American Athletic Conference

USF Bulls (2016: 11-2 SU, 7-5-1 ATS)

With expectations, the marketplace will adjust accordingly and thus it’s quite likely we’ll find USF “overvalued” on a game-by-game basis. Furthermore, the architect of the program (Willie Taggart) departed for Oregon. The cupboard is by no means bare for first year head man Charlie Strong, but there is a learning curve with a first year coach. Plus, Strong’s track record as a head coach isn’t all that great. USF should win the AAC, but don’t be surprised if they break their backers along the way.

Temple Owls: (2016: 10-4 SU, 12-2 ATS)

It was this team, not USF, that represented the East Division in last year’s AAC Title Game (they won it). For the first time in program history, the Owls are coming off back to back 10-plus win seasons where they also won a bowl. Last year, they were by far and away the most dominant team in AAC play, outgaining their foes by almost 209 yards per game in conference play.

UCF Golden Knights (2016: 6-7 SU, 8-5 ATS)

I hate to sound like a broken record here, but the prospect of dealing with increased expectations should prove difficult for the top three teams in the AAC East. Also, when a team makes a jump like the Knights did last year, you typically see regression in the win column the following year. They will have to play Temple (road) and USF (home) in the final two games of the regular season, in a six-day span.

UConn Huskies (2016: 3-9 SU, 3-8-1 ATS)

Well, it can’t go much worse than it did last season, right? Randy Edsall, who guided the program to a Fiesta Bowl appearance back in 2010, returns to Storrs after a failed experience at Maryland. They will be a home dog quite a bit as the likes of USF, Memphis, Tulsa and Missouri all come calling to Rentschler Field. The offense was actually quite a bit better than its paltry 14.8 PPG scoring average last year and with Edsall installing a faster pace scheme, the Huskies will score plenty more in 2017.

Cincinnati Bearcats (2016: 4-8 SU, 3-9 ATS)

This team was a massive disappointment in 2016, which led to the ousting of Tommy Tuberville. So that makes it FOUR first year head coaches in this division! Luke Fickell (former DC at Ohio State) may not be walking into the most stocked cupboard, but he’s also coached against far more elite talent than what he’ll see on a weekly basis here in the AAC. The schedule is also somewhat friendly as the top three teams in the West are not on it. I have this team improving far more than most might think.

East Carolina Pirates (2016: 3-9 SU, 3-8-1 ATS)

Incredibly, Scottie Montgomery joins UCF’s Scott Frost as elder statesmen of the AAC East Coaching fraternity. That means all six head coaches are either in their first or second seasons at the current job. So why can’t the Pirates compete? Yes, there was a sizable gap between the top and bottom three a year ago, but I look for that gap to close here in 2017. The ECU offense put up at least 400 total yards in every game but the final one. Last year’s horrid turnover margin of -16 should be improved upon. Before falling apart, ECU actually beat NC State last year (at home).

Houston Cougars (2016: 9-4 SU, 4-8-1 ATS)

Last year’s team was “this year’s USF” in the sense that they were expected to blow through the AAC and possibly play in a New Year’s Six Bowl Game. Neither of those things happened, so with expectations somewhat “down” for 2017, we may be able to take advantage. There are two Power 5 teams on the non-conference schedule (Arizona, Texas Tech), but both are winnable, leaving a late season visit to USF as the only remaining question mark. Greg Ward Jr, a two year starter at QB, may be gone. But Kyle Allen, a transfer from Texas A&M is ready to take over the starting gig,

Navy Midshipmen (2016: 9-5 SU, 9-5 ATS)

In his 10th year on the job, head coach Ken Niumatalolo is by far and away the most experienced coach in the conference. He’s the only one with more than three years logged at his current school. That kind of continuity is huge. The Middies are 10-4 ATS the last four seasons as underdogs and upset Notre Dame, at home, last season. The team is more experienced than last year, although only four starters are back on offense.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane (2016: 10-3 SU, 8-5 ATS)

This team was a surprise last year and will probably regress. They lose an insane amount of talent, including the all-time leader in passing yardage, two 1,000 yard receivers and RB James Flanders (1629 yards). After watching them go 8-5 against the spread in back to back seasons, you have to figure they’ll give some back this year, but that also depends on how quick the market is to react.

Memphis Tigers (2016: 8-5 SU, 5-8 ATS)

Two years ago, the Tigers started 8-0 and were ranked in the top 15 (beat Ole Miss). But they didn’t finish well and after having to replace both the coach and QB, last year’s group struggled a bit. But still, they finished only a game worse and now figure to be better in the second season under Mike Norvell. They are the most experienced team in the AAC and should have the best offense.

SMU Mustangs (2016: 5-7 SU, 8-4 ATS)

There’s a good chance they start 4-1 straight up and that could take away some value down the stretch. The defense is still pretty bad as allowing 453 yards and 36.3 points per game last year actually marked a three-year LOW! Let’s not forget that with a bowl berth hanging in the balance in the regular season finale last year, they gave up 75 points to Navy – at home!

Tulane Green Wave (2016: 4-8 SU, 6-6 ATS)

Well, they are the worst team in the conference. They have won just twice on the AAC road in their last 12 tries. Looking at last year’s four wins, one was against a FCS foe (Southern) while another required four overtimes. This team is probably not as close to getting to a bowl as it might think.

Atlantic Coast Conference

Boston College Eagles (2016: 7-6 SU, 6-6-1 ATS)

Quarterback is a big time question mark no matter who wins the job. The wide receiver group isn't that great either, so the defense will be in a lot of tight, low-scoring battles if they do their job. There are several tough games to start the schedule, especially in the first game with an interesting matchup at Northern Illinois.

Clemson Tigers (2016: 14-1 SU, 8-7 ATS)

There will be a target on the national champ's backs, so we'll see how they handle being the hunted. The signal caller has yet to be decided and there will be growing pains trying to replace Deshaun Watson. Clemson gets Auburn and Louisville in the first three weeks of the season, so the new QB will not be eased into action. The team also has a tough road game at Virginia Tech at the end September.

Florida State Seminoles (2016: 10-3 SU, 8-4 ATS)

Much like Clemson, Florida State's defense is led by their front line. The Seminoles do have one of the best corners in the conference in Tavarus McFadden. He had eight interceptions last year. Deondre Francois flashed some brilliance as quarterback in 2016 and will be a year older. He's a threat to leave the pocket.

Louisville Cardinals (2016: 9-4 SU, 5-7-1 ATS)

Plain and simple, when you have Lamar Jackson you are going to win a lot of ballgames. The Heisman Trophy winner accounted for over 5,000 yards and 51 touchdowns in 2016. Reggie Bonnafon is a former quarterback that converted nicely to wide receiver. The team's secondary figures to be a strength led by Jaire Alexander.

NC State Wolfpack (2016: 7-6 SU, 9-4 ATS)

Ask almost any NC State fan about how their team performs with expectations. The Pack has consistently fallen short when people expect them to do well. For as good as the front seven will be, the secondary could be a weak point. Only Shawn Boone is back. They have a tough four-game stretch against Louisville, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Clemson.

