Sun Belt Heat Week 5: Slow the Boil

NEW ORLEANS - JULY 27: Photos of th 2022 Sun Belt Conference Football Media Days at the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel on July 27, 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Week Five offers get-well games for reeling Sun Belt programs

We’ve only played four weeks of football, but already the Cajuns are cratering, the Dukes are kings, and Appalachian State and Marshall flew too close to the sun. We know everything and nothing! Plus is minus and minus is plus!

Thank God for Week 5, a time for which many Sun Belt programs will reset and possibly even settle some grudges. As my brother Rex Steele would say during this time of supreme stress: “RELAX!”

Georgia State at Army, 11:00 A.M, CBS Sports Network

A popular business mantra during the 1990s was “eat your frogs in the morning.” The Panthers, now 0-4 and staring blankly into space, have plenty of frogs to eat, but also incentive to devour them: Army busted Georgia State for the Panthers’ home opener last season. The Knights are 1-2 with problems of their own, but for some dumb reason I still believe that Shawn Elliot will fix that leaky defense just in time to create Sun Belt East havoc.

Vegas Says: -7.5 Black Knights
Howlraiser Says: I like the Panthers with these points. Georgia State does a bit better against the run, and a breakout from Darren Grainger seem eminent.

Texas State at James Madison, 12:30 P.M., ESPN Plus

“The Ducks of Death” are quacking all the way to the Sun Belt Championship for which they’re ineligible, having dusted off Appalachian State after spotting them a 24-10 lead. Now a perfect 3-0, Jimmy Mads hosts the imperfect Bobcats, who are feeling spicy after destroying Houston Baptist Christian University. Texas State needed the big game release from Layne Hatcher (362 yards, 4 TDs), and wouldn’t this be exactly the kind of victory that the Bobcats come up with in a chaotic Sun Belt season?

Vegas Says: -22.5 Dukes
Howlraiser Says: Todd Centeio is everything JMU could want behind center, and you know Coach Curt Cignetti is chain smoking a thousand invisible cigarettes fantasizing about winning a championship in a division that critics predicted would see the Dukes finish in the basement. Twenty-two and a half points may not be enough points.

The Citadel at Appalachian State, 2:30 P.M., ESPN Plus

The Mountaineers are plummeting downhill in a runaway coal cart after allowing James Madison to sully what was looking to be an extraordinarily storied season with a win over #6 Texas A&M followed by a Hail Mary victory over Troy. What a good time to host The Citadel, of whom I know nothing.

Vegas Says: NA
Howlraiser Says: The Dukes shutout the Mountaineers in the second half. I don’t think Appalachian State will waste time opening the coal chute on The Citadel (what’s with all these coal metaphors?).

Gardner-Webb at Marshall, 2:30 P.M., ESPN Plus

Kicking off at exactly the same time is Marshall, who suffers mightily the Curse of the Irish. The Herd, staggering after a bizarre 16-7 loss to Troy, have looked horrible since upending #8 Notre Dame, losing two in a row and begging for a FCS quality opponent like…Gardner-Webb. The pigskin gods are not without mercy.

Vegas Says: NA
Howlraiser Says: Marshall has played so poorly, I actually feel like the Bulldogs can present problems, especially having seen the trouble they gave Coastal.

Georgia Southern at Coastal Carolina, 3:00 P.M., ESPN Plus

The Eagles pulled away from Ball State on Saturday after playing even-steven football for three quarters. Kyle Vantease (310 yards, 3 Total TDs) was his usual cool self, erasing Georgia Southern’s long legacy of deploying that weird run first, second and third offense. This should make things interesting in Conway, where the Chanticleers are suddenly awake from the bloodlust of crushing a reeling Georgia State.

Vegas Says: Chants -10
Howlraiser Says: Interesting the respect given to Clay Helton and his Eagles on the road. I’m ignoring the warning lights and taking the Chanticleers to overcome the points.

South Alabama at Louisiana, 4:00 P.M., ESPN Plus

The most fascinating game on the Week 5 docket, rising Sheriff of the West South Alabama visits a clearly diminished Cajuns team that just bore the indignity of losing to the Warhawks – a rivalry so bitter the Cajuns barely acknowledge it. Louisiana is currently screaming the name of the Warhawks now, and soon they shall be screaming “Jaguars,” too. South Bama’s Carter Bradley is the reliable, strong-armed QB the Jags have coveted for years, and the Cajuns don’t have an answer as far as I can tell.

Vegas Says: Jags -9
Howlraiser Says: The only variable that gives me pause is that the Cajuns are always very, very tough in Lafayette. Take them Jaguars but also take them points.

Liberty at Old Dominion, 5:00 P.M., ESPN Plus

Man, when will the Sun Belt be rid of The Flames? Hugh Freeze visits Norfolk to take on a Monarchs team that earned its first Sun Belt victory on Saturday by outlasting the Red Wolves. While Old Dominion is a limited team on offense, the defense is quite formidable – it collected 7 sacks, 13 TFLs and a Pick Six on Arkansas State. Freeze will need to tap into 99% of his creative brain to find some way to flummox the Monarchs.

Vegas Says: -1.5 Flames
Howlraiser Says: If Vegas is afraid, you should be afraid. When all else fails, pick the home team.

ULM at Arkansas State, 6:00 P.M., ESPN Plus

Every year, the Warhawks start the in-conference season doing something absurdly off-script. Last year, it was surprising Troy. Last week, it was astonishing in-state rival Louisiana. Troy never really recovered from that humiliation, and I suspect neither will the Cajuns. Meanwhile, the Red Wolves are 1-3 and have allowed two fourth quarter leads in a row slip away. Arkansas State simply needs to learn how to win. Why not learn at the expense of a team that hasn’t beaten them in over a decade?

Vegas Says: -7.5 Red Wolves
Howlraiser Says: Arkansas State returns to Jonesboro after three weeks (kind of like an alt-universe Coastal Carolina). The points feel right.

Troy at Western Kentucky, 6:00 P.M., ESPN Plus

On Saturday, Western Kentucky (3-1) murdered fellow CUSA member FIU 73-0. Hilltopper quarterback Austin Reed has already amassed 1,200 yards and 14 TDs. The pickings won’t be so easy against Troy and its 55th ranked defense. The Trojans have played back-to-back tough opponents in the form of Appalachian State and Marshall. They won’t roll over, not even to that big red blood clot that haunts Bowling Green.

Vegas Says: -6 Hilltoppers
Howlraiser Says: I feel the same miserable way about this game as I did about Southern Miss versus Tulane – and the Golden Eagles surprised me with a victory. Maybe the Trojans surprise me.