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Jul 14, 2019

2019 C-USA Preview

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2019 CONFERENCE USA PREVIEW

Meaningful Milestones

The 2019 season marks two important milestones - the 150th anniversary of college football and the 25th season of Conference-USA. The sport that began with Princeton and Rutgers on November 6, 1869, will be celebrating its 150th birthday. Conference-USA and its 14 members will join nearly 900 teams across all divisions to celebrate the anniversary with a special uniform patch. The uniform logo program will be the most widespread effort of its kind in the history of college athletics.

The QB Conference

Conference-USA has developed an outstanding tradition of quarterbacks throughout its history. This season could mark one of the deepest, most experienced groups of signal-callers in years with as many as 11 C-USA teams returning starters from last season. Highlighting the group is the two-time C-USA Offensive Player of the Year, North Texas senior QB Mason Fine.

We’re Back

A total of 11 All-Conference Offense First-and-Second team members from 2018 return this season. Plus 10 players are back from the 2018 All-Conference Defense First-and-Second teams this season.

This Is How We Bowl

Conference-USA sent six programs to play in bowl games last year. The conference finished the 2018 bowl season with a 4-2 record. The .667 winning percentage was the best among all FBS conferences, the fourth time in eight years that Conference USA has posted the best bowl winning percentage among all leagues.

Conference-USA is 30-18 SU and 28-19-1 ATS in bowl games since 2011. Its .625 mark leads the Group of Five in bowl win percentage over that span. And not one to back off during the regular season, a total of 22 games are scheduled in 2019 against teams that played in a bowl game last season.

The numbers following each team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk () designating a returning quarterback. The RPR represents each team’s overall, offensive and defensive rankings in overall returning production experience.

C-USA EAST

CHARLOTTE (Offense -
5/2, Defense - 7/3, RPR: 51/78/50)

TEAM THEME: TURNAROUND AND LOOK AT ME

New head coach Will Healy arrives from Austin Peay where he won an Eddie Robinson Award as the National FCS Coach of the Year in 2017. Healy engineered one of the most incredible turnarounds in college football history. In his second year, the Governors went 8-4 after going 1-45 over the previous four years. He inherits a Charlotte defense that ranked 11th among FBS schools in rush defense last season and 25th in total defense. In addition, the 49ers return five players that earned all-CUSA honors last year. Last year we called out the fact they were a young team evolving into an experienced group, that spring chickens turn into barnyard roosters and with it an air of hidden confidence is shaped. This year they likely crash the bowl party.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Since becoming an FBS school, Charlotte is 3-15 SU in its final six games of the season.

PLAY ON: vs. UMass (9/14)

FLORIDA ATLANTIC (Offense - 7/3, Defense - 6/2, RPR: 96/87/88)

TEAM THEME: LANE ADJUSTMENT

What a mess for Lane Kiffin’s surprising upstart crew last season. Not only did they fall from 11-wins to 5 last year, but they also crashed and burned as favorites in the process, beating the spread just one time in seven tries. Ironically, they won the stats but lost the game in four of the seven contests in which they were installed as chalk. And so it was for the Owls in 2018, a total reversal of fortune for a team that destroyed Akron, 50-3, in the Boca Raton Bowl to close out the best season in school history the prior year. QB Chris Robison returns but their most valuable weapon, RB Devin Singletary, left early for the NFL draft.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Owls are 8-23 SU in one-possession games since Howard Schnellenberger resigned, including 4-13 the last 4 seasons.

PLAY ON: at Charlotte (9/28)

FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (Offense -
8/3, Defense - 8/3, RPR: 6/8/26)

TEAM THEME: BUTCH CAT ON THE PROWL

While the Panthers improved their numbers clear across the board for the second year in a row under Butch Davis last season, the fact of the matter is the schedule maker is likely on Davis’ Christmas card list. That’s because FIU faced only three foes with winning records in 2018, taking on opponents that went 53-82 during the regular season – the softest slate in the FBS. Only five such sightings are to be found in 2019, along with no back-to-back road games. Toss in a ton of returning experience and stellar recruiting classes the past three years and you can understand why Davis still rules in South Florida these days.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Davis is 6-0 ATS in his career as an underdog when coming off a loss of 12 or more points.

PLAY ON: at Marshall (11/30) - KEY as a dog off a loss

MARSHALL (Offense -
8/4, Defense - 6/2, RPR: 94/66/105)

TEAM THEME: BACK ON THE BALL

The Herd went bowling for the fifth time in the past six years last season but brings back a squad short on experience in 2019. Head coach Doc Holliday is faced with replacing the majority of his front seven along with his defensive coordinator, while the offense loses star WR Tyre Brady. The good news is enormous JUCO Josh Ball, who started nine games for Florida State, transfers in to anchor the offensive line. Holliday realizes that his team was the only Group of 5 program to record three straight 10-win seasons before blowing up with only 3 victories in 2016. The climb back up over the past two seasons has been rewarding. The ball is back in their court.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Marshall is 6-0 SUATS in bowl games under Holliday.