Syracuse Orange (2016: 4-8 SU, 5-7 ATS)

Experience is huge with 19 starters back and an offense that is capable of keeping up with almost anyone. When healthy, Eric Dungey is a game changer with the ability to beat you on the ground and through the air. Amba Etta-Tawo had a great 2016 season at wide receiver so Steve Ishmael and Ervin Phillips could be busy.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons (2016: 7-6 SU, 8-5 ATS)

Kendall Hinton and John Wolford are alright at quarterback, but their biggest problem is staying healthy. There is not much in the way of depth behind them. The defense has only five starters back so it might take time for them to gel. They've got four games on the road over a six-week stretch which includes a bye week.

Duke Blue Devils (2016: 4-8 SU, 7-5 ATS)

The skill positions on offense are solid, but unspectacular. There are a lot of question marks on defense especially in the secondary. Some of those early home games are against Northwestern, Baylor, Miami and Florida State, so wins will be tough. Duke is still trying to build a consistent fan base when it comes to football.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2016: 9-4 SU, 7-4-1 ATS)

Special teams could be a struggle with a couple of freshmen in the mix at kicker and punter. The front seven is rather young, so getting to the quarterback might be an issue. They play UCF, Miami and Clemson on the road and none of those games will be easy. Conference opponents are becoming more familiar with defending the triple-option each season.

Miami Hurricanes (2016: 9-4 SU, 9-4 ATS)

There are some tricky games out of conference with a trip to Arkansas State before a big matchup in Tallahassee against Florida State. They also host Toledo who will not be an easy out. The quarterback position is undecided since Brad Kaaya left. Malik Rosier and N'Kosi Perry are both highly touted, but are unproven on the field.

North Carolina Tar Heels (2016: 8-5 SU, 8-5 ATS)

QB Mitchell Trubisky's departure was softened a bit by the pickup of Brandon Harris out of LSU. He has good experience and Austin Proehl out wide. Larry Fedora will do good things with this offense, especially if his preferred fast pace tires out the opposing defenses.

Pittsburgh Panthers (2016: 8-5 SU, 5-8 ATS)

The defense took a pair of hits in the offseason when the coaching staff suspended Jordan Whitehead for three games and kicked defensive lineman Rori Blair off the team. They were two of the four returning starters from a group that allowed 35.2 points per game in 2016. Chris Blewitt is gone, so a new kicker has to step up.

Virginia Cavaliers (2016: 2-10 SU, 4-7-1 ATS)

In a conference of talented defenses, the Cavaliers have Andrew Brown, Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding to rely on. It's nice to have a really good player on each level of the stop unit. Kurt Benkert provides some consistency at quarterback and the team hopes to use Olamide Zaccheaus more.

Virginia Tech Hokies (2016: 10-4 SU, 8-6 ATS)

Bud Foster's defense will be strong once again with arguably the best secondary in the ACC. Brandon Facyson and Greg Stroman will be playing on Sundays and Adonis Alexander provides good depth. The linebackers should flow nicely to the ball led by Andrew Motuapuaka. Joey Slye is a good kicker to have in close games.

Big 12 Conference

Oklahoma Sooners (2016: 11-2 SU, 7-6 ATS)

From a value standpoint, Oklahoma is the prohibitive favorite to win their third consecutive Big 12 title. With inexperience across their front seven on defense and a challenging road slate, the Sooners aren’t ‘bargain priced’ in the markets and they’ll need to get stops in order to cover consistently inflated pointspreads.

Oklahoma State Cowboys (2016: 10-3 SU, 8-5 ATS)

Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield gets all the hype, but it’s Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph who wins my "Preseason QB of the Year" award in the Big 12. Rudolph had a 28-4 TD-INT ratio as a junior and he enters the season as the No. 2 active leader in career passing yards in the country. Wide receiver James Washington averaged more than 19 yards per catch last year, which was tops in the country.

Texas Longhorns (2016: 5-7 SU, 6-6 ATS)

Tom Herman walks into a "the cupboard is full" situation in Austin, as Charlie Strong left a loaded roster, capable of contending for Big 12 supremacy. Herman’s track record is nothing short of outstanding. Dating back to his tenure as the Ohio State offensive coordinator and including his time as the Houston Cougars head coach, Herman’s teams are 48-8 SU including a ridiculous 11-0 SU mark as underdogs.

Kansas State Wildcats (2016: 9-4 SU, 6-7 ATS)

Fade 26-year-head coaching veteran Bill Snyder at your own risk. Last year, Kansas State was an underdog or pick ‘em in more than half of their games, yet they finished with a 9-4 record. This year, Snyder has a returning senior starter at quarterback in Zack Ertz; exactly the type of dual threat QB that he’s had in seasons where the Wildcats have contended for a Big 12 title.

TCU Horned Frogs (2016: 6-7 SU, 3-10 ATS)

Gary Patterson’s squad went 23-3 SU in 2014 and 2015 before taking a major step backwards in what was expected to be a rebuilding season last year. New play caller Sonny Cumbie has 10 starters back on offense to work with, including senior signal caller Kenny Hill. Hill was victimized by a whopping 38 dropped passes last year, a number that should decline precipitously in 2017.

West Virginia Mountaineers (2016 10-3 SU, 5-8 ATS)

West Virginia finished tied for second place in the Big 12 last year in large part due to the best defense in the conference, particularly in the secondary. But most of those defenders graduated in the offseason, leaving coordinator Tony Gibson a tall task – replacing his entire starting defensive line and both starting cornerbacks; bad news in an ‘offense first’ conference like this one.

Baylor Bears (2016: 7-6 SU, 4-9 ATS)

Rhule is installing a new ‘blended’ offense, using his power running schemes from Temple as well as the spread option attack that Baylor has been running (and recruiting for) in recent seasons. That doesn’t sound like an ideal gameplan on paper, especially with the holes on defense from a squad that has suffered MAJOR attrition on the roster and with recruiting since former head coach Art Briles was forced out of town.

Texas Tech Red Raiders (2016: 5-7 SU, 8-4 ATS)

Texas Tech is replacing the best QB in school history, Patrick Mahomes, a first round draft choice by the Kansas City Chiefs. Iowa transfer Nic Shimonek doesn’t have that level of upside, and the offensive line protecting him is loaded with question marks. That’s bad news for an ugly looking defense that has allowed more than 40 points per game in each of the last three seasons.

Iowa State Cyclones (2016: 3-9 SU, 7-5 ATS)

Matt Campbell guided Iowa State to only three victories last season, his first on the job. But Iowa State was competitive in defeat, week after week, hanging tough with the likes of Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Kansas State. Georgia transfer Jacob Park looked impressive down the stretch, primed for continued success as the full time starter in 2017.

Kansas Jayhawks (2016: 2-10 SU, 6-6 ATS)

Kansas hasn’t been the worst team in the Big 12 for the past decade by accident. They are behind the curve at nearly every position; unable to recruit well enough to compete with even the middling teams from this conference. They were outscored by 17 points per game last year; better than the 31 ppg they were outscored by in 2015 but still a long, long way from respectability.

