2015-08-27

FBS - Preview 2015 - Conference USA

Here comes the conference I always feel about, like it was bought together, not build over years on unity of some schools.

Conference USA
The conference was founded 1995 and did start supporting football a year later.
The founding reason was merger of two conferences and of all founding members (11 started 1995 and 1 team had to wait until 1996) only 3 teams are still left.
Southern Miss is the only one playing this season which already played last season, Charlotte had some years in another conference in the FCS and did some time not support football, but will play this season and UAB had their stupid defunct-recreation-event, which will leave the team from playing 2015.
The rest of the now playing teams came in 2005 (3 teams are left) and 2013 (7 teams) and 2014 did join the last team.
So, of 13 teams playing this season they have 8 since 1 or 2 seasons.
That's why I feel the conference is bought together.
And there is no reason to believe the conference will not change again.

Teams added 2015:
Charlotte (from Independent)

Teams lost 2015:
UAB (got defunct, later recreated, but will need at least 2 season to play again)

The 13 teams are:

East Division:
Florida Atlantic University Owls
Florida International University Panthers
Marshall University Thundering Herd
Middle Tennessee State University Blue Raiders
University of North Carolina at Charlotte 49ers
Old Dominion University Monarchs
Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers

West Division:
Louisiana Tech University Bulldogs
University of North Texas Mean Green
Rice University Owls
University of Southern Mississippi (Southern Miss) Golden Eagles
University of Texas at El Paso Miners
University of Texas at San Antonio Roadrunners

Now let's get a bit into the details:
East Division

Florida Atlantic Owls
The University did bring in Charlie Partridge as new HC last season and he recorded a 3-9 result.
The program were on the right track with their former coach Carl Pelini, but he had to resign mid season 2013, when reports of drug use became public.
Partridge will have to get the ship now on track again and he might not have some help from the schedule this season.
The non conference games don't look very promising, with maybe Buffalo at home being the most likely to win.
The conference games are just bad luck.
It starts with a road game against newcomer Charlotte, which is a big unknown.
Assuming an almost FCS opponent, this might be a win, but not every FCS promoted team got smashed the first season in the FBS.
Many smashed their snobbish opponents.
FAU will then play Rice (of the west) and Marshall each at home.
Then comes UTEP on the road and FIU at home will give them eventually another win.
The rest are more or less coin toss games, but I'm leaning towards more losses then wins. That's a bid unfair, but I'm not convinced the team will rise.
Overall Partridge will have a hard time to get more than his 3 wins from last season.
I think 4 are possible, 5 would be great.

Florida International Panthers
The Panthers are a mess.
The world did look bright, 2010 (with a 7-6 record including a Bowl win and a shared conference title) and 2011 (with a 8-5 record including a Bowl loss) were great seasons.
Then 2012 a setback to 3-9, they left the Sun Belt and joined the CUSA.
2013 they had a 1-11 record under the new HC Ron Turner, in 2014 they advanced to 4-8 and now in his 3rd season, we will see, if the firing of the young Mario Cristobal (now OL coach at Alabama) was an error and the hiring of the a bit older Turner might have been an error, too.
Turner was the HC of Illinois late 90s and overall he had a losing record, but also a conference title.
So, maybe he WILL turn the Panthers around.
Chances are good, he will get two wins out of the non conference games.
UCF and Indiana should be too much, but a FCS team and UMass might be easy wins.
Or maybe UMass not, since it's a road trip.
Getting LT and UTEP from the west won't help their conference record.
The eastern games are a bit off, the only good games are Old Dominion at home and also Charlotte coming to Florida.
The inner state game against FAU is on the road and the other teams will have their time with the Panther.
Bottom line is, I doubt a turnaround here.
Keeping the record, maybe adding another win, yes, but 6+ wins?
No. My picks is, they will end up at the bottom half of the conference.

