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The Ultimate 2017 Conference USA Preview

2017 Conference USA Preview.

EAST

1. Western Kentucky

Western Kentucky has turned into a proving ground for up-and-coming coaches. Over the past seven years, the Hilltoppers have been coached by Willie Taggart, Bobby Petrino, and Jeff Brohm, all three are now coaching at power five jobs. Mike Sanford Jr., formerly offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, looks to continue the legacy of great coaching at WKU. With a team that went 23-5 over the past two seasons, and the return of quarterback Mike White (4,363 passing yards, 37 passing touchdowns in 2016) WKU should be the favorite in the East this year. Projected Record: 11-1 (7-1)

T2. Middle Tennessee State

Middle Tennessee returns record-breaking receiver Richie James, who brought in over 1,600 yards last year (#4 in the country), he could even improve on that mark this season, as quarterback Brent Stockstill (son of head coach Rick Stockstill) also returns. To contend for a C-USA championship, the defense will need to improve, but the offense is already there. It could all come down to November 17th at Western Kentucky. Projected Record: 7-5 (6-2)

T2. Old Dominion

Old Dominion, in just their third season at the FBS level, shocked everybody last year, going 7-1 in conference and 10-3 overall, including a win in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, their first ever bowl game. With UNC and VT in the nonconference, and quarterback David Washington gone, ten wins seems like a stretch, but Old Dominion is still a contender in Conference-USA. Projected Record: 8-4 (6-2)

T4. Florida Atlantic

Florida Atlantic football is going to be a circus this year, with Lane Kiffin as head coach, Kendall Briles at OC, and controversial JuCo recruit De’Andre Johnson at quarterback, the Owls will certainly have a lot of eyes on them. Looking past that though, they do return 17 starters, one of the most in the country, and they should make a bowl in year one under Kiffin. Projected Record: 6-6 (3-5)

T4. Marshall

Most of the time when a team with three straight double-digit win seasons falls to 3-9, that means they rebound the next year. A Bowl game is probably the expectation, but I don’t see the Herd making it, quarterback Chase Litton’s stat line is uninspiring, and they lose over half the offensive line and nearly all of Litton’s targets from last season. Projected Record: 5-7 (3-5)

T4. Florida International

FIU made a very underrated hire in Butch Davis, which kind of flew under the radar, we’ll see if he’s lost his touch since he left. A lot are calling for the Panthers as a surprise team, but they’ve won one bowl game in the history of the program, and there is nothing Butch Davis can do in year one to turn that around. FIU will be higher on this list soon, but not quite yet.  Projected Record: 5-7 (3-5)

7. Charlotte

Charlotte created their football program in 2013, joined the FCS, had losing seasons both years, and then decided to join the FBS in 2015 for some reason. I don’t envy the job Brad Lambert has. Charlotte ranks as my #128 team in the country (Third-worst) and anything better than a 2-10 record in 2017 would be a win for the 49ers in their quest for their first ever bowl appearance. Projected Record: 2-10 (1-7)

West

1. Louisiana Tech

Louisiana Tech has dominated the the West division of Conference USA ever since they joined, with a  .666 win percentage (no other team in the West is .500 or over). The offense was ranked #2 in the FBS last year, but they lose QB Ryan Higgins, as well as their top two receivers. Furthermore, if they want to compete with Western Kentucky, the defense, specifically their 116th ranked passing defense needs to improve. Because of an easy schedule (they get Nos. 2-4 from the West all at home) , Louisiana Tech will probably win their division again, but on a personnel level, the Bulldogs will take a step back.  Projected Record: 9-3 (7-1)

T2. Texas-San Antonio

Based in San Antonio, we knew UTSA would have strong funding, but no one could have predicted the rise that the Roadrunners have taken. In just five years at the FBS level, Larry Coker has led UTSA to three bowl-eligible seasons. This is their chance to take that next step. UTSA is one of the most experienced teams in the country, and they have 14 starters returning, including quarterback Dalton Storm. They will have a shot at a spot in the title game November 25th @ Louisiana Tech. Projected Record: 8-4 (6-2)