Big Ten Conference

Ohio State Buckeyes (2016: 11-2 SU, 6-7 ATS)

Motivation. Ohio St. made it to the College Football Playoff last season but was embarrassed 31-0 by eventual champion Clemson. Going 11-1 during the regular season meant nothing because of that loss to the Tigers and the Buckeyes will be out to return by going 13-0. They bring back quarterback J.T. Barrett and possess one of the best offensive lines in the country so the offense will thrive under new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. Ohio St. is again strong on defense and the schedule is on its side with three of its four toughest games taking place at home.

Penn St. Nittany Lions (2016: 11-3 SU, 10-3-1 ATS)

That trip to Ohio St. could be a season killer as a loss there could make things tougher the next week when they travel to Michigan St. The offense was great last season but they had to play catch up on numerous occasions and not because of the defense but because the Nittany Lions were one of the slowest starting teams on offense in the nation. That put pressure on the defense which this year has to replace key pass rushers so that defense could not be as strong late in games. The Nittany Lions also have other tough road games at Iowa and Northwestern.

Michigan Wolverines (2016: 10-3 SU, 6-7 ATS)

While the talent is there, it is very raw. Michigan is returning only five starters this season, which is the fewest in the country. Of this, only one starter is back on the defense which finished No. 1 in the nation in total defense and No. 2 in scoring defense. That is a lot to replace and success will not happen overnight. The Wolverines will be tested right away with an opening game against Florida in Arlington and must take on Penn St. and Wisconsin on the road later in the season. This could be the best team in the country, but not until 2018.

Michigan St. Spartans (2016: 3-9 SU, 4-8 ATS)

Michigan St. is coming off its worst season even under head coach Mark Dantonio and its first losing season since 2009. The three wins were the fewest since 1994 and this coming after a berth in the CFP in 2015 but all of this means we can buy low. Both offense and defense were dreadful last season as the offense had too many turnovers and the defense could not get off the field. The Spartans return only nine starters overall so this can be considered a rebuild by some but this is more of a reload as top programs do not stay down long.

Indiana Hoosiers (2016: 6-7 SU, 6-7 ATS)

While the pieces are in place, the loss of Wilson is big considering he was forced to resign over philosophical differences. The coaching switch should be seamless but how much improvement will there actually be? This team was very solid last season yet still finished 6-7 for a second straight year and now they are being asked to up that this season. Lagow had solid numbers but to go along with his 19 touchdowns, he also threw 17 picks. Opening the season against Ohio St. seems unfair and could put the Hoosiers in a bad place before the season has barely started.

Maryland Terrapins (2016: 6-7 SU, 4-9 ATS)

The rebuilding process is taking shape at Maryland as head coach D.J. Durkin got the Terrapins back into a bowl game in his first season and he brought in a loaded recruiting class for this season. 14 starters are back, seven on each side of the ball, and both units are in good position. The offense has solid playmakers and quarterback Kasim Hill comes in as one of the most highly touted recruits in a very long time. The defense has plenty of experience back even beyond the starters and they should improve upon their No. 77 total defense ranking from last season.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2016: 2-10 SU, 4-8 ATS)

Rutgers is coming off its worst season since 2002 as it won just two games and one of those was against Howard of the FCS. The offense was so bad within the conference as it scored seven points or less in six of nine Big Ten games including getting shutout four times. Johnathan Lewis is a four-star recruit at quarterback which is a position that has been desolate for years. He may not have success right away but paves the way for a bright future. Defensively, 10 of the top 13 tacklers are back which given them hope to slow some teams down and stay competitive.

Wisconsin Badgers (2016: 11-3 SU, 9-4-1 ATS)

Even though the offense returns a bulk of the starters from last season, it was a bad unit as the Badgers were No. 89 in total offense and No. 67 in scoring offense. Wisconsin scored 23 or fewer points seven times and two of those were overtime games. A year later, it will be better but how much better is the question as they relied on their defense too much. Wisconsin must replace another defense coordinator as Justin Wilcox left for the California head coaching job and in comes unproven Jim Leonhard. The defense needs some of the pressure taken off it.

Northwestern Wildcats (2016: 7-6 SU, 8-5 ATS)

The Wildcats defense last season was a bend-don’t-break unit as they finished No. 24 in points allowed and did not give up more than 29 points in any game. And this was with a secondary that was decimated with injuries. Northwestern brings back eight starters so the chance for improvement is there. The offense was far from strong however as it scored 21 points or less six times, all resulting in losses. Eight starters return on this side as well including running back Justin Jackson, a 1,500-yard rusher, and quarterback Clayton Thorson.

Nebraska Cornhuskers (2016: 9-4 SU, 6-5-2 ATS)

Nebraska has won at least nine games in eight of the last nine years but are projected well below that this season which creates some value. Neither the offense nor the defense all great enough to carry the team but both are adequate enough to keep the Cornhuskers in games. The loss of quarterback Tommy Armstrong is a blow but transfer Tanner Lee showed he is capable to make the offense better. The defense should be more physical with the hiring of former Connecticut head coach Bob Diaco as defensive coordinator and the return of six key starters.

Iowa Hawkeyes (2016: 8-5 SU, 6-7 ATS)

Coming up with a downfield passing attack is easier said than done. The Hawkeyes have struggled with this for years and the offense has not been able to generate much to help the defense. Iowa was on the field for only 27 minutes per game last season on offense and that will be a problem again. The schedule is not easy with crossover games against Ohio St. and Penn St. and the three toughest games from the West Division coming on the road.

Minnesota Golden Gophers (2016: 9-4 SU, 5-5-3 ATS)

Minnesota has won eight or more games in consecutive seasons only twice since 1962 and it will have to do it again to surpass the Vegas win total. The defense was surprisingly good last season but there is a new defensive coordinator as well with Robb Smith so that could cause some issues. That means the offense has to get better and with two unproven quarterbacks battling for the starting spot, that may not happen for a while. The back end of the schedule is brutal with the last five games against teams that went bowling a season ago.

Illinois Fighting Illini (2016: 3-9 SU, 5-7 ATS)

The best news coming into the offseason was the signing of JUCO quarterback Dwayne Lawson which was considered a savior for the inept offense. Unfortunately, he had academic issues and he did not enroll so the Illini are stuck at the quarterback position with little talent. Defensively, the Illini lost their entire front four and that is not good considering the defense allowed over 219 ypg on the ground. It is going to be at least another year until the rebuild starts to take shape and with the lack of talent on both sides, surpassing the win total from last year will be tough.

Purdue Boilermakers (2016: 3-9 SU, 5-7 ATS)

Purdue has not been relevant since the Joe Tiller days as Danny Hope and Darrell Hazell could not turn things around with Hazell winning just nine games in his four years. Enter Jeff Brohm who led Western Kentucky to success and produced the top ranked scoring offense last season. Quarterback David Blough will fit well into this system and the offense will no doubt improve upon its No. 101 ranking in points scored. The Boilermakers were even worse on defense but they will improve there as well but the total rebuild will take some time.

