The heart of November is a wonderful time in college football. As the temperature drops and the leaves fall, division races heat up across the country. Of course the Sun Belt has no divisions (yet) but instead a four-team chase for the Sun Belt crown is intensifying down the stretch. On Thursday night, Appalachian State played one of its better games of the season and downed the still-winless Georgia Southern Eagles to remain in the hunt for a share of the conference title.
Team’s are not only jockeying for position at the top this week, but are also attempting to prolonged their seasons by gaining another step towards bowl eligibility. Louisiana-Lafayette sits at 4-4 but has a tough road game at Ole Miss. Georgia State is just one win away from six and will travel to Texas State in hopes of gaining a 13th game.
Louisiana-Lafayette (4-4, 3-2) at Ole Miss (4-5, 2-4)
Spread: Ole Miss -20
The Rajin’ Cajuns are two wins away from sneaking into the postseason for the second consecutive season. They’ll have their hands full, however, with the high powered Rebels offense. On the other side, Ole Miss will have a lot to handle in Lafayette’s offense as well. The two teams have met four times with the Rebels holding a 4-0 advantage. Ole Miss’ margin of victory has increased with each game since winning the first contest 21-20 in 1986.
Lafayette, winners of three of their last four games, needs to take advantage of the softest run defense in the SEC. The Rebels 4-2-5 defense is dead last in the conference in defending the run, giving up over 250 rushing yards per game. All the back in week one, South Alabama picked up 170 rushing yards and two touchdowns against Ole Miss.
The Rajin’ Cajun ground game is fourth in the Sun Belt, averaging about 173 yards a game. Trey Ragas is averaging 81.1 all-purpose yards per game but Lafayette has added a new wrinkle in the offense in the form of a new quarterback. Mark Hudspeth has elected to take the redshirt off of true freshman Levi Lewis and turned him loose last week against South Alabama. As a result, Lewis threw for 110 yards and two touchdowns and added another 129 on the ground. Lewis is the third starting quarterback for the Cajuns this season and facing an SEC defense can be daunting for a true freshman. Luckily for Lewis, it’s Ole Miss.
If not for the Rebels’ relatively impressive win over Kentucky last week, the point spread would be closer in this one. Regardless, Ole Miss is 2-6-1 against the spread this year. This has all the makings of a shootout, leaving me to believe the Cajuns are going to hang around for a while. Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta’amu is electric but is prone to making mistakes. Take Lafayette against the spread and watch the over/under set at 67.
Georgia State (5-3, 4-1) at Texas State (2-7, 1-4)
Spread: GSU -6.5
Since the disappointing 0-2 start to the season, Georgia State is 5-1 and tied for second in the Sun Belt. Texas State has been going through the expected growing pains but has been impressive the past couple of weeks. The Bobcats would love to pull the plug on the Panthers’ title hopes but their pass defense must step up.
Georgia State matches up well with Texas State, who boasts a strong run defense but poor pass defense. The Panthers are pass first but do get their running backs involved to stretch the field. The Bobcats should have no trouble shutting down a run game that averages under three yards a carry but could be in for a long day attempting to cover wide receiver Penny Hart. Panther quarterback Conner Manning and Hart were instrumental in Georgia State’s comeback win over Georgia Southern last week. Hart caught eight passes for 191 yards and leads the Sun Belt in both receptions and receiving yards.
Texas State has picked it up offensively as of late, scoring 27 against Coastal Carolina before scoring a season high 35 points in last week’s loss to New Mexico State. In those two games, quarterback Damian Williams had 590 passing yards. That’s over a third of his season passing total. Wide receiver Elijah King is beginning to emerge and caught 18 of his 37 total catches in the last two weeks. The Bobcats will have to rely on its young group of running backs to help keep drives moving and keep the football out of Georgia State’s hands.
Georgia State is 4-1 on the road and 5-0 against teams with a losing record. The Panthers will be in for a scrappy fight but should come away with the victory. I would take Georgia State against the spread here, but barely.
Troy (7-2, 4-1) at Coastal Carolina (1-8, 0-5)
Spread: Troy -17
The Troy Trojans are faced with the cliche task of not looking ahead of its current competition. Following this week’s game against Coastal, Troy will host another bottom-feeder in Texas State before a massive season finale at Arkansas State. Coastal Carolina has its sights set squarely on Troy after taking Arkansas to the final minute in a 39-38 loss last week. The Chanticleers have had a rough season to say the least, but is ready to play spoiler this week.
Troy is coming off of an extended rest after taking down Idaho last Thursday. Coastal, on the other hand, just went 12 rounds with an SEC opponent. The Chants lost their starting quarterback Tyler Keane to injury last week and will be relying on Kilton Anderson to run the show this week. Anderson, who started his career at Fresno State, is an athletic quarterback who fits the pistol option offense well. He hasn’t been especially efficient through the air but does have a pair of the best wide outs in the conference in Malcom Williams and Chris Jones.
The Trojan defense is among the best in the country by the numbers but will be facing a unique offense this week. The last time Troy played an option offense that featured a passing twist was last season’s Georgia Southern game, a game that Troy lost. Nonetheless, Troy’s front seven is the nastiest in the conference. Troy is top 10 nationally in rush defense, yards per carry allowed and rushing touchdowns allowed.
If Troy can hone in on this week’s opponent, the Trojans should have no trouble taking care of business. As for the spread, Troy is 2-7 against it this season. Neal Brown’s team has been a dangerous bet the past two years and especially so this year. Troy will win but don’t be surprised if Coastal covers.
Arkansas State (5-2, 4-0) at South Alabama (3-6, 2-3)
Spread: Arkansas State -10.5
The Red Wolves are the last team standing undefeated in Sun Belt play but must travel to Mobile to take on South Alabama’s upset-rich tradition. The full preview for this game can be found here.