Teams to watch in the C-USA west division
With football season on the horizon, this season is starting to shape up as a very interesting year for Conference USA (C-USA). Let’s take a look at how each school in the West Division will stack up against one another this fall season:
The University of North Texas (UNT): 2017 Record 9-5 (7-1 C-USA)
The surprise team of the conference last year who won the West Division and wound up playing Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic University (FAU) was close to not even doing any of that. The Mean Green were able to pull off close wins against the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), the University of Alabama (UAB), Louisiana Tech University (“Louisiana Tech”) and the Army football team. With quarterback Mason Fine at the helm this fall season and a defense that is looking to improve off of last season, I predict that UNT can win at least eight games this season with their biggest game on Nov. 17 when they take on FAU.
The University of Southern Mississippi (“Southern Miss”): 2017 Record 8-5 (6-2 C-USA)
After a strong 2017 campaign, where the Golden Eagles saw great success all season, running the ball and winning close games things this season could fare very different. With the loss of four year running back, Ito Smith, Southern Miss could lose a little bit of their punch in offense. I predict this year to be a down year for Southern Miss, where they’ll only win five games and their biggest game on Nov. 3 against Marshall University.
UAB: 2017 Record 8-5 (6-2 C-USA)
After tying with Southern Miss for the second-best record in the West, don’t expect the same thing this upcoming season. With senior quarterback, A.J. Erdely, returning for his final season, and the second leading rusher in the conference, Spencer Brown, back and a strong defense with most of their returning starters, I can see the Blazers winning at least eight games this year with their biggest game on Oct. 20 against UNT.
Louisiana Tech: 2017 Record 7-6 (4-4 C-USA)
The Bulldogs are always a threat in C-USA and 2018 should be no exception to that. Louisiana Tech could play spoiler if they can rack up enough wins this season. J’Mar Smith will be the starting quarterback this fall season, and I expect that he will continue to make an impact for his team. But, if the defense doesn’t stay healthy, expect the games to be close. My prediction is that the Bulldogs will win at least six games this season with their biggest game against Southern Miss on Nov. 17.
UTSA: 2017 Record 6-5 (3-5 C-USA)
After starting out the season 3-0 against Baylor, Southern University and Texas State University, the Roadrunners would go on to lose some heartbreakers against North Texas, Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech. But, don’t count out the ‘Runners in 2018, with new offensive coordinator (OC) Al Borges here to breathe in some new life for the offense. Expect Jalen Rhodes and new junior college athlete (JUCO) Deven Boston to provide a dynamic backfield on the offense. The defense looks poised to remain as strong as last season with havoc creators on the defensive line Eric Banks and Kevin Strong Jr. being key pieces. It’s also a bonus when you have a special team’s unit with Yannis Routsas and Jared Sackett. I predict a seven-win season for the Roadrunners with their biggest game against UNT on Nov. 24.
Rice University: 2017 Record 1-11 (1-7 C-USA)
There wasn’t much that went well for the Owls last season. But, with a new season and a new head coach, Mike Bloomgroom, Rice can start to lay the foundation down for a rebuild. With most of their backfield returning to the team that can help, I don’t expect much to come out of the Owls for the next couple of seasons. But, I think that they will be able to win at least two games this season with their biggest game against Houston on Sept. 1.
The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP): 2017 Record 0-12 (0-8 C-USA)
The 2017 Miners were anything but spectacular. UTEP hired Dana Dimel this offseason who once worked under legendary coach Bill Snyder at Kansas State University. Expect UTEP to go through some major rebuilding, including this upcoming season as the Miners will try to find their identity. The defense should be modest with some of their returning starters. I predict a two-win season and the most crucial game to come against Rice on Nov. 3.
I didn’t mention the East Division but I still envision FAU as the clear favorite with Marshall University and Florida International University (FIU) contending as well. I also believe that Western Kentucky University will have a bounce back year and, if the conditions are right, will be able to challenge FAU in the East. My final prediction is that FAU and UAB will meet in the C-USA Championship game this year.