Sunday, July 30, 2017

Conference USA 2017 Projections

Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech have been the central powers in Conference USA football for some time now, but there are changes afoot on the East side at Western Kentucky, where Jeff Brohm is gone, and Mike Sanford, Jr. takes over. Louisiana Tech is still in fine shape to take the West, which is the weaker side of the league. Are there challengers ready to take over the top of the heap on either side?

1. Middle Tennessee: If there is going to be any shot at stealing the top of the East, this is the year. The Blue Raiders are loaded on offense, and if they can find any defense at all, this could be a big season coming up.

2. Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers have been running things in the East for a bit, but this looks like the shakiest change they have yet faced. Sanford comes from completely outside the hierarchy, and that is a different look for them. I expect some adjustment issues, so slipping back just a bit may be something that is in store.

3. Old Dominion: The Monarchs really turned a corner in FBS football and in the league last season. ODU will have the misfortune of having to deal with a QB battle in camp, and that could create some ripples in the offense. Still, it would be hard to completely discount this team.

4. Marshall: I just cannot allow myself to think that after several years of success, that Doc Holliday will let this program crash long term. Last season was a disaster as far as things go in Huntington, so look for a rebound year in 2017.

5. FIU: Butch Davis takes over at a program that has known success in the past. He has to fix some issues that have gotten this program off track, and needs to provide some stability in both recruiting and dealing with the in house stuff. Just look for improvements in year one.

6. FAU: Lane Kiffin is the new coach at FAU, but how long does he stay. There have already been rumors swirling around how long he will be around, and he has not exactly been a rousing success at USC and Tennessee. If rumors persist, he will find it hard to improve this program.

7. Charlotte: There will be some decent players coming back, but the 49ers lost some serious talent from a team that won just four games last season. This program is still trying to find an identity, and it will be another learning process in 2017.

1. Louisiana Tech: Losing Higgins, Taylor, and Henderson in the passing game hurts, but the Bulldogs have talented replacements lined up, and should have enough in the tank this fall to win yet another West title.

2. Southern Mississippi: Last season was a completely mixed bag for the Eagles, who now lose QB Nick Mullins. Still, Ito Smith and Allenzae Staggers both return, and that should ease the transition. Still, it's hard to see how they beat Louisiana Tech on the road, and steal the division title.

3. UTSA: Roadrunners turned a corner and made a bowl game last season, but can they keep up the momentum in year two under Frank Wilson? Dalton Sturn's development at QB will be key on offense.

4. North Texas: The Mean Green won just five games last season, but Seth Littrell has this team growing, and seeing another bowl birth would not be a shock.

5. Rice: There is some experience back on the O line, but the rest of the offense has to be prepared to make a jump. There has been zero consistency under David Bailiff, so it's very hard to gauge how good or bad this team could be.

6. UTEP: The Miners are young, and young hardly ever means winning on this level. The loss of Aaron Jones will hurt the offense, but other pieces are coming back. It will be all about growth.

7. UAB: There are new facilities coming, and that is a good thing after a two year disappearance that was completely based in stupidity. Bill Clark stuck around, and that was a massive win all in and of itself.

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