PLAY AGAINST: at Florida Atlantic (10/18)

MIDDLE TENNESSEE (Offense - 4/2, Defense - 6/2, RPR: 122/111/101)

TEAM THEME: MISSING YOU... AND YOU... AND YOU...

Like it or not, Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Stockstill will be toiling as an “empty nester” this season. That’s because his son, 4-year starting QB Brent Stockstill, has graduated and is hoping to land an NFL free agent contract. What the 2018 CUSA Coach Of The Year is really hoping for in 2019, though, is an injury-free season as his team was hampered much of the season last year. Still, the Raiders managed to make it the CUSA championship while relying heavily on 21 seniors who combined to start 61.8 % of MTSU’s games in 2018 – the 2nd most in the nation. With that card now played out, it’s on to re-tooling a young and inexperienced unit in 2019.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: MTSU has been bowl eligible ten times in 13 years under Rick Stockstill, competing in eight bowl games.

PLAY AGAINST: at Charlotte (11/2)

OLD DOMINION (Offense - 4/2, Defense - 5/1, RPR: 111/113/73)

TEAM THEME: THE MAX WITH THE MINIMUM

If the Monarchs were cast onto the Game Of Thrones, head coach Bobby Wilder would have been the Night King last season. After ascending to a 10-win team in 2016, the air has come out of the balloon for the Monarchs the last two campaigns. Making matters worse for this neophyte program that joined the FBS ranks in 2014, is an offense this season that has been decimated by player losses. Last year’s 1-6 start set the tone for things to come but to their credit, the Wildlings refused to die – a testament to the head coach who launched this program just six years ago. Sadly, Wilder is out shopping at TJ Maxx for JUCO’s this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Old Dominion’s home sellout streak officially ended at 60 last season. It has a 47-19 record all-time at home.

PLAY ON: at Middle Tennessee (11/23)

WESTERN KENTUCKY (Offense - 10/5, Defense - 6/3, RPR: 14/14/39)

TEAM THEME: YOUNG PEAS IN A POD

After having sailed ‘over’ its season win totals in five of the previous six years, before bouncing to only 3 victories in 2018, new head coach Tyson Helton – USC coach Clay’s brother – knows that immediate improvement is expected from the Hilltoppers in 2019. Prior to taking over the reins at Western Kentucky this season, Helton was an OC in five previous seasons at WKU, USC, and Tennessee. Those teams averaged 9.2 wins, 35.6 points and 469.4 yards per game under his tutelage. Western Kentucky’s 2015 season ended with The Hill ranked final AP ranking of 24 – the highest in school history – and a school-record 12 victories, including the first-ever FBS conference championship while breaking more than two-dozen school offensive records under Helton as offensive coordinator. Meanwhile, Sophomore RB Joshua Samuel rushed for over 600 yards at nearly 5.5 YPR in 2018 and will only get better – as should the rest of this very experienced squad.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: A total of 20 underclassmen made starts for the Hilltoppers last season.

PLAY ON: vs. Louisville (9/14)

C-USA WEST

LOUISIANA TECH (Offense -
8/3, Defense - 5/0, RPR: 30/28/54)

TEAM THEME: THE HAIR OF THE DOG

There is no hiding the fact that Skip Holtz’s offense has been waning the past two seasons – scoring nearly 300 fewer points last year than in 2016. With it, Holtz is banking on an experienced group of returnees, starting with QB J’Mar Smith. Meanwhile, the running game failed to tally 2,000 yards for the first time since 2013, and it should be noted that the Bulldogs have suffered 5 1-point losses over the past three seasons. Safe to say that hangovers like these would normally affect most teams in a bad way. Not when you’re a Skip Holtz team looking to return to 9-win territory, where they resided from 2014-2016. We’ve learned to not bet against Skippy in underdog roles.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Holtz is 48-24-1 ATS as a dog in his career, including 20-3-1 ATS when coming off an ATS win of more than 8 points.

PLAY ON: vs. Southern Miss (10/19)

NORTH TEXAS (Offense - 8/3, Defense - 5/2, RPR: 59/22/110)

TEAM THEME: PAY ATTENTION

Exactly how much street cred does Mean Green head coach Seth Littrell have, you ask? After inheriting a 1-11 team, Littrell has won 23 games and a division title in his first three years in Denton. Yeah, we’re paying attention. Coming off his best season ever in 2018, Littrell lost OC Graham Harrell, the ex-Texas Tech quarterback, to USC, but he’s been an OC multiple times himself. He’ll utilize the entire passing attack as QB Mason Fine (nearly 4,000 passing yards with 27 TDs and 5 INTs last season) and his receiving corps is back from the league’s top scoring offense. Remember, Littrell turned down numerous coaching offers to remain in Denton. The man can coach.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: North Texas was the only FBS team to outgain EVERY opponent during the regular season last year.

