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Offense remains the name of the game in Conference USA, and there are a few teams who are fun to watch. Unfortunately, there are a handful of teams who no one will watch. Tabbed by some as the worst conference in the country, Conference USA continues to fight realignment talk every year. That doesn’t mean some of their teams can’t make an NY6, as a few of them could make some noise this year.
Conference USA East
Old Dominion Monarchs
This is the team that went 4-8 last year. Of those four wins, two of them came against Virginia Tech and North Texas. They also lost to Rice and Charlotte. What? That’s like acing a calculus test and then not knowing how to help your kid with basic addition. So good luck predicting what this team’s going to do this year with that kind of history.
Last year’s opener against Oklahoma proved why we should pump the breaks with the Owls. FAU’s facing an 0-2 start this year as well. Still, Lane Kiffin’s loaded the roster with talent, but it just needs to produce for him. Questions at quarterback and running back remain, though Alabama transfer BJ Emmons could be a stud. Chris Robison came from Oklahoma with some flare, but seems to be in trouble every other week. Kiffin took the league by storm, but now must weather the obstacles in front of him. Ohio State’s ready with the “welcome to college football” moment in Week 1.
Middle Tennesee Blue Raiders
Unfortunately for the Blue Raiders, the playoff and the NY6 become out of reach quickly based solely on their schedule. Trips to Iowa and Michigan most likely aren’t going MTSU’s way, and neither is hosting Duke. You better believe they’ll get national recognition if they start 4-0, though. Rick Stockstill finds himself in need of a new quarterback now that his son, Brent, exhausted his eligibility. So, really, 1-3 is a more realistic start for this team.
Marshall Thundering Herd
After a brief, one year hiatus from contention in 2016, Marshall’s inserted themselves into the Conference USA champion discussion again. Doc Holliday produces winners, and that shouldn’t change this year. The nonconference schedule includes Boise State, Ohio, and Cincinnati, but that might not be enough to get them into an NY6 game.
Since 2004, FIU’s won eight games in a season just three times. Butch Davis produced two of them in his first two seasons with the program. Now, they have their sights on bigger goals. The only unwinnable game comes against Miami late in the season, but isn’t a game on the schedule where they won’t be competitive. James Morgan is an underrated player to watch this year.
Benny LeMay provides some excitement. Too bad we can’t say the same about the rest of the team. Give Will Healy some time to get this team headed in the right direction. They’ve yet to have a winning season as an FBS program (overall record of 12-36).
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
The Hilltoppers stock took a big dive after Brandon Doughty left. Life won’t be as bad this year, but it’s not going to be like the 2015 season. Jeff Brohm brought this program to new levels, and it’s now up to Tyson Helton to turn things around after Mike Sanford couldn’t do so.
Conference USA West
Two years ago, this program didn’t exist. Now, they’re the team to beat. Bill Clark’s insane revival of the Blazers program should be commended forever. This year he finds himself looking for multiple new starters on both sides of the ball. Eight of his starters on offense are gone, though Spencer Brown does return at running back. It’s difficult to see UAB repeating as conference champs, even with an easy first half of the season.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
The good news is that the Bulldogs traded LSU and Mississippi State for Texas and UMass (or Gramblone/Bowling Green, your choice). They’ve also won their last five consecutive postseason games. So if you get Skip Holtz into the NY6, your odds are looking good. Ok, it’s not that simple. Some experts pick Tech to win the West, but it’s not easy when North Texas is right behind them. Oh, and avoiding plays like this will help.
North Texas Mean Green
Speaking of the Mean Green, they’re back and could be better than ever. Mason Fine gives them an extension of the head coach/offensive coordinator, and also one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Rico Bussey returns as Fine’s top target. Even with the loss of Graham Harrell, the offense should cruise. A nonconference schedule featuring Cal, SMU, and Houston will either prove how good this team is, or provide tough obstacles to overcome.
Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
If we go by what the Golden Eagles fans say, we might as well give them the trophy now. Unfortunately, delusion doesn’t help win football games. Southern Miss has a chip on their shoulder after being snubbed for a bowl game despite finishing 6-5 in 2018. It’s not enough to beat Mississippi State or Alabama (don’t let fans tell you otherwise), but it’s enough to make things interesting.
Frank Wilson came to San Antonio and brought the Roadrunners to a bowl game in his first year as head coach. Now, he’ll be lucky to win four games. Times have changed in just three years, and it isn’t looking good going forward.
Well, let’s see. The Miners went 1-11 last year. If they go 11-1, it means they’re only losing one of these games: at Texas Tech, Nevada, at Southern Miss, at FIU, Louisiana Tech, at North Texas, or at UAB. There’s really not more to discuss.
Telling you Rice will make the NY6 is like saying you like sitting down after leg day. Especially when a 2-11 team begins their new season with this: at Army, Wake Forest, Texas, Baylor. That doesn’t even include Conference USA play. Rice has won 11 games in the past four seasons, so it’s tough to say they’ll win 11+ this year with a straight face.
Marshall and North Texas are the favorites, but let’s go a different direction and pick FIU. James Morgan appears in store for a big year, and Butch Davis has this program headed in the right direction.