With the 2017 college football season now over, it’s our turn to reveal our Way Too Early Rankings: Conference USA edition. The Conference USA Power Rankings is based on the outlook for the future. Without further ado, here’s our Way Too Early Conference USA Power Rankings.
1. FAU (11-3 last season)
After running the table in Conference USA last season, the best team in C-USA returns virtually everyone. Conference USA’s MVP Devin Singletary is back. Team captain Azeez Al-Shaair is back. Jalen Young and a cast of playmakers in the secondary that lead the conference in interceptions is back. Lane Kiffin is back too! FAU will be the media’s runaway favorite to go back-to-back and if a few breaks go their way the Owls could be the conference’s first representative to nab the New Year’s Six bid.
2. Marshall (8-5)
The Thundering Herd finished the season with a much needed bowl win over Colorado State. If a few bounces went their way Marshall could have finished with 10 wins last season. Marshall has yet to name their new offensive coordinator, but whoever it turns out to be will have a lot to work with in 2018. Chase Litton, Tyre Brady, Keion Davis and Tyler King all return to give the Herd the most balanced attack in the conference. From looking at the schedule, Marshall also has a shot at making a run for the New Year’s Six bid if they can upset North Carolina State or South Carolina. Marshall will also host FAU in what could be the best game in C-USA next year.
3. North Texas (9-5)
The biggest surprise team in 2017 won’t sneak up on anyone in 2018. The Mean Green should have one of the best passing offenses in the country as C-USA’s Offensive Player of the Year Mason Fine returns along with Jalen Guyton, Rico Bussey Jr. and Michael Lawrence. A defense that didn’t exactly close 2017 strong must replace Kishawn McClain and Eric Jenkins in the back end. North Texas was 5-0 in games decided by seven points or less in 2017 so UNT might be in for a regression in that category next season.
4. Louisiana Tech (7-6)
I may have been a year early on picking La Tech to win C-USA West. The Bulldogs finished the season with a resounding bowl win over SMU and showed just how talented they are. Without Boston Scott and Jarred Craft to lean on it’ll be on J’Mar Smith and Teddy Veal to carry the offense. Skip Holtz will have to get La Tech through a killer schedule as they will play North Texas, UTSA and Southern Miss all on the road.
5. Middle Tennessee (7-6)
The Blue Raiders closed the season on a high note with a bowl win over Arkansas State. The window for Rick Stockstill to win his second conference title is now as MTSU has the best quarterback in the conference, Brent Stockstill. We should see more improvement on defense in Scott Shafer’s second season. MTSU has the roster to make some noise, but lacks the track record which is why I have them here.
6. UAB (8-5)
Similar to North Texas, one of the best stories in college football won’t be able to sneak up on anyone in 2018. UAB will have one of the best running backs in the conference in Spencer Brown. The Blazers will have a new offensive coordinator and whoever he is, really needs to work on revamping the passing offense. The Blazers will at least have some continuity in that department as they will rely on seniors A.J. Erdely, Andre Wilson, Collin Lisa, and Ronnie Turner Jr. to keep defenses from loading the box to stop Brown. Without Tevin Crews and Shaq Jones the defense could take a step back.
7. Southern Miss (8-5)
Just like last season, the Golden Eagles are a hard team for me to figure out. With Ito Smith gone due to graduation and Korey Robertson leaving early for the NFL, USM’s offense is a question mark right now. But Quez Watkins and Tez Parks flashed enough potential for me to believe that maybe they’ll be just fine.
8. UTSA (6-6)
The Roadrunners will look very different in 2018 as they were hit hard by graduation. Frank Wilson has recruited well so talented players are in the wings. But the Roadrunners will be replacing both coordinators as well as several assistant coaches and will have a new starter at quarterback. With Josiah Tauaefa and Jalen Rhodes still in the fold UTSA is as talented as any team in the conference but they may struggle with consistency due to so many new faces on the coaching staff and on the field.
9. Old Dominion (5-7)
The Monarchs were hit hard by the injury bug last year and as a result a few youngsters got to see the field. One of those young guys was quarterback Steven Williams. Williams flashed a lot of potential as ODU now has their quarterback of the future. The offense should be much better as Jeremy Cox is still in the backfield, not to mention one of the most electric players in the conference out wide in Isaiah Harper.
10. FIU (8-5)
Butch Davis had one of the best coaching jobs in his career in 2017 as a veteran FIU team finally played to their potential and matched their best season in school history. The Panthers were hit hard by graduation so it’ll be interesting to see who emerges as playmakers in the spring. First thing they need to figure out is the quarterback position as Maurice Alexander did not look good in the bowl game against Temple. Could the Panthers be in the market for a grad transfer?
11. WKU (6-7)
The Tops had the best quarterback in C-USA, veteran leaders on offense and defense, and finished with a losing record. Not a great debut season for Mike Sanford Jr. Sanford Jr. is recruiting at a much better level than Jeff Brohm did so at least there’s that.
12. Rice (1-11)
Former Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren is bringing his manball offense to Houston. Rice administration showed patience with David Bailiff and will need to do so again for Bloomgren.
13. Charlotte (1-11)
Pretty shocking that Brad Lambert was given an extra year to turn this program around but here we are. We all know about Hasaan Klugh but who else will emerge on offense. New offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery has a lot of work to do.
14. UTEP (0-12)
Did not like the Dana Dimel hire at all. The Miners are at least getting some P5 talent because of the hire as a few Kansas State transfers are already headed to El Paso.