One of my ironclad rules of college football betting is that no one escapes regression to the mean. Coaches lie; statistics don’t.
The Sun Belt had a wondrous Week 2 across the college football landscape, but the conference fell back to earth with a series of close calls and underwhelming results.
With that in mind, here’s my take on Week 4 power rankings for a conference where nearly every single team lost.
Actually Did Their Job
1. Southern Miss
Last Week: Beat Northwestern State, 64-10; This Week: at Tulane
In a brutal week for the Sun Belt’s credibility, only one team actually showed up and actually delivered against expectations – Southern Miss. Granted, it was against a putrid Northwestern State team, but that hardly matters. The Golden Eagles won 64-10, as they should have.
On a day where the conference only won two other games – one of which was an intra-conference game – let’s show some respect for USM.
Well, They Won, So…
2. App State
Last Week: Beat Troy, 32-28; This Week: James Madison
There’s a mercilessly thin line between success and failure for App State. Even the mayor of Boone would tell you that the Mountaineers’ win over Troy was mana from heaven; the North Carolina game seemed to have a new preposterous conclusion about seven or eight different times.
Even the Texas A&M win flirted with statistical improbability, as I mentioned in last week’s power rankings.
App State has a manageable schedule, and the road game in Conway is looking increasingly winnable. If it can beat JMU and move to 3-1 this weekend, the Sun Belt East could come down to App State’s trip to Marshall.
That’s a good position to be in for App State. But when you flirt with disaster this much, it does eventually find you.
3. Coastal Carolina
Last Week: Beat Buffalo, 38-26; This Week: at Georgia State
Grayson McCall is awesome, and Coastal is one of only two remaining undefeated teams in the conference.
However, Coastal’s win over Buffalo is the second straight week that it needed a fourth-quarter comeback to overtake a visitor ranked outside of Jeff Sagarin’s top 120 Division I teams.
I’m officially abandoning my preseason Coastal pick. There’s too much evidence this month that Coastal is a second-level contender in the stacked east.
A Timely Bye
4. James Madison
Last Week: Bye; This Week: at App State
JMU can’t ever be considered a true contender in the Sun Belt because the Dukes aren’t eligible to win the Sun Belt this year. Thus, they move up here solely because most of the other teams around them lost.
5. South Alabama
Last Week: Lost at UCLA, 32-31; This Week: Louisiana Tech
South Alabama lost at the gun in Los Angeles. In doing so, however, the Jaguars proved what some of us already thought – that they’re very much contenders in a wide-open Sun Belt West.
Last Week: Lost at App State, 32-28; This Week: Marshall
This will be a hard one to recover from down south, as the Trojans would be bussing out of Boone with a win if they only remembered to knock the ball down on the Hail Mary attempt like they were probably taught in middle school.
I wish I could say that I felt Troy proved something about its staying power in the western division with this loss, but honestly… I can’t even say that. This feels like a spot where Troy was always going to play App State tightly – as I predicted in my Week 3 best bets column – because it was a natural flat spot for the Mountaineers.
Let’s watch Troy going forward, but it doesn’t get any easier this week when Marshall comes to town. The Trojans have to continue to weather the storm because a 1-4 start isn’t just possible – it’s statistically likely.
7. Old Dominion
Last Week: Lost at UVA, 16-14; This Week: Arkansas State
Old Dominion nearly stayed on track to complete a four-team sweep of in-state rivals, but Virginia’s field goal as time expired denied the Monarchs a second ACC scalp.
What does this mean for ODU? Your mileage may vary. Virginia was coming off a whipping at the hands of Illinois; it’s also trying to break in a completely new offensive line. That’s a favorable matchup for ODU, whose defense remains the main reason it could be a tough out in conference play.
ODU still has Liberty at home next month and JMU coming to town in November. If it can find another in-state win in that stretch, that will feel like a big season for a fan base still looking to carve out some regional relevance.
Banana Peel, Meet Sun Belt
Last Week: Lost at Bowling Green, 34-31; This Week: at Troy
Bowling Green clearly looked like a letdown game after the Thundering Herd’s huge win in South Bend, but I never would have imagined that Marshall would actually lose this game.
I still think Marshall is a top-level contender in this conference, but it’s got to get dinged hard in the rankings for falling on its face this badly.
Last Week: Lost at Rice, 33-21; This Week: Louisiana-Monroe
In reviewing last week’s football odds, I thought this point spread looked awfully suspect, and Rice did indeed pull the outright upset as an 11-point home dog.
If Coastal Carolina didn’t have an all-conference quarterback to constantly pull the Chanticleers out of the fire late, it would be Louisiana.
The good news for the defending champs is that the western division has a few more built-in wins than the east does, so the Ragin’ Cajuns have time to fix their issues.
10. Georgia Southern
Last Week: Lost at UAB, 35-21; This Week: Ball State
The Eagles were pegged as double-digit dogs at UAB, and they lost by two scores. Maybe that’s all we should take from a road loss at one of Conference USA’s better programs.
Still, it’s hard not to want a little more from Georgia Southern after the win in Lincoln.
11. Arkansas State
Last Week: Lost at Memphis, 44-32; This Week: at Old Dominion
The Red Wolves have given up 89 points in two weeks. The good news? The opponents were Ohio State and Memphis – two teams we know can find the end zone with ease.
This week’s conference trip to Norfolk should prove a much more apt test.
Last Week: Lost at Alabama, 63-7; This Week: Louisiana
Raise your hand if your team would have lost to Alabama by eight touchdowns.
Honestly, more of you should probably be raising your hands.
13. Texas State
Last Week: Lost at Baylor, 42-7; This Week: Houston Baptist
There’s no shame in Texas State’s 42-7 loss to reigning Big 12 champion Baylor.
There will absolutely be shame if the Bobcats can’t handle FCS Houston Baptist this Saturday.
14. Georgia State
Last Week: Lost to Charlotte, 42-41; This Week: Coastal Carolina
Lost among the conference’s incredible array of dramatic losses this past weekend was Georgia State’s miserable home loss to Charlotte – a team that lost to FCS William & Mary earlier this month.
Georgia State kicker Michael Hayes missed the extra point on the final touchdown of the first half, and the Panthers spent the second half of Saturday’s game chasing points.
Ultimately, they never made up the distance, and Georgia State dropped a game to a team that currently ranks 167 in the Sagarin rankings. Really, really bad.