Unlike Conference USA East where the headlines have mainly been centered on Western Kentucky and Marshall, the western half of the division has shared the spotlight. There have been three different division winners in the past three years in Rice (2013), Louisiana Tech (2014) and Southern Miss (2015).
This season Southern Miss is the easy choice to win CUSA West as they return a ton from last year's team, including the best quarterback in the conference Nick Mullens. If Todd Monken had not left in the eleventh hour, Southern Miss would be the overwhelming favorite to win CUSA West.
New head coach Jay Hopson will feel a ton of pressure if Southern Miss is unable to win the division. Vegas Insider believes the transition should be smooth as their win total is at eight, the highest in CUSA West. But as the old adage goes, games aren't won on paper as Louisiana Tech was the clear favorite last season. Let's take a look at the other win totals in CUSA West.
Southern Miss, 8 (Over -110, Under -110): Last year Southern Miss came out of nowhere to win CUSA West. They finished the season 9-5 and now look to take the next step and win the Conference USA Championship Game.
The schedule sets up nicely for Southern Miss to possibly enter postseason play with one loss as S&P+ pegs the Golden Eagles a favorite in all but one game, a road trip to LSU. Out of conference Southern Miss also plays at Kentucky, Savanah State and Troy.
Best case scenario is 3-1 with 2-2 being the worst outcome. During conference play Southern Miss is going to have to get comfortable being in Texas as they will have to travel to UTEP, UTSA, and North Texas with a trip to Old Dominion. They will host Rice, Charlotte, Marshall and close with rival Louisiana Tech.
S&P+ projects 8.6 wins. That's good enough for me to take the over, especially since the odds of Southern Miss running the table at home are great thanks to having two weeks to prepare for Marshall. UTEP, UTSA, and North Texas don't have the talent this year to pull the upset and beat Southern Miss this year either. PICK: OVER
Louisiana Tech, 7.5 (Over -110, Under -110): Last season Louisiana Tech was in the same spot as Southern Miss as the Bulldogs were heavy favorites to win the West. This season the Bulldogs are flying under the radar as they must replace their entire backfield in Jeff Driskel and Kenneth Dixon and the bulk of their front seven.
The fact that it will now officially be Skip Holtz's team is a bit worrisome too. Remember his stint at USF? The first month of the season is tough as three of their first four games will be on the road (at Arkansas, SC Upstate, at Texas Tech, at MTSU). That's a 1-3 or 2-2 start.
Home games against UTEP, WKU, Rice and UTSA setup the conference slate. Road games to FIU, North Texas, Southern Miss, and a random trip to UMASS is the rest of the schedule.
S&P+ projects seven wins. With a lot of unknowns surrounding this team the only way you choose the over is if you believe Skip Holtz has recruited well and most importantly, and that he's a good coach. PICK: UNDER
Rice, 6 (Over +100, Under -120): My initial reaction is to take the over. David Baliff has done such a remarkable with Rice that he's earned the benefit of the doubt. But after last year's sudden collapse I can't help but wonder if Baliff has stayed too long in Houston.
S&P+ projects 4.7 wins and if you look at the schedule that seems about right. Rice should beat Army and Prairie View A&M and will almost certainly lose to WKU, Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech, Stanford and Baylor.
That means Rice would have to beat North Texas, UTSA, FAU, Charlotte and UTEP. Only Charlotte is a road game but I don't see the Owls winning all five to reach the over. PICK: UNDER
UTEP, 5 (Over -110, Under -110): UTEP is a tough team to get a read on. They suffered so many injuries last season. Three different quarterbacks saw the field due to injuries and the Miners were without star running back Aaron Jones for essentially the whole season.
Jones will return which will help no matter who starts at quarterback for the Miners but that's not the reason I'm leaning towards the over. The schedule is incredibly easy.
Nine teams are projected 100th and worse in S&P+: New Mexico St, Army, FIU, UTSA, ODU, Houston Baptist, FAU, Rice, and North Texas. Only three of those are on the road (FAU, UTSA, Rice). They also get Southern Miss at home too.
Should Southern Miss falter UTEP is my sleeper pick to win CUSA West. I'm still a believer in Sean Kugler and expect the Miners to go bowling. PICK: OVER
UTSA, 4 (Over -110, Under -110): The idea of four wins being the win total for UTSA shows just how weak CUSA West is. There are a bunch of bad teams in this division and the belief is that many will beat up on each other.
UTSA is one of those bad teams, but a quick turnaround under new head coach Frank Wilson isn't too far fetched. The schedule features eight teams that rank 90th or worse in S&P+ with an even split of four home games and four road games.
With not a ton to go back on due to the new coaching staff, UTSA is a tricky team to peg. Outside of the known commodities of Dalton Sturm and Jarevon Williams, the team is a question mark.
Six home games: Alabama State, Arizona State, Southern Miss, UTEP, North Texas, Charlotte. Six road games: Colorado State, Old Dominion, Rice, MTSU, Louisiana Tech, Texas A&M. S&P+ projects five wins but I only see four in Wilson's first season in San Antonio. PICK: UNDER
North Texas, 2 (Over -110, Under 110): Once again, we have another tough team to peg. Similar to UTSA, North Texas Mean Green will have a new coaching staff. Unlike UTSA, its hard to find any bright spots off of last year's team.
However, I find it hard to believe a Texas team has little to no talent to scrap out at least three wins with this schedule.Their toughest games are at home as the slate features a still rebuilding SMU team, Bethune-Cookman, MTSU, Marshall, La Tech, and Southern Miss. I see two possible wins but only one likely win at home.
For the Mean Green a majority of their winnable games are on the road as North Texas must travel to Florida, Rice, Army, UTSA, WKU, and UTEP. That's four winnable games. I'll take those odds in Seth Littrel's first year in Denton in which I expect to see a ton of improvement from the Mean Green. PICK: OVER.