For the fifth 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, here, and here.
Cyrus Smith: Buy. New facilities on the way? Check. Bill Clark still the head coach? Check. Does the roster have good talent? Check. Stability, fan support and lack of a presence on the recruiting trail have historically went against UAB but the program is now in good shape at all three levels. The future looks great not only in the short term, but in the long term as well.
Tanner Spearman: Buy. UAB’s rise from the ashes has been quick, and there’s no sign that they’ll be slowing down any time soon. As long as Bill Clark is in Birmingham, the Blazers will be contending for conference titles.
Jared Kalmus: Buy. I don’t know what the hell I could possible knock UAB on. Championship coach that’s flown under the P5 radar, a highly-promising returning sophomore quarterback, strong fan support, a new stadium on the way... If Bill Clark can just increase the Blazers’ recruiting success a bit then UAB could compete for the NYE bowl in the future.
Adam Woodyard: Push. Not trying to be contrarian, it’s just that the article is “are they on the rise,” and I don’t see UAB winning more games next year than they did this year. Clark has done something historic, and there were enough close games in 2017 that we should’ve seen 2018 coming. Another conference title is absolutely on the table, and if the Blazers run the table, with or without a victory over Tennessee, I will happily eat my words.
Joe Londergan: Buy. I believe in Bill Clark and his staff. I believe in the talent on this roster. I believe in all of the recent new investments in the program. I don’t think this program has peaked yet.
North Texas Mean Green
Cyrus Smith: Buy, With Seth Littrell and Mason Fine, UNT will remain a potential candidate to win C-USA in 2019. Barring a late surprise, North Texas will sign the best recruiting class in the conference this year. Even if Littrell exits Denton soon, the foundation has been laid for his successor to continue to keep UNT as one of the better programs in C-USA.
Tanner Spearman: Buy. North Texas didn’t finish the season as strongly as it started, but keeping Seth Littrell in Denton means the Mean Green will continue to get stronger.
Jared Kalmus: Buy. As long as Seth Littrell and Graham Harrell remain in Denton, the program is in great shape. Littrell deserves a lot of credit for modernizing his recruiting approach last year, as the changes paved the way for UNT to haul in the best recruiting class in program history. The foundation in Denton is very strong.
Adam Woodyard: Push. A top recruiting class put a smile on my face, but they are just that— recruits. They’re coming in green (no pun intended), where Jalen Guyton declared for the draft and Littrell’s squad has struggled closing out conference games. Nine wins this past season was amazing to see, just like it was in 2017. As Cyrus said, the foundation is there, but to get to ten wins this team needs to beat Cal or Houston, along with beating an improved SMU squad and running the table in conference. I don’t see it.
Joe Londergan: Buy. That team can really play offense. Seth Littrell is back. Graham Harrell is back. Mason Fine is back. I think 2019 is going to be another season where the Mean Green win upwards of eight games once again.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Cyrus Smith: Buy. Since 2015, Louisiana Tech’s recruiting classes in C-USA have finished 3rd, 4th in 2016, 8th in 2017, 4th in 2018, and as of now, 3rd in 2019. For better or worse, Skip Holtz is probably a La Tech lifer, and though he has yet to give Tech fans a conference title, the stability and improved talent acquisition he has brought to Ruston leads me to believe that it’s only a matter of time before he actually breaks through and wins the conference.
Tanner Spearman: Sell. Louisiana Tech more or less owned the west division for a three-year period, but those days are gone. Skip Holtz continues to deliver in bowl season, but the regular season results are trending downward as the west division grows stronger. Perhaps the past two seasons were just a down period that Tech will recover from, but it’s starting to feel like Holtz is falling into the “too good to fire, but not good enough to get hired away” purgatory.
Jared Kalmus: Push. I’ve kind of reserved myself to the fact that Skip Holtz just doesn’t have what it takes to get La Tech over the hump and hoist the C-USA championship trophy. The Bulldogs have recruited so well that the seven win seasons should keep rolling along but I didn’t see anything from La Tech last year that made me think they were just around the corner from taking the next step as a program.
Adam Woodyard: Push. Much like North Texas, this is a team with a great coach who can bring the team to a bowl every season, but winning a conference title seems just out of reach. Expect a lot of wins next season and a bowl game, but if Holtz hasn’t gotten over that hump by this point, he never will.
Joe Londergan: Push. Louisiana Tech is a team that hasn’t really surprised me at all the last three years or so. They win the games they’re supposed to win. They don’t really pull off too many crazy upsets. They go to and win bowl games against other G5 programs. Make no mistake, this is an above average G5 program, but I don’t see them making the jump past that soon.
Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Cyrus Smith: Push. I really don’t know where Southern Miss fits in C-USA under Jay Hopson. He’s had a winning record in each season and has never finished with a losing record in conference play, so that’s good. But his teams are consistently inconsistent.
