For the fourth straight year the staff at Underdog Dynasty gets together to determine which programs in Conference USA are on the rise. You can look back at our previous evaluations of each program in C-USA West here, here, and here.
Cyrus: Buy. The Mean Green still aren’t recruiting as well as I think they should be - according to 247 Sports, under Seth Littrell the highest they’ve finished in C-USA is 8th - but there’s no denying how great the coaching staff is at developing players after last year’s performance. I’d be shocked if UNT fails to reach a bowl game as long as Littrell is the head coach.
Jared: Buy. I’m not saying UNT will continue to win the division on an annual basis but the program seems to finally have started to put the pieces together. While the Mean Green are still struggling in recruiting rankings, they’ve modernized their recruiting approach and have increased their revenue after their student body votes to increase athletics fees. Combine that with a great head coach and you have, at long last, a healthy football program.
Tanner: Push. North Texas broke through and won the West in 2017, but there were some squeakers with mediocre teams and some strong teams manhandled the Mean Green. If the traditional powers of C-USA who struggled in 2017 get back on their feet, I’m not convinced UNT will be able to handle them. Perhaps UNT will continue to rise, but maybe they won the West because the rest of the teams were in down years. I’m not selling, but I’m not buying, either.
Joe Londergan: Buy. Contrary to my pawdcast cohost, I think Seth Littrell is doing a great job in Denton. Recruiting does need to pick up a bit, but I think another winning season will help with that. They’re in strong contention for another division title, in my opinion.
Cyrus: Buy. Aside from the fact that Bill Clark is still in Birmingham, the Blazers are getting closer to having an on-campus stadium and facilities are getting better too. In 2018 Southern Miss, UTSA and North Texas all come to Birmingham so the Blazers should be in contention for a C-USA West division title this year as they return a lot of players from last year’s team.
Jared: Buy. UAB’s stock price should still be considered low since the program disbanded a few years back but things are looking up now. Bill Clark is still on board, attendance is (relatively) high, a new stadium is on the way, and a young UAB team competed really well in their first season back in C-USA.
Tanner: Buy. UAB surprised everyone by finishing in second in the West and making a bowl game in their first year back on the gridiron. As long as Bill Clark is in Birmingham, the Blazers’ stock should keep rising.
Joe L: Buy. Bill Clark is a great coach. The fans are into it. And despite a bad day in that bowl game, there’s some intriguing talent in there, particularly with the offense. What’s not to like?
Cyrus: Push. In two years under Jay Hopson the only thing USM has been able to consistently do is beat La Tech. They have been extremely volatile under Hopson and with a lot of turnover on offense entering 2018, the Golden Eagles could take a step back. They have recruited well enough for me to not sell them completely, but 2018 is going to be very telling for the Hopson era.
Jared: Push. I think USM is probably fairly valued right now. They will be in the hunt for a division title each year but are missing a few pieces to be considered a front runner.
Tanner: Push. Southern Miss improved from 2016, but they didn’t blow me away. Add that some senior talent like Ito Smith is out of the door and I’m not sure how much better the Golden Eagles will be in 2018.
Joe L: Push. I have no idea what to make of USM right now. A lot will inevitably be on Kwadra Griggs’ shoulders in 2018, that’s all I know.
Cyrus: Buy. La Tech went 7-6 with a bowl win and many fans considered it to be a “down year.” Just about any C-USA fan base would see a 7-win season as a success. That’s a sign of a healthy football program. Tech ranks 26th in Returning Production so the close loses the Bulldogs endured last year as a young team could translate to a big year in 2018 if mistakes were learned.
Jared: Buy. I’m buying the dip after La Tech “struggled” to a 7-6 record last season. The Bulldogs are consistently among the most talented programs in Conference USA and I have a lot of faith in Holtz’s ability to develop quarterbacks. The Bulldogs are probably the safest bet in the division year in and year out.
Tanner: Buy. The Bulldogs struggled in 2017, finishing 7-6, but we know what they can do under Skip Holtz. There was plenty of young, raw talent on this team, which should lead to better and more experienced squads going forward.
Joe L: Buy. I’m a big J’Mar Smith fan. There’s no reason to think they can’t at least get back to another bowl game. Plus that recruiting class is really solid with what seems like half the football players in East Texas making their way to Ruston in 2018.
Cyrus: Buy. This is a low buy. Still a program on the rise but I think we’re going to learn a lot about Frank Wilson in his third year in San Antonio. Wasn’t a huge fan of the Al Borges hire as the offensive coordinator.
Jared: Sell. A five man quarterback race, three offensive linemen making their first starts, nearly complete turnover along the assistant coaching staff, the departure of the best player in school history, and a tough schedule await the Roadrunners in 2018. Bowl eligibility would be a huge success in a rebuilding year. I still like UTSA long term but I’ll buy more stock on the cheap after what could be a rough 2018 season.
Tanner: Buy. Even though UTSA didn’t impress us the way we thought they would, I still believe they are a program on the rise. Buy low, sell high.
Joe L: Push. I don’t think UTSA dips all that much in terms of talent, but that schedule is brutal. Combine that with new coaches needing a little time to settle in and UTSA may be somewhere in the middle like they were this year.
Cyrus: Push. Not going to sell completely on Mike Bloomgren as I like the fact that the Owls will have a firm identity separate from the rest of the conference. But C-USA is recruiting better as a whole and Rice still lags behind. Bloomgren must do what David Bailiff couldn’t sustain and prevent classes from being poached.
Jared: Sell. The Owls need to retool their roster before I consider putting any faith in the program. Replacing the majority of their offensive line will expose just how talent-poor the program is on the offensive side of the ball.
Tanner: Sell. Rice is just a tough place to win, and an even tougher place to win consistently. It’s going to take a very good coach to make Rice a winner. Can Bloomgren do it? Only time will tell.
Joe L: Buy. I think Rice will be better than they were. That’s obviously not saying much after a 1-11 season. But if we’re talking about an investment, 3-4 wins is making a profit for me, right?
Cyrus: Sell. In our last Underdog Pawdcast I mentioned how UTEP made my least favorite hire and I’m still sticking with that assessment.
Jared: Sell. The Miners belong among the penny stocks.
Tanner: Buy. Buy low, sell high, right? Well at 0-12, UTEP’s stock is as low as it’s going to get. Not sure how good of a hire Dimel was, but anything is better than 2017.
Joe L: Buy. I’m with Tanner on this one. You literally can’t have a worse season than UTEP did in 2017. No way that they go 0-12 in back-to-back years.