Conference USA is a conference in a bit of flux.
To me, the top three at the top of the conference odds board (UTSA, UAB, Western Kentucky) are all vulnerable this season due to different reasons which you can read about here.
Furthermore, there's a fourth team looked at favorably, but is ripe for a letdown in North Texas. Why is that? I'll explain below. Also, let me tell you about the darling of the conference in UTEP.
Let's dive in with odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook.
UTEP OVER 5.5 Wins (-120)
I made the case for UTEP as a worthy bet at +2500 to win Conference USA this season here, but let's talk strictly about their win total. This is a team that went 7-6 last season and made their first bowl game since 2014, so why are we expecting such a drop off?
The Miners return 71% of their production from last season, per ESPN's Bill Connelly, including 15 starters. Dana Dimel has his quarterback back in Gavin Hardison, who is streaky but shown the ability to stretch the field. He had an 18-13 touchdown to interception ratio, but UTEP was 25th in passing plays over 20 yards. Overall, Hardison needs to be more careful, but they should get more turnover luck in 2022 after having the eighth-worst mark in the country in 2021.
It's worth noting that the team needs to replace their top two receivers from last season. However, the Miners play with a methodical pace (19th-most time of possession last season) and have a veteran at quarterback. I will put faith in some positive variance.
On defense, the team has arguably the best line in the conference that allowed less than four yards per carry and bring all their starters back.
Ultimately, t's the schedule that sells me on this bet. There are 2-3 likely losses on the schedule at Oklahoma, at UTSA and home for Boise State, but the team cancels that out with two games against New Mexico and New Mexico State. It helps that the Miners open the season at home for a massive game against North Texas (more on that later).
There's no UAB or Western Kentucky on the schedule and the team figures to be favored at home in the three of the four other games. There's plenty of avenues to go over this total, which includes splitting a pair of coin flip games at Charlotte and Louisiana Tech.
There's serious upside for the Miners in the futures market as a long shot, but at the very least this team is going bowling again at six wins with this much talent back.
PICK: UTEP OVER 5.5 Wins -120
North Texas UNDER 6.5 Wins (-125)
The Mean Green rallied to erase a 1-6 start to beat eventual conference champ UTSA and qualify for a bowl game. I think that finish might be a bit of smoke and mirrors and I'm going to play against a season long improvement from Seth Littrell's team.
The team found it's identity with star tailback DeAndre Torrey, who rushed for 1,255 yards to offset the explosive yet erratic Austin Aune. The quarterback completed just 51% of his passes and had as many touchdowns as interceptions (nine).
Torrey is gone and the team hopes they can lean on Ikaika Ragsdale as the full time back. He showed flashes last season (146 rushing yards against UTSA) but will the overall offense offset the loss of Torrey and the exodus on D?
The team lost the Murphy twins, who combined for 15.5 sacks, to UCLA and have zero starting experience in the trenches. There are too many question marks on this defense that was a key to their 2021 success. The Mean Green were 61st in yards per carry last season.
They defeated UTSA in the season finale, but that 5-0 finish was built on beating up on lesser competition. The team beat Rice, Southern Mississippi and FIU who combined for an 8-28 record and beat UTEP by three at home.
North Texas may go bowling again, but I don't trust the quarterback, nor do I trust the defense to expect seven wins.
The team is a small favorite at UTEP, (spoiler: I like the Miners to get revenge and win). After that they have four likely victories (Texas Southern, at UNLV, Florida International, Rice). Even if they win all five of those games, they are set to be big underdogs at all three of UTSA, Western Kentucky and UAB as well as SMU and at Memphis out of conference . So that leaves us with Florida Atlantic and Louisiana Tech at home.
I'm willing to bet against North Texas winning every game they need to go over this number after an unsustainable run to a bowl game. Even if UNT beats UTEP, both of these bets aren't dead yet. If the Miners win? We are off to a great start in 2022.
PICK: North Texas Under 6.5 (-125)