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Athlon Sports Releases its 2016 Conference USA Predictions

Southern Mississippi picked to take conference title over Middle Tennessee, while FAU's Trey Hendrickson and Southern Miss's Nick Mullens were selected as potential defensive and offensive players of the year.

Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

With an explosion of college football rankings and predictions soon to come raining down on the sport's fans in the next few weeks, Athlon Sports recently put out its own projections and predictions for Conference USA and its upcoming season.

In the east, the magazine picked the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders as the projected division winner a year after they finished 7-6 and were bowl eligible for the fourth straight season.

The play of quarterback Brent Stockstill will be a big factor for the Blue Raiders' hopes to hinge on, as the redshirt sophomore will look to improve upon his initial season in Murfreesboro. Stockstill threw for 4