Conference USA Football 2018 Predictions

Complete preview for Conference USA in 2018.

UAB Blazers RB Spencer Brown

The list of top contenders in Conference USA for 2018 has to start with the two teams that played for the league title in '17. FAU and North Texas won their respective division last season and take the top two spots once again in the 2018 Conference USA predictions. The Owls are a contender for the top Group of 5 ranking, but Marshall and MTSU won't be easy outs in the East. Old Dominion is also expected to improve in 2018, while FIU and WKU are two wild card teams to watch. The Mean Green got the nod at No. 1 in the West, but there's very little separation between coach Seth Littrell's team and Louisiana Tech and UAB. Southern Miss is projected to make a bowl game, with UTSA just missing at five predicted wins. Rice and UTEP are starting over with new coaches in 2018.

 

FAU is Conference USA's Clear Favorite for 2018

Under first-year coach Lane Kiffin last fall, FAU steamrolled its way to a perfect 8-0 mark in conference play during the regular season and defeated North Texas 41-17 in the C-USA Championship Game. The Owls posted 11 overall victories, which were the most in a single season in school history. There's little reason to doubt the Lane Train will slow down in Boca Raton anytime soon. FAU's offense returns All-America running back Devin Singletary and a talented set of receivers on the outside, led by West Virginia transfer Jovon Durante and sophomore Willie Wright. De'Andre Johnson and Chris Robison are locked into a tight battle for the starting quarterback spot, but the FAU offense should be in good hands with either signal-caller. New coordinator Tony Pecoraro inherits a defense that returns 10 starters and takes the top spot in each of the three unit rankings (DL, LB and DB) for the conference. The Owls face a tough matchup against Oklahoma in Week 1, but if Kiffin's team can avoid a loss the rest of the way, FAU should be in the mix to be the top Group of 5 team in 2018.

 

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North Texas, Louisiana Tech or UAB at No. 1 in the West?

Conference USA's West Division hasn't had a repeat champion over the last five seasons. Could that streak continue in 2018? Athlon picked North Texas to claim the West Division, but the debate between the Mean Green, Louisiana Tech and UAB was the toughest of the Conference USA prediction meeting. It's no secret North Texas is going to lean on its offense and quarterback Mason Fine to win in 2018. However, the Mean Green have to do a better job of protecting Fine and must improve a defense that surrendered 35 points a game in 2017. Louisiana Tech's defense will rank among the best in Conference USA, and its offense should take a step forward behind junior quarterback J'Mar Smith. UAB was one of college football's biggest surprises last fall, earning a bowl trip in its return to the gridiron. Coach Bill Clark's team will be a factor in the conference title mix. The Blazers are deep at running back, while senior quarterback A.J. Erdely is back after throwing for 16 touchdowns to just four interceptions last year. UAB's defense has holes to fill at every level, but Clark and coordinator David Reeves won't allow this unit to slip too far on the stat sheet. A scheduling note that could have a major impact on this race: Louisiana Tech has to play at North Texas and FAU. The Mean Green has to play at UAB but the Bulldogs and Owls visit Apogee Stadium.

 

Marshall is a Team to Watch in the East

FAU is the preseason favorite to win the East Division and claim the C-USA title once again, but don't overlook Marshall. The Thundering Herd nearly defeated the Owls in Boca last fall (30-25) and return 17 starters for 2018. Coach Doc Holliday's team held opponents to just 19.9 points a game last season and should be tough on defense once again with nine returning starters. The only missing piece on offense? Quarterback play. Wagner graduate transfer Alex Thomson is competing with freshman Isaiah Green for the starting job. With FAU visiting Huntington on Oct. 20, Marshall has a chance to play spoiler in the East Division.

 

What's Expected Out of MTSU?

The Blue Raiders have been a consistent winner in recent years and should earn the program's fourth consecutive bowl game. In order for coach Rick Stockstill's team to challenge FAU and Marshall in the East, quarterback Brent Stockstill has to stay healthy. Despite missing a couple of games due to injury last fall, Stockstill threw for 1,672 yards and 16 touchdowns. Go-to receiver Richie James left for the NFL, but Stockstill has plenty of weapons on the outside, and running back Terelle West leads a talented trio of running backs. Coordinator Scott Shafer's defense is poised to improve on last year's totals, especially with one of the league's best linebacker units at his disposal. With Stockstill back under center, MTSU will factor into the top of the East. However, non-conference games against Vanderbilt, Georgia and Kentucky, along with a crossover contest with UAB from the West Division provides a tough path to improve on last year's seven victories.