Conference USA

Charlotte 49ers (2016: 4-8 SU, 5-7 ATS)

The team is 1-9 against FBS opponents that finished above .500. The running back group is a mess. Larry Ogunjobi and Brandon Banks are gone so the defensive line will probably get pushed around which puts more pressure on the rest of the defense. Charlotte has to go to Kansas State, Western Kentucky, Old Dominion and Southern Miss this season.

Florida Atlantic Owls (2016: 3-9 SU, 2-9-1 ATS)

Lane Kiffin and Kendal Briles give legitimacy to this team especially on the offensive side of the ball. New head coach Kiffin has stepped up recruiting, so there's some talent in Boca Raton. De'Andre Johnson comes over after briefly being at Florida State to play quarterback. He's got Devin Singletary and Buddy Howell at running back and they combined for nearly 1,900 rushing yards in last year.

FIU Panthers (2016: 4-8 SU, 5-6-1 ATS)

An intriguing hire with Butch Davis taking over as the new head coach. If Alex McGough can cut down on his turnovers this offense should flourish with Alex Gardner at running back and Thomas Owens out wide. Nine starters are back on defense and Brent Guy is a good coordinator to get them playing well.

Marshall Thundering Herd (2016: 3-9 SU, 4-7-1 ATS)

Outside of Yurachek, it is going to take some time to find WR and RB talent. Both of those groups are relatively young which means they'll be inconsistent. Marshall needs to find a kicker after missing six of their 10 field goal attempts last year. They've got three road games over the first five weeks.

MTSU Blue Raiders (2016: 8-5 SU, 6-6-1 ATS)

The offensive line will need to almost be completely rebuilt with just Chandler Brewer back as starter. The defense has eight starters back, but they allowed nearly 36 points per game in 2016. The front four needs to be completely replaced although Walter Brady comes in from Missouri.

Old Dominion Monarchs (2016: 10-3 SU, 8-4-1 ATS)

Confidence is high surrounding this team after they finished last year with six straight wins including a bowl victory over Eastern Michigan. They return 15 starters including running backs Ray Lawry and Jeremy Cox. Head coach Bobby Wilder has pieces to keep the offensive momentum going. Jonathan Duhart and Travis Fulgham will try to replace Zach Pascal who went to the pros.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (2016: 11-3 SU, 7-7 ATS)

Nicholas Norris, Taywan Taylor and Forrest Lamp all graduated so they have to be replaced in the lineup. The defense brings back five starters from a group that was 2nd in the nation against the run. Mike Sanford is only 35 years old, so we'll see how he handles being the head coach after being an assistant for so long.

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (2016: 9-5 SU, 8-6 ATS)

Skip Holtz has done good things at the school in his fifth season. He was able to bring over Teddy Veal from Tulane and Adrian Hardy who was once an Oklahoma signee to sure up the wide receiver corps. Jarred Craft and Boston Scott form a solid running back duo. Jaylon Ferguson is back at defensive end and he had 14.5 sacks in 2016.

North Texas Mean Green (2016: 5-8 SU, 7-5-1 ATS)

The switch to a spread offense saw some success at times in 2016. Mason Fine got a lot of work as a freshman and was able to throw for almost 1,600 yards in 10 games. Jeffery Wilson is back for his senior season and he's rushed for almost 2,000 yards in his three-year career. The team is also in the second year of their 3-3-5 defensive scheme so there should be more improvement there.

Rice Owls (2016: 3-9 SU, 6-5-1 ATS)

Three different candidates are vying for the quarterback job with two of them being sophomores J.T. Granato and Jackson Tyner. The defense last year allowed 30 points or more nine times and gave up over 500 yards per game on average. They are scrapping the 4-2-5 defensive format for multiple fronts which they hope will confuse opposing offenses. Special teams is weak. The Owls open with three straight games away from home.

Southern Miss Golden Eagles (2016: 7-6 SU, 4-8-1 ATS)

The offense has the pieces in place to be as strong as they were last year. Virtually everyone who caught or ran the ball in 2016 is back led by Ito Smith at running back and Allenzae Staggers out wide. The defense was 10th against the pass in 2016 and three of the five starters return this year.

UAB Blazers (2016: 0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS)

Bill Clark was able to extract six wins from his first UAB team back in 2014. He's the right man to take over a program built almost completely from scratch. Shaq Jones played for the team and was the third leading tackler that year. He decided to stay on campus and will be counted on as a senior.

UTEP Miners (2016: 4-8 SU, 5-6-1 ATS)

Aaron Jones was such a big part of the offense and now the running back position is left to Joshua Fields and Walter Dawn. The team was hoping Quadraiz Wadley would take over, but he got hurt in the spring and is out for the season. They are also looking for a kicker after making just five field goals last year.

UTSA Roadrunners (2016: 6-7 SU, 7-6 ATS)

Both sides of the ball experienced fantastic improvement last year which should continue with 13 total starters back this season. Marcus Davenport was second team all-conference in 2016 with 6.5 sacks. He's back along with four others in the front-six of the 4-2-5 defensive alignment. They avoid both Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee on the schedule.

Mid-American Conference

Miami (Ohio) Redhawks (2016: 6-7 SU, 9-4 ATS)

Miami is loaded on the offensive side of the ball, led by surprising QB Gus Ragland. As a sophomore last season Ragland basically saved the Redhawks’ season, taking the controls after an 0-6 start and leading Miami to six consecutive victories and a berth in the St. Petersburg Bowl. Ragland had only one interception in 179 passing attempts, and if he can even come close to duplicating that feat, then Miami will be a big factor in the conference.

Ohio Bobcats (2016: 8-6 SU, 8-6 ATS)

The QB spot is a problem and the receivers have a lot of improving to do. That limits what Ohio will be able to do, and puts great pressure on both the running game and the entire defense. Speaking of the defense, it was very good last year but will be missing a lot of the top performers this time around. There is talent, but bettors might want to take a long look and see how things come together before they put down money down. The lack of playmakers will be a real concern heading into camp.

Bowling Green Falcons (2016: 4-8 SU, 4-8 ATS)

Bowling Green was a little shell-shocked after a 1-8 start in 2016. The offense was going nowhere, the passing game was non-existent and fans couldn’t even give their tickets away. But the Falcons made a mid-course correction, switching to a running game, and the result was three straight wins and a huge boost in confidence for the program heading into this season. RB Josh Cleveland was a hammer down the stretch, averaging more than nine yards a carry in the final three games. And all that should make QB James Morgan more effective this time around.

Akron Zips (2016: 5-7 SU, 4-8 ATS)

One thing you can say about Akron – it can find a way to put the ball in the end zone. Assuming QB Thomas Woodson is sufficiently recovered from shoulder surgery, the Zips should be able to continue to light up the scoreboard. In anticipation of Woodson coming back, Akron has moved reserve QB Tra’Von Chapman to wideout, where the Zips are somewhat depleted. How that turns out is anyone’s guess, but one thing’s for sure – the QB will have time to throw because the O-line features four returning starters.

