2022 Group of 5 Conference season preview & best bets: Houston takes control of the AAC

Houston Cougars defensive lineman D'Anthony Jones (44) reacts after sacking Texas Tech Red Raiders quarterback Tyler Shough (12) during the first half at NRG Stadium college football
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Caleb Wilfinger

NCAAF · 1 week ago

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Deputy Editor for Pickswise. Lover of all US sports and Southampton FC.

The 2022 college football season is finally on the horizon. The battle for a spot in the College Football Playoff begins on August 27 and won’t slow down until December. Along with it comes a number of intriguing battles in each of the Group of 5 conferences.

2021 was a banner year for the Group of 5, as Cincinnati pulled off the improbable and became the first Group of 5 team in the College Football Playoff. What does the AAC have for an encore? Is there a team from the Mountain West or Sun Belt that makes noise on a national stage this fall? We’ll just have to wait and see.

From midweek MACtion to late nights in the Mountain West, these conferences deliver exciting football each week. Let’s dive into the odds and our best bets for each league.

Lock in our CFB National Championship best bets, including a +8000 longshot!

AAC

Odds available at FanDuel Sportsbook at time of publishing

UCF (+210)
Cincinnati (+230)
Houston (+250)
SMU (+800)
Memphis (+1200)
East Carolina (+2500)
Tulsa (+3000)
Tulane (+5000)
USF (+5000)
Navy (+8000)
Temple (+10000)

Following a year in which they qualified for the College Football Playoff, Cincinnati is supposed to take a step back in 2022. However, the Bearcats should still put a strong product on the field and contend for an AAC title. UCF is expected to bounce back under Gus Malzahn after underachieving a season ago, and Houston is a title contender after making the championship game last fall.

Further down the board, the likes of SMU, Memphis, and East Carolina are lurking. Of those teams, one who I will be looking to bet on is East Carolina. Under coach Mike Houston, the Pirates have improved every year and he should have his best team yet this fall. I’d recommend playing the over on their win total of 6 at -110 at FanDuel, as they should be favored in 6 games, giving us several chances to hedge the ticket late in the season if necessary.

Best bet: Houston over 8.5 wins (-165) & Houston to win the AAC (+250)

This number is mispriced – plain and simple. Houston does have a tricky nonconference schedule, but the Cougars should still be favored in at least 2 of the 3 games. Once the Cougars get into AAC play, they’ll be clear favorites in every game, with a potential coin-flip matchup at SMU in November.

For my money, Houston is the strongest team in the American across the board. Therefore, the fact that they get to avoid Cincinnati and UCF in the regular season offers an extra boost to the value of this 8.5 number. I’d even suggest playing an alternate win total over 9.5 at FanDuel at +170 if you don’t want to lay the juice. Houston’s favorable conference schedule should put the Cougars on the championship stage with a clear shot to earn the Group of 5’s slot in a New Year’s Six bowl game.

Conference USA

Odds available at DraftKings Sportsbook at time of publishing

UTSA (+210)
UAB (+240)
Western Kentucky (+425)
FAU (+850)
Middle Tennessee (+1300)
North Texas (+1500)
UTEP (+2000)
Charlotte (+2500)
Louisiana Tech (+3500)
Rice (+8000)
FIU (+12000)

This figures to be a 3-horse race at the top, much like last season. The major difference is Western Kentucky will be without Bailey Zappe, who put forth arguably the best single-season QB performance in conference history. Instead, it’ll be the UTSA Roadrunners as the favorites after being the darlings of the G5 world a season ago. Frank Harris is back at quarterback, and Jeff Traylor should have that team coached up for another successful season. Further down the board, the UTEP Miners could take a small step back after making major strides forward last year. The dregs of the conference includes FIU, who could be the worst team in the Group of 5.

Best bet: UAB to win C-USA (+240)

The UAB Blazers are slightly undervalued in this market because of the departure of Bill Clark. While Clark was one of the best coaches in the nation, his recruits and the rest of the coaching staff are still with the program. This is one of the deepest rosters in the league, especially on defense. UAB returns most of a defensive unit that was No. 1 in the conference and 16th in the nation last season. Boasting talent and experience at almost all major positions, the Blazers’ defense can certainly carry this team to wins if needed.

On offense, UAB returns a veteran offensive line group and an all-conference running back tandem from a season ago. Furthermore, the conference schedule isn’t challenging. The Blazers should be favored in every conference game, with a showdown against UTSA coming in November. UAB is clearly a top-2 team in the league, making this +240 ticket an easy one to hedge if necessary come championship week.

Check out our Heisman Trophy best bets!

MAC

Odds available at DraftKings Sportsbook at time of publishing

Central Michigan (+380)
Toledo (+400)
Miami (OH) (+450)
Northern Illinois (+600)
Western Michigan (+850)
Kent State (+900)
Eastern Michigan (+1300)
Ohio (+1500)
Buffalo (+2000)
Ball State (+2800)
Bowling Green (+4000)

Of all the conferences, the MAC is typically one of the wildest each season. This unpredictability is baked into the odds for this season, as the top 3 teams are close to each other in price. Toledo is coming off a disappointing season in 2021, in which they massively underachieved after being preseason favorites. Kent State should take a step back on offense without Dustin Crum, while Northern Illinois’ chances of repeating as champions seem slim considering its defensive woes.