Tanner Spearman: Push. Southern Miss is hard to read. Since winning the west in 2015, the Golden Eagles have been able to stay at or above .500, but haven’t really contended for the division. Until something changes for better or worse, I’m going to leave their stock alone.
Jared Kalmus: Push. While Southern Miss has under-performed what I think their expectations should be as a program, they haven’t really been **bad** under Hopson, just really average. The Golden Eagles need to find consistency and Jack Abraham improving from an accurate passer on underneath routes to boasting a consistent deep ball could make all the difference.
Adam Woodyard: Push. Jay Hopson is... fine. This team had a bad season or two, and wanted to shore that up, and they did. These teams win, and put bowl games within reach, but multiple seasons have proved they’re not doing better than that under Hopson. Expect another middle-of-the-road season, which honestly I’m surprised Golden Eagles fans are okay with that. 2019 might be the year that all changes.
Joe Londergan: Push. I once again have no real idea what to make of Southern Miss. I do like Tate Whatley a lot...but I don’t have a ton of faith in the pieces around him moving forward. Getting to and actually winning a bowl game should be the goal this year for Hopson’s boys.
Cyrus Smith: Push. Entering Year 4, Frank Wilson has no more time for excuses. UTSA has nowhere to go up after an abysmal 2018 season. Though the Roadrunners have talent for a bounce back season, I don’t trust this coaching staff to buy stock into their future.
Tanner Spearman: Push. There was a feeling after Frank Wilson’s first year that the Roadrunners were on the rise, but it hasn’t played out that way. At this point, the stock is too low to sell, but I don’t feel confident enough in the immediate future for UTSA to buy.
Jared Kalmus: Sell. Liquidate that stock while you can because there isn’t much hope on the horizon for UTSA. With another tough schedule lined up and a jumbled mess at the quarterback position, this could be the end of the line for Frank Wilson unless the Roadrunners find a sudden revelation on offense.
Adam Woodyard: Sell. Whatever the problem, this team is struggling mightily, and the only thing keeping them out of the basement are historically bad Rice and UTEP teams. I’m with Jared on this one, things have not panned out here and barring something truly unexpected, Wilson could end 2019 on the hot seat, or worse.
Joe Londergan: Sell. I’m honestly not convinced that Frank Wilson makes it past 2019 as UTSA’s head coach. The Roadrunners were probably the most cringeworthy team in C-USA in 2018 in terms of offense...and I say that as someone who watched a lot of Western Kentucky.
Cyrus Smith: Buy. I liked what I saw from Mike Bloomgren in 2018 before depth became an issue. By 2020 I think the Owls will be in the hunt for a bowl game.
Tanner Spearman: Buy. It’s not clear what the future holds for Rice, and Mike Bloomgren’s first year wasn’t much prettier than David Bailiff’s last. Still, buy low, right? Rice’s stock can’t get much lower, and there’s at least hope that Bloomgren can get this ship turned around. It wasn’t going to be fixed in one year, but he did manage to double Rice’s win total from the prior season.
Jared Kalmus: Buy. Rice showed some promise early in 2018 so I think there’s some value here. Bloomgren is moving against the current in C-USA by focusing on building a bruising running game and that counter-culture approach could pay dividends. Expect some slight improvement in 2019 before Bloomgren’s recruits get entrenched in 2020 and his vision can really come to light.
Adam Woodyard: Buy. Indeed. Nowhere to go but up, and they did end the year on a high note, notching their first FBS win in the last game. I don’t know that I can predict more wins, but certainly we can expect a better on-field product.
Joe Londergan: Buy. I know they’re in a low place right now, but I think Rice football is definitely going to improve...and I’m not just saying that because they pretty much have to based on the last two years. Mike Bloomgren’s a great fit for Rice and he’ll get that program competitive again soon.
Cyrus Smith: Push. Dana Dimel has the Miners somewhat trending up after being a pesky out in 2018, but I’m still not convinced he can get them beyond what Sean Kugler was able to accomplish.
Tanner Spearman: Buy. UTEP may have finished 1-11, but they seemed to get better as the season progressed. With just one win over the past two seasons, the stock is as low as it’s going to get, but I think Dana Dimel will slowly, but surely, get them moving in the right direction. Prime time to buy.
Jared Kalmus: Push. Dimel is bringing UTEP into the modern era a bit and recruiting has slightly improved, but I want to see more success before buying in. I’m still trying to figure out how UTEP could fit in as a C-USA spoiler, as it’s hard to imagine them ever being the most talented team in their division.
Adam Woodyard: Buy. This team was better on the field than they have been in the five years previous. This did not translate to wins, and indeed it may still not, considering who they share a division with. But they were competitive and for the Miners this decade, that’s a step up.
Joe Londergan: Push. The only reason I’m not selling UTEP stock is that I wouldn’t get much back. I still don’t think Dana Dimel is the coach that this program needs to be competitive again...but stranger things have certainly happened.