Who wins the West?
I find it extremely difficult to pick against Rice, who, despite significant losses on both sides of the ball, are so well coached that I don’t think anyone will notice. But UTSA is an exceptional squad, with a stupid amount of talent coming back. I think parity will be the theme of the West in 2014, and the winner of the UTSA at Rice game on Nov. 8 decides the division — I’m going with the home team, the Owls repeat.
I’ve got to go with Rice again. They were at their best last season when it mattered - in conference play - and they have some key guys back. Driphus Jackson looks like he could be a better quarterback than (gasp!) Taylor McHargue, at least talent-wise, and they have some nice running backs and receivers on board.
UTSA: I’m not going to lie--I was going to pick Rice, but when I got a good look at who was coming back for the Roadrunners, I changed it. Dieter nailed it: there’s way too much talent to ignore. They won’t win the conference, but they’ll definitely get to the title game as the West champ.
UTSA: The team returns 38 Seniors. 38! This cannot be stated enough. After a bowl snub last year, and some early tests for non-conference games, I feel confident to say the Roadrunners will win the title in their 5th year as a program.
Presuming Rakeem Cato is the Offensive Player of the Year, who is the runner-up?
My pick’s Tommy Shuler (Marshall), simply for the man that is going to be passing him the ball each week. The Herd’s schedule actually provides them an opportunity to really feast on some opponents, and with Shuler stepping in as a senior and a status as the top WR in the league (it’s not even close), those numbers from last year will only get better.
It’s easy to say Tommy Shuler, what, with all those Cato passes that are sure to come his way. But I’ll go off the board and pick Jordan Parker of MTSU. The talent has always been there for the junior — but Benny Cunningham and injuries have gotten in the way the past two seasons. With a new quarterback and a more run-happy offense coming in 2014, this could be Parker’s year to break out in a big way.
I’m gonna go with Brandon Doughty of Western Kentucky. He needs to play better when the game is on the line, but he’s a smart, accurate passer who has a plethora of receivers to throw to. Without a marquee running back this season, the senior will be counted on a little more this season.
Taylor Heinicke at old dominion. Guy puts up amazing stats and Old Dominion runs a fun little pass-happy offense. Plus this senior will be looking to impress NFL scouts.
Who wins C-USA DPOY?
It’s hard to pick against MTSU LB TT Barber. He’ll lead the league in tackles and likely tackles for loss.
Some good choices, but I’m going to copy everyone else and go with Christian Covington at Rice. He’s already a "name" guy, which never hurts, and he should dominate in a weak West conference, banging up some impressive stats, which counts more than good play.
Covington. Just watching highlights of this kid and it impressed me how well he’s able to break through the line and get to wherever the ball is. Plus, his size--6’3", 300. He might get some NFL looks if he’s able to parlay the high expectations into a strong 2014 campaign.
Covington. Rice Preseason All-Conference USA. Phil Steele Preseason Third Team All-American. Outland Trophy Watch List. Lombardi Award Watch List. Chuck Bednarik Award Watch List. Nagurski Watch List. The guy is a monster on the line, and with some contributors returning to the Rice defense, I see no reason why Covington can’t have an even bigger season.
Who is the surprise team in C-USA (exceeding their presumed win total)
Southern Miss — they're not going to compete in many games, but with a year to do their best to sure up that horrific run defense, there the Eagles are going to stay in games against the bottom teams in C-USA and I think four wins are possible in 2014.
FIU - I’d have picked their in-state buddies FAU, but they’re expected to do well enough. Ron Turner got a season to acclimate back to college ball after a horrendous 2013. They return 19 starters, although some of them likely won’t start this season. I’m not expecting them to knock off Marshall or anything, but they should be back to 5 wins or so.
UTEP — Sean Kugler’s going into his second season, and I think that the way the schedule breaks for them, they might be able to eke out six or seven wins. One thing’s for sure: they’re going to be a better team than they were last year.
