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The Underdog Dynasty Inaugural Mailbag: Offseason Edition

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We talk best spots to eat in Conference USA, rivalries, school names, Butch & Lane, expansion and more.

Dogs Dress Up For Annual Tompkins Square Park Halloween Parade Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Welcome to our first offseason edition mailbag! Given that our Saturdays are going to be extremely empty until the fall we’re going to post a mailbag on Saturday at least once a month until the start of the season.

On to the questions...

American

@Houston_Dude90 - What's more likely in the future, expansion or dismantling of the conference?

UDD: Hard to say with the conference being so new. The addition of Wichita State basketball could lead to more expansion, but with Houston already trying to get into the Big 12, there’s certainly some concern. However, the Big 12 seemed to want no part in adding Houston and for that reason, plus the embarrassing loss to San Diego State in the Las Vegas Bowl, I believe Houston will stay and help the conference grow. USF, Tulsa, and Temple all had 10+ wins and half of the conference finished above .500. Tulsa and USF finished the season with impressive bowl wins as well.

With FCS schools making their way into the FBS, such as Coastal Carolina and Liberty, it’s very likely the AAC could land some of them as well. For fun, I’ll say Villanova somehow meets requirements to move to the FBS and joins the AAC so we can see the annual battle for the Mayor’s Cup between Villanova and Temple become a conference game.

@Tybone97 - How do you think Temple finishes in the East this season?

UDD: While Matt Rhule was successful at Temple before heading off to Waco, I believe he left a good amount of talent in place. Geoff Collins has brought in winners to complete his coaching staff; OC Dave Patenaude comes from Coastal Carolina - a program that has had much success over the past five years winning 10 games three of the past five years. The DC, Taver Johnson, has 20+ years of coaching experience at programs like Purdue, Ohio State, Notre Dame and the Cleveland Browns. Coaching the D-Line is Jim Panagos - Jim’s had successful units at UCF, Rutgers and Pitt. LB Coach Andrew Thacker comes from UCF and the Atlanta Falcons. It’s all topped off with “Chief of Staff” Vincent Sinagra, aka The Godfather of football coaches. Vinnie has 40+ years of experience having worked alongside Atlanta Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn, Collins, Paul Pasqualoni, Raheem Morris and many other big names in football.

I can see Temple winning the East again. USF has a ton of hype heading into 2017 but Charlie Strong has to have his confidence shaken after his time in Austin. UCF is on the rise but they aren’t ready to compete for an East title just yet. The Owls will have the upper-hand returning as the champs and with this staff it will be hard to overcome the experience they have and the history they have working together at many stops along their careers. Staff cohesion will be really important in keeping winning alive in Philly but for this year I think they finish no worse than third in the East.


Conference USA

@BlueRaiderDJ - Why isn't the MT vs WKU match up getting more respect?

UDD: It will continue to get hyped up as the years go on and we continue to get these games where the difference ends up being only one possession like we have five out of the last six years. I think part of the current lack of hype/national interest for that game comes from that gap between 1991 and 2007 where they didn’t play each other. So that’s quite a few graduating classes at both schools who have no real connection to the rivalry.

One thing I also think plays into building a rivalry is scheduling. Look at Ohio State vs Michigan. The entire season builds up to that game since it’s usually in late November and there’s usually postseason implications in some form or another. The WKU vs MT game is usually mid October. Plus, on the WKU side, the rivalry with Marshall detracts from the attention just a little bit.

@andreslopez3493 - Which coach will have a greater long term impact on the direction of their program? Butch or Lane!?

UDD: Great question. While I think Kiffin and FAU will start winning faster the long term outlook definitely goes to Butch. At age 65 this is more than likely his last stop so he’ll be there longer. Given his ties to Miami and his past success I really believe FIU is going to win big with Davis. His presence has already generated money for FIU as they just received nearly $4 million dollars in stadium upgrades— upgrades they desperately needed. Soon those donations will lead to weight room renovations and perhaps even a bigger press box.

FAU is already ahead of FIU in facilities and fan support and that’s mainly due to Howard Schnellenberger and President John Kelly wanting the Owls to become a football school. Davis should provide the same impact to FIU as Schnelly did and perhaps be even better on the field. FIU fans have been starving for a winner to get behind and with a proven winner in Davis on the sidelines FIU has begun to take the steps necessary to become a powerhouse in C-USA.

@whkennedy23 - Over/under on UAB wins this year.

UDD: First, it feels so damn great to be talking Blazer football on this site with games on the horizon. Okay so I love over/under bets and over the summer we will be doing a series on over/under win totals for every C-USA team. As of now from looking at the schedule, I would guess Vegas would put the bet at 4.5 wins. The spring game gave us a glimpse of the Blazers’ talent but rest assured they are still an unknown.

