Since Conference USA became a 14-team conference CUSA East has been much stronger than CUSA West. The last two champions have come from the east division and it would have been the last three had Rice not upset Marshall in the 2013 CUSA Championship Game.
For the most part, CUSA East has been the better division not because of their depth, but because two of league's best teams have been in the east. After losing the CUSA Championship Game in 2013, Marshall took home the CUSA crown in 2014. In 2015, Western Kentucky ran roughshod over the conference and took home the crown without losing a single conference game.
Both teams have been the toast of the conference over the past few seasons and the Moonshine Throwdown has been the marquee game of the year for CUSA as a result.
nVegas Insider sees the winner of the Moonshine Throwdown deciding the division once again as no one in CUSA East, or CUSA, has a higher win total than Marshall or WKU.
Both are fresh off of double-digit win seasons and both of their win totals for the 2016 season are set at 8.5 wins. Will the Moonshine Throwdown decide who wins CUSA East again? What about Middle Tennessee State who brings back a ton of talent on offense? We're still months away from the season but its never too early for predictions.
Western Kentucky, 8.5 (Over +110, Under -130): After winning 12 games last season thanks to their dynamic offense, Western Kentucky will have to replace three of their top five receivers and the best quarterback to ever suit up for the Hilltoppers in Brandon Doughty. However, the offense should still be loaded as WKU boasts the best running back depth in the conference with Anthony Wales, D'Andre Ferby, and the return of Leon Allen.
Quarterback Nelson Fishback will be out for the season with a torn pectoral tendon so the options have appeared to dwindle down to former USF quarterback Mike White and former Louisville quarterback Tyler Ferguson. Neither had impressive stints at their previous stops so it would take a leap of faith to expect the offense to equal last year's production.
The non-conference schedule - at Alabama, at Miami (OH), Vanderbilt, Houston Baptist - should at worst give WKU a 2-2 start entering conference play with a good chance at 3-1. I'm leaning towards the latter.
WKU's conference schedule is tricky as their toughest games are on the road with trips to MTSU, FAU, Louisiana Tech, and the season finale against Marshall. Rice, Old Dominion, FIU, and North Texas make their way to Bowling Green.
S&P+ pegs them as a favorite in all of their games except Alabama with a projected win total of 8.6. I don't expect WKU to run the gauntlet in conference play like they did last year, but I don't see them falling off a cliff either. I say they lose two games in conference and finish 9-3. PICK: OVER
Marshall, 8.5 (Over -125, Under +105): The line is heavily juiced towards the over and for good reason as Marshall has won at least nine games in the regular for three straight years. Vegas knows..
This season the Herd won't lose much off of last year's team. Four starters from the offensive line return to join Chase Litton and an experienced receiving core.
Litton was solid last year as a true freshman and could be even better this year if his supporting cast is up to par. Defensively Marshall had the best scoring defense in the conference last season and I don't expect that to change as Gary Thompson should be one of the best players in CUSA.
The schedule is worrisome as the non-conference slate features Morgan State, Akron, Louisville, and at Pittsburgh. At worst you're looking at 2-2 with a decent chance at 3-1, but a not too far fetched shot at winning all four.
I'm leaning towards Marshall splitting the ACC games with a 3-1 record. In conference play Marshall must make trips to North Texas, Southern Miss, Old Dominion, and FIU. The home slate includes FAU, Charlotte, MTSU, and WKU.The schedule lacks any bye weeks so Marshall has they must stay healthy.
S&P+ projects Marshall's win total at 7.6. The schedule presents great opportunities and with how great Marshall is at home the Louisville game has all the makings of a "Hello World" moment for Chase Litton with Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson receiving a ton of hype.
I think Litton takes a step forward and Marshall goes 9-3 but with how heavy the line is juiced I'd stay away as I can easily see Marshall's streak of 10-win seasons ending with a 7-5 record. PICK: OVER
Middle Tennessee State, 7.5 (Over -110, Under -110): The Blue Raiders have been your run-of-the-mill G5 team over the past few seasons. But this season could be different as many see MTSU as a dark horse for the CUSA East division due to their explosive offense.
