Charlotte 49ers - UMass, Week 3
The 49ers had their best FBS season in 2018, finishing 5-7. The chances of making their first bowl game in 2019 seem slim, but they’ll need to take advantage of every chance they can get. Will Healy’s debut squad will likely be 1-1 going into their home game against the Minutemen. If they can avenge last year’s loss in Amherst, they’ll be 2-1, putting them in a much better position to finally reach the postseason than last year’s 1-3 start.
Florida Atlantic Owls - FIU, Week 11
After their best season in school history in 2017, the Owls took a major step back in 2018. Although the Owls smoked their rivals in the Shula Bowl, it was FIU who had the better season. Many have begun to believe that although FAU hiring Lane Kiffin took all the headlines, FIU may have made off better landing Butch Davis. This could be a pivotal year between these two, especially in recruiting. If FAU wants to continue their dominance of FIU, it would be a good idea to make it three straight in 2019.
FIU Panthers - at Florida Atlantic, Week 11
Again, this could be a pivotal year in the rivalry, but it’s up to the Panthers to make it happen. Despite having the best C-USA recruiting class in 2018 and being overall the better team, FIU was embarrassed on its home turf. If FIU ever wants to grab the upper hand away from the Owls, they need to get it done soon.
Marshall Thundering Herd - FIU, Week 14
Marshall fell just short of a division title in 2018. Middle Tennessee won the race, but the Blue Raiders lose a ton of starters for 2019. Therefore, Marshall’s biggest challenger this year could be FIU, and the Herd and Panthers meet in the final week of the regular season. This one has the potential of being a de facto division championship game, and could make CBSSN the place to be on November 30.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders - Marshall, Week 6
Although the Blue Raiders won the east a year ago, they lose a lot of starters, including 4-year starting quarterback Brent Stockstill. They open the season with a rough stretch of non-conference games, including games at Michigan and Iowa. When they open conference play at home against the Herd, a 2-2 record is probably the best-case scenario, and 1-3 is more likely. Marshall is a tough first opponent, and they’ll need a good showing if they intend to be in the title conversation again in 2019.
Old Dominion Monarchs - East Carolina, Week 5
After what should be a season-opening win against Norfolk State, the Monarchs have to make trips to both Virginia Tech and Virginia. Yes, ODU beat Tech last year, but the chances of repeating that in Lane Stadium are slim. This makes the game against ECU important for ODU’s bowl chances. There are some winnable conference games, but a win at home over the Pirates would make the goal of six wins far more achievable.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers - vs Louisville, Week 3
I’ve been hesitant to include games against the Power 5, but I’ll make an exception here. As bad of a season as WKU had last year, they came very close to knocking off the Cardinals. Although they couldn’t get UL to come to Bowling Green, they have a shot to face Louisville away from Cardinal Stadium. This could be their best chance to knock off their in-state rivals in a long time, so they need to try and take advantage of it. It’s weird to see two Kentucky teams playing in Nashville, Tennessee, but maybe WKU can make this one even weirder.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs - North Texas, Week 11
Outside of Louisiana, the bulk of Tech’s recruiting is done in Texas. The Bulldogs have mostly dominated the four Texas teams in C-USA since joining in 2013, but North Texas has risen as the biggest challenger from that state. After losing their last home game against UNT, Tech spoiled Mean Joe Greene night a year ago thanks to Amik Robertson blocking UNT’s potential game-winning field goal try. The Mean Green will be out for revenge, and Tech will want to win this one to make sure they continue having success on the recruiting trail.
North Texas Mean Green - Houston, Week 5
Despite the program that Seth Littrell has been building in Denton, Houston has been the premier group of 5 program in Texas. The Cougars are under new management now, having lured Dana Holgorsen away from the Big 12. The Mean Green have a huge opportunity with UH coming to Apogee Stadium. A win over Holgorsen’s Coogs would be a huge boost to UNT’s in-state recruiting efforts.
Rice Owls - @ UTEP, Week 14
Rice is still very much in a rebuilding process, same as UTEP. Every win they can get matters, so a win over the other rebuilding team in Texas could help them along. If they want to rebuild faster than the Miners, the Owls can’t afford to lose to them again like they did last year.
Southern Miss Golden Eagles - North Texas, Week 7
Southern Miss didn’t have their best season in 2018, finishing just 6-5 and missing the postseason. They return a ton of starters, however, so 2019 could be their chance to make another division title run. With both UAB and La Tech losing a number of starters, North Texas could be their biggest opposition. The Golden Eagles have a bye week before hosting the Mean Green for homecoming, so they have no excuses not to bring their best performance to a game that could have huge division title implications.
UAB Blazers - @ Tennessee, Week 10
The Blazers lose a number of starters from their conference championship squad, but the bulk of their schedule is so weak that they could have a fantastic record when they travel to Knoxville following their second bye week. Unless they are just blowing out every team before this, even an undefeated UAB squad could have some questions to answer about how good they really are. A strong showing on Rocky Top could prove they are as good as their record might suggest.
UTEP Miners - Rice, Week 14
Like Rice, UTEP is undergoing a major rebuild. The Miners finished with just one win in 2018. That win was against Rice, a win that meant so much to the fan base they stormed Rice’s field. If they want to stay ahead of Rice in the rebuild process, beating them again would be a smart idea.
UTSA Roadrunners - Incarnate Word, Week 1
Hold on, hear me out. UTSA has enjoyed great fan support since it introduced football in 2011. A crowd of 56,743 filled the Alamodome when UTSA debuted against D2 Northeastern State. Lately, however, a lack of winning has seen those numbers dwindle. Only 16,874 attended UTSA’s game against FIU in 2018. While UTSA only won three games last year, Incarnate Word made the FCS playoffs. It got so bad, UIW coach Eric Morris made comments that UIW was a team “we can get San Antonio behind” and that “San Antonio is itching for a great college football program, right?” If the Roadrunners intend to be a program that is above FCS schools, they need to start 2019 off strong by showing UIW who runs San Antonio. A loss would be disastrous for the reputation of the team, not to mention recruiting.