Last week, the Sun Belt had the last remaining undefeated teams in G5 football; this week, none remain. It was that kind of weekend down south.
According to the college football odds at BetMGM, all six of the conference underdogs covered the spread last week, with three winning outright as double-digit underdogs.
So yeah. It got a little weird in the Belt.
Sun Belt Showdown
1. South Alabama (5-1)
Last Week: Beat UL-Monroe, 41-34; This Week: Troy
It feels weird to say that the West could be locked up in mid-October, but… the West might be locked up in mid-October. If South Alabama beats Troy this weekend, it will essentially have a 2.5-game lead over the next-best squad in the division.
Even if Southern Miss can upset the Jaguars later, it would take some real shenanigans to undo that kind of lead. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this weekend’s game.
2. Troy (5-2)
Last Week: Beat Texas State, 17-14; This Week: at South Alabama
…If, on the other hand, Troy can score a road win, the West would be about as wide open as you can imagine. That would create a three-way tie between USM, USA and Troy – the three divisional contenders that I’ve had underlined for weeks, now. Even Texas State could probably play its way into some kind of outside contention.
If you want to see a Sun Belt team play in a New Year’s Six bowl, you should probably be a South Alabama fan this weekend. But if you’re looking for chaos and raw entertainment, it’s time to don your Troy jersey.
…The First Place Team in the East?
3. Old Dominion (3-3)
Last Week: Won at Coastal Carolina, 45-38; This Week: Georgia Southern
Much like South Alabama, Old Dominion is a nominal first-place team that has played noticeably fewer conference games than its eastern rivals.
Nonetheless, Old Dominion capitalized on a timely bye to score a second signature upset win of the season. I’ll remain planted on the hill that this team is not a true top-level Sun Belt contender, and we’ll get our verdict next month when it plays JMU, App State and South Alabama in consecutive weeks to close the season.
Ultimately, whether or not this team is a real contender is kind of beside the point. ODU was picked dead last in the east, but it’s done what most bad teams fail to accomplish: Score impressive wins, rather than narrow upset bids that fail to materialize in the end.
ODU still has major work to do to finish the season with a bowl game, but that’s an obtainable goal now. Even better for the Monarchs: the recruiting should pick up significantly after beating both Virginia Tech and Coastal in the same season.
Regardless of the end result for this fall, it’s these kinds of seasons that spring a team forward to future heights.
Undefeated No Longer
4. James Madison (5-1)
Last Week: Lost at Georgia Southern, 45-38; This Week: Marshall
This game seemed like it was about six hours long. It also was a tragicomedy of errors for JMU, which turned the ball over four times, couldn’t defend the short passing game at all and stopped running the ball in the second half despite the fact that it was averaging north of five yards per carry.
Turnovers lead to upsets in road conference games, so on some level, this outcome isn’t surprising. But it was JMU’s complete inability to stop Georgia Southern’s passing attack that lingers, even days after the loss.
James Madison remains one of the best and most talented teams in the Sun Belt. But now that the undefeated party is over in Harrisonburg, we’ll see how the Dukes stack up against Sun Belt passing offenses throughout the second half of the year. The tape is out there to beat them, now.
5. Coastal Carolina (6-1)
Last Week: Lost to Old Dominion, 49-21; This Week: Bye
It was obvious to anyone who has watched Coastal Carolina this season that this loss was coming eventually. The Chants have arguably the best offensive player in G5 football, but mounting furious comeback after furious comeback just isn’t a sustainable way to navigate a season. Even the players must have known this.
With a loss out of the way, I expect Coastal to refocus through the bye and come out swinging on Oct. 29 in Huntington.
The Chants are 3-1 in conference play and host App State in Conway during a short week in November, so I’d still favor Coastal to win the East. But the loss to Old Dominion does start to make the East a lot more interesting.
6. Georgia Southern (4-3)
Last Week: Beat James Madison, 45-38; This Week: at Old Dominion
Georgia Southern struggled to consolidate its momentum after winning in Lincoln last month. It hit rock bottom after a puzzling loss to Georgia State where Eagles quarterback Kyle Vantrease threw four interceptions.
Vantrease bounced back with the game of his life against James Madison, passing for a Georgia Southern program record 578 yards and giving the Eagles just the shot in the arm that they needed.
Southern still has some work to do, in terms of championship competition. The loss to Coastal hurts here, as they need a lot of help at this point to jump back into the divisional picture. But the big win over JMU does get it pointed back in the correct direction.
7. Southern Miss (3-3)
Last Week: Beat Arkansas State, 20-19; This Week: At Texas State
Southern Miss got a clutch go-ahead score in the final minutes of the fourth quarter to hold off Arkansas State and keep it in the mix for the Western division.
Like Georgia Southern, it needs a bit of help from the other teams in the West. But it’s still early enough that everything is still on the table… theoretically, at least.
8. Texas State (3-4)
Last Week: Lost at Troy, 17-14; This Week: Southern Miss
I’m officially offering clemency to Texas State over its early loss to a horrible Nevada team. The Bobcats played JMU tight for a half, beat App and made Troy earn a hard-fought win in the fourth quarter.
Jake Spavital has these guys headed in the right direction, even if the record doesn’t quite show it.
9. Arkansas State (2-5)
Last Week: Lost at Southern Miss, 20-19; This Week: at Louisiana
Like Texas State, the Red Wolves aren’t going to blow anyone away with their record, but they’re a dangerous team that’s going to make you outplay them for 60 minutes. Southern Miss did just enough to squeak out a win.
10. Georgia State (2-4)
Last Week: Bye; This Week: at Appalachian State
Here’s a college football betting tip for you. Georgia State had last week off to rest and game-prep for App State. The Panthers are 10-point underdogs and rank top-20 in FBS in rush yards per game.
11. Louisiana (3-3)
Last Week: Won at Marshall, 23-13; This Week: Arkansas State
Any win has to feel good for the Cajuns at this point, and they’ll have plenty of extra time to prepare for Arkansas State this week.
In Desperate Need of a Win
12. Appalachian State (3-3)
Last Week: Bye; This Week: Georgia State
College GameDay feels far in the distant past, at this point. App State needs to prove it’s still relevant this year. A loss to Georgia State would all but eliminate it from conference contention.
13. UL-Monroe (2-5)
Last Week: Lost at South Alabama, 41-34; This Week: at Army
There are worse outcomes for a two-win team than playing a divisional favorite within one possession on the road.
14. Marshall (3-3)
Last Week: Lost to Louisiana, 23-13; This Week: James Madison
What the hell is going on in Huntington?