1. Western Kentucky (12-2 last season)
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.
2. Southern Miss (9-5)
There's a slight drop off from WKU and teams ranked 2-4. Losing Todd Monken hurts but they still have Nick Mullens, the best quarterback in CUSA. 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.
3. Marshall (10-3)
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.
4. Middle Tennessee (7-6)
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.
5. Louisiana Tech (9-4)
Teams 5-7 are interchangeable. 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.
6. UTEP (5-7)
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.
7. FAU (5-7)
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.
8. FIU (5-7)
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.
9. Old Dominion (5-7)
If David Washington can stay healthy the Monarchs have the potential to climb up the rankings. Getting a healthy Ray Lowry 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.
10. UTSA (3-9)
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.
11. Rice (5-7)
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.
12. North Texas (1-11)
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.
13. Charlotte (2-10)
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.