Which team and player do you see surprising Conference USA and the rest of the country?
- Jason Jones - Anthon Samuel and FIU. FIU has winnable games against UMASS, NC Central, Charlotte, and both UTEP and Old Dominion at home. If they could upset Indiana and/or WKU - which is not out of the question given their defense - the Panthers could surprisingly make noise with an upset and be bowl eligible.
- Cyrus Smith - I really love FAU this year to make some noise in Partridge's second season. Last season they finished 3-9, but four of those losses came in the final seconds. They should be much deeper on defense after a few young guys got some experience late in the season and with Jaquez Johnson still running the show on offense in his final season the offense will be fine. My vote for surprising player goes to Kalib Woods. Listed at 6'3, he has the potential to be a headache for C-USA defenses in the red zone this season.
- Adam Woodyard - Many names who will perform exactly as expected, but I'm going with Driphus Jackson from Rice. In my CUSA poll I picked the Owls as my dark horse candidate. Jackson is a fifth year senior and threw for nearly 3000 yards and 24 TD's last season. Rice rides that talent to the championship game, Jackson is the reason why, and will get the national press to go with it.
- Fletcher Keel - I don't think I'm doing my job as the Western Kentucky writer here if I don't answer Brandon Doughty and the Hilltoppers. They have the hype coming into the season and I think they'll not only prove to the nation that they're for real this year but they'll also show that if the Tops aren't #1 they're very very close to Marshall.
- Jared Kalmus - I think FAU has the excellent QB play that's needed to compete at a high level in CUSA; book them for a major upset this season. For surprise player I'll take UNT wide receiver Tee Goree.
Who are your offensive and defensive MVPs heading into the season?
- Jason Jones - Devon Johnson and Xavier Woods
- Cyrus Smith - Driphus Jackson finally got his chance to be the starter at Rice and he delivered. He has the clutch gene -as evidenced in the bowl game against Air Force when he was a freshman - and doesn't turn the ball over. Louisiana Tech's defense will be great once again. Someone from that unit is winning this award. I'll go with Vernon Butler.
- Adam Woodyard - Offensive MVP - Brandon Doughty, WKU. Defensive MVP - Xavier Woods, La Tech
- Fletcher Keel - Again, that whole "I'm a terrible WKU writer if I don't mention Doughty." I think most everyone will say him though, so I'll just quietly follow suit. As for defense, I agree with what the coaches said on the All-CUSA Preseason team and say Richard Leonard from FIU. Safe bets, I know.
- Jared Kalmus - Devon Johnson and Vernon Butler. Let the big boys eat.
Are there any teams you see as a dark horse candidate in the East or the West?
- Jason Jones - UTEP in the West. They get Rice and LA Tech at home and they don't have to play WKU or Marshall. The Miners have the clearest path to the CUSA championship game.
- Cyrus Smith - My dark horse candidate for the East division has been established. As for the West division, UTEP gets my vote based on their schedule. They miss the top three teams in the East as they don't play Marshall, WKU, or MTSU. They also host both West division contenders Rice and Louisiana Tech.
- Adam Woodyard - Dark Horse in the west: RICE Dark Horse in the east?: MTSU
- Fletcher Keel - Watch out for MTSU in the East. They took WKU to three overtimes last season and while they don't have the attention like Marshall and WKU do, if either or both teams slip, the Blue Raiders could easily seize an opportunity and strike.
- Jared Kalmus - The thing with USM is that they're either going to be awful or excellent, not much in between giving their huge influx of transfers. I'm going to be optimistic and label them as a dark horse candidate in the West.
Most likely P5 win for the conference?
- Jason Jones - Purdue at Marshall. WKU at Vanderbilt is a good second choice and don't look past FIU at Indiana.
- Cyrus Smith - I know many of you guys like the Herd to defeat Purdue but I think WKU has the easiest matchup.
- Adam Woodyard - I don't guarantee a win or anything, but I feel the best chance of an actual, meaningful, high-profile P5 victory is Rice over Texas, just because Texas was so underwhelming last year.
- Fletcher Keel - Opening game in WKU's schedule when the Tops take on Vanderbilt in Nashville. Marshall also opens the year against Purdue and I could see the Herd running away with that game, too.
- Jared Kalmus - Going to echo my colleagues here and say that WKU is going to curbstomp Vandy.
Which coach do you see as most likely to not return in 2016, either due to a firing, retirement, or accepting another job?
- Jason Jones - Jeff Brohm. He hasn't been at WKU very long, but if he has a big year a school like Illinois could come calling. If USM goes in the tank, Monken could be canned.
- Cyrus Smith - Larry Coker could retire but I think he gives it one more year. I think David Bailiff is the most likely to end up at a P5 school, especially if he leads Rice to another conference title this season.
- Adam Woodyard - "Hot seat" talk will be wildly different toward the end of the season, particularly as UNT's Dan McCarney finishes his 5th season and goes 4-8, best case scenario. His predecessor only lasted four seasons. This isn't the Big 12, but they still expect results.
- Fletcher Keel - Doc Holliday. If Marshall has another Top 25-esque year, I find it hard to believe a larger school won't come knocking.
- Jared Kalmus - I could see Dan McCarney retiring. Things don't seem to be turning around at UNT and McCarney has been fighting through some health issues over the past couple of years.