1. Western Kentucky: 10-3 (Preseason: #1)
This committee of one is a big believer in the Hilltoppers this season. Despite losing standout seniors Tyler Higbee, Nick Holt, Wonderful Terry, Prince Charles Iworah, and of course the best quarterback in school history Brandon Doughty, they still have Jeff Brohm running the show and that's enough for me to leave them atop in CUSA. Well that, and the fact that they boast the deepest stable of running backs in CUSA and dynamic playmakers at the receiver position.
Turns out believing in Jeff Brohm turned out to be the right pick. The deepest stable of running backs ended up being hampered as D'Andre Ferby was lost for the year early in the season and Leon Allen wasn’t heard of. But the passing attack was just as dynamic with Mike White, Taywan Taylor, and Nicholas Norris.
2. Louisiana Tech: 8-5 (Preseason: #5)
I have no idea what to think of Louisiana Tech. They have unknown commodities all over the field and will have to replace their best offensive weapon in Kenneth Dixon, and best defensive player in Vernon Butler. It will be a transition year in Ruston for sure but Tech has the talent to win CUSA West should Southern Miss falter.
That last sentence sure rang true didn’t it. Southern Miss struggled and in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year the Bulldogs won their second C-USA West division title. The defense struggled, but the passing attack was amazing with Carlos Henderson, Trent Taylor, and Ryan Higgins.
3. Old Dominion: 9-3 (Preseason: #9)
If David Washington can stay healthy the Monarchs have the potential to climb up the rankings. Getting a healthy Ray Lawry to join him in the backfield will provide a much needed spark to an offense that ran out of gas towards the end of last season. The defense should be fine as long as T.J. Ricks is on the field.
ODU was the biggest climbers from my preseason rankings to this final edition. Lawry stayed healthy, Jeremy Cox emerged as a threat alongside him and Washington stayed healthy too. Someone was going to climb into the second tier and and the Monarchs was that team.
4. UTSA: 6-6 (Preseason: #10)
After a stagnant two years under Larry Coker there will be new blood in San Antonio as Frank Wilson is now the man in charge. After an influx of graduate transfers in the offseason the UTSA roster will be way more talented than last year.
They were more talented and then some as better coaching resulted in more wins. I’d say reaching their first ever bowl game would make Frank Wilson’s first season in San Antonio a success. The rushing attack had a glimmer of hope last year and bursted onto the scene this year.
5. Middle Tennessee: 8-4 (Preseason: #4)
A lot of hype surrounds MTSU this year as they were the media’s official pick to win CUSA East. The dynamic-duo, sophomore sensations Brent Stockstill and Richie James lead what will be an explosive offense. MTSU is going to score points but losing standout receiver Terry Pettis for the year hurts. The question for me is will the defense be capable of getting stops. Until that's answered I remain skeptical of the Blue Raiders' chances of winning CUSA East.
I thought the hype for MTSU was a year early and it turned out I was right. The defense was one of the worst in C-USA and as a result MTSU was unable to win C-USA East. Brent Stockstill going down late in the season was a bummer but the team bounced back to end the season with a two-game winning streak. This season wasn’t exactly what MTSU had in mind but a win in the bowl game would make this year a definite success and a springboard for a conference title run next year.
6. Southern Mississippi: 6-6 (Preseason: #2)
Losing Todd Monken hurts but they still have Nick Mullens, the best quarterback in C-USA. Playing in what still is a weak CUSA West helps too as the Golden Eagles' offense should feast. We still have no idea how this team will look with Jay Hopson in charge but I'm giving Southern Miss the benefit of the doubt.
The Monken transition to Hopson turned out to be a bigger leap than I thought. The Golden Eagles played their two best games of the season in the opener against Kentucky and on senior day against Louisiana Tech. In the middle of the season their play was erratic and unpredictable. It was a disappointing season but the bowl game will determine if Hopson enters year two on the hot seat as it will ensure a losing season with what was one of the best rosters in C-USA.
7. North Texas: 5-7 (Preseason: #12)
I wasn't a big fan of the Seth Littrell hire. After the JUCO transfers didn't qualify North Texas is back to square one in trying to determine where production will come from. It’s going to be a long year in Denton.
Year one for Littrell was a mixed bag for me. The defense really improved but the Air Raid offense didn’t take. With that said, this was a definite success after winning just one game last year. A trip to a bowl game no matter how they got there seemed unrealistic to think of in the offseason.
8. Charlotte: 4-8 (Preseason: #13)
Charlotte returns a bunch of players off of last year's team and if a few bounces go their way, could win not one, but two games in conference play.
The 49ers won three conference games this year and if they finished games against Rice and FIU would have been to a bowl game. Charlotte is still learning how to win close games but this year Brad Lambert’s program definitely took a step forward.
9. FIU: 4-8 (Preseason: #8)
FIU is still trying to take the next step under Ron Turner. This year he will have his most experienced and talented roster as Alex Gardner and Alex McGough could have breakout seasons. The non-conference slate is tricky, but if FIU comes away 2-2 a bowl season could be on the horizon.
The non-conference slate was tricky, and FIU came away winless. It costed Ron Turner his job. The Panthers’ play on the field instantly improved as they finished .500 in conference play. With Butch Davis as the new head coach and the possible return of Alex Gardner and Anthony Jones, FIU is going to be trendy pick to win C-USA East next year.
10. Marshall: 3-9 (Preseason: #3)
Marshall has won double-digit games for three straight years. Under Doc Holliday the Herd has undergone a complete 180 from the Mark Snyder era and I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt until they prove other wise. They will have one of the best pass defenses in CUSA and a seasoned Chase Litton should take the next step and be the next great quarterback to don the green and white.
Nope. Wrong. Litton was inconsistent all year and the play on the line of scrimmage was horrendous on both sides of the ball. The team played with no heart in the season finale and as passionate as Holliday is that was really shocking to see.
11. FAU: 3-9 (Preseason: #7)
The Owls will have one of the best defenses in CUSA. They will have one of the best special teams units in CUSA. The question marks reside on the offensive side of the ball. If FAU doesn't get consistent play out of their quarterback and receivers they are going to be in a lot of close games. Under Charlier Partridge FAU is 3-8 in one-possession games.
The Owls had a great special teams unit and their offense got better as the season progressed. What didn’t come to fruition was the defense. FAU played in six one-possession games this year and went 2-4 but what ultimately did Partridge in was the poor defensive performances against Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee.
12. Rice: 3-9 (Preseason: #11)
David Bailiff has overachieved in Houston but this year will be his biggest season yet as the pressure to win continues to build year over year.
The pressure was on and Bailiff didn’t deliver. But thanks to built up years in equity of four bowl games and a conference title Bailiff will be back in Houston for his 11th season.
13. UTEP: 4-8 (Preseason: #6)
I really, really love UTEP to have a bounce back year. Aaron Jones returns in the backfield, the secondary should be a lot better after having freshmen all over the field last season and the schedule is incredibly easy. Hiring Brent Pease to run the offense is going to pay off immediately.
UTEP was a dark horse win C-USA West thanks in large part to their conference schedule and they massively underachieved. Hiring Pease didn’t pay off as quick as I thought as the passing attack still flopped for most of the year.