Conference USA looks a little different this season with the departure of a couple of schools to the Sun Belt. There will be even more departures next season as the AAC raided them for several teams as well.
On the field, though, there figure to be the usual suspects contending for the two spots in the conference championship game. With 11 teams, there are no divisions in 2022, so the two teams with the best record will battle for the title on Dec. 2.
It'll be interesting to see what UAB is like without head coach Bill Clark and what WKU looks like with a lot of their key pieces leaving. And there's defending champion UTSA, who brings back a lot from last year's team but did see some key pieces depart.
(Win totals provided by Draftkings)
Charlotte (Over 4.5 -105...Under 4.5 -115)
Non-Conference Games: William & Mary, Maryland, at Georgia State, at South Carolina
Schedule Notes: There are two P5 opponents on tap, including the first-ever meeting with Maryland. The 49ers have only played one other Big Ten school, falling 24-14 at Illinois last season. Charlotte also faces South Carolina for the first time in program history, but the trip to Columbia probably won't end well. The 49ers host UTEP while facing UAB and Florida Atlantic on the road.
QB: Chris Reynolds
Roster Notes: The foundation is there for a solid offense with Reynolds back under center. His top four targets return, including Victor Tucker and Grant DuBose, who combined for 1,531 receiving yards. The ground game should be very good too. Greg Brown is the new defensive coordinator, and the last time he held that position was for Colorado during the 2012 season. He's got a fair amount of experience returning up front and in the secondary, but linebacker is a little bit of a question mark.
Prediction: Solid number as I see 4-5 wins
Florida Atlantic (Over 5.5 -160...Under 5.5 +135)
Non-Conference Games: at Ohio, SE Louisiana, UCF, at Purdue
Schedule Notes: Getting UCF at home is huge for the Owls. They open up in Boca Raton with a conference tilt against Charlotte and then hit the road for three of their next five games. FAU hosts WKU and UAB in C-USA play while traveling to UTEP.
QB: N'Kosi Perry
Roster Notes: This is an important season for Willie Taggart, who is 10-11 so far with the Owls. FAU lost four straight last season and fell one game short of bowl eligibility. Perry was solid under center with 20 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions. Getting their top rusher and top two wide receivers back could mean good things for the offense. The defense returns some experience and also has added several transfers. Special teams could be a little bit of an issue and will feature a Louisville transfer as the new punter.
Prediction: I'd love to make a case for the under, but six wins are probably the most likely outcome.
FIU (Over 3 -115...Under 3 -105)
Non-Conference Games: Bryant, at Texas State, at New Mexico State, UConn
Schedule Notes: The Panthers have three of their first four on the road, although Texas State and New Mexico State are winnable contests. They then have five of their final eight contests at home with UTSA in Miami and UTEP on the road.
QB: Duke transfer Gunnar Holmberg
Roster Notes: This offense was hideous last year, so bringing Holmberg in from Duke is an upgrade. FIU scored more than 20 points in just five games against FBS opponents. Four of the top five receivers return, but the offensive line is almost completely new. Defensively there's a new system in place with Mike MacIntyre taking over as the new head coach. Considering how bad this defense was last year, it probably doesn't matter that only two starters return.
Prediction: Three seems about right. It's going to be another long season.
Louisiana Tech (Over 4.5 -120...Under 4.5 EVEN)
Non-Conference Games: at Missouri, Stephen F. Austin, at Clemson, at South Alabama
Schedule Notes: The Bulldogs did themselves no favors early with three of their first four on the road including two road trips to Power 5 programs. They get UTEP and UAB at home but must ravel to UTSA.
QB Battle: TCU transfer Matt Downing vs. Texas Tech transfer Parker McNeil
Roster Notes: Sonny Cumbie replaces Skip Holtz in Ruston, and he's expected to bring a fun offense even if we don't know who the quarterback will be yet. Neither of the two contenders has thrown a ton of college passes, but they should be put into a good place to succeed. There's a solid trio of pass catchers in wide receivers Smoke and Tre Harris and tight end Griffin Hebert. The defense is led by Scott Power, who was the coordinator at FCS Stephen F. Austin for the past three seasons. He's got eight starters returning but everyone must adapt to the new system. There's a lot of mystery surrounding this team.
Prediction: I like the over here. I'll buy into the mystery and think Louisiana Tech surpasses this number.
Middle Tennessee (Over 5.5 -105...Under 5.5 -115)
Non-Conference Games: at James Madison, at Colorado State, Tennessee State, at Miami (Fla.)
Schedule Notes: It's a brutal start to the year for the Blue Raiders, who have four of their first six on the road, with the fourth being a trip to UAB. Two of the home games over that stretch are UTSA and WKU. There's not really a payoff later either though because three of their final five are outside Murfreesboro too.
QB Battle: Chase Cunningham vs. Nicholas Vattiato
Roster Notes: Both signal-callers saw action in 2021 as four different quarterbacks played. There's a new offensive coordinator in Mitch Stewart who is trying to install his brand of the Air Raid. Cunningham had 16 touchdown passes and three interceptions until he got hurt so he figures to be in the lead. Four of the top six wide receivers return, but that group doesn't include last season's top two, Jarrin Pierce and Jimmy Marshall. The defense has six starters back, but they lost their top four tacklers. The front line should be strong, which will be needed with such a young, inexperienced secondary.
Prediction: Solid number, as I came up with 5-6 wins.
North Texas (Over 6.5 EVEN...Under 6.5 -120)
Non-Conference Games: SMU, Texas Southern, at UNLV, at Memphis
Schedule Notes: The Mean Green open up with a road conference game before hosting SMU. Their C-USA road slate (UTEP, UTSA, WKU, UAB) is brutal.
