Conference USA is a slightly behind the Mountain West and American Athletic in the pecking order for Group of 5 conferences. However, Conference USA had a team (Marshall) in the running for one of college football’s top bowl games last year, and the league could have another in 2015.
WKU will be a team to watch behind quarterback Brandon Doughty, as the Hilltoppers return seven starters from an offense that averaged 44.4 points per game in 2014. Coach Jeff Brohm’s team also has opportunities to score big-time wins, including games against Vanderbilt, LSU and Indiana.
5 Key Questions That Will Shape C-USA in 2015
1. WKU vs. Marshall in the East
The balance of power in Conference USA is tipped in favor of the East Division in 2015. Marshall and WKU rank as the top teams in Athlon’s power rankings for the upcoming year, and the meeting between the Thundering Herd and Hilltoppers on Nov. 27 could decide the division crown. WKU gets a slight edge in Athlon’s East projections, as coach Jeff Brohm’s team returns standout senior quarterback Brandon Doughty, a deep group of receivers and a defense that should be improved with seven starters back. Marshall has a favorable schedule by missing Louisiana Tech, UTEP and Rice in crossover play with the West. However, the Thundering Herd must replace quarterback Rakeem Cato and receiver Tommy Shuler. It’s a close call in the East. But an edge goes to WKU with Doughty at the controls.
2. Will any team catch Louisiana Tech in the West?
Louisiana Tech enters 2015 as the clear favorite in the West Division. The Bulldogs have a few holes to fill, but coach Skip Holtz’s team returns 13 starters and can ride running back Kenneth Dixon until the passing game settles with Florida transfer Jeff Driskel at quarterback. Louisiana Tech is projected to finish 6-2 in league play, with Rice (5-3) and UTEP (4-4) just behind. On paper, there is a significant gap between the Bulldogs and the Miners and Owls. However, UTEP hosts Louisiana Tech and does not play Marshall or WKU from the East. Rice returns standout quarterback Driphus Jackson, but the Owls must rebuild on defense. Will either team put all of the pieces together to push Louisiana Tech?
3. Looking for a Sleeper Team
The top six teams in Conference USA seem clear for 2015. WKU, Marshall and MTSU headline the East, while Louisiana Tech, Rice and UTEP anchor the top of the West. But will a surprise team emerge from the next group? FAU is a team to watch, as the Owls return quarterback Jaquez Johnson and standout defensive tackle Brandin Bryant is back from a knee injury. The Owls also host swing games against FIU and MTSU. In the West Division, Southern Miss and North Texas have potential to climb the standings. The Golden Eagles are still struggling to get back to the top of Conference USA, but there has been improvement in two years under coach Todd Monken. The Mean Green has a solid group of talent returning on defense and can lean on the talented one-two punch of running backs Antoinne Jimmerson and Jeffrey Wilson. But will coach Dan McCarney find a quarterback?
4. Old Dominion Replaces Taylor Heinicke
In its first full season as a FBS member, Old Dominion finished 6-6 and recorded a .500 (4-4) mark in Conference USA play. The Monarchs are trending up under coach Bobby Wilder and return 11 starters for 2015. However, there’s one glaring departure. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke has expired his eligibility, leaving redshirt freshman Shuler Bentley at the controls of coach Bobby Wilder’s high-powered offense. With three winnable games in September, combined with home dates against Charlotte, UTEP and FAU, there may be just enough favorable games on ODU’s slate for Wilder to take the Monarchs to a bowl in 2015.
5. Charlotte Joins Conference USA
The 49ers are the newest FBS member, joining Conference USA in just their third season of play since the program started a football team in 2013. Coach Brad Lambert is 10-12 over the last two years, but Charlotte has yet to beat a FBS program. There’s no doubt many challenges are ahead for Lambert as this program gets off the ground and is able to challenge for bowl games and winning records in Conference USA. But the 49ers will be a team to watch in 2015, as running back Kalif Phillips and receiver Austin Duke are two talented playmakers for an offense that averaged 38.8 points per game in 2014.
Conference USA 2015 Team Previews
Visit the Athlon Sports Online Store to order a copy of the 2015 National College Football Preview Magazine, which features in-depth analysis and previews for all 128 teams, predictions, rankings and features to prepare for the upcoming year.
Conference USA Predictions for 2015
C-USA 2015 Superlatives and Season Predictions
Coach of the Year
Coach on Hot Seat
Top Coordinator Hire
Key Position to Watch
La. Tech QB
Hardest to Evaluate
Coach on the Rise
La. Tech at
Ranking the Conference USA Coaches for 2015
1. Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech
2. David Bailiff, Rice
3. Doc Holliday, Marshall
4. Rick Stockstill, MTSU
5. Bobby Wilder, ODU
Ranking the Conference USA Quarterbacks for 2015
1. Brandon Doughty, WKU
2. Driphus Jackson, Rice
3. Jaquez Johnson, FAU
4. Austin Grammer, MTSU
5. Jeff Driskel, Louisiana Tech
Ranking the Conference USA Running Backs for 2015
1. Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech
2. Devon Johnson, Marshall
3. Leon Allen, WKU
4. Aaron Jones, UTEP
5. Ray Lawry, ODU
Top 5 Non-Conference Games for 2015
1. WKU at LSU - Oct. 24
2. WKU at Vanderbilt - Sept. 5
3. Louisiana Tech at Mississippi State - Oct. 17
4. Purdue at Marshall - Sept. 6
5. WKU at Indiana - Sept. 19
Key Coordinator Hires for 2015
1. Matt Wallerstedt, Defensive Coordinator, Charlotte
2. Blake Baker, Defensive Coordinator, Louisiana Tech
3. Chris Cosh, Defensive Coordinator, North Texas
Top Incoming Freshmen (from 247Sports)
1. Trae Meadows, DB, MTSU
2. Von Davis, DB, Marshall
3. Johnny Shaw, DB, Louisiana Tech
4. Zach Abercrumbia, DT, Rice
5. Reese Ryan, QB, WKU
6. Kevin Dillman, TE, North Texas
7. Ruben Garnett, RB, MTSU
8. Tarrick Thomas, OL, FAU
9. Rhashid Bonnette, WR, Louisiana Tech
10. J'Mar Smith, QB, Louisiana Tech