Conference USA is quite similar to most mid-major conferences. The conference has a host of teams that barely belong at the FBS level and then a bunch of teams that can give some major college programs fits. If you’re looking for a clear-cut favorite to cruise through the 2015 CUSA season, you won’t find one. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a team that ends up coasting to a conference championship. It just means there isn’t a team that appears to have a significant edge over the rest.
They play some solid football in Conference USA. If you’re unfamiliar with the conference and the teams, this preview will give you an idea of what to expect for the upcoming college football season.
There are 5-6 teams that will head into the fall believing they can win this league. Unfortunately, there are only 3 teams that seem to have what it takes to win a competitive mid-major conference. Those teams are Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, and Rice. Western Kentucky is getting a lot of love from the preseason prognosticators, and for good reason. Quarterback Brandon Doughty came very close to throwing for 5,000 yards last season. The Hilltoppers were a disaster on defense, but with 7 returning starters on defense, they should improve. They also could improve upon their 8-5 record.
Louisiana Tech is also getting some preseason love. They finished 9-5 last year and return 13 starters. The Bulldogs need to replace departer star quarterback Cody Sokol. Like Sokol, a transfer from Iowa, Louisiana Tech’s new quarterback – Jeff Driskel – transfers from a major college program (Florida). Coach Skip Holtz is counting on Driskel providing similar production to what they got from Sokol last year. Driskel was inconsistent at Florida, but his experience should be helpful at a mid-major school. Marshall has a shot to repeat its 2014 success, although another 13-1 season may be difficult to replace Rakeem Cato’s production at quarterback. Having running back Devin Johnson back is certainly going to help, but they’ll need another 1,700-yard season out of him.
North Texas returns just 9 starters from a 4-8 squad, but coach Dan McCarney knows how to pull off a surprise season. This is one of those teams that could go 8-4 or 2-10. We wouldn’t be surprised with either. The same can be said for Rice. David Bailiff has done a marvelous job turning that dead program around, but they only return 7 starters from an 8-5 team. The good news is quarterback Driphus Jackson might be the biggest offensive threat in the conference. Unfortunately, Rice has to travel to Texas and Baylor in its first 4 weeks. Ouch.
We don’t like to rag on bad teams but, the fact of the matter is CUSA always seems to have quite a few teams that just don’t belong at this level. This year’s list of epic fails include UTSA, Charlotte, Old Dominion, FIU, Southern Mississippi, and Florida Atlantic. We apologize to these universities for including them on this list, but they just aren’t good at football.
If you are expecting much from anyone else in this conference, you’re kidding yourself. However, there are a couple other teams that are going to contend for minor bowl game appearances. Those teams are UTEP and Middle Tennessee. Middle Tennessee went 6-6 last year and returns 13 starters. They have a manageable schedule outside of a trip to Alabama in September. The key game for the Blue Raiders is a road test at Illinois. If they can get the win there, they have a good shot at getting to a bowl game.
In order for that to happen, they’re going to need quarterback Austin Grammer to cut down on his mistakes. He threw too many interceptions last year. At times, he was good. At other times, he made MTSU fans wonder if he deserves his scholarship. UTEP returns a very good running back in Aaron Jones. Jones surpassed 1,300 yards in 2014. However, they return very little experience at quarterback or wide receiver.
- CUSA East Champ: Marshall
- CUSA West Champ: Louisiana Tech
- CUSA Champ: Marshall
- CUSA Offensive POY: Brandon Doughty, QB Western Kentucky
- CUSA Defensive POY: Adairius Barnes, CB Louisiana Tech