Conference USA was once considered one of the top non-Power 5 conferences in the country. That was until a number of their top teams jumped ship a few years back to the American Athletic.
While it might not be as strong top to button as the other Group of 5 conferences, the top of C-USA is legit. There’s at least a handful of teams in this league that not many Power 5 schools want to see on their schedule.
Conference USA College Football Preview & Predictions
There was definitely a buzz in Boca Raton when FAU hired Lane Kiffin as their head coach last offseason. Given his ability to transform an offense into a juggernaut and the fact that the Owls had 15 returning starters, just about everyone expected FAU to be greatly improved.
Needless to say, it went better than anyone could have anticipated. The Owls ran the table with a perfect 8-0 conference mark and backed it up with a 41-17 thumping of North Texas in the C-USA title game and 50-3 win over Akron in their bowl game.
While the Mean Green had an impressive turnaround on their way to winning the West, the big story in this division was the surprising success of UAB. The Blazers didn’t field a team in 2015 or 2016 and were expected to struggle in their first year back (some wondered if they would win a game). Instead they went 6-2 in league play and 8-5 overall.
With so many of programs on the rise and some really good teams in the top half of the conference, there’s a lot to be excited about when looking ahead to the 2018 campaign.
I’ve put together my projected standings both inside league play and overall for all 14 teams. If you want to see who I have winning every conference, check out my overall predictions.
2018 C-USA Projected Standings, Rankings & Betting Odds
I just don’t know how you pick against FAU to win the East. Even with just 5 starters back on offense and having to replace their starting QB, this is going to be one of the most productive offenses in the conference.
Get use to hearing about junior running back Devin Singletary, who is coming off a monster sophomore season in which he rushed for 1,920 yards and 32 scores. If sophomore quarterback Chris Robinson is anywhere close to the praise Kiffin is giving him, look out. Not to mention the defense brings back 10 starters from a unit that allowed just 22.7 ppg in 2017.
There’s a chance that the Owl could run away with this conference, but it’s far from a sure thing. Marshall has the looks of being a real threat to FAU’s quest at repeating as C-USA champs. The Thundering Herd bring back 18 starters (9 offense, 9 defense) and gave the Owls all they could handle in a 25-30 loss on the road. They get to host FAU this time around and that game likely will decide the winner of the East.
While I think FAU and Marshall are the two best teams on this side of the conference, Middle Tennessee has the potential to turn this into a 3-team race. The Blue Raiders were decimated with injuries on the offensive side of the ball in 2017 and still finished 7-6. This year they have 17 starters back and should feature a potent offensive attack behind one of the top signal callers in the league in senior Brent Stock-still. Middle Tennessee also has 9 starters back on a defense that allowed only 24.7 ppg.
Old Dominion isn’t quite in the same class as the previous three teams mentioned, but I think they are the best of the rest in the East. The Monarchs are another highly experienced team with 16 starters back (only lost 13 lettermen). Just how big a step forward they take will come down to the maturation of sophomore quarterback Steven Williams.
FIU also landed a big name head coach prior to last season with Butch Jones. The Panthers didn’t have the same kind of turnaround as FAU, but did double their win total from 4 to 8. While Kiffin and the Owls are loaded and ready to build off last year, FIU only has 11 starters back and will struggle to replace starting QB Alex McGough.
The biggest surprise for a lot of people will be how low in the standings I have Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers have been one of the top teams in the conference the last few years and had a two-year stretch from 2015-16 where they went 23-5. However, they went just 6-7 in the first season under Mike Sanford Jr in 2017 . They have just 10 returning starters and have to replace one of their all-time leading passers in Mike White. After three straight amazing hires in Willie Taggert, Bobby Petrino and Jeff Brohm, I wonder if WKU might have swung and missed with Sanford Jr.
Charlotte is widely considered the worst team in the East and will certainly be in contention for that honor in 2018. However, this should be a much improved 49ers squad, as they get back 18 starters.
There’s going to be plenty of debate on who is the best team in the West. You could make a really strong case for last year’s winner North Texas, as well as Louisiana Tech and UAB.
I’m going to give the slight edge here to the Bulldogs, who I feel was better than their 7-6 record from last year. Louisiana Tech had 4 loss by a touchdown or less, with 3 of those by a mere 1-point, including a 16-17 loss at South Carolina. They have 15 starters coming back and for the first time in the Skip Holtz era, they return their starting quarterback. This should be the best team Holtz has fielded.
UAB is next up in my power rankings for the West. You have to tip your hat to head coach Bill Clark and the job he did last year with this program having not competed in a game since 2014. They appear to be in great shape to build off that success, as they return 16 starters and avoid both FAU and Marshall out of the East. My big concern with UAB is teams aren’t going to be looking past them and there’s no longer and element of surprise on the schemes they will be running.
I have North Texas coming in third, but wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see the Mean Green repeat as division champs. Head coach Seth Littrell appears to be the real deal and the offense should be one of the best in the league with 9 starters back from a unit that average 35.5 ppg and 455 ypg. They do have 8 starters back on defense, but allowed 35.0 ppg last year. If the stop unit can take a big step forward, this team will exceed my expectations.
Souther Miss is the only other team in the division that I think teams will have to watch out for, but I don’t see them as a legit contender. I just think they are slightly better than the other bottom feeders (4 wins I gave them were against Rice, UTSA, Charlotte and UTEP).
As I’ve already hinted at, there’s just not a lot to get excited about with the other three teams in the West. UTSA, Rice and UTEP are all going to struggle to not just win games, but keep them competitive. As you can see I have them going a combined 3-21 in league play and all 3 of those wins are a result of them playing each other.