Kent State Golden Flashes (2016: 3-9 SU, 6-6 ATS)

There’s no getting around the fact that the numbers are not impressive. Kent State has limped to 3-9 seasons in each of the last two years, and in 2015 ranked dead last in the country in offense. But if you are looking for a bright spot and reason to consider wagering on the Flashes, consider that they were competitive in several games last season and in three losses were one possession away from winning. QB Nick Holley moved from slot receiver last season and was a threat throwing (868 yards) and rushing (873). So there’s that.

Buffalo Bulls (2016: 2-10 SU, 4-8 ATS)

Buffalo’s regression to 2-10 after being competitive (5-7) in 2015 was a sobering experience for the entire program, and with the rest of the MAC looking improved, it could spell trouble for gamblers. There is a lot of experience returning on the defensive side of the ball, but these are the same players who gave up the most yards in the conference a year ago. Maybe they’re better this time around; maybe not. Caveat emptor.

Western Michigan Broncos (2016: 13-1 SU, 10-4 ATS)

There are concerns any time a team has to plug in a new quarterback, and Western Michigan has bid adieu to four-year starter Zach Terrell. Tom Flacco has the pedigree (his brother Joe is the man in Baltimore) but still has to win the job. Lester will be looking for a game manager-type QB who can hand off and at minimum keep defenses honest. Word out of Kalamazoo is that the receiving corps wasn’t all that impressive in spring practice, so expect other teams to stack the defense to stop the Bronco running game until Western Michigan proves it can move the ball through the air. The first two games (at USC, at Michigan State) are brutal tests.

Toledo Rockets (2016: 9-4 SU, 7-6 ATS)

Lots of reasons, actually. Toldeo has most of its core back from a team that won nine games last year and looks ready to cause of lot of damage this time around. Most of the offense, including senior QB Logan Woodside, and seven defensive starters return. Woodside threw an eye-popping 45 touchdown passes last season as the Rockets marched up and down the field to the tune of 38 points and 518 yards per game. With so many returning players, expect more of the same.

Northern Illinois Huskies (2016: 5-7 SU, 6-6 ATS)

The old adage “when you have more than one quarterback, you don’t any quarterback” applies here. Due to injuries, five different QBs have started for NIU over the last 26 games, and that can only mean trouble. The Huskies gave up one point for every one they scored last season, which is a huge letdown considering the success of the program over the last decade. It’s tough to be in patch mode before pre-season practices even start, but that’s what’s facing the Huskies as they try to right the program and return it to the elite status it enjoyed just a few seasons ago.

Eastern Michigan Eagles (2016: 7-6 SU, 5-8 ATS)

Head coach Chris Creighton has to be happy with the direction of the program. Last season the Eagles played in a bowl game for the first time in three-decades, and 16 starters are back this time around. Lots to like, especially at the quarterback slot where Brogan Roback returned from a suspension and tossed for 2,694 yards and 18 touchdowns in 10 games. EMU is also stacked in the backfield, which should give coaching staff time to straighten out things in an inexperienced O-line.

Central Michigan Chippewas (2016: 6-7 SU, 5-8 ATS)

Sometimes it all comes down to the quarterback, and CMU is still searching for one to replace four-year starter Cooper Rush as pre-season nears. Add in the fact that the Chippewas will be employing a new spread offense, and there could be some problems – especially in the early going. Finally, problems on special teams cropped up last season and CMU will have to spend practice time fixing those issues.

Ball State Cardinals (2016: 4-8 SU, 7-5 ATS)

They’re just not “there” yet. There is inexperience everywhere, and on a team with just 12 seniors, trouble is around every corner. Besides the offensive problems inherent on a team without a top-flight QB, the defense gave up the most yards in the league last season and created the fewest turnovers. Ball State is a year or two away from being a factor in the conference.

FBS Independents

BYU Cougars (2016: 9-4 SU, 9-4 ATS)

As is the case every year for BYU since becoming an Independent, the schedule is not easy. It has tough early three-game stretch against LSU, Utah and Wisconsin although none of those are true road games. The Cougars also face Boise St. to close out the first half. They need playmakers to emerge on offense as they lost their top three receivers as well as their top running back so the tough schedule early on could pose problems. Defensively, they were fortunate to hold teams to just 19.5 points per game because they could not stop anyone through the air, allowing 252.2 yards per game passing.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (2016: 4-8 SU, 4-8 ATS)

After winning at least eight games in the first six years under Brian Kelly, the Irish went just 4-8 which was their worst season since 2007. Top programs do not stay down for long so a resurgence in South Bend can be expected. Notre Dame has to replace starting quarterback DeShone Kizer but Brandon Wimbush is smart and athletic and has a slew a talent at wide receiver. He will be protected by a strong and experienced offensive line as well. Defensively, the Irish were okay and now they have a new defensive coordinator in Mike Elko who turned Wake Forest around.

Army Black Knights (2016: 8-5 SU, 7-6 ATS)

Good things are happening at West Point as Army won eight games for the first time since 1996 including a thrilling victory over North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. While Army could not pass the ball, it did not need to as it finished No. 2 in the country in rushing offense at 339.6 ypg. Better numbers may be on the way in 2017 as the Black Knights bring back their top nine rushers including senior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw. Additionally, four starters are back on the offensive line. They also the No. 4 defense and the schedule this year is easier.

Massachusetts Minutemen (2016: 2-10 SU, 7-5 ATS)

After winning two games last season, the Minutemen need just one additional victory to push the Vegas total and the schedule includes five games they have a shot to win. While they did lose 10 games last season, four of those were by eight points or less including two games against SEC teams and another loss against Florida was by a respectable 17 points. The passing game was strong at the time and while the defense was a disaster in almost every area, 10 starters are back so the experienced stop unit has a chance to improve.

Mountain West Conference

Air Force Falcons (2016 10-3 SU, 6-7 ATS)

The Falcons defense is going to have their work cut out for them after graduating 12 of their top 13 tacklers from last year, a completely decimated stop unit. As recently as 2013, the Air Force stop unit allowed 40 points per game after replacing most of their defense. They went 2-10 SU, 3-9 ATS that year.

Boise State Broncos (2016 10-3 SU, 3-10 ATS)

The Broncos won ten games last year, but covered only three pointspreads, a clear illustration of how the betting markets have overvalued this squad. They just 2-10 ATS at home over the past two seasons, no longer one of the strongest home fields in college football and the Broncos created only nine turnovers all season last year – this D might not have the type of playmakers that we’re used to seeing at Boise.

Colorado State Rams (2016 7-6 SU, 10-3 ATS)

After starting the season 0-2 ATS last year, Mike Bobo’s squad proceeded to cover the spread at a 10-1 clip in their final eleven ballgames, consistently undervalued by the betting markets. With a returning senior QB n Nick Stevens and a defense primed for improvement with eight starters back, the Rams are poised to make a run at the conference title if Boise State has a hiccup or two.