T2 Southern Mississippi

An injury to star quarterback Nick Mullens and an unexpected coaching change derailed what could have been a C-USA Championship-caliber team. They still made a bowl and finished with a winning record after beating UL-Lafayette. It is unknown who will lead the offense now that Mullens is gone, but with three runningbacks that could start almost anywhere in the conference, they should make their third straight bowl. Projected Record: 8-4 (6-2)

4. North Texas

Seth Littrell took North Texas to a bowl in his first year (UNT was 1-11 the year before he got there). That headline is a little misleading, as they were one of the 5-7 teams that made it via APR, and with a final record of 5-8, Littrell still has some work to do.  The Mean Green return only 12 starters, and they would need a winning record in conference play to make it to 6-6, I don’t see them getting there. Projected Record: 4-8 (3-5)

T5. Rice

Head Coach David Bailiff made my list of coaches on the hot seat coming into this season, and a tough out of conference schedule hurts their chances of making a bowl, furthermore, their two easiest games in conference (UTEP and UAB), are both on the road. Bailiff has had a winning record in ten seasons with the Owls, but this one very well could be his last. Projected Record: 3-9 (2-6)

T5. Texas-El Paso

UTEP dropped a game to 4-8 after replacing both coordinators last offseason, and Sean Kugler himself could get canned if he doesn’t turn things around. A tougher schedule (they could go 0-4 in nonconference) and the loss of the school’s all-time leading rusher Aaron Jones means that UTEP will drop another game in 2017, and potentially be looking for a new coach.Projected Record: 3-9 (2-6)

7. Alabama-Birmingham

UAB comes into the season ranked as my #129 team (second-worst), of course, the Blazers shut down their program in 2014 despite coach Bill Clark coaching them to bowl eligibility that year. Now, two years later, Clark is back, and he brought in some JuCo transfers to help, along with a few seniors on the defensive side of the ball that stuck around. Don’t be surprised if UAB wins a few games, but bowl eligibility is a long ways away.  Projected Record: 2-10 (1-7)

C-USA Title Game: Western Kentucky over Louisiana Tech

All-C-USA Team & Awards

Offense

QB: Brent Stockstill – Middle Tennessee
RB: Ray Lawry – Old Dominion
RB: Ito Smith – Southern Miss
WR: Allenzae Staggers – Southern Miss
WR: Richie James – Middle Tennessee
C: Antonyo Woods – Florida Atlantic
OL: O’Shea Dugas – Louisiana Tech
OL: Will Hernandez – UTEP
OL: Brandon Ray – Western Kentucky
OL: Nate Davis – Charlotte

Defense

DL: Jaylon Ferguson – Louisiana Tech
DL: Marcus Davenport – UTSA
DL: Oshane Ximines – Old Dominion
DL: Chris Johnson – Western Kentucky
LB: Emmanuel Ellerbee – Rice
LB: Alvin Jones – UTEP
LB: Josiah Tauaefa – UTSA
DB: Brandon Addison – Old Dominion
DB: Kishawn McClain – North Texas
DB: Joe Brown – Western Kentucky
DB: Jalen Young – Florida Atlantic

Special Teams

K: Jonathan Barnes – Louisiana Tech
P: Jake Collins – Western Kentucky

MVP: Brent Stockstill, QB – Middle Tennessee
Offensive Player of the Year: Mike White, QB – Western Kentucky
Defensive Player of the Year: Brandon Addison – Old Dominion
Newcomer of the Year: Walter Brady, DE – Middle Tennessee State

247Sports Recruiting Rankings

  1. Florida Atlantic
  2. Southern Mississippi
  3. UTSA
  4. FIU
  5. Western Kentucky
  6. Marshall
  7. Middle Tennessee
  8. Louisiana Tech
  9. Charlotte
  10. UAB
  11. North Texas
  12. Rice
  13. Old Dominion
  14. UTEP

Five Quick Questions

Team on the Rise? Florida Atlantic
Team on the Decline? Old Dominion
How will Lane Kiffin do in year 1? Bowl game
Will Marshall make a bowl? No
When will UAB make a bowl? three or four years

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