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Conference USA Roundtable: The State of C-USA halfway through the season

We try to figure out what to make of a C-USA that’s been overtaken with parity.

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

Conference USA’s best bloggers in the world come together to make sense of what’s been a wild start in C-USA and offer predictions going forward as we have reached the halfway mark of the season. Thanks to Alex Nicolas from Miner Rush for joining this roundtable.

Conference USA is better than they were last year. True or False?

Cyrus Smith: False. While it’s great to see a lot of teams still have legitimate aspirations of winning the conference, there are no great teams right now. Marshall, WKU, even in what was a pretty bad C-USA, were great teams. Also the basement is still dreadful as we could potentially have two teams finish winless. The middle of the conference is better, but it doesn’t mean much when the bottom appears worse.

Tanner Spearman: Hard call, but I’ll say just barely true. The top teams are struggling and no one’s elite, but the depth is much better. There are only three or four teams with little to no shot at bowling. If a few teams can now take the next step, this could be a pretty good league.

Adam Woodyard: True. Unlike the Sun Belt, where there’s a distinct line of demarkation between the top teams and the bottom teams, C-USA seems to have parity, for the most part. UTEP, Rice, and Charlotte notwithstanding, Marshall is back and the entire West division (sans UTEP and Rice) has suddenly massively improved out of nowhere. I don’t see us knocking off any ranked teams — mostly because we don’t play any — but there’s been a few close calls, and we don’t know the ceiling yet.

Jared Kalmus: False. I don’t think the conference has a single great team this year. Charlotte, UTEP, and Rice are all embarrassments. There’s some good news here too as C-USA will likely have a bunch of teams qualify for bowl games due to all of the parity. I bet a few teams get left at home despite winning six games this year, however.

Alex Nicolas: False. The league might be a little deeper in the middle of the pack department, but I don’t see an elite or complete team like C-USA had over the past few years.

Who's been the biggest disappointment?

Cyrus: I’m going with WKU. While I expected the Tops to regress, I was thinking more of an 8-4 or 7-5 type season. Not the ceiling appearing to be 7-5 with a real possibility of missing a bowl game. The drop off from Jeff Brohm to Mike Sanford Jr. has been staggering.

NCAA Football: Charlotte at Kansas State
After going 4-8 last season, Charlotte is 0-6 this year.
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Tanner: To me, it’s Charlotte. Not saying I was expecting a bowl game, but to be 0-6 with a loss to an FCS team is rough. Blowing the huge lead to FIU has to be deflating, and it’s time to start wondering about Brad Lambert as the coach.

Adam: Either WKU because the coach isn’t as good as the team, or FIU because the team isn’t as good as the coach.

Jared: Disappointment is a tough word to use because Old Dominion has been more unlucky than anything else as they’ve been crushed by injuries. This could have been a special season for the Monarchs in an uncharacteristically poor C-USA East division, but the college football gods would not allow it to be so.

Alex: WKU’s offense. Really thought Mike White would have better efficiency numbers despite a scheme change. Too much talent for them to be stuck in the mud offensively.

What's been the biggest surprise?

Cyrus: I have to say UAB. I was expecting to see the Blazers struggle a lot more and that has not been the case. A bowl berth is really on the table and I just did not see that even being a possibility before the season started.

Tanner: La Tech and WKU struggling. Both were picked to win their divisions, and while they both mathematically still could, I would be shocked to see that title game again. It’s not hard to imagine that one would struggle based on all the production they lost, but to see both is surprising.

Adam: Struggles at La Tech and WKU, and a surprisingly mellow season from MTSU (I know, I know, injuries). Also North Texas exploding like 2005-2015 never happened.

Jared: Whatever is happening at Louisiana Tech surprises and confuses me the most. I’m still not sure just how good or bad the Bulldogs are but regardless I still expected more out of them this season.

Alex: FAU’s run game. Knew Lane could turn things around, but FAU’s rushing attack is legit and could lead them to some major C-USA upsets down the road.

Offer a prediction during conference play?

Cyrus: I’ll sort of cheat and offer two predictions. Either UTEP, Rice, and Charlotte will all win one more game, or they will all lose the rest of the way. For a conference to have two teams finishing winless must be some sort of record and the odds of it happening can’t be high. I’m leaning towards each picking up a win being more likely to happen.

Tanner: The winner of the West will have multiple conference losses, maybe even a 5-3 record. There is just so much parity and it’s so wide open it’s hard to imagine anyone dominating enough to finish 7-1.

Adam: Lane Kiffin is gonna get yelled at. Oh, did you mean on the field? I predict a traditional C-USA East power (WKU or Marshall) is still going to win the East. Also, Mike Price will help UTEP overtake Rice in wins this season.

Jared: The western division comes down to a tiebreaker as UTSA, UNT, USM, La Tech, and UAB all beat up on each other. Marshall fades late in the season as FAU wins the East in Lane Kiffin’s first season.

Alex: Jeffery Wilson runs for over 1,500 yards, and racks up over 15 rushing touchdowns. He is really, really special.

What will be the most important game during conference play the rest of the way?

Cyrus: From looking at the cross-division matchups, I’m going to say this week’s game between North Texas vs UTSA is a must-win for UTSA. The Roadrunners have the toughest remaining schedule as they get Marshall at home and travel to FIU out of the East. Southern Miss gets Marshall on the road and Charlotte at home. La Tech has FAU at home, and UAB has a road trip to Charlotte and home against Middle. A loss to UNT might be too much for UTSA to overcome as they would lose a tiebreaker to UNT and Southern Miss.

Marshall v Florida Atlantic
Marshall has run away from FAU in year’s past but a division title could be on the line this season.
Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Tanner: As weird as this sounds to say, Marshall vs Florida Atlantic. The West is so wide open I don’t think there’s any one game that stands out. Meanwhile in the East, the Herd and Owls looks like the two best teams over there. The game is in Boca Raton Week 10, and could be huge for deciding the East title.

Adam: It might just turn out to be UNT vs UTSA this week. Unless UTSA wins and we have a round-robin for a title, then it’ll probably be Marshall at FAU for the same reason.

Jared: Probably Marshall vs FAU. I don’t see the West being determined by any one game but Marshall and FAU appear to be the top dogs in the East to me.

Alex: Southern Miss at La Tech could be an eliminator game for the west rep, but it also could set up LA Tech-UTSA as the most important game if UTSA keeps pace in the west race.

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

Rice v Charlotte
Brad Lambert and David Bailiff are both on the hot seat.
Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

Cyrus: Under. Just have a feeling Charlotte is going to give Brad Lambert another year. David Bailiff might even come back too if he pulls of an upset down the stretch.

Tanner: Under. I would take the over assuming Bailiff and Lambert are gone, but I’m not confident Charlotte’s AD will pull the trigger. Maybe another coach is lured away by a P5 team, but I’m not sure anyone is going to have a good enough season for that. Frank Wilson has the best chance.

Adam: Over. I’m confident Charlotte wants to succeed faster than they’re doing. Plenty of good candidates out there, and there’s ODU in the same division, succeeding in half the time. Then again we predicted UTEP would fire Kugler a year ago, so nobody knows anything.

Jared: Over. That’s just the nature of college football these days. Either Bailiff retires and Lambert gets canned to put us at one. Then I’ll take my chances with some other coach getting randomly poached.

Alex: I’ll take the over. Lane Kiffin to Oregon State?

Over/Under 8.5 Teams from C-USA will be bowl eligible?

Cyrus: Give me the under but just barely. Someone is going to lose to Charlotte, Rice, or UTEP and it’s going to keep them at five wins.

Tanner: I’ll go under, but only by just a little. I think there will be just enough cannibalism to keep it at eight or fewer, assuming we don’t see one or two 5-7 teams get in on APR. Nine is certainly possible, however.

Adam: I have to believe these teams will pull it together enough to reach the over. WKU, MTSU and ODU have struggled, but as conference play begins, this could shake out any which way. There’s five solid teams in the West, so I’m sure there must certainly be three East teams besides Marshall who can get it together in the back half.

Jared: Without really nerding out and going through each team’s schedule individually, I’ll say over. The league is on really equal footing this year and I don’t see any team winning ten games or more.

Alex: Under. FIU might fall off, and maybe North Texas?

Who wins the East and West?

Cyrus: North Texas has played out of their minds in this first half of the season but I think they regress just a little bit down the stretch and open the door for La Tech to win C-USA West. La Tech still gets North Texas, UTSA, and Southern Miss at home and that scheduling break will get them over the top. For C-USA East I’ll begrudgingly take Marshall as Doc Holliday and the Herd have been there before. I really want to choose FAU, but Lane Kiffin can’t possibly come into C-USA and win a division title right off the bat can he?

Tanner: The West could be any of five teams. If I have to choose, I guess I’ll go with North Texas just because they’re 2-0 and have already beaten Southern Miss and UAB, teams that upset contenders this past week. As for the East, I trust Marshall the most, but they should have beaten Charlotte by much more than 11 points. FAU dominated Old Dominion and Middle Tennessee, so they certainly can’t be overlooked.

Adam: It’s wide open and no human can possibly predict this. If defense wins championships, Marshall and UTSA. If offense wins titles, FAU and UNT. Both of the latter teams have still been overwhelmed in their losses, but with Marshall only one conference game deep at this point, I’m gonna risk Twitter’s wrath and say FAU and UNT.

Jared: I really have no clue in the West. La Tech has the easiest schedule path, UTSA has the best defense, UNT has the best offense, USM has the best athletes, UAB has the most heart. I guess I’ll stick with my preseason pick of La Tech in the West. In the East I think FAU’s talent will start to gel together over the pace of the season. We’ve already seen the Owls start to congeal. I’m picking FAU to beat Marshall at home and take home a division title.

Alex: Give me Marshall and LA Tech in a physical C-USA Championship game.