Marshall Thundering Herd
They are the defending conference champion of the CUSA.
John "Doc" Holliday is now in his 6th season.
He did turn the team around for good and Marshall is a good team, even national wide.
Last season they lost only 1 time and did beat some mid major teams.
Chances are good they will repeat at least the overall performance.
A Championship is never won easily, so the might stumble on their way, but the pieces are there.
They start with a game against Purdue at home, which they can win, Ohio, Norfork State (FCS) and Kent State should be wins.
A 4-0 start would be great.
They did avoid the better teams of the west and will play only North Texas and Southern Miss from that division.
Most crucial game will be the game against WKU on the road on the last gameday.
If things go the best way for football fans, this game will decide the division.
Chances are big, they will go unbeaten until they reach the conference championship game.
The road game against WKU will be the test.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
The Headcoach Rick Stockstill is now at the helm since 10 seasons.
That's in the new days of college football a long time.
He had 3 winning seasons in a row, last season 6-6, before that the team was 8-5 including a Bowl loss.
Not the kind of direction the team should take.
But so far did Stockstill always turn things around.
So, who will the team go this season?
The non conference games are a bit brutal.
Yes, they have Jackson State (FCS), which will be probably a win, but other than that?
Alabama, Illinois and Vanderbilt.
Even not being a powerhouse Illinois and Vanderbilt should be able to win against the mid level CUSA team.
If the Raiders could win 1 of those, they can dance.
Alabama is so far away in team strength, they could send in the freshmen and would still win big.
Inside the conference there have 3 teams from the west, Louisiana Tech, UTSA and North Texas.
Not bad, but LT is the favorite for the division crown and on the road.
They also have to face Marshall and WKU, so they will have a tough time getting the 6+ wins to turn things around on paper.
Overall they need wins against WKU on the road or they have to knock off one of the big shots to get into that win total.
Means, becoming a better team.
I'm a bit skeptical they can do that, but with that coach things are possible.
I pick them for the mid field.

Charlotte 49ers
A new team, the first season in the FBS.
Brad Lambert is coaching the team since 2013, the year the team started from scratch to play football.
So far he had two 5-6 seasons, which is not a good sign for the coming season on a higher level.
They will face Georgia State, Presbyterian (FCS), Temple and Kentucky.
A nice mix.
They might be able to win against Georgia State and the FCS team, but I doubt wins against Temple and Kentucky.
The conference schedule is easy, at least for an established team.
The face Rice and UTSA from the west, which could have been much worse and they only face Marshall and avoid WKU from the east.
Overall I'm quite confident, they will battle for the bottom of the division.
The team would need some big wins against teams like FAU, FIU or UTSA to get better than last place.
I pick them last, but I expect them to score some upsets.

Old Dominion Monarchs
The Monarchs had their 1st FBS season last year and already had a 6-6 season.
Bobby Wilder is guiding them in his 7th season as HC and is therefore their 1st and only HC since the team was build in 2009.
Biggest win last season was with no doubt the LT upset in OT.
This season, the team will try to do even better.
The non conference games are against Eastern Michigan, Norfolk State (FCS), NC State and Appalachian State.
Except the NC State game, all are winnable, but not a walk in the park.
Especially the Appalachian State game will be interesting.
I'm expecting a nice game here.
With having both division title contenders on the schedule from the east the season will be challenging.
Lucky for them they got UTSA, UTEP and Southern Miss from the west, which might give them a boost for a nice push for the top.
I can see them winning 7+ games in the season, which might give them their 1st bowl spot.
Overall they will probably end up on the upper side of the division and even a tied division title is possible.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Jeff Brohm inherited the Hilltoppers when Bobby Petrino went back to Louisville last season.
In his now 3rd season with the team and the 2nd as HC, the team should be his team.
Last season he had a 8-5 season, with a bowl win on the Bahamas but only a 3rd place inside the division.
They lost too many games inside the conference.
Worst loss was against FAU.
This season the signs are on reload, no, revenge.
The non conference games will not help to get better win total, with Vanderbilt (but possible upset here), Indiana (also upset potential), Miami (OH) (that should be a win) and LSU (that will be a massacre by the Tigers).
They also face LT, North Texas and Rice from the west, which could be better.
In the division, the key game will be the Marshall game at season final.
For a division title, this team has to be much better than last season.
In fact, I think they will have to win all games inside the conference to get to the championship game.
With a brutal schedule it looks unlikely, the only hope is, most of the tough games are at home.
My pick is they will fall short a win or even 2.

