The Sun Belt is finally edging into October, which means conference play is now firmly underway.
New Sun Belt teams went 3-1 this past weekend, while both the teams from last year’s championship game lost. Online sports betting never gets any easier.
1. James Madison (3-0)
Last Week: Won at App State, 32-28; This Week: Texas State
I’ll be honest. I looked pretty hard for a reason not to put JMU in the No. 1 spot after this past week. I don’t like the optics of the ineligible-to-win-the-championship, fresh-out-of-FCS team leading the conference.
However… The reality is that the Sun Belt historically runs through Boone, and JMU went there and got a win anyway. The Dukes have a dynamic quarterback, a stable of playmakers at running back and receiver, and a wicked defensive front. It’s one of only two undefeated teams remaining in the conference.
After this past week, putting anyone else at the No. 1 spot would just be silly.
JMU has upcoming games against Texas State (home) and Arkansas State (road), which means it’s likely to be 5-0 when they head to Statesboro on Oct. 15.
More on Madison: The Seven Biggest JMU Football Games of All Time
2. Southern Miss (2-2)
Last Week: Won at Tulane, 27-24; This Week: at Troy
Last week’s No. 1 remained impressive, scoring a road win at Tulane, which was itself fresh off a win at Big 12 contender Kansas State.
Did I see this coming? Yes. I did. Always read the college football best bets column.
Southern Miss is proving that it will likely have some staying power in this year’s Sun Belt west. With Louisiana falling hard the last two weeks, this week’s game in Alabama should crown a new divisional favorite.
3. Coastal Carolina (4-0)
Last Week: Won at Georgia State, 41-24; This Week: Georgia Southern
Coastal hasn’t looked impressive at all this month, and their win at Georgia State (0-4) didn’t do much to change my mind.
That said, I can only grade so punitively with a team that’s undefeated and still has the preseason Offensive Player of the Year chucking the ball.
I’ll be locked in for this week’s contest with Southern – it looks like McCall is okay and will be ready to go this Saturday.
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Watch Out in the West
4. Troy (2-2)
Last Week: Beat Marshall, 16-7; This Week: Western Kentucky
The Trojans might be only 2-2, but they continue to show us every week that they’re a contender in the west.
5. South Alabama (3-1)
Last Week: Beat Louisiana Tech, 38-14; This Week: at Louisiana
South Alabama continues to shoot up the Sun Belt Championship odds table and is increasingly my pick for the best team in the west.
The Chaos Machine
6. App State (2-2)
Last Week: Lost to James Madison, 32-28; This Week: The Citadel
I don’t know what more there is to say about the App State shenanigans from the first month of the season. Most teams don’t see this drama in four years, let alone four weeks.
More from JMU/App State: 9 Observations After the Dukes’ Epic Comeback Win
Just Win, Baby
7. Old Dominion (2-2)
Last Week: Beat Arkansas State, 29-26; This Week: Liberty
It feels strange to say this about a team that’s already played two ACC schools, but it might be true in this case: The easy portion of Old Dominion’s schedule is now behind it.
P5 football in the state of Virginia may be at an all-time low right now, which is great news for schools like ODU, JMU and Liberty. There’s a vacuum that can be filled.
But in the short term, Old Dominion must gear up for an increase in the strength of schedule – six of its eight remaining opponents rank higher in Jeff Sagarin’s rankings than Virginia Tech (98) and Arkansas State (107).
8. Georgia Southern (3-1)
Last Week: Beat Ball State, 34-23; This Week: at Coastal Carolina
Is Georgia Southern going to be a factor in the east this year? We’ll finally get a first look this week, as the Eagles are the only team in the east that’s yet to play a conference game.
9. ULM (2-2)
Last Week: Beat Louisiana 21-17; This Week: Arkansas State
Monroe isn’t going to win the west this year, but it’s clearly going to be a much tougher team to beat than in years past.
For now, the Warhawks can enjoy their first win in the Battle on the Bayou rivalry since 2017.
Contender or Pretender?
10. Louisiana (2-2)
Last Week: Lost at UL-Monroe, 21-17; This Week: South Alabama
Billy Napier’s 2021 Sun Belt Championship has never felt further away.
11. Marshall (2-2)
Last Week: Lost at Troy 16-7; This Week: Gardner-Webb
Marshall has a much-needed get-right spot this weekend against a bad FCS team. Zero wins since South Bend has poured a lot of ice water on a team that was framed as a conference frontrunner just 14 days ago.
Better Luck Next Time
12. Arkansas State (1-3)
Last Week: Lost at Old Dominion, 29-26; This Week: at UL-Monroe
After games against Grambling, Memphis, and Ohio State, we were in need of a good data point for Arkansas State.
A loss at Old Dominion – in which the Red Wolves surrendered 29 points to a bad ODU offense – confirms that the Red Wolves will likely remain in the lower half of the western division this year.
That could be something to keep in mind – particularly if you like to deal in college football odds.
13. Texas State (2-2)
Last Week: Beat Houston Christian, 34-0; This Week: at James Madison
Texas State has see-sawed back and forth between easy wins and big losses, and this week’s trip to Harrisonburg likely won’t break the pattern.
14. Georgia State (0-4)
Last Week: Lost to Coastal Carolina, 41-24; This Week: at Army
Extra practice time to prepare for a mid-season Army option is definitely a good thing, but it’s hard to believe that Georgia State could stop any offense right now. The Panthers rank 119th in total defense and 120th in scoring defense.
Sun Belt east offenses will continue to feast on this unit throughout the season.
Chase Kiddy is a staff writer for The Roar by BetMGM. If you liked this, you might also like his explanation of how the 49ers’ playoff odds changed after Trey Lance got hurt.