CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2017: Conference USA Preview
The 2017 CFN Conference USA Preview with the top players, teams that will surprise and disappoint, and shoes to fill.
2017 Conference USA Preview
If you’re Conference USA, and you’re trying to fight through the masses to get noticed, what do you do? How do you hope to start bringing more attention to your programs and your teams?
The league is stuck in the Group of Five world. It’s not strong enough to be the American Athletic Conference or Mountain West, and it’s got too many good teams to be the Sun Belt or the lower end of the MAC, but the big problem is simply getting more exposure.
So what changes that? High-profile head coaches, high-profile wins and high-octane offenses.
The offensive side isn’t an issue. WKU, Middle Tennessee and Louisiana Tech all finished in the top nine in total offense, with Southern Miss finishing 21st. There might be a bit of an overhaul of talent among some of the stars, but there will still be plenty of shootouts.
The chances will be there for the big wins among what’ll certainly be a slew of ugly paycheck game losses. Mississippi State, Kentucky, Stanford, Arizona, Houston, North Carolina and Vanderbilt all have to go on the road to play Conference USA teams.
And then there are the coaches.
Jeff Brohm might have left WKU for Purdue, but Skip Holtz is still around Louisiana Tech and Rick Stockstill and Doc Holliday – despite coming off of disappointing years – are still brand name head men.
But it’s the addition of Butch Davis at FIU and Lane Kiffin at FAU that might be just the boost the league needs.
While you should do yourself a favor and at least check out the top teams – WKU, for example, placed three of the best games of last season in overtime battles with Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee, along with an epic Round One vs. Louisiana Tech – it’ll be Davis and Kiffin who’ll make you pay attention.
Of course this might be the last stop for Davis to try getting something else fun out of his career, and of course Kiffin will bolt for the best Power Five job he can get as soon as he has a little bit of success in Miami, but in the meantime, they’ll bring the spotlight.
Add in the resurrection of the UAB program, the potential of Southern Miss and Marshall to bounce back after relatively disappointing years, the potential explosiveness of Middle Tennessee, the rising excellence at Old Dominion, and the Texas interest at North Texas, Rice, UTEP and UTSA, and overall, it’s an interesting conference that should be in for another wild year.
And if Kiffin and Davis produce winners right away – all the better.
Conference USA Team That Will Surprise
Will the addition of Lane Kiffin really mean that much? Yeah, and upgrading the quarterback situation and getting enough talent back to build around will help, too.
Can the Owls really go from 3-8 to bowl eligible? If the defense can improve just a little bit, and the offense can be more efficient through the air – it’ll be a yes on both counts – FAU should be at least three wins better.
Conference USA Team That Will Disappoint
North Texas Mean Green
Sort of lost in the 5-8 run to the bowl game was one ugly fact – the team was awful. There was a great win over Army – but lost to the Knights in the bowl game – and a shocker against Southern Miss, but the passing game was inefficient, the defense couldn’t slow down the run, and there were a slew of issues on both sides of the ball.
The team won’t be worse, but the record will probably be about the same without a slew of big upsets. Five wins won’t get UNT to a bowl game this time around.
Game Of The Year
Nov. 18 Middle Tennessee vs. WKU
Louisiana Tech hosts Southern Miss on October 21st in what should be the Conference USA West championship. The winner of that should end up facing the winner of the late-November battle between the Blue Raiders and Hilltoppers.
Last year, it was one of the best games of the league’s season, with WKU winning in a 44-43 double overtime thriller. This time around – unless Marshall rises up and/or Old Dominion turns out to be great – this should decide the East.
5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve A Bigger Spotlight
Five players who have been a bit under the radar on a national level, but should rise up and be among the season’s best players.
1. LB Joshua Tauaefa, Soph. UTSA
2. S Kishawn McClain, Sr. North Texas
3. RB Ray Lawry, Sr. Old Dominion
4. RB Alex Gardner, Sr. FIU
5. LB Emmanuel Ellerbee, Sr. Rice
5 Conference USA Coaches On The Hot Seat
Five Conference USA coaches who’d better win this season. Being on a hot seat doesn’t necessarily mean a coach is about to fired, but the pressure is on to produce up to expectations and beyond.
1. Sean Kugler, UTEP
2. Doc Holliday, Marshall
3. David Bailiff, Rice
4. Brad Lambert, Charlotte
5. Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic
5 Non-Conference Games That Conference USA Opponents Better Take Very, Very Seriously
The league has been nasty in non-conference games vs. the Power Fivers from time-to-time – and have been blown out in a slew of others. Here are the ones the big boys had better prepare for.
1. Mississippi State at Louisiana Tech, Sept. 9
2. Kentucky at Southern Miss, Sept. 2
3. Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee, Sept. 2
4. North Carolina at Old Dominion, Sept. 16
5. Marshall at NC State, Sept. 9
5 Best Pro Prospects
1. DE Jaylon Ferguson, Jr. Louisiana Tech
2. DE Walter Brady, Jr. Middle Tennessee
3. WR Richie James, Jr. Middle Tennessee
4. RB Ito Smith, Sr. Southern Miss
5. WR Allenzae Staggers, Sr. Southern Miss
5 Biggest Shoes To Fill
1. Louisiana Tech QB J’Mar Smith for Ryan Higgins
2. FAU DE Haiden Nagel for Trey Hendrickson
3. Louisiana Tech WR Teddy Veal for Carlos Henderson or Trent Taylor
4. WKU OT Jimmie Sims for Forrest Lamp
5. Middle Tennessee RB Maurice Gordon for I’Tavius Mathers