Fresno State Bulldogs (2016 1-11 SU, 7-4-1 ATS)

The Tim DeRuyter era at Fresno did not end well, a squad that has ranked in the bottom half of the conference in recruit ratings in recent seasons. In other words, the reason this program has declined so quickly is because the talent on hand isn’t very good. Expect Tedford to get his recruits on the field rather quickly, which means ample playing time for the youngsters on this rebuilding squad.

Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (2016: 7-7 SU, 6-7-1 ATS)

After five straight years of uncertainty at the QB position, the Warriors have a returning starter at QB in Dru Brown this season. While Brown may not be able to match the elite numbers posted by former Warriors QB’s Colt Brennan or Timmy Chang (both of whom went on to the NFL), he is most assuredly primed for a breakout sophomore season, with solid skill position talent surrounding him.

Nevada Wolfpack (2016: 5-7 SU, 4-8 ATS)

The Wolfpack is changing defensive schemes from a 3-3-5 to a 4-3. They’re changing offensive systems too, moving from a run first attack with star back James Butler to a more passer friendly offense – Norvell has been running an ‘Air Raid’ type offense for the better part of the last decade. Nevada’s current pieces don’t seem to fit what the coach wants to implement.

New Mexico Lobos (2016: 9-4 SU, 6-7 ATS)

When Bob Davie got fired at Notre Dame and went into the broadcast booth for a decade, few pundits expected him to ever get back into coaching, let alone at a second tier program like New Mexico. But Davie has succeeded against the odds, turning a squad that went 3-33 SU in the three years before he arrived into a bowl team in both 2015 and 2016. Returning senior QB Lamar Jordan is quite capable of getting them back to a bowl again this year.

San Diego State Aztecs (2016: 11-3 SU, 7-6-1 ATS)

The Aztecs aren’t built to win games by big margins, a team that tends to play conservatively on offense and relies on their strong stop unit to win games. That’s why, despite back-to-back conference titles, they’ve only gone 13-13 ATS in those two seasons (not counting bowls). And all three units on defense lost their best player to graduation in the offseason; a stop unit that might not be quite as good as it was in 2016.

San Jose State Spartans (2016: 4-8 SU, 5-6-1 ATS)

The Spartans entered fall camp still looking for a starting quarterback. Their skill position talent is as weak as any in the conference and their defense is changing schemes and short on impact players. Non-conference games against USF, Texas and Utah are likely to leave this team battered and bruised before conference play even starts.

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (2016: 4-8 SU, 6-6 ATS)

If you’re looking for a deep sleeper in the Mountain West, the Rebels have that potential upside. Head coach Tony Sanchez is now in his third season on the job trying to build this long moribund program. Sanchez has his recruits in place to make a move, with nine returning starters on offense and a redshirt frosh QB in Armani Rodgers who has been turning heads in practice.

Utah State Aggies (2016: 3-9 SU, 3-9 ATS)

None of that offensive skill position talent will excel unless the offensive line can block. Yes, the Aggies brought in four JUCO transfers for the OL, but they return only one starter, a unit with big holes to fill. It’s a similar story on the defensive line, replacing all three starters from last year without a ‘sure thing’ recruit to help fill the void.

Wyoming Cowboys (2016: 8-6 SU, 9-5 ATS)

When Craig Bohl got hired in Laramie prior to the start of the 2014 campaign, I had several good sources tell me to ‘watch out for the Cowboys, they’re going to win for this guy’. And, after two mediocre seasons, that’s exactly what Wyoming did last year, making it all the way to the MWC Championship Game. Their QB, Josh Allen, is solid, and their offensive line is loaded with four quality returning starters.

Pac-12 Conference

Cal Bears (2016: 5-7 SU, 5-7 ATS)

One can't avoid the fact that this is truly a rebuilding year, so matching last year's five-win total highly unlikely. Cal lost all five of its road games last season (won neutral site game vs. Hawaii) and will take an eight-game road losing streak into its season-opener at North Carolina. If Cal can somehow 'steal' a road win, four or five wins is possible. However, I don't see that happening.

Oregon Ducks (2016: 4-8 SU, 2-9-1 ATS)

The Ducks draw both Washington and Stanford on the road but do have just five road contests against seven home ones in 2017. Still, there could easily be an adjustment period for Taggert (huge step up in class for him). Yes, Oregon's defense returns nine starters but this unit allowed 37.5 PPG in 2015 and then 41.4 PPG last season. The team's 2-9-1 ATS record last year should shout caution! Oregon hosts Southern Utah and Nebraska, then plays at Wyoming and Arizona St, before hosting Cal. Anything less than a 4-1 start will make getting to nine wins too much of a hill to climb. Seven or eight wins seems about right and I don't want to count on a bowl victory to reach eight (push) or nine wins (cha-ching).

Oregon State Beavers (2016: 4-8 SU, 9-3 ATS)

Oregon St draws Washington and Stanford at home, which basically means the Beavers only have four winnable chances at home. That bodes poorly when one considers OSU is 0-11 SU on the road the last two seasons and will take a 13-game road losing streak into its season-opener at Colorado St.

Stanford Cardinal (2016: 10-3 SU, 7-6 ATS)

Jim Harbaugh began the turnaround and David Shaw has continued it in Palo Alto. Shaw's teams have averaged 10.7 wins per season and captured four of six bowl games under his tenure. The team's best offensive player is gone (RB McCaffrey) and so is its best defensive player (DT Thomas) but 16 starters return. The team's OL is strong and defensively, Stanford's LBs and DBs may be the best units in the entire Pac-12.return.

Washington Huskies (2016: 12-2 SU, 7-7 ATS)

Chris Peterson led the Huskies to the Pac-12 championship last season in his third season in Seattle (remember that Year-3 'rule?'). Washington couldn't handle Alabama's defense in the CFP semis but finished 12-2. QB Jake Browning (43/9 ratio) is back as is RB Gaskin (1373 rush yards), so expect more fireworks for an offense that averaged 41.8 PPG. The defense followed a 2015 season when it allowed 18.8 PPG but allowing only 17.7 PPG last season and while a modest six starters return, four of the team's top-four tacklers are back. Washington has just five road games this season (again) but went a perfect 5-0 away from home last season (only Standford on Nov. 10 looms as a possible loss).

Washington State Cougars (2016: 8-5 SU & 6-7 ATS)

The team will finish with five away games in its last seven and while Leach brings an exciting offense to each contest, one just gets the feeling he can't be trusted. Case in point was they way WSU ended last season. On an eight-game losing streak, WSU lost 38-24 at Colorado, then 'laid a huge egg' in the Apple Cup (lost 45-17 at home to Washington) plus ) then the Cougars lost 17-12 against a Minnesota team depleted by suspensions in the Holiday Bowl.

