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Conference USA Roundtable: The State of CUSA After Non-Conference Play

Is WKU still the favorite? What’s been the biggest disappointment? The biggest surprise? We answer these questions and more.

NCAA Football: Conference USA Championship-Western Kentucky vs Southern Mississippi Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

Non-conference play has ended. Conference play has begun. Conference USA’s wittiest minds come together to give takes on how C-USA teams look, and offer predictions going forward.

What's been the biggest disappointment?

Cyrus: I’m going with South Florida duo of FAU and FIU. I really thought FIU wasn’t too far from reaching a bowl game this year and four games in the season they have fired Ron Turner. FAU has flopped in Charlie Partridge’s third season so far as they have battled inconsistency and injuries. FIU is a dumpster fire, and FAU doesn’t seem too far behind from being the same.

Jared: I picked Marshall to win the conference this year and that prediction is looking more grim by the day. Chase Litton suffering a concussion certainly doesn’t help but the Thundering Herd defense hardly looks like the shutdown unit I expected to see this season.

Adam: Isn't it UTSA? Both the Roadrunners and Mean Green replaced their coaches in the offseason, and I saw infinite more hype for the New San Antonio Order as the season approached. 1-3 is not good, and worse than UNT's 2-2...... but UNT's schedule is more back-loaded so we shall see.

Alex: I was really high on the FIU loud pack in the preseason, and yeah… Alex Gardner and Alex McGough were guys I really felt could lead them to C-USA relevance, but throw in the Ron Turner situation and you have the classic dumpster fire after I felt they could sneak up on teams in the east.

What's been the biggest surprise?

Cyrus: I wasn’t a fan of the Seth Littrell hire and but he has turned me into a believer as I am quite surprised at how competitive he has North Texas in the early part of the season (Florida game aside). The Mean Green was really competitive against SMU and with the win over Rice they won’t finish last in C-USA West.

Jared: I expected Rice to be bad this year but the Owls have been down-right miserable this season. If David Bailiff isn’t on the hot seat then he should be. At 0-4, Rice is the second worst team in the nation according to S&P+ despite boasting a senior quarterback and some of the best running backs in the conference.

Adam: La Tech being 1-3 is a bit of a shock, but for me the numbers put up by UTEP would be a close second. Everyone told me they would surprise this year, but it's like, c'mon man, you're still UTEP.

Alex: How bad C-USA Texas squads have struggled. Rice has had a tough schedule, UTEP can't throw and complete a seven yard pass, UTSA still has trouble keeping defenses out of their backfield, and I think North Texas can possibly go 1-7 the rest of the season. The upside? Rice and UTSA have a solid collection of 2017 commits, but that won't help in 2016.

Offer a prediction during conference play?

Cyrus: I hate to say it but Rice won’t win a single game during conference play which will signal the end of the David Bailiff era in Houston.

Jared: Louisiana Tech turns it around and roars back to win Conference USA West. The Bulldogs’ 1-3 record is deceiving as their three losses have been close games against strong teams (Arkansas, Texas Tech, MTSU). Everything comes down to a dramatic end with LA Tech traveling to Hattiesburg on the last week of conference play.

Adam: Southern Miss will run the table.

Alex: Old Dominion knocks off Western Kentucky on October 22nd and shakes up the whole C-USA east race with a 3-0 start in conference play.

What will be the most important game during conference play?

Cyrus: 100 Miles of Hate. Western Kentucky. Middle Tennessee. Rick Stockstill got one big game out the way with the win over La Tech but there’s still a huge Hilltopper they must climb over (sorry). Although the game is in mid-October I think the winner is going to take home C-USA East. I also think this will be the best football game played during conference play.

Jared: Western Kentucky travels to Middle Tennessee on October 15th. If the Blue Raiders can pull off the upset it puts them in the driver seat for their first ever C-USA championship.

Adam: Ugh. Every C-USA team already has one loss, so I don't know if there's any one game that will make or break a team on the high end. I'd argue that this game has maybe already happened on the low end: UNT defeating Rice means that Rice's season is over, and possibly looking for a new coach.

