2015 NCAA Football Preview: Conference USA

September 2, 2015

Looking at the glass half empty, at this point I only have five of the 11 conference previews finished.

Looking at the glass half full, three of those five previews are for Power 5 conferences, which are generally my longer and more well-thought out posts.

Let’s take a look at a conference most of you probably don’t intend of paying any attention to, Conference USA.


Despite the loss of UAB (which temporarily shut down its football program following last season), Conference USA remains a 13-team league thanks to the addition of Charlotte. While that doesn’t make waves on a national scale, from a competition perspective any addition is a good thing. Last season the Old Dominion Monarchs made the transition from FCS to Conference USA and posted a respectable 6-6 record, including a .500 league mark.

The loss of a potential New Year’s Six bowl threat will hurt in the short run, but in the long run this league should be exciting. Several teams have the talent to win their respective division, which only makes the games in late October and November more enticing to fans across the country. Plenty of offense from teams such as Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech will draw attention as well.

College Football Playoff Contenders


As was mentioned above, it is unlikely that Conference USA has a legitimate New Year’s Six bowl contender, much less a team that will compete for one of four playoff slots. That isn’t what this league is built on, which is why it was so ridiculous when Marshall decided to hire a PR firm last season to help make a case for a playoff berth.

Fans that don’t want anything to do with a conference that can’t offer a playoff participant are going to be left seeking more with C-USA. But fans expecting to see a playoff worthy team from this league probably need to do a bit more research on the overall landscape of college football.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)

Middle Tennessee State

The Blue Raiders missed out on a chance at the postseason despite being bowl eligible in 2014, which is a big deal to players in a league like Conference USA. Expect Middle Tennessee State to have a chip on its shoulder and approach its goal of getting back to a bowl game with rugged intensity. Led by the tenacious T.T. Barber at linebacker, the Blue Raiders should be much improved on the defensive side of the ball as three of the four defensive backs return with starter’s experience.

The schedule is not kind to Middle Tennessee State, which must face Alabama in Tuscaloosa before traveling to play C-USA favorites Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech during the conference slate. But if this team is as gritty as head coach Rick Stockstill would like them to be, then the adversity faced in those games will only help as the season wears on.

Hi, My Name Is… (Players to Watch)

Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky senior quarterback

If you aren’t aware of who Brandon Doughty is, you are not alone. But if the Western Kentucky signal-caller played for any Power 5 conference school, you’d have to be living under a rock not to recognize the name. Doughty was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, so by conventional standards he’s been around forever. It’s his stats that make it so surprising that he isn’t at least slightly better known, though.

The 6’3″, 216 pounder led the nation in both total passing yards and touchdown passes, amassing a ridiculous 4,830 yards passing and 49 touchdowns, seven more than Marcus Mariota, who was No. 2 on the passing TD list. In head coach Jeff Brohm’s offense, there is no reason to suggest that Doughty can’t approach those numbers again in 2015.

Aaron Jones, UTEP junior running back

Jones doesn’t put up the most impressive stats in the league, but his 2014 numbers (1,321 yards rushing, 11 touchdowns on 242 carries) sound a lot better when you consider the offense that UTEP had. Two of the three C-USA running backs ahead of him in total rushing yards played in offenses that ranked in the top five in the country. The third played for a top 50 offense. UTEP, in comparison, was the No. 108 offense in the country in total yards per game.

Thus, Jones is the engine for the Miners and will continue to play a huge role in 2015. With UTEP returning four offensive linemen but nearly no other skill players or quarterback, the junior back will be counted on to set the tone for what will be a physical offense.

Out-of-Conference Games to Watch

Louisiana Tech at Kansas State (September 19)

Manhattan, Kansas is an extremely difficult place to win a college football team as a visiting team, much more so for one outside of the Power 5 conferences. Louisiana Tech probably won’t win this game, but offensively the Bulldogs have some weapons that could test Kansas State’s defense enough to make things interesting.

Florida transfer Jeff Driskel will run the show for Louisiana Tech, and he will need to have a good game for the Bulldogs to stand a chance. Kansas State is known for bottling up good running backs like Kenneth Dixon so the offensive production will have to come from somewhere else.

Western Kentucky at LSU (October 24)

At some point, you just run out of options for segments such as this one. Despite Western Kentucky’s potent offense, the Hilltoppers will be major underdogs against LSU. Jeff Brohm’s squad won only two games on the road all of last season and didn’t come close to visiting a place as hostile as Death Valley.

Unless Brandon Doughty has the game of his life and the Hilltoppers do not turn the ball over at all, LSU will likely steamroll Western Kentucky. It could get interesting if the Tigers aren’t as strong defensively this season as we’ve come to expect from the program, though.

In-Conference Games to Watch

Louisiana Tech at Western Kentucky (September 10)

The marquee matchup of the C-USA schedule takes place very early in the college football season, meaning that it may be one of the better games of the weekend. Both teams have plenty of offensive stars, but Louisiana Tech also returns the bulk of its starting defense that ranked No. 5 in the country in turnover margin last year.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, this game will be played in Bowling Green, Kentucky and the home crowd will be aware of the magnitude of this game. It will be difficult for Skip Holtz’s squad to curb the momentum the Hilltoppers get from a big touchdown, of which there should be many.

Middle Tennessee State at Western Kentucky (October 10)

The East Division of Conference USA appears to be the stronger side of the conference, so Middle Tennessee State may not even be fighting for a spot at the top of the division but can still cause problems for the Hilltoppers. The Blue Raiders will need to be better in the secondary this season in order to have a realistic shot of beating Western Kentucky.

Middle Tennessee State was able to squeak by the Hilltoppers in 2014 and the concerns defensively for Western Kentucky are the same. You can score nearly 50 points, but if you give up 51 it doesn’t matter. Don’t be surprised if this matchup reaches into the 90s for total points scored once again.


East Division

1. Western Kentucky (9-3, [7-1])

2. Middle Tennessee State (7-5, [6-2])

3. Marshall (9-3, [5-3])

4. Old Dominion (7-5, [4-4])

5. Florida International (4-8, [3-5])

6. Florida Atlantic (3-9, [2-6])

7. Charlotte (1-11, [0-8])

West Division

1. UTEP (8-4, [6-2])

2. Louisiana Tech (8-4, [6-2])

3. Rice (7-5, [5-3])

4. Southern Mississippi (5-7, [4-4])

5. North Texas (4-8, [2-6])

6. UT-San Antonio (1-11, [1-7])

Championship Game (Western Kentucky vs. UTEP)

Winner: Western Kentucky

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