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NCAA Football: Conference USA Championship-Western Kentucky vs Southern Mississippi

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Conference USA Preseason Power Rankings: Spread the word darling, Tops are on Top

It’s the first edition of this year's C-USA Power Rankings!

Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to this year’s first edition of what will once again be a weekly staple on Underdog Dynasty during the football season.

Just like last year, the C-USA Power Rankings are never a prediction for how things will end up, but rather a snapshot of how teams look at the moment. Without further ado, here’s the preseason C-USA Power Rankings.

1. WKU (11-3 last season)

Star quarterback Mike White is the face of a Western Kentucky program that has gone through a pretty turbulent offseason. Players have been suspended, dismissed and transferred since Jeff Brohm packed his bags for West Lafayette. For the first time in two years, the Tops look vulnerable. Young buck Mike Sanford Jr. has a ton of expectations to deal with this season. The roster is good enough for a third straight C-USA Championship. Will Sanford and his coaching staff be up to the challenge?

2. Louisiana Tech (9-5)

The Bulldogs of La Tech have entered the reloading phase of the Skip Holtz era. After losing senior playmakers Carlos Henderson, Trent Taylor, and Ryan Higgins, the bar continues to be a C-USA West division title. But this year it comes with a caveat: Win the C-USA Championship Game. J’Mar Smith takes over at quarterback with senior leaders Boston Scott and Jarred Craft joining him in the backfield. If Jaylon Ferguson has a monster year at defensive end, the Bulldogs might finally hoist that elusive C-USA Championship trophy.

3. Middle Tennessee (8-5)

The preseason media poll darlings of last year have had a pretty quiet offseason. Losing three out of their last five games, including the Hawaii Bowl, to close the 2016 season has created a sense of urgency for the Blue Raiders this season. I can’t help but feel that I might be sleeping on them a bit. The offense should be dynamite again with Brent Stockstill passing to Richie James and Ty Lee, but as usual for the Blue Raiders, questions abound on defense. New defensive coordinator Scott Schafer has a lot of work to do.

4. UTSA (6-7)

After a breakthrough season in Frank Wilson’s first year in which UTSA went to their first ever bowl game, the Roadrunners are setting their goals much higher in 2017 as they aim to win C-USA West. Josiah Tauaefa and Marcus Davenport lead the defense while Dalton Sturm and Jalen Rhodes are key returning players for the offense. The talent is there. For many UTSA fans, the time to seize the moment and win C-USA is now.

5. Old Dominion (10-3)

After recording ODU’s first ever 10-win season in school history Bobby Wilder and the Monarchs enter 2017 having to prove that last year was no fluke. Out of ODU’s 10 wins, only two came against teams that finished with a winning record (Southern Miss & Eastern Michigan, 7-6). A bunch of starters are back, including the one-two force in the backfield, Ray Lawry and Jeremy Cox. But quarterback is a question mark. Former walk-on Blake LaRussa appears to be the favorite to win the job. Whoever’s named the starter, their play will determine if ODU can contend for the C-USA East title.

6. Southern Miss (7-6)

Jay Hopson’s first season in Hattiesburg was a mixed bag. Once Nick Mullens went down, Southern Miss lost their identity. USM fans hope big wins over rival La Tech and Louisiana-Lafayette in the bowl game will be a springboard for things to come in 2017. However, with Mullens’ departure things are unclear at quarterback. Kwadra Griggs seems to be the front runner to win the job. Allenzae Staggers and Ito Smith gives USM reliable playmakers but the defense must become more consistent if they are to contend for a division title.

7. Marshall (3-9)

Is Doc Holliday on the hot seat? Is there still lingering problems going on behind the scenes from 2016? This is a pivotal season for Holliday. Marshall is no longer recruiting at the clip they once were and though the talent in C-USA across the board has gotten better, Marshall is still one of the more talented teams in the conference. Miami transfers Tyre Brady and Juwon Young should become household names in C-USA this fall. If the play in the trenches from both units get better, the Herd could bounce back in a major way.

8. FIU (4-8)

The Panthers have been quietly going about their business this offseason under new head coach Butch Davis. FIU returns a ton of production from last year’s team and with Butch leading the way, the Panthers could be in store for a season similar to what UTSA had last year and reach a bowl. From Alex McGough and Alex Gardner on offense, to Anthony Wint and Treyvon Williams on defense, this is a senior laden team. It’ll be on them to signal a new era of FIU football.

9. FAU (3-9)

The Owls have been in the news cycle constantly during the offseason. Some reasons good. Some reasons bad. If Kiffin isn’t making funny videos, he’s at the local nightclub. If P5 transfers aren’t coming in, players currently on the team are getting suspended for fights at nightclubs. The headlines are going to shift to what’s taking place on the field soon though. The quarterback competition between De’Andre Johnson and Jason Driskel is still ongoing and despite a ton of transfers on the defensive line, the rushing defense could be a work in progress all season. Kiffin has generated a ton of hype for FAU this season but it might take a while for the Owls to live up to it.

10. North Texas (5-8)

After what was a promising first season under Seth Littrell the Mean Green had to experience massive coaching turnover during the offseason. Fortunately, that was limited to just the coaches. Jeffery Wilson at running back and former Notre Dame receiver Jalen Guyton out wide gives UNT the potential to have a great offense. Only if the quarterback play gets better though. Last year's starter Mason Fine has yet to convince Littrell to name him the starter in 2017.

11. Charlotte (4-8)

The 49ers were a pleasant surprise last season and the emergence of Hassan Klugh at quarterback was a major reason why. Klugh is back, but star defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi is not. That’s worrisome. The defense will have to make major strides with Ogunjobi’s departure or fear a repeat of the 2015 season. The offense still doesn’t appear capable of winning shootouts in C-USA just yet.

12. Rice (3-9)

This might be the last hurrah for David Bailiff. The schedule is unkind and although the roster is talented, they are young. Bailiff named redshirt freshman Sam Glaesmann the starting quarterback so there might be some bumps in the road this season. Considering Bailiff has won only eight games in two years, I’m not so sure he can afford them.

13. UTEP (4-8)

Similar to Bailiff, things aren’t looking so good for Sean Kugler. A young roster must come together fast if they are to make sure Kugler is in El Paso for another season. The schedule is bit kinder for the Miners though. If Ryan Metz can provide some improved play at quarterback, wins are on the table in the early part of the season.

14. UAB (0-0)

#TheReturn is officially back as the Blazers make their first appearance in our Power Rankings. The month of September could see UAB climb up the rankings as a 4-0 or 3-1 start is certainly on the table.

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