QB Battle: Austin Aune vs. Memphis transfer Grant Gunnell
Roster Notes: Aune ran with the first team early in Mean Green practice, but the intrigue surrounds Gunnell, who started his career at Arizona before transferring to Memphis. He probably offers more upside. Whoever wins the job will have a solid wide receiver corps to throw to and Oscar Adaway at running back after he missed last season due to an ACL injury. The offensive line returns almost intact as well, so UNT's offense should be strong if they find the right signal-caller. The defense probably will take a little step back at least early after defensive ends and twin brothers Grayson and Gabriel Murphy (combined 15.5 sacks in 2021) transferred to UCLA.
Prediction: I like the under here.
Rice (Over 3.5 +110...Under 3.5 -130)
Non-Conference Games: at USC, McNeese, Louisiana, at Houston
Schedule Notes: The first month or so of the season features road trips to USC and Houston with a home matchup against UAB off a bye week. After their own bye, the Owls have two straight on the road followed by two at home.
QB Battle: TJ McMahon vs. Wiley Green
Roster Notes: The two signal-callers split reps during the spring and neither showed a ton during their limited work in 2021. Luke McCaffrey was actually moved to wide receiver, where he can be more useful following the departures of Jake Bailey and August Pitre III. Ari Broussard is a solid running back, and he'll work behind an offensive line that features plenty of starting experience but minimal depth. The defense returns plenty of veterans but improvement must be made after surrendering 30 or more points in each of the final five contests last season.
Prediction: No lean here.
UAB (Over 8.5 +115...Under 8.5 -135)
Non-Conference Games: Alabama A&M, at Liberty, Georgia Southern, at LSU
Schedule Notes: It's a soft start to the season with a couple of potential wins and then a bye week before entering conference play. After the Rice road trip, the Blazers alternate between back-to-back, two-game home and road groupings to close things out. UAB gets UTSA at home and WKU on the road.
QB: Dylan Hopkins
Roster Notes: Everyone was shocked when Bill Clark announced his retirement, as he's arguably the most underrated head coach in America. Former offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent is taking over, and that side of the ball shouldn't see any issues. Hopkins was very solid, and he's got his top two running backs and top wide receiver returning as well. DeWayne McBride and Jermaine Brown Jr. had 20 rushing touchdowns in 2021 and will be running behind three returning starting offensive linemen. The defense is loaded in the secondary and has experienced linebackers but there are questions up front.
Prediction: Smallish lean to the over at a plus price.
UTEP (Over 5.5 -125...Under 5.5 +105)
Non-Conference Games: at Oklahoma, New Mexico State, at New Mexico, Boise State
Schedule Notes: It's a fascinating group of non-conference opponents, but the Miners open up at home in C-USA play against North Texas. If the Miners hope to show last year wasn't a fluke, they need to win that game because they get Oklahoma and Boise State in September too.
QB: Gavin Hardison
Roster Notes: UTEP started the 2021 campaign 6-1 and somewhat limped to the finish with a 7-6 overall record. The offense did just enough while the defense struggled at times with being on the field too much. There are 14 starters back in total, with eight of those on D. The majority of the Miners' sack production returns with ends Jadrian Taylor and Praise Amaewhule leading the way. The secondary could be an issue, but Justin Prince is back at safety after missing a chunk of last year. Offensively, wide receivers Jacob Cowing and Justin Garrett are gone, so Hardison will have to find new targets. The ground game should be in good shape with the 1-2 punch of Ronald Awatt and Deion Hankins.
Prediction: Five or six wins seem about right.
UTSA (Over 8.5 +130...Under 8.5 -150)
Non-Conference Games: Houston, at Army, at Texas, Texas Southern
Schedule Notes: UTSA has a massive home opener with Houston coming to town. The Roadrunners follow that up with two very tough road trips before closing their non-conference slate out with an FCS school. They alternate road and home games the whole C-USA slate, including a Nov. 5 showdown at UAB.
QB: Frank Harris
Roster Notes: Sincere McCormick is gone from the backfield, and that's a big loss, although Harris was very good (27 TDs, 6 INTs) under center in 2021. The receiving group is pretty much intact, so that'll help soften the blow as the run game finds its footing. The defense loses Clarence Hicks, who had 10.5 sacks last season. Still, there appears to be plenty of depth up front, and the secondary will be anchored by safety Rashad Wisdom, the team's best defender.
Prediction: I like the under here, too, even though plenty is back.
WKU (Over 8.5 +120...Under 8.5 -140)
Non-Conference Games: Austin Peay, at Hawaii, at Indiana, Troy, at Auburn
Schedule Notes: This 13-game schedule is brutal, with two Power 5 road trips as well as the long trek to Hawaii in Week 2. WKU has two of its final five on the road and faces both UTSA and UAB in October.
QB Battle: West Virginia transfer Jarret Doege vs. West Florida transfer Austin Reed
Roster Notes: The Hilltoppers over was my favorite play last year and they hit that easily. Unfortunately, the majority of the incredible offense is gone including the QB (Bailey Zappe), WR (Jerreth Sterns), and OC (Zach Kittley). Only a handful of starters return, and a pair of transfers are battling for the QB job. This offense barely ran the ball last year and will be overseen by three co-coordinators. MAC transfers Michael Mathison (Akron) and Jaylen Hall (Western Michigan) have been added to the reshuffled receiving corps. A step back in offensive production is all but a given and could be an issue if the defense doesn't improve. Six starters return on that side of the ball but this unit has its third coordinator in as many years.
Prediction: The under is the only way to go here, even with the extra game.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.