College football conference odds: UTSA, Western Kentucky look to replicate Conference USA magic

Western Kentucky running back Kye Robichaux (33) runs for yardage against Appalachian State defensive back Steven Jones Jr. (6)  during the second half of the Boca Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021 in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Western Kentucky running back Kye Robichaux (33) runs for yardage against Appalachian State defensive back Steven Jones Jr. (6) during the second half of the Boca Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021 in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Between now and the start of college football season on Sept. 1, we’ll preview every conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision with an emphasis on futures odds. Each preview will include a look at favorites, long shots and a pick as well as the full list of odds for the conference.

(If you’re just getting started with sports betting and want to learn the terms and how it works, check out Sports Betting 101.)

We’ll start with the smaller conferences and work our way toward the top, finishing with the Southeastern Conference just before games kick off. By the time the season starts, you’ll have a comprehensive look at the top division in college football.

Today is a look into Conference USA, which like many other leagues across college football is in serious flux.

Marshall, Southern Miss and Old Dominion are gone to the Sun Belt. Six more teams are leaving next year for the American Athletic Conference, and though some replacements are coming, the league will go from 14 teams in 2021 to just nine in 2023.

We’re in the middle of that stretch now, and so we get one more year of C-USA with mostly familiar names and an awkward 11-team setup.

Last season

It was a magical year for UT San Antonio, which started the year with a 37-30 victory over Illinois and just kept rolling, racking up 11 consecutive wins to start the season and becoming a media darling in the New Year’s Six bowl conversation.

That stopped with a 45-23 loss to North Texas in the regular-season finale, but the Roadrunners rebounded to beat Western Kentucky 49-41 in the C-USA championship game before losing the Frisco Bowl to San Diego State.

WKU, meanwhile, also had a great season that was waylaid by two shootout losses to UTSA, including the conference title game, by a combined score of 101-87.

Elsewhere, UAB missed out on its fourth straight title game appearance thanks to a shootout loss to UTSA (sensing a theme here?), UTEP started out 6-1 but stumbled to a 7-6 finish and North Texas started 1-6, then won five straight to make its way to a bowl game.

Louisiana Tech and Florida Atlantic, both of whom enjoyed a lot of success immediately pre-pandemic, struggled. In Tech’s case, a slide that cost coach Skip Holtz his job. He’s been replaced by Air Raid disciple Sonny Cumbie.

Favorites

The changes to the conference membership means divisions are gone this year and the championship game will be a meeting of the top two finishers in the standings.

Last year, that would have meant a three-way race between Western Kentucky, UTSA and UAB, and the odds say we can expect much the same this year.

UTSA (+240) is the favorite, a status that makes sense given that the Roadrunners return quarterback Will Harris (3,733 total yards) among 14 returning starters.

Right behind is UAB (+300), which won three straight division titles from 2018-2020 on the strength of its defense before becoming more of an offensive team last year. The Blazers hope they can marry both sides of the ball this time around.

The third name at the top is Western Kentucky (+350), which hopes West Virginia transfer Jarret Doege can help replace Bailey Zappe’s insane production (5,967 yards passing) at quarterback.

Longer shots

If North Texas (+1400) can play like it did in the second half of last season, the Mean Green will be a title factor. Same goes for UTEP (+2500) in the first half. But both have question marks at quarterback and were inconsistent last season for a reason.

Florida Atlantic (+700) has a well-known coach in Willie Taggart and a returning quarterback in N’Kosi Perry. But only four starters return from a defense that severely struggled down the stretch last season.

Could Louisiana Tech (+1200) bounce back under Cumbie? There are enough transfers to have hope. And old C-USA standby Middle Tennessee (+1000) seems like it’s always a factor.

Value picks

Counting on UTSA to win a bunch of 38-35-type games for a whole season seems like a fool’s errand, at least at just 3/1 odds, so we’re going to look elsewhere.

The most balanced team in the league is UAB, and the Blazers at +350 is worth a look.

Elsewhere, I like the in-state team. Louisiana Tech has a brand-new system and coaching staff but has enough talent — both remaining from the Holtz years and brought in by Cumbie — to be interesting. This seems like it’ll either be a disaster or a surprise, and at 12/1, I’ll take a shot on the Bulldogs barking.

Full Conference USA odds and win totals

(From Caesars Sportsbook)

 Team  Odds Win totals
 UTSA  +240  8.5 (u-125)
 UAB  +300  n/a
 Western Kentucky  +350  8.5
 Florida Atlantic  +700  6.5
 Middle Tennessee  +1000  5.5
 Louisiana Tech  +1200  5.5 (u-125)
 North Texas  +1400  6
 UTEP  +2500  5.5 (u-130)
 Charlotte  +2500  4
 Rice  +10000  2.5 (o-125)
 Florida International  +20000  3 (u-125)

 

Categories: Upstate Action