One team I’m especially looking to fade is Western Michigan. The Broncos’ current win total of 6.5 seems a tad high considering the difficulty of their nonconference schedule, as well as closing the season out with games against Northern Illinois, Central Michigan, and Toledo. To me, 6 wins is the absolute ceiling for the Broncos, so I’ll be playing under 6.5 wins at -130.

Best bet: Miami (OH) to win the MAC East (+130) & to win the conference (+450)

Miami Ohio should be the outright favorite for this conference and it boils down to two things: schedule and quarterback. The RedHawks are playing in the MAC East, by far the weaker division of the two. They’ll also have the best quarterback in the conference, with Brett Gabbert at the controls of the offense. With a very manageable schedule, this might be the easiest road to a conference title game for any Group of 5 teams. The RedHawks’ toughest road game is likely Northern Illinois, with home games against Kent State, Western Michigan, and Ohio. Without having to face Toledo or Central Michigan until the title game, betting on the RedHawks to win the division and conference is a no-brainer.

Mountain West

Odds available at FanDuel Sportsbook at time of publishing

Boise State (+230)
Fresno State (+300)
San Diego State (+470)
Air Force (+470)
Utah State (+550)
Colorado State (+3000)
Wyoming (+3000)
San Jose State (+3000)
Hawaii (+8000)
UNLV (+8000)
Nevada (+8000)

Boise State is used to being the preseason favorite in the Mountain West, and the Broncos are a strong side once again. However, they do play in what will be the tougher division in the conference. Boise State is looking at games against Air Force, Utah State, Colorado State, Wyoming, and the Broncos also draw Fresno State and San Diego State from outside the division. The road is too difficult for me to back them as the favorites in this conference.

A team I am looking to back is San Jose State. The Spartans had a terrific season in 2020 before last year went sideways. However, with a ton of returning production and the transfer of Chevan Cordeiro, I expect SJSU to bounce back in 2022. The Spartans’ win total of 6.5 is sitting at +115, and I see nothing on their schedule that deters me from projecting 8 wins. 7 wins should be the floor, and I would bet the over 6.5 at the current number.

Best bet: Fresno State to win the MWC (+300)

This is another line that I was surprised to see. Fresno State is clearly the class of the MW West division, and the Bulldogs should coast to an appearance in the MWC title game. With Jake Haener still at the controls, the Bulldogs’ offense should thrive, and I don’t expect them to be underdogs in any MWC game, outside of a road trip to Boise. If Fresno State makes the conference title game (they have -140 odds to do so), they’d be favored against any non-Boise State team. And even if they face Boise for a second time, the game should be close to a pick’em on a neutral field. This is a great price for a team that should be favored to win the conference.

Get our best bets and preview for the Big Ten!

Sun Belt

Odds available at DraftKings Sportsbook at time of publishing

App State (+210)
Louisiana-Lafayette (+350)
Coastal Carolina (+500)
Marshall (+550)
Georgia State (+800)
Troy (+1200)
South Alabama (+2000)
Southern Mississippi (+4000)
Old Dominion (+5000)
Arkansas State (+5000)
Texas State (+7000)

The Sun Belt — or the “fun belt” as some fans call it — is consistently one of the most entertaining conferences each season. From the exciting midweek action to unpredictable upsets, this conference keeps on giving every year. This season, the defending champions are the favorites once again, while Coastal Carolina is expected to take a decent step back after losing a ton of production in the offseason. This fall marks the first season that Marshall will enjoy in the Sun Belt, and the Thundering Herd are a trendy pick to win the league. Southern Mississippi and Old Dominion are improving teams that present some value further down the board.

A team that I do like to go over its win total of 6.5 is Georgia State. The Panthers have 5 games where they will be clear favorites and 5 other games that are projected to be within one score. Odds are they’ll be able to get 2 more wins against Army, Coastal, Marshall, App State, and UNC. This is a much-improved team that got hot down the stretch a season ago. Look for that momentum to carry over.

Best bet: Arkansas State under 5 wins (-120)

This team flat-out stinks. Butch Jones’ days are numbered as the coach of this dumpster fire, and it should be a tumultuous season for the Red Wolves. Arkansas State had one of the worst defenses in the nation a season ago, and things shouldn’t be much different this fall. The Red Wolves should be underdogs in 8 of their 12 games, making it extremely difficult for me to project anything more than 5 wins as their ceiling. With nonconference dates against Ohio State and Memphis, things could get ugly early in Jonesboro. And if they drop an early conference game to ULM or James Madison in October, you can take this ticket to the bank.

At Pickswise we offer free expert College Football Picks and College Football Predictions for all games in the Power Five conferences and the top 25 teams outside of Power Five, including our College Football Parlay picks each week.

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