Welcome to the big time Liberty, New Mexico St., Sam Houston and Jacksonville St. Apparently there are no limits on you.
Last week, I singled out 3 Futures in the AAC that I think offer a chance to make some money. (Which you can read here. But also, gamble responsibly.) This week I am taking a swing as the new-look Conference USA, which saw a mass exodus into the AAC and added the four teams listed above. This is one of the toughest conferences to figure out as a result. Liberty enters as one of the favorites in the conferences based on recent reputation and the hiring of Jamey Chadwell away from Coastal Carolina. Sam Houston and Jacksonville St. are making the jump from the FCS, where both were perennial powerhouses. Both of these squads have glaring holes that will likely keep them from making a significant jump, but James Madison kinda wrecked the curve for the FCS just a year ago, so you never know. The rest of the conference is littered with teams like Louisiana Tech and UTEP that struggle to find consistency. Those are all valid reasons to not bet on them.
So in the midst of a lot of change, here are three Futures that I would be willing to throw a few Shekels on. Let’s ride! (Numbers courtesy of FanDuel as of July 9.)
New Mexico St. Over 6.5 Wins (+134) – Saying the sentence “New Mexico State might win their conference” out loud is a wild thing to do, but it is absolutely possible. What a time to be alive.
The Aggies ended last season winning 6 of their final 7 games, including a Quick Lane Bowl victory over Bowling Green. Their lone loss came against SEC team Missouri. While those facts don’t exactly equate to penciling in New Mexico St. for a Playoff spot, it does mean that they may have figured something out that allows them to be successful in the new CUSA landscape. Inserting Quarterback Diego Pavia into the lineup proved to be the key to the team’s success last year, as he accounted for 19 TDs through the air and with his legs, making him arguably the top dual-threat QB in the conference. That’s a nice tool in the toolbox to have.
Schedule-wise, the key lies in the fact that NMSU plays 13 games, so they need a 7-6 record as opposed to a 7-5 record to hit the Over. They may need that cushion, as they do have road games at Auburn and conference heavyweights Western Kentucky and Liberty. They are going to have to rack up the wins at home against Massachusetts, Western Illinois, FIU, Sam Houston, Middle Tennessee and Jacksonville St. A 5-1 record in Las Cruces coupled with two wins at New Mexico, Hawaii, UTEP and Louisiana Tech gets you to the pay window. It seems crazy to think about, but Jerry Kill has this team on the upswing and a plus sign attached to this team just having a winning record is too good to pass up.
Middle Tennessee St. Under 6.5 Wins (+116) – Guys, look at their road schedule. Seriously, look at it.
At Western Kentucky
At New Mexico St.
At Sam Houston
Look, I know MTSU went to Miami last year and beat the Hurricanes. But I see that as more of a moment in time where we as a nation can laugh at Miami and not some sort of Giant Killer status achieved by Middle Tennessee. Against 2 SEC teams, arguably the Top 3 teams in the conference and a Wild Card, they are winning 3 of those road games at most. Not to mention home games against Colorado St., Louisiana Tech and UTEP are swing games that could go against the Blue Raiders. While they have a very good defense, they are breaking in a new starter at quarterback. There are too many question marks there.
You can’t spell Middle Tennessee State without M-I-D. And a 6-6 record is under the proposed Win total and the likely best-case scenario.
Florida International Over 3.5 Wins (-110) – A disclaimer: This is putting a lot of faith in Mike MacIntyre’s history of turning around downtrodden programs and quarterback Grayson James continued development. But sometimes you throw a dart and hope for the best.
The Panthers finished last year with a 4-8 record (including a victory at New Mexico St. interestingly enough) but a lot of smoke and mirrors were used to get there. Two victories were in overtime, and the fourth win was at a disappointing Charlotte team. Not a ton of meat on the 2022 bone. But I am seeing FIU as one of those teams who embraces the opportunity the new-look conference offers.
I understand big-play wide receiver Tyrese Chambers is now playing for Maryland. But FIU does return two other starters at that position along with transfers on the defensive side of the ball from ACC schools NC State and Miami. There are pieces there to work with.
The schedule starts off with a conference game in Rustin, La. against a Louisiana Tech that is expected to be much better in Season Two under head coach Sonny Cumbie. That will be a significant barometer for the Panthers. Stealing a win there (I’ve seen Hank Bachmeier play quarterback before, it’s possible) gives them confidence with home games against Maine and North Texas followed by a road game against Connecticut upcoming. They will have to steal a home game or two against the likes of Liberty, UTEP, Jacksonville St. and Western Kentucky, but if things break right (meaning Liberty takes some time to gel under new coach Jamey Chadwell, UTEP is their usual inconsistent selves and Jacksonville St. struggles in their move to the FBS) then they can duplicate last year’s win total, and that’s good enough. MacIntyre has worked similar miracles before at San Jose St. and Colorado, it’s not out of the question he can do it again.