Alex: WKU at Middle Tennessee on October 15th. This game could be either a C-USA "East title game" or east eliminator game in the middle of October. Advantage MTSU right now coming off their big win, plus WKU has a Thursday date on the road at LA Tech the week before. Also WKU-MTSU is becoming one of my favorite mid-major athletic rivalries.

After going 10-30 in three plus seasons FIU fired Ron Turner. How important is it to Conference USA that FIU is a good football program?

Cyrus: Considering C-USA continues to be ridiculed for choosing media markets (Charlotte, Miami, San Antonio) over quality football programs (Georgia Southern, Appalachian Sate) last realignment, I would say it’s very important FIU is a good football program. The success of WKU, Marshall, and the re-emergence of Southern Miss has been nice, but the conference won’t take the next step unless one of the Florida schools and Texas schools take advantage of their resources and become a force.

Jared: I don’t care whether it’s FAU or FIU but C-USA absolutely needs one of the two Florida programs to be a perennial top 50 program. There’s too much talent in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale region for these two teams to perform as poorly as they have. UCF is going to vastly improve under Scott Frost and their improvement will only further increase the separation in perception between the American and C-USA if FIU and FAU continue to flounder.

Adam: We need all the good teams we can get. C-USA is playing from behind since realignment, so every 7+ win team is a blessing. Seeing some consistency from FIU or FAU would be great for our recruiting base, but for right now their ADs don't seem interested. Like, yeah, you fired Ron Turner. Good idea. Pete Garcia is still your AD, though, so you're not serious about improvement.

Alex: I think C-USA having good teams in Florida and in Texas is key. It helps recruiting, maybe fans start flocking to stadiums, so yeah I think it's imperative that at least one Florida and one Texas school become yearly contenders.

Over/Under 1.5 C-USA teams will be looking for a new head coach? (not including FIU)

Cyrus: Over. I don’t see Rice bringing Bailiff back. Jeff Brohm played it smart in not pursuing lower rung P5 teams (South Carolina, Illinois, Maryland) but if he wins C-USA for the second straight year I doubt he’ll do that again. Also things could get pretty interesting in Boca if FAU goes 3-9 for the third straight year under Charlie Partridge.

Jared: Over. Bailiff is done at Rice so we just need Jeff Brohm to get poached or something crazy to happen to hit the over. A word of caution for C-USA coaches: stay away from the crack rock.

Adam: Over. Like any Underdog fan, I considered this carefully and looked over the current slate of coaches to see who might be fired. Then it occurred to me that if they win 10+ games, Jeff Brohm or Jay Hopson could easily be snatched up by an AAC or Big 12 program. This is an alarming new feeling and I am confused and frightened by it. So I'm taking the over, because Bailiff is done.

Alex: Over. Honestly I would have set the number at 2.5.

Over/Under 5.5 Teams from C-USA will be bowl eligible?

Cyrus: Over. Old Dominion gets their first bowl bid ever and joins WKU, MTSU, Marshall, Southern Miss and La Tech in postseason play.

Jared: Over. I think Marshall and LA Tech get it figured out to hit the over. Give me WKU, MTSU, ODU, and USM to join them.

Adam: Under. I look at the standings and see five gimmes, so I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE. To put it in the most optimistic possible terms, C-USA is a huge conference and still settling in to its new line-up. After the five, the two best performers after Week 4 are UNT and FAU. So it absolutely pains me to take the under, but, you asked.

Alex: Under. Just not the prettiest year for C-USA American Football.

WKU or the field? Who would you take to win C-USA?

Cyrus: Smart money says the field but I’m going with WKU. I don’t trust Rick Stockstill or Jay Hopson to out-coach Jeff Brohm in a big game. Plus WKU has been there before and is still a slightly more talented and experienced team than the other two.

Jared: Take the field. Always take the field. I still give MTSU and USM a legit shot to win the conference. Combine that with outlier odds of Marshall or LA Tech taking it and I’m pretty comfortable in placing my betting money on the field.

Adam: WKU is incredible and every team that’s not Bama should be terrified to play them. But they share a division with Middle Tennessee and Marshall, and even if they win both, they could be facing USM on the road in a rematch of last year’s conference championship game. I’ll take the field.

Alex: WKU, but they have some of the toughest games in the conference going forward, and obviously have a target on their backs.