FAU — They won four straight to end the year, and I think they can hit seven and get back to a bowl game. I’ve got faith in Partridge.
Who is the breakout player in C-USA (non-frosh)?
Last year, FAU slot receiver Lucky Whitehead battled injury after injury. It was a bad luck, and it delayed the junior college transfer’s breakout campaign a year. With the FAU offense in good shape in 2014, I expect Whitehead to put up big numbers.
Jordan Parker, RB, MTSU. He’s a super-back rushing for 1600 or so yards over the last couple of years, but he was on his way to a big year last season before injury hampered him. The Blue Raiders will have a new QB, so expect to see plenty of Parker this season as he gets close to doubling his career total, assuming he stays healthy.
Nick Mullens, QB, Southern Miss — Lost in that dreadful season for the Golden Eagles was a pretty good freshman campaign for the Hoover (Ala.) product. He’s gotten a year under Todd Monken’s system and there’s no reason to think that he can’t come out of the gates strong again.
Tucker Carter, QB, UTSA — He’s got much of his pass-catching and rushing returning. He’s not a freshman and should be able to put up some great stats and pick up where Eric Soza left off.
Freshman to Watch
Alex McGough, QB, FIU. He’s going to be on his back a lot in 2014, but the kid from Tampa is going to start all 12 games for the Panthers this year, and gain extremely valuable experience for 2015 and beyond. He might be able to ruin some seasons down the stretch.
Got to go with Alex McGough at FIU too. If the Panthers are going to win 5, someone has to get the ball moving, and the freshman is the guy. He isn’t starting though - yet.
Angelo Jean-Louis, WR, Marshall. The redshirt freshman is slotted to see some playing time out of the spread formation, and playing with Cato this year should give him ample opportunity to make some plays with the football.
Tee Goree, WR, North Texas. UNT lost Brelan Chancellor and Darnell Smith in the WR corps. I see no reason why Goree can’t fill the shoes of either…
Do 1. Ron Turner 2. Skip holtz 3. Todd monken 4. Sean kugler survive the season?
Turner - No, he’ll be fired before the season ends.
Holtz — Yes, LaTech will exceed last year’s record (despite him) and he’ll survive.
Monken — Yes. I think he's is a great coach, but if they don’t get four wins this season, he’s going to see the door. I think they’ll make the mark and he’ll survive another year.
Kugler — No, UTEP is a program stuck in neutral.
Turner - Yes, I think FIU improves this season.
Holtz - No, has struggled since his ECU days, and it’s hard to believe the admin will allow him another unsuccessful year.
Monken - Yes, Southern Miss were slightly improved under Monken, and that should continue this year.
Kugler - Yes. Winning at UTEP is hard, so they’re a bit more patient with their coaches.
Turner- No. FIU has become a joke, will only continue, especially if one of the two FCS teams upsets the men from Miami in the first two games.
Holtz- No. LaTech has a daunting schedule, with only 2-3 wins on the schedule. I know C-USA schools usually have a longer leash than P5 schools, but La Tech has a decent amount of upperclassmen, and the pressure is on.
Monken- Yes. He’s well-liked, and has done wonders in helping USM recover from that 0-12 season.
Kugler- Yes. All he’s gotta do is double his win total right? He’ll have QB Jemell Showers available, and should match last year’s win total by mid-September. The schedule after that doesn’t do him any favors, but he’s a UTEP native son
Turner- Yes. The Panthers won’t repeat their poor season from a year ago. They’ll still be a bad football team, but there’s nowhere to go but up from 1-11.
Holtz- No. You’re looking at an absolute death march in some of those games, and in the end I don’t think the record will be good enough to keep him.
Monken- Yes. Same story as FIU--nowhere to go but up. Not greatly improved, but showing just enough to keep him around for another year at least.
Kugler--Yes. Sensing a theme here. Granted, he’s been there only a year, and they were bad in 2013 , but as Adam mentioned, he’s a UTEP guy, so they’ll be a little more patient with him.