Arizona Wildcats (2016: 3-9 SU, 2-10 ATS)

Arizona will be better in 2017 but a .500 team? The Wildcats will open the season having lost seven straight road games and only UTEP and Cal seem like possible (likely) wins. After losing eight of their last nine games in 2016, a fast start is almost a must. However, after opening at home against Northern Arizona, the Wildcats will likely be underdogs in their next four games until they host Oregon St on Nov. 11

Arizona State Sun Devils (2016: 5-7 SU, 6-6 ATS)

Todd Graham led ASU to four straight bowls from 2012-2015, winning 10 games in both '13 and '15. The Sun Devils opened 5-1 last season but lost their final six games. However, the team's top-two RBs plus QB Wilkins (3rd-leading rusher) are all back (among seven offensive starters). ASU gets seven home games which is good news, as under Graham, they are 25-8 SU in Tempe. In Graham's previous 11 seasons as a head coach, none of his teams have failed to win five games, with nine of the11 winning six or more (five of those teams had double-digit wins).

Colorado Buffs (2016: 10-4 SU, 10-4 ATS)

Two of the team's six home games will be against Washington and USC, contests Colorado is unlikely to win. What's more, UCLA and Arizona St, two teams with losing records last year, figure to be much better in 2017, making visits to the Rose Bowl and Tempe tough venues. MacIntyre did wonders with last year's defense but this year's team returns just t three starters.

UCLA Bruins (2016: 4-8 SU, 4-8 ATS)

UCLA's season was already a disappointing 3-3 with QB Seth Rosen was lost for the season. The Bruins lost the game in which Rosen got hurt, beginning a 1-6 slide. However, Rosen in back healthy, one of nine offensive starters are back. Few don't expect UCLA to rebound, considering that Mora's first five teams at UCLA have averaged 8.6 wins per season.

USC Trojans (2016: 10-3 SU, 8-5 ATS)

Sam Darnold got the start in USC's fourth game of the season, a 31-27 loss at Utah. However, the true freshman then led USC to nine straight wins, including a wild comeback win over Penn St. in the Rose Bowl. Clay Helton's team enters 2017 as the Pac-12 favorite and rightly so. Darnold (31-9 ratio) may have just one season left in LA but it is expected to a be a memorable one. USC gets seven home games (went 6-0 SU at home in 2016) and will be favored in all five road games. The Trojans avoid Washington during the regular season and the team's toughest opponents all will visit the Coliseum.

Utah Utes (2016: 9-4 SU, 7-6 ATS)

Only nine returning starters in this highly-competitive conference spells trouble. Road games at USC and Washington are 'killers' plus visits to BYU and Oregon will be no "walk in the park." Besting Stanford and Colorado at home won't be easy and home games against Arizona St. and Washington St. are no gimmes.

Southeastern Conference

Florida Gators (2016: 9-4 SU, 5-7-1 ATS)

Callaway may be suspended for the opener against Michigan due to some offseason issues. While Randy Shannon is a solid defensive coordinator, there are still only three starters back and a lot of inexperience on the stop unit. The offense needs to improve after averaging 24 points per game or less in three of the past four seasons.

Georgia Bulldogs (2016: 8-5 SU, 6-7 ATS)

The wide reciever group other than Terry Godwin and Javon Wims is rather unimpressive. Rodrigo Blankenship struggled from long range as kicker for the Bulldogs and wasn't very good at kickoffs either. They have tough trips to Notre Dame, Auburn and Georgia Tech.

Kentucky Wildcats (2016: 7-6 SU, 7-6 ATS)

Kentucky may have gained a little bit of a winner's mentality after last year's dash to make a bowl. They beat Louisville at their place and return 16 starters overall. Freshman All-American Benny Snell ran for over 1,000 yards in 2016 and should be able to alleviate some pressure on Stephen Johnson under center. Several weapons also are on the team at wide receiver.

Missouri Tigers (2016: 4-8 SU, 5-7 ATS)

Yikes, the defense was pretty bad last year allowing nearly 500 yards per game. Only three starters are back and one of those is in the front seven. There will be some growing pains in the secondary with both Aarion Penton and John Gibson III graduating. Tucker McCann was pretty bad at kicker as a freshman. Finishing out the year with Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arkansas is tough.

South Carolina Gamecocks (2016: 6-7 SU, 6-6-1 ATS)

Jake Bentley is probably the best quarterback returning in the SEC East. He had just four interceptions in 190 attempts in 2016. Deebo Samuel is worth building around out wide. The offensive line is pretty much intact so there's no excuse for any slow start from the offense. Skai Moore is coming back from an injury after missing last season.

Tennessee Volunteers (2016: 9-4 SU, 6-7 ATS)

Depth is an issue at some key positions. As mentioned above, the wide receivers aren't great behind Jennings. The running backs behind Ty Kelly need some work as well. Defensively, they have to replace Derek Barnett who went to the Eagles. Injuries kept a lot of the first-team defense off the field during spring practice.

Vanderbilt Commodores (2016: 6-7 SU, 7-6 ATS)

Zach Cunningham isn't leaping over offensive lines anymore as he took his talent to the NFL. Shurmur threw nine touchdown passes to 10 interceptions. He obviously needs to pick it up if the offense hopes to use their weapons. Alabama and Georgia both come to Nashville, but the Commodores don't exactly have a strong home field advantage.

Alabama Crimson Tide (2016: 14-1 SU, 10-5 ATS)

An angry Tide team coming off a national championship game loss should be a motivated team this year. Jalen Hurts is showing improvement and he has Tua Tagovailoa right behind him. The ground game will be strong with Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough who punish their opponents. Calvin Ridley had 72 receptions last season and is back this year.

Arkansas Razorbacks (2016: 7-6 SU, 5-8 ATS)

Austin Allen put up some good numbers in this offense and could be one of the better signal callers in the SEC West. Devwah Whaley should be able to find holes with four of five offensive linemen back for the Hogs. Jared Cornelius is both a good wide receiver and punt returner helping with field position.

Auburn Tigers (2016: 8-5 SU, 9-4 ATS)

Gus Malzahn is on the hot seat right now as the team put talent in place for him to win. They lost Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and Rudy Ford so it may take some time for the defense to gel. Unfortunately, the punting could be an issue with Ian Shannon being a question mark. They play at LSU, Arkansas and Texas A&M in a row in mid-October to November.

LSU Tigers (2016: 8-4 SU, 6-6 ATS)

Once again, a strong LSU running back may see a stacked box consistently. Danny Etling doesn't scare anyone and his best receivers from 2016 are gone. The team will have to replace eight starters on defense with Tre'Davious White gone from the secondary. The kicker is a freshman which is a worry in big conference games.

Mississippi Rebels (2016: 5-7 SU, 4-8 ATS)

Shea Patterson is producing a ton of headlines this offseason and giving Rebels fans hope. Many think A.J. Brown, Van Jefferson and D.K. Metcalf will be one of the best trios in the league at wide receiver. Marquis Haynes has 24.5 career sacks and should play well with his NFL Draft status looming. Gary Wunderlich was a semi finalist for the Lou Groza Award.