With that in mind I’m thinking Alabama A&M and Coastal Carolina are for sure wins, UTEP and Rice are toss-ups, and a road trip to Ball State as a probable loss. The key would be the Ball State game. Win that one and you’re taking a 3-0 record to Denton for the conference opener. A game that certainly would be winnable. As of now I would lean towards the under with a 4-8 season right now.

@CUSAbbs - Is it possible our next tv contract is even worse than the current one?

UDD: Are we defining worse in tangible terms or in relation to the conference’s peers? I think every G5 television contract signed for the rest of eternity will be tangibly worse than their previous contracts simply due to the decrease of cable subscribers. We’ve seen Power Five programs increase their television revenue but that simply hasn’t trickled down to the lesser players. Sure C-USA might make a jump in quality of contract over the MAC or Sun Belt but it’s still not going to be an attractive, lucrative deal as seen in years past.

In my opinion we should start judging G5 broadcasting contracts (I’m intentionally shying away from the word television here) based off the access and exposure the deal provides as opposed to the cash payout tendered. That money just isn’t coming back and G5 programs will either have to figure out how to adopt or get left behind. So if we’re looking at the future contract in that sense then yes, I do think C-USA fans will be able to watch more games and higher quality broadcasts after the current contract expires. I have a baseless hunch that BeIN College is going to expand their college football coverage and I think C-USA will be a big benefactor there.

C-USA is also becoming a much more interesting league to follow. The addition of Butch Davis and Lane Kiffin is going to bring a lot of eyeballs to the conference and some of the high ceiling programs like UNT and UTSA are starting to finally hit their stride. Hopefully a big season from the conference this year translates to more games on ESPN. We’ve already seen the World Wide Leader flex their muscle and get Kiffin’s FAU debut against Navy moved to a prime time slot on Friday.

@rosdeutscher - Best C-USA rivalry game?

UDD: Because there isn’t a time frame for this I’m going to give two answers. The best C-USA rivalry right now is the Moonshine Throwdown between Marshall and Western Kentucky and I don’t think it’s close. It’s the most intense rivalry at the moment as both fan bases can’t stand each other and with both WKU and Marshall appearing in the last four C-USA Championship Games - and winners of the last three games - this game has had the most stakes on the line since this version of C-USA has formed.

Now, the best rivalry back in the heyday is either Cincinnati-Louisville or Memphis-UAB. Both contests on the hardwood and gridiron were usually battles and the atmosphere for the games were intense.

@The_DailyDragon - Which will be the better Conference USA division this year --- East or West?

UDD: I’d say it will be the East yet again. I have no faith in either UTEP or Rice right now, and I’m not sure what Southern Miss will look like post-Mullens. UAB is a complete wild card, as well. La Tech and UTSA will headline the West, but that’s about it unless North Texas improves faster than expected and/or Southern Miss finds a quarterback. In the East, WKU, Middle Tennessee, and Old Dominion should all be solid, FIU and FAU made great hires, and I think even Charlotte is trending in the right direction. The only question is Marshall, and if they bounce even part of the way back they’ll do fine.

@CWBrooks74 - Best restaurant for every C-USA college town?

UDD: Excellent question! I’d say one of the best things about C-USA is how diverse the cities are in this league and the restaurant selections given is a perfect example of this. Some of our contributors put down their best restaurants while we also deferred to the opinion of other C-USA team-based sites for cities we haven’t visited. Here’s the list we came up with.

  • Charlotte: Midwood Smokehouse (BBQ)
  • FAU: Two Georges (Seafood)
  • FIU: Versailles Restaurant (Cuban)
  • La Tech: Dawghouse (Sports Bar) or Ponchatoulas (Louisiana)
  • Marshall: Fat Patty's (Sports Bar) or Jim’s Steak & Spaghetti House (American/Italian)
  • MTSU: Demo’s (Italian/American)
  • North Texas: Giuseppe’s (Italian)
  • Old Dominion: The Dirty Buffalo (American)
  • Rice: Pit Room (BBQ)
  • Southern Miss: Tabella (Italian)
  • UTSA: Rosario’s (Mexican)
  • UTEP: L&J Restaurant (Mexican)
  • UAB: Dreamland (BBQ)
  • WKU: Mariah’s (American)

Sun Belt

@jllanclos - Why do you refuse to heed Sun Belt official release, agreed to by every school, on references to Louisiana and ULM?

UDD: First, check out this article we put out a few years ago. Some things never change.

To what is written there, I will add a few things. ESPN and other major outlets still use names such as Louisiana-Lafayette, ULL, etc. Also, before Tulane was privatized, it was known as the University of Louisiana, so there’s already been one of those in a different city.