PLAY ON: at Louisiana Tech (11/9)

RICE (Offense - 6/2, Defense - 6/1, RPR: 5/29/4)

TEAM THEME: PLAYING THE BACKUP, BACKUP, BACKUP, BACKUP QB

As a result of starting both the 3rd most freshmen and the 3rd most underclassmen (including a nation-high 27 players making 56.8% team-starts) last season, the force-fed Owls suddenly become one of the nation’s deepest squads in terms of returning experience this season. But it wasn’t easy. Few seasons played out as unfortunate on the injury front as the Owls’ 2018 campaign. Rice lost QBs Shawn Stankavage and Evan Marshman to injury during the year. Jackson Tyner and Sam Glaesmann were bumped down the depth chart for performance, leaving freshman Wiley Green as the next man up when “next man up” was called against FIU. Taking on a brutal schedule in 2019 should be a breeze in Year Two for Mike Bloomgren.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Rice is 31-11-3 ATS as a conference home dog, including 16-2-2 ATS when taking less than 7 points.

PLAY ON: at UTSA (10/19)

SOUTHERN MISS (Offense -
10/5, Defense - 6/2, RPI: 4/1/47)

TEAM THEME: HOP ABOARD, Y’ALL

As a result of having started the third most of seniors in 2017, the Golden Eagles were forced to go the barefoot route last season. What it means is they will be one of the most experienced teams in the land in 2019. To top it off, the defense was dynamite last year, ranking 3rd in the nation overall. The biggest concern, though, is an offense that has regressed each and every year in both points and yardage under 4th-year head coach Jay Hopson. A rugged 3-game non-conference stretch to start September should have them primed for league play. Nevertheless, look for the Hattiesburg Eagles to soar once October rolls around.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: USM played in a bowl game for 14 of 15 years until the 2012 season. Since then, the Eagles have been to just 3 bowls.

PLAY ON: vs. North Texas (10/12)

UAB (Offense - 4/1, Defense - 4/1, RPR: 130/128/125)

TEAM THEME: PARTY OUT

As Don Meredith liked to say, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.” Or so it will seem this season for the back-on-the-map Blazers, whose long climb back from football’s deathbed perhaps peaked last season with a school-record 11 victories, no thanks to a senior-laden squad urged on with motivation to help resurrect this program back to respectability. In doing so, UAB poured thru a roster that witnessed a total of 23 seniors making 69.7% of the starts in 2018 – the most in the land. As a result, four linemen and the top four WRs are gone on offense. The good news, though, is UAB will tackle only three foes that owned a winning record last season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Blazers are 12-3 ATS under Clark when facing an opponent coming off a win, including 7-0 ATS when UAB is coming off a loss.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Louisiana Tech (11/23)

UTEP (Offense -
7/4, Defense - 4/2, RPR: 124/85/129)

TEAM THEME: MAKING LEMONADE OUT OF LEMONS

Good news for any football team that has won ONE game the past two years: 32 signees inked to a recruiting class, including 5 three-star recruits and 12 more two-star recruits. It was clearly the best class UTEP has had in nearly a decade. Now if second-year head coach Dana Dimel finds time for the new kids on the block this season, 2020 will clearly take on a different look in El Paso, one certainly more appealing than Trump’s immigration wall. Despite just one win last season, the Miners’ stats improved significantly on both sides of the ball in points scored and allowed, as well as yardage gained and allowed in 2018. Now that’s a refreshing concoction.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Miners are 9-73-1 SU and 18-60-3 ATS in the last 83 games in which they have been outgained in the stats.

PLAY ON: at New Mexico State (11/23)

UTSA (Offense - *9/5, Defense - 6/3, RPR: 89/58/103)

TEAM THEME: GET THOSE ZAGODACTYL FEET MOVING

After improving their numbers on both sides of the ball in 2017, the Roadrunners blew all four tires and went rim-running last season when the offense regressed 140 yards and the defense declined 137 yards. Through it all, UTSA had its win total slashed in half as San Antonio enters the 2019 campaign on a 6-game losing slide. We hope it doesn’t negatively affect head coach Frank Wilson’s job security, as he is an extremely well-liked, and highly respected coach. For the Roadrunners to return to their 2017 ways, though, the offense will need to hit the weight room and do some heavy lifting. Oddly, a third offensive coordinator in as many years might actually help as the ‘Runners try to solve why their get-up-and-go got up and went.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Roadrunners are 5-22 ATS in SU conference losses.

PLAY AGAINST: at UTEP (10/5)

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