Mississippi St. Bulldogs (2016: 6-7 SU, 5-8 ATS)

Grantham becomes the fourth defensive coordinator over the last four years. Three starters are gone from the offensive line while the team's skill positions also seem lean. Donald Gray had five touchdowns last year, but now he's going to have to be the number one wide receiver. Playing in the SEC West will be tough for these kids.

Texas A&M Aggies (2016: 8-5 SU, 4-9 ATS)

Kevin Sumlin is on the hot seat and he's dragging out his quarterback decision. Jake Hubenak is holding off Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond in that race. While there aren't a ton of true road games, they are at UCLA, Florida, Ole Miss and LSU which will not be easy. The defense will have to play better if they hope to win any of those games.

Sun Belt Conference

Appalachian St. Mountaineers (2016: 10-3 SU, 7-6 ATS)

This team knows how to win. The Mountaineers have won 27 of their last 32 games since mid-2014 with two of those losses coming against Miami (Fla) and Clemson. They are again favored to win the conference and both offense and defense will be rock solid. Appalachian St. quarterback Taylor Lamb will be in his fourth year as a starter and he has a great running game behind him as well as a strong offensive line in front of him while the defense finished No. 17 in the country last season. The Mountaineers miss both Troy and Arkansas St. from the conference.

Troy Trojans (2016: 10-3 SU, 6-7 ATS)

The Trojans two toughest games within the conference are both on the road and they must deal with Boise St. and LSU in nonconference action on the highway. Four losses right there and they cannot reach their win total considering the Sun Belt does not have a conference championship game. The defense that finished No. 34 overall has some major holes to fill in the front seven and that is not a good thing when facing a lot of strong rushing teams. The Trojans were picked near the bottom of the conference last season so they will not be sneaking up on anyone this year.

Arkansas St. Red Wolves (2016: 8-5 SU, 7-6 ATS)

Momentum. The Red Wolves opened last season 0-4, including a bad loss at home against Central Arkansas of the FCS, but went on to finish 8-1 with the only loss coming by just five points against UL-L. The numbers were not great on offense as Arkansas St. was No. 74 in scoring offense but they averaged 32 ppg over that nine-game closing stretch after averaging 16.8 ppg in that 0-4 start. The schedule opens with Nebraska and Miami but after that, it is very tame. The Red Wolves miss Appalachian St. and catch Troy at home in the season finale.

Georgia Southern Eagles (2016: 5-7 SU, 3-9 ATS)

2016 was a very disappointing season for the Eagles. After a 3-0 start, they would go on to lose seven of their last nine games which came after a combined 18-7 record over their first two seasons in the FBS. Most of losses were competitive however which means those can get turned around this season. Georgia Southern averaged 381 and 363 ypg in its first two years in the FBS but fell to just 225 ypg last season which is the main reason for the dropoff. They are expected to improve in that area in 2017 which could significantly increase their win total.

UL-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (2016: 6-7 SU, 8-5 ATS)

Getting into the postseason will be made difficult with the way the Sun Belt schedule has been made as the four easiest games are at home while the four hardest are on the road. The non-conference schedule includes SE Louisiana which is a sure season opening win but it also includes three road games at Tulsa, Texas A&M and Mississippi and those are sure losses. The offense needs to carry some of the load and take the pressure off the defense but that will not be easy after the scoring offense ranked No. 109 and the total offense ranked No. 107 last season.

Idaho Vandals (2016: 9-4 SU, 9-4 ATS)

Idaho matched a school record for victories with nine while making it to its third ever bowl game so there is plenty of momentum heading into the new season. There will also be plenty of motivation as this will be the last season in the FBS for the Vandals which are dropping down a level next year and playing out of the Big Sky Conference. That means this season they could be playing in their last bowl game ever. The offense will be a potent unit led by senior quarterback and four-year starter Matt Linehan. The defense held its own and should do so again.

South Alabama Jaguars (2016: 6-7 SU, 3-10 ATS)

The passing attack was lackluster so breaking in a new group of receivers may take some time. They also must move on without the services of tight end Gerald Everett, a second-round pick in the NFL draft. The health of Davis is a big concern as he was banged up last season and he missed spring ball with a shoulder injury. While the offensive line comes back intact, it was not very good last season as the Jaguars were ranked No. 102 in rushing offense while allowing 31 sacks. Of their six road games, only two of those look to be winnable.

New Mexico St. Aggies (2016: 3-9 SU, 7-5 ATS)

New Mexico St. has not been relevant for years as it has not had a winning season since 2002 and has not been to a bowl game since 2002. Those streaks look to come to an end this season as the Aggies return 15 starters which is tied for the second most in the conference. The offense was explosive at times last season but was way too inconsistent to even be competitive in most of their games. They were No. 64 in total offense but just No. 97 in scoring offense and it will be up to the redzone offense to get right. The defense has nowhere to go but up.

Georgia St. Panthers (2016: 3-9 SU, 7-5 ATS)

While the Panthers return 14 starters from last season, they returned 16 last year and the results were obviously not good. Experience is a good thing if the experience is talented and there are questions about some of the spots coming back. Namely, the offensive line. Georgia St. has never been a good rushing team as it has averaged over 100 ypg only once in four years at the FBS level but last season was a disaster as it averaged 87.7 ypg, third worst in the country. This area has to improve for the offense as a whole to get better but this could be too much to ask.

ULM Warhawks (2016: 4-8 SU, 6-6 ATS)

The defense was so bad that even serious improvements may not be enough. ULM finished No. 119 in total defense and No. 122 in scoring defense as it regressed from what was a bad defense the year before. The Warhawks allowed over 400 yards on the ground three times and that cannot be fixed in one season. While the offense will be a notch better, the stop unit must go up several notches to produce more victories. The schedule is brutal with hardly any breathing room as they have no back-to-back home games.

Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (2016: N/A)

It is a big risk backing a team jumping up a level. While the winning attitude is there, the talent Coastal Carolina will have to face will be a challenge even if it is just the Sun Belt Conference. While the defense should be able to hold its own, the offense returns only five starters and they will be breaking in a new quarterback which is not an ideal situation for a team stepping up to the FBS. The Chanticleers have to play the top three teams in the conference including back-to-back road games at Arkansas St. and Appalachian St.

Texas St. Bobcats (2016: 2-10 SU, 5-7 ATS)

Texas St. upset Ohio in the season opener but then it was all downhill from there. The Bobcats did pick up another victory along the way against Incarnate Word of the FCS but of the 10 losses, only one was competitive. That gives Texas St. some value heading into this season as it will be on no one’s radar so it could pull a few surprises. The Bobcats have Mississippi St. transfer Damian Williams to take over at quarterback and he has the playmaking ability to keep defenses honest. The schedule is difficult but there are spots where they can have success.
ing into this season as it will be on no one’s radar so it could pull a few surprises. The Bobcats have Mississippi St. transfer Damian Williams to take over at quarterback and he has the playmaking ability to keep defenses honest. The schedule is difficult but there are spots where they can have success.
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