With the departure of Houston, UCF, Memphis and SMU to the American Athletic Conference, the landscape of Conference USA has changed for the 2013 season. And get ready to get out the eraser again next season, as Tulsa, East Carolina and Tulane depart, with Western Kentucky and Old Dominion sliding into their place.
While the depth of the conference took a hit with the departure of two teams that played for the C-USA title over the past two years, it’s also a new opportunity for some teams.
Marshall has yet to match its run of dominance from the 1990s in Conference USA, with its last season of more than seven wins coming in 2003. The Thundering Herd is Athlon’s pick to win the East Division this season, especially since they host East Carolina on Nov. 30 and return 14 overall starters, including quarterback Rakeem Cato. The big question mark for Marshall is a defense that allowed 43.1 points a game last year.
Much like Marshall, East Carolina returns a standout offense (31.5 points a game in 2012), but the defense is a question mark. Coach Ruffin McNeill switched coordinators, hiring Rick Smith to improve a defense that ranked 10th in the conference against the pass last year.
Outside of Marshall and East Carolina, the rest of the East Division is up for grabs. MTSU rebounded from an opening week loss to McNeese State to finish 8-4 last year. The Blue Raiders are a slight favorite to edge UAB and Southern Miss for the third spot. However, the Blazers and the Golden Eagles are trending in the right direction. FAU and FIU bring up the bottom of the East Division, and both teams have significant question marks going into 2013.
Defending Conference USA champion Tulsa must replace nine starters on defense, but the offense is loaded thanks to the return of quarterback Cody Green and running backs Trey Watts and Ja’Terian Douglas. The Golden Hurricane must play the top two teams from the East in the regular season, which could play a key role in deciding homefield advantage for the conference title game.
After finishing 2012 on a five-game winning streak, Rice should be Tulsa’s top challenger in the West. The Owls return 18 starters and won’t play Marshall or East Carolina during the regular season.
Louisiana Tech and UTEP are neck-and-neck for the No. 3 and No. 4 spots. The Bulldogs suffered a plethora of personnel losses, but welcome Texas Tech transfer Scotty Young at quarterback. The Miners also have a transfer at quarterback – Jameill Showers from Texas A&M - but return only three starters on defense. Both teams have a new coaching staff, with UTEP under the direction of former player Sean Kugler, and Louisiana Tech led by former USF and Connecticut coach Skip Holtz.
Tulane, North Texas and UTSA round out the West Division predictions. The Green Wave should show some signs of improvement in 2013, and the schedule is favorable enough to expect a run at bowl eligibility. North Texas is also making progress under third-year coach Dan McCarney, but expecting a huge jump in win total is unlikely for 2013. The Roadrunners went 8-4 in their first season on the FBS level last season. However, the schedule is very challenging, and coach Larry Coker needs another year or two to build depth in the program.
2013 Conference USA Team Previews
Related College Football Content
College Football's Top 25 Teams for 2013
College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 26-40
College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 41-60
College Fooball Team Rankings for 2013: No. 61-80
College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 81-100
College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 101-125
College Football's Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era
College Football's Top 50 Running Backs of BCS Era
College Football's Top 50 Wide Receivers of BCS Era
College Football's Top 30 Tight Ends of the BCS Era