 

Southern Miss…Transition Year in 2018?

The biggest wild card team in Conference USA for 2018 might be Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles are 15-11 under coach Jay Hopson and should be poised to earn another bowl trip this fall. However, Southern Miss returns only eight starters and faces quarterback uncertainty after Kwadra Griggs missed time in the spring due to an injury. Hopson's roster isn't hurting for talent or athleticism, but there are several new faces stepping into the lineup, and All-C-USA running back Ito Smith will be missed. Considering Southern Miss hosts Louisiana Tech and Marshall, this team could play a key role in how the divisions shake out at the end of the year. There's a lot of potential with the Golden Eagles in 2018. However, there's also a lot of turnover and it may take Hopson a year to put all of the right pieces into place.

 

New Coaches at Rice and UTEP

After finishing a combined 1-23 last season, both Rice and UTEP are starting over in 2018. The Owls turned to former Stanford assistant Mike Bloomgren to lead the program, while the Miners picked former Wyoming and Houston head coach Dana Dimel. How much improvement will the new coaches generate for these two programs in 2018?

 

 

Conference USA 2018 Unit Rankings

Best RB

Units

Best WR

Units

Best OL

Units

Best DL
Units

Best LB

Units

Best DB

Units

1. 1. 1. 1. 1. 1.
2. 2. 2.   2. 2. 2.
3. 3. 3. 3. 3. 3.
4. 4. 4. 4. 4. 4.
5. 5. 5. 5. 5. 5.

 

Conference USA Football 2018 Predictions
         
East Division
Rank Team   Projected C-USA Record Projected Overall Record
1 FAU 7-1 11-2
2 Marshall 6-2 8-4
3 Middle Tennessee 6-2 7-5
4 Old Dominion 3-5 6-6
5 FIU 3-5 5-7
6 WKU 2-6 4-8
7 Charlotte 1-7 2-10
         
West Division
Rank Team   Projected C-USA Record Projected Overall Record
1 North Texas 6-2 8-5
2 Louisiana Tech 6-2 8-4
3 UAB 6-2 8-4
4 Southern Miss 5-3 7-5
5 UTSA 4-4 5-7
6 Rice 1-2 2-11
7 UTEP 0-8 1-11
         
Conference USA Championship Game
 FAU over North Texas 

 

Conference USA 2018 Superlatives and Season Predictions
 

Steven 

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR
Offensive POY

Devin Singletary

RB, FAU

Devin Singletary
RB, FAU
Devin Singletary
RB, FAU
Defensive POY

Jaylon Ferguson

DL, La. Tech

Jaylon Ferguson
DL, La. Tech
Jaylon Ferguson
DL, La. Tech
Coach of the Year

Lane Kiffin

FAU

Lane Kiffin
FAU
Lane Kiffin
FAU
Coach on Hot Seat

Brad Lambert

Charlotte

Brad Lambert
Charlotte
Brad Lambert
Charlotte
Top Freshman

Kevaris Thomas

QB, WKU

Kevaris Thomas
QB, WKU
Kevaris Thomas
QB, WKU
Top Newcomer

Alex Thomson

QB, Marshall

Alex Thomson
QB, Marshall
Alex Thomson
QB, Marshall
Sleeper Team Old Dominion UTSA UAB

Key Position

to Watch

North Texas OL North Texas OL North Texas OL
Best Coordinator Hire

Tony Pecoraro

DC, FAU

Tony Pecoraco
DC, FAU
Tony Pecoraco
DC, FAU

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

WKU MTSU WKU
Coach on the Rise

Seth Littrell

HC, North Texas

Graham Harrell
OC, North Texas
Seth Littrell
North Texas
Must-See Game

FAU at

Marshall

FAU at
North Texas
FAU at
North Texas
Breakout Player

Steven Williams

QB, ODU

D'Andre Johnson
QB, FAU
Andre Wilson
WR, UAB
Comeback Player

Josiah Tauaefa

LB, UTSA

Brent Stockstill
QB, MTSU
Brent Stockstill
QB, MTSU

 

Podcast: Athlon's Editors Discuss 2018 Conference Predictions

 

 

(Devin Singletary photo courtesy of FAU Athletics; Spencer Brown photo by Kamp Fender/UAB Athletics)

Event Date: 
Wednesday, June 6, 2018 - 10:18

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