasons in recent memory. They went 7-0 in one-score games and ranked 3rd in Turnover Margin (+15). Those two statistics combined will result in being near the top of any conference. Louisiana-Lafayette had solid efficiency numbers for a Sun-Belt team (55th in SP+ Offense and 26th in SP+ Defense). Offensively they did not excel in any underlying advanced metric. Their highest ranking was 36th in offensive standard downs success rate. The defensive unit only stood out in the overall havoc rate (27th), the defensive front seven havoc rate (39th), and DB havoc rate (19th). Losing QB Levi Lewis and HC Billy Napier and the regression bound to come in those two volatile stats will make them unlikely to repeat their 2021 campaign. Appalachian State, simply put, got the best of everyone in the Sun Belt not named Louisana-Lafayette (7-0 in other conference games). Their inability to take care of the ball was the most telling stat. Appalachian State boasted a top 10 overall havoc rate and 22 takeaways but still posted a -4 turnover margin (90th ranked). Let’s dive into two teams I believe will have a chance to hoist their first Sun Belt Championship.

Coastal Carolina (+500)

Coastal Carolina has posted back-to-back 11-win seasons and has done it with arguably one of the best quarterbacks in the country. QB Grayson McCall posted elite grades in every category that matters for success. Let’s look at some of these astonishing numbers.

Grayson McCall:

  • 1st in PFF Passing Grade
  • 1st in BTT % (Big Time Throws) of 20-plus yards
  • 1st in NFL Passer Rating for deep passes
  • 1st in NFL Passer rating in a clean pocket
  • 2nd in NFL Passer rating

With all this said, he led Coastal Carolina to an elite ranking of 6th in SP+ Offense. The next best team in the Sun Belt was Marshall, ranking 43rd in SP+ Offense. Not only were the efficiency numbers elite, but so were the underlying advanced metrics.

Offense:

  • 7th in Stuff Rate
  • 1st in PPO (Points Per Opportunity)
  • 6th in DB havoc allowed
  • 4th in offensive standard down success rate
  • 14th in overall offensive explosiveness
  • 12th in offensive rush explosiveness
  • 14th in offensive rush success rate
  • 1st in offensive pass success rate

Coastal Carolina will regress in some of these numbers as their offensive returning production is lacking (97th). However, they will still be led by one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and innovative HC Jamey Chadwell.

Defensively Coastal Carolina will have its work cut out for them. They bring back a ranking of 128th in defensive returning production, and they are bottom 40 in returning production in every defensive category: tackles, passes defended, pressures, and stops. Coastal Carolina’s biggest plus on defense is they should see some positive regression regarding turnover margin. They ranked 36th in overall Havoc rate last year but only managed 13 takeaways which ranked (104th). The defensive unit will regress in havoc rate but should meet in the middle regarding takeaways.

Coastal Carolina at +500 has value because they have the best quarterback by an extensive margin, and several top teams will regress in numerous key categories.

Georgia State (+800)

Georgia State played an extremely tough out-of-conference schedule last year, facing Army, North Carolina, and Auburn before their first conference game. They played a tough game losing to Auburn 24-34, then posted an abysmal effort losing 16-45 to Appalachian State. Georgia State was 6-2 in conference play, with their only losses to the aforementioned Appalachian State and Louisiana-Lafayette 17-21. On the surface, Georgia State has a modest returning production profile. In contrast, they stand out when you compare them to the rest of the conference. They have an offensive returning production ranking of 84th paired with a 2021 SP+ offense ranking of 77th and a defensive returning production ranking of 55th paired with a 2021 SP+ defense ranking of 65th. As always, let’s dive into the advanced metrics to understand each unit better.

Offense:

  • 25th in offensive stuff rate
  • 14th in PPO (Points Per Opportunity)
  • 23rd in offensive standard downs success rate
  • 79th in offensive rush explosiveness
  • 22nd in offensive rush success rate
  • 41st in offensive pass success rate
  • 101st in offensive rush explosiveness

It is important to note that Georgia State is 7th in rush rate (63.65%). They want to rush the ball, and they are phenomenal at it. They bring back both leading running backs, Tucker Gregg (953 yds 9 TDs) and Jamyest Williams (859 yards 9 TDs). Both of which have been named to the Doak Walker Award watch list. Georgia State will also return QB Darren Grainger (1715 passing yards, 7.5 yds/att, 19 TDs, and 4 INTs). Grainger also is their 3rd leading rusher with 646 rushing yards and 3 TDs. If this unit can maintain its success in early downs while improving in explosive plays, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

This defensive unit is underrated. If I asked which Sun Belt defense had the highest total Havoc Rate, who would you land on? If you didn’t say Georgia State, you would be wrong. They ranked 9th overall in total havoc. That doesn’t even tell the whole story, though. This unit only ranks bottom 40 in one defensive category, 102nd in defensive passing explosiveness. Every other team ranks bottom 40 in at least two defensive categories. Let’s look at an overview of this promising unit.

Defense:

  • 57th in Stuff Rate
  • 42nd in PPO (Points Per Opportunity)
  • 9th in overall Havoc Rate
  • 8th defensive front seven havoc
  • 32nd in DB havoc
  • 21st in defensive standard downs success rate
  • 21st in defensive rushing success rate
  • 81st in defensive rushing explosiveness
  • 102nd in defensive passing explosiveness
  • 54th in defensive passing success rate

This unit is solid across every metric except for allowing explosive pass plays. This concern is a moot point as only 3 Sun Belt teams in 2021 ranked in the top 30 in offensive passing explosiveness (Appalachian State, Arkansas State, ULM). That’s an average ranking of 85th for the rest of the conference. Georgia state will be coming off a bye to prepare for Appalachian State, the only conference game they were uncompetitive in last year. This unit will regress from their top 10 havoc rate, but there is no reason to think they cannot still be top 30. If that happens, paired with better limiting of explosive plays, they will be near the top of the Sun Belt.

Georgia State at +800 offers tremendous value as their returning production is tied to their strengths as a team. The top teams in the Sun Belt will regress as they outperformed in volatile metrics and lack a production profile to match up with Georgia State’s unique style. If both units improve in explosive plays, this team will be a hard out in any game.

Thanks again for reading, and come back for our next article to see if Cincinnati can go for three titles in a row in the AAC.

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