West Division

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Skip Holtz came in 2 seasons ago and recorded so far a 4-8 and a 9-5 season, including a division title and a Bowl win.
So the success is already there.
Hopefully it will last, not like it did with South Florida (where his successor did also not turn the ship around so far, so maybe there is more than just coaching needed).
But chances are good he will have an almost as good season as last season, if not even better.
With Southern (FCS) they will start easy, but beside the Louisiana-Lafayette game, they will probably lose against Kansas State and Mississippi State in the non conference games.
They play WKU on the road of the east and do also get FIU and Middle Tennessee from that division, both at home.
Unfortunate for them they have to visit Rice and UTEP, which will probably be the most challenging teams from the west.
They need to win those games to repeat as division champ.
I have some doubt, but not enough to not pick them as the favorite here.
The do have the tools to win the conference, but as will have some teams from the east.

North Texas Mean Green
I'm not sure what to do with the Mean Green.
Dan McCarney is now in his 5th season and 2013 season was great with a 9-4 season and a bowl win.
But 2014 did the team drop to 4-8.
So, was that a recharging or the beginning of the end of the McCarney area?
He had similar up and down seasons on his first HC-gig with the Iowa State Cyclones.
It did cost him his job.
As non conference games they have a nice mixture from impossible to walk in the park.
SMU? Should be won.
Iowa? Depends on the Hawkeyes preparation and what ever drives the shaky performance of them. Likely a loss for the Green.
Portland State (FCS)? That should be a win.
Tennessee? Hold your breath, this will be a spanking by the Vols.
North Texas got Marshall and WKU of the east and in addition also Middle Tennessee on the road.
That's more or less the toughest inter division schedule.
Add LT and UTEP and Rice and you get the picture.
This season is either a triumph of progress and success and North Texas will be the surprise of the season, or they will have a hard time getting those 4 wins from last season.
I pick them in the 3 to 5 wins area and in the bottom half of the division.

Rice Owls
I'm still wondering why David Bailiff, now in his 9th season with the Owls, wasn't hired by any bigger program by now?
He did win with Rice and did accomplish so much.
In his 2nd year he won the division and a Bowl.
Since 2012 the team has a winning record every year, another 3 Bowl games with 2 wins.
In 2013 did the team win even the conference.
The thing is, Rice glory days are long gone.
If you look at the conference title, you have 2013, 1994 (with an overall record of 5-6 and a conference record of 4-3, tied for 1st) and then ... back in 1957!
The last coach (Beside Todd Graham, who stayed only 1 season in 2006 with a 7-6 record) with an overall winning record at Rice was ... Jess Neely, HC from 1940 to 1966.
So, what Bailiff has accomplished at Rice is already great.
He is 5 wins shy of getting his overall Rice winning record into the .500+ area.
He should be on the list of some bigger programs by now, but don't get me wrong, I admire loyalty and if a relationship is working, why change it.
For the money? I'm sure he is doing fine.
But let's focus on the football.
The team will play Wagner (FCS), Texas, Baylor and Army.
The 2 BIG12-Teams out of Texas will be very likely too much.
But Wagner and Army should be won.
They do avoid Marshall from the east and will play WKU at home and got Charlotte. So far a nice schedule mix from the east.
On top the play Louisiana Tech also at home and will meet UTEP on the road.
Chances are good, with this schedule they can play for a division title and maybe more.
The only problem will be, if they can really win those important games.
My pick is, they will fall short with an overall record of around 8 to 9 wins. At 9 wins, Bailiff would get his .500+ record this season.

Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Todd Monken came in 2013 from Oklahoma State, where he served 2 seasons as OC and was hired to right the ship of the Eagles.
So far get did accomplished a 1-11 and a 3-9 season.
That's not the kind of progress the fans and the administration had in mind.
To get this results in perspective:
Before Monken there was 1! season with Ellis Johnson who had a 0-12 record. So Monken did turn the ship right?
Not so fast, before Johnson there was Larry Fedora who had a 21-17 record in 4 seasons and in his last season he had 12! wins!. So Johnson inherited a very good team, a championship team in fact.
And just to have this in perspective, before Fedora, there was a guy named Jeff Bower, coaching the Eagles between 1991 and 2007 with an overall record of 119–83–1, 4 conference titles, 1 additional division title and a 6-5 bowl record.
So, the bottom line is, the Eagles are used to win, not to lose.
So 3-9, as good as it might compared to 0-12 and 1-11 is not good enough.
Let's see, if they can turn this turn around this season.
Mississippi State, Austin Peay (FCS), Texas State and Nebraska are a nice mix, but a 2-2 record is very likely here, maybe even worse.
The team would need to have a very good turnaround to beat the Bulldogs or the Huskers.
Since this is a rebuilding team, let's focus on the probably weaker teams.
North Texas, UTSA and Old Dominion (from the east) all at home, check.
Add also Charlotte on the road from the east and they might get 6 wins in total, if they win those.
Likely?
I have doubts, especially with the Old Dominion game.
But the bottom line is, I don't expect them to beat any of the better teams and they will be lucky to have a .500 record.

UTEP Miners
I liked the Miners last season, even if they only got 7-6 record including a bowl loss.
Headcoach Sean Kugler did turn the team from 2-10 in his 1st season to 7-6 last season.
Now in his 3rd season, the team is looking for more.
Major opponents in the division are LT and Rice.
They do play both at home!
In addition they got FIU, FAU and Old Dominion of the east division.
That equals the best schedule a team can get if you want to win the division under this seasons circumstances.
So, will they do it?
I think they will stumble at some point.
But they will content and they might get the division.
All depends on the progress Kugler did make with his team.
My pick is they will fall short behind LT and will battle it out with Rice.

UTSA Roadrunners
The Roadrunners are quite new in the FBS and they had a good start, but did fall a bit apart.
They did drop in the CUSA from 2013 with 7-5 to 4-8 last season.
Larry Coker is in his 5th season with the team and his main focus will probably be to adjust the team to win the close games.
They lost several games last season by less than a TD difference (granted, they did also win some with less than a TD).
Who ever was responsible for the non conference schedule this season, he did not love the Roadrunners.
Arizona, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Colorado State are not easy and most likely this will end in a 0-4 result.
They had Arizona last season at the edge of a loss (also one of those close games) but overall in a match between CUSA and PAC12, BIG12 or even MWC, there are not many combination where I would expect the CUSA team to win.
From the east they avoid Marshall and WKU, which is good for the Roadrunners.
Old Dominion, Charlotte and Middle Tennessee are games they might be able to win.
Unfortunately they have to visit North Texas and Southern Miss, so those games will be tougher and will probably decide the fate of the season.
Will they get more than 4 wins this season?
Probably, but don't expect many more.
Overall I expect them to be in the bottom group of the division.

So my TIP is:

East Division:
Marshall Thundering Herd
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Old Dominion Monarchs
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Florida International Panthers
Florida Atlantic Owls
Charlotte 49ers

West Division:
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
UTEP Miners
Rice Owls
Southern Miss Golden Eagles
UTSA Roadrunners
North Texas Mean Green

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