Last Chance Week: Sun Belt Enters Lucky Week 13

NEW ORLEANS - JULY 26: Photos of th 2022 Sun Belt Conference Football Media Days at the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel on July 26, 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Analysis, Odds, Insight, Kick Off Times, Broadcast Platforms, Plus and More for Week 13

Recently I posted this message on Twitter.

If you recall, the preseason chatter was strong for the Sun Belt and the Group of Five at large, with many pointing to Cincinnati as an example of how the gap has narrowed between the G5 and the Privileged Five. In Week 2, when the Sun Belt collected upset victories over two top 10 programs (plus Nebraska), the smack-talk appeared to have been validated.

Since that time, James Madison made a one-week dip into the AP Top 25, Coastal Carolina finally entered at the bottom of the AP poll in the last third of the season, and the Sun Belt has yet to break into the College Football Playoff Committee poll. Why?

I haven’t a clue, but when Cincinnati broke into the Playoffs, it broke the system that had previously rewarded only the wealthiest programs in college football. The immediate response was to bring Cincinnati (and a handful of programs with similar profiles) into the system. The next step was for AP Voters to instantly favor those teams that were ingratiated into the system – BYU, Cincinnati, UCF and Houston have all appeared on the AP Top 25 this season. With those four teams occupying such limited real estate, programs from the Sun Belt and Mountain West have been effectively iced out.

Would a 12 team playoff solve this? Perhaps, if the format rewards conference winners from all conferences. Already, I’ve heard whispers of just allowing the Committee’s top 12 teams. The AP and the Committee have already seeded an all Power Five scenario for this format by ranking G5 programs in the upper teens and twenties.

#23 Coastal Carolina at James Madison, 11:00 A.M., ESPNU

Dropping an elbow from the top turnbuckle on Georgia State has restored the Dukes’ moxie, who at 5-2 are confidently inquiring how the Sun Belt will bestow title upon them once they dispatch the 6-1 Chanticleers.

Coastal Carolina enters this game well-rested (after the cancelation of the Virginia game) but likely without the services of superstar quarterback Grayson McCall. Still, the Chants have pulled rabbits from hats all season long.

Vegas Says: -13.5 Dukes
Howlraiser Says: At the point in the season, Vegas prognosticators are so accurate it’s unsettlingly unnerving. In the game against the Panthers, the Dukes suffered seven fumbles and scraped by Georgia State with a 2-point, comeback from way behind win. Indeed, there’s witchcraft magic in Harrisonburg, but there is also magic fueling the Chants. Pick the points.

Old Dominion at South Alabama, 11:00 A.M., ESPN Plus

Few programs this season has experienced the highs and lows of Old Dominion, who opened the season with a victory of Virginia Tech and briefly saw their name atop the Sun Belt East standings only to lose their last five games. Odds are good that the Monarchs will end the season losers of six straight, as the Jaguars have both the skills and the motive utterly destroy the Monarchy once and for all.

Vegas Says: -16 Dukes
Howlraiser Says: South Alabama isn’t particularly known for its offense, but I suspect the Jaguars will be 16 points ahead of the Monarchs by the end of the first half. Head coach Kane Wommack wants that cheddar, and he’s won’t be snacking if his team can’t get by Old Dominion.

Georgia State at Marshall, 11:00 A.M., ESPN Plus

The Sun Belt dominates the morning! Shawn Elliot expressed a great deal of pride and love for his team during Monday’s flash conference with Sun Belt coaches while acknowledging that missing out on the bowl season sucks rocks. Meanwhile, Marshal has won three straight and seem to have finally rediscovered all the elements that enable them to crush Notre Dame. It’s been a disappointing season for both programs – but Marshall enters the game at home and with a stronger pulse.

Vegas Says: -6 Thundering Herd
Howlraiser Says: It’s not difficult to envision the Panthers, steamed by allowing JMU to steal their shot at bowl season, taking out their frustrations on a Marshal program that is already bowl eligible. However, 8-4 sound a hell of a lot better than 7-5, and the Thundering Herd still has a shot at gaining a solid bowl selection on the fame of that Notre Dame win alone. Expect the Herd to beat the Panthers and the points.

Troy at Arkansas State, 2:30 P.M, ESPNU

Troy can close out the Sun Belt West by thumping a zombie-like Red Wolves program on national TV. The Trojans don’t score much – they’ve won two games by scoring 10 points or less this season. But that defense is stifling. Only Marshall has surrendered fewer touchdown in the Sun Belt than the Trojans. After witnessing the Red Wolves struggle with the Bobcats D on Saturday, ten points may be all that’s necessary for a Troy victory.

Vegas Says: -13.5 Trojans
Howlraiser Says: The Red Wolves enter this last game of the season with their mind on honoring departing seniors and preparing for next season. The prime motivation for Arkansas State may be avenging the 2017 loss that took away sole possession of the Sun Belt title for the Red Wolves.

Southern Miss at ULM, 4:00 P.M., ESPN Plus

Upon suffering a 3-win season in 2021, the Golden Eagles look to double that total against a ULM program that has a dangerous knack for not giving a shit about their opponent’s aspiration. To become bowl eligible would be Sun Belt Coach of the Year stuff for first year head coach Will Smith. However, I must remind you that Malone Magic is for real.

Vegas Says: -3 Golden Eagles
Howlraiser Says: Southern Miss brings to bear a stout defense and a prolific offensive threat in Frank Gore Jr. They’re hunger for a sixth win may be enough juice the Golden Eagles need. But don’t discount the Warhawks. They play with a chip on their shoulder pads, and would like nothing more than to ruin Southern Miss’ storybook season.

Louisiana at Texas State, 4:00 P.M., ESPN Plus

I believed in the sturdiness of the late-season Cajuns so much that I picked Louisiana to upset Florida State last week. I was wrong, as usual, and now the Cajuns have one last shot to avoid completing the tragic trajectory from Sun Belt Champion to post-season ineligible. It helps that the opponent is Texas State, a team that plays well enough at home but has had a great deal of trouble scoring points. If the Cajuns have any self-respect remaining, they should break out the boom on the Bobcats.

Vegas Says: -5 Rage’n Cajuns
Howlraiser Says: The home field advantage and the Bobcats’ not-bad-at-all defense is spooking the tough guys in Vegas. There will be a great deal of soul searching in San Marcos this off season, with the results of this game likely helping to drive the discussion on Jake Spavital’s future with the program. The Bobcats have motivation – but maybe not enough to overcome a prideful Cajuns team.

Appalachians State at Georgia Southern, 5:00 P.M. ESPN Plus

Thanks to a wonky scheduling situation that has force the Mountaineers to win seven games for bowl eligibility, Appalachian State finds the Eagles standing in the way of their postseason. On the flip side of that coin, Georgia Southern is but one victory away from traditional bowl eligibility (six wins). This game has everything: bowl motivation, seething rivalry, explosive offense, an eagle, and a heavily bearded mascot. Mountaineers fans haven’t been happy with the team’s uncharacteristic mistake-prone play. A win over a rival and a bowl game selection would go a long way to easing the agony.

Vegas Says: -4.5 Mountaineers
Howlraiser Says: Playing in Statesboro at season’s end is a tough ticket for visiting teams. I suspect head coach Clay Helton would love nothing more than to dispatch a struggling foe before a home crowd, while accepting a bowl bid as the prize. For this reason, I can’t pick Appalachian State. May Vegas forgive me.