Brent Stockstill and Richie James should be the best one-two combo in CUSA. Stockstill passed for over 4,000 yards with 30 touchdowns. James had 108 receptions for 1,346 and eight touchdowns. Both are just sophomores.
The defense however was pretty bad last season and baring any changes they will be bad again as they must replace their best player on that side of the ball, T.T. Barber.
With a non-conference schedule that features trips to Vanderbilt, Bowling Green and Missouri with one home game against Alabama A&M, you're hoping to get two wins, with 1-3 being a real possibility.
In conference play MTSU will host Louisiana Tech, WKU, UTSA and FAU. Their road games are North Texas, FIU, Marshall and Charlotte. S&P+ projections see six wins on the table. I agree. The schedule is too tricky for me to pull a trigger on the over here as you're pending your hopes on MTSU pulling two upsets. PICK: UNDER
FIU, 6.5 (Over -110, Under -110): I'm not sure what Vegas was thinking with this line as this is by far the most perplexing in CUSA. FIU hasn't won over six games since 2011. Last season they finished 5-7. This line is one game over where it should be.
I have yet to see enough from Ron Turner to think he's a good head coach and although the roster does feature talent and experience, you're taking a huge leap of faith if you see FIU reaching seven wins.
Indiana, Maryland, UCF, FAU, La Tech, MTSU and Marshall all come to Miami. I see no more than three home wins and that's being optimistic. Which means FIU would need four road wins (UMASS, UTEP, Charlotte, WKU, ODU) to reach the over. Yeah, not happening. PICK: Under
Old Dominion, 5 (Over +100, Under -120): When Old Dominion joined the conference I honestly didn't see them being this competitive. In 2014 they finished 6-6, and last season they almost duplicated that record with a much worser team.
The non-conference slate features games at Appalachian State, at NC State, Hampton and UMASS. The most likely scenario is a 2-2 record. You have to find four wins during conference play to feel confident picking the over.
Home games against UTSA, Marshall, Southern Miss, and FIU means that their toughest games are at home but that's likely a 2-2 split. Road trips to Charlotte, WKU, UTEP, and FAU are all that's left. ODU could go 2-2 on the road in conference play.
S&P+ thinks ODU will win five games and I agree but we don't hedge around these parts. I'll say ODU surprises a team on the road and picks up a sixth win somewhere to reach the over. PICK: OVER
FAU, 4.5 (Over -110, Under -110): Last season Florida Atlantic finished 3-9 but could have easily won six games if not for an abysmal 1-4 record in one possession games. The talent is there, but this year its young talent.
Jason Driskel and Daniel Parr are still duking it out to see who walks away as the starting quarterback but with unproven options in the receiving core its too early to peg how good the offense can be. The removal of star running back Trey Rodriguez also throws a wrench into some things.
What we do know is that the defense is stacked with talent and should be one of the best defenses in CUSA. Trey Hendrickson was second in the nation with 13.5 sacks. Hunter Snyder was good in his own right, registering five sacks. Jalen Young and Ocie Rose blossomed as true freshmen safeties last season and should only get better.
S&P+ sees 5.9 wins on the table for FAU. The schedule is very manageable as Southern Illinois, Ball State, Charlotte, UTEP, and ODU all have to visit FAU Stadium. Road trips to Rice, FIU, and MTSU are also doable. That's eight winnable games!
FAU hasn't won over three games since 2013. Anything from 3-9 to 8-4 is on the table. What I'm saying is FAU fans should be prepared to have their hearts ripped out. I'll cautiously take the over. PICK: OVER
Charlotte, 2.5 (Over -120, Under +100): In Charlotte's debut season in CUSA the 49ers finished a really uncompetitive 2-10 with zero wins in conference play.
Brad Lambert seems like a pretty cool guy and he has all of my respect for taking on a job of this nature. But his team is still a year away from being competitive in CUSA.
Being that last year's team was incredibly young, a ton of production returns. That's great news as there definitely are wins to be had with this schedule. S&P+ projects 4.4 wins which I would say is really optimistic.
You need three wins out of Elon, EMU, FIU, Rice, UTSA, ODU. I only see two with EMU and Elon. PICK: UNDER