For those who are unfamiliar with the backstory the University of Southwestern Louisiana (ULL) wanted to become the University of Louisiana, but the state wouldn’t allow it. The state finally agreed to a compromise: they could be the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as long as another UL school agreed to a similar change. Northeast agreed to become University of Louisiana at Monroe. ULL attempting to call itself “Louisiana” in athletics circumvents the spirit of the law and the compromise, and makes you wonder what was the point of Northeast changing its name. It’s kind of a petty move by UL Lafayette.

Until the school and the state agree, we will continue to follow the existing name format. But that isn’t the only reason why we’re doing this. If we were a blog dedicated primarily to Lafayette coverage and we didn’t cover any other Louisiana football schools we’d absolutely use the LA abbreviation. But we aren’t. We also cover Tulane, Louisiana Tech, ULM and Lafayette. Out of respect to the fans of Tulane and La Tech, both institutions and fan bases who disagree with Lafayette’s attempt to go by Louisiana or the LA abbreviation, we see it as unfair to them to start recognizing Lafayette by those names here.

@chip_da_goalie - Do you see C-USA and Sun Belt merging? And if so how would they be split up?

UDD: There have been talks of this very thing happening so it could take place rather soon. In a situation where C-USA and the Sun Belt merge then the entire FBS has likely suffered a seismic shift that could render this thought exercise obsolete. That’s no fun though, so let’s give this our best shot:

West: UTEP, UTSA, UNT, Rice, TXST, UL-Lafayette, Ark State, ULM, USM, La Tech, USA, UAB

East: ODU, Marshall, App State, Charlotte, FIU, FAU, MTSU, WKU, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Troy, Coastal Carolina.

I think those are two pretty good divisions. Regional, retains most major rivalries, balanced at 12 teams a piece, and both sides should be pretty competitive.

@stallionjockey - Favorite town in the Sun Belt? Favorite stadium? Best player? Most likely NFL draft prospect?

UDD: There’s quite a few to choose from. If you are big on major cities then Atlanta would take it but they are an outlier as Sun Belt schools mainly reside in rural cities. Besides, when you think of Atlanta the first college that comes to mind is Georgia Tech. I’d choose Boone, North Carolina, as my favorite. Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains in the northwest part of North Carolina, you’d be hard pressed to find a prettier campus than the one that Appalachian State calls home. Boone gives you the small town feel with only having a little more than 13K in their population. Add in a unique downtown setting as well as a rabid football fan base and I’ll take Boone over any other town in the Sun Belt.

As for stadiums is it too early to pick the newly renovated Turner Field that Georgia State will call home? I’ll say Paulson Stadium. Also known as “The House that Erk Built” or my personal favorite “The Prettiest Little Stadium in America.” Home to the Georgia Southern Eagles, this 25,000 seat stadium gets pretty rowdy on gameday. Paulson stadium has seen it all from witnessing Southern bring home FCS titles to now watching a successful FBS program call this venue home. Nothing beats a big game at Paulson Stadium in the Sun Belt.

The player most likely to get chosen in this year’s draft is Austin Rehkow. Dude has a killer leg and is guaranteed to have a nice career in the NFL. The best player and most likely NFL draft pick for next year both comes from Arkansas State. If you’re looking for NFL targets, look no further than their defensive line. Senior Ja’Von Rolland-Jones was the Sun Belt Player of the Year last season and it was well deserved. Rolland-Jones recorded 21 tackles for loss to go along with 13 sacks. This edge defender has increased his TFL and sack numbers each season, so this is a legit Nagurski Award candidate. At his size (6’2” 244) he has the ability to play in a 4-3 or 3-4 even though he’s a little shorter than what some NFL coaches would like.

When you have a player as touted as Dee Liner was coming out of high school, the potential to play in the NFL is more than likely there. If the light comes on for Liner in 2017, he should easily get drafted. At 6’3” 325, Liner is definitely an interior presence and he has really good agility for a guy his size. Liner was productive last season producing 34 tackles and eight TFL. Another year in coordinator Joe Cauthen’s system and Liner should wreak havoc on Sun Belt offensive lines and catch the attention of NFL scouts this fall.

@ErksEaglesGATA - What are the chances GaSo makes a bowl game this year? After watching spring game, are you impressed with Shai Werts at QB?

UDD: I think the chances of Southern making a bowl game are slim. Even if expectations are exceeded for this season, the team will be breaking in lots of new starters at different positions. The secondary and front seven in particular will need to be leaps and bounds better than they were last year.

As far as Shai goes, I was encouraged by what I saw, but also hesitant. I don't believe in spring games as a good barometer of how a team looks for a number of reasons. I think we have reasons to have hope for this year, but you should temper your expectations for this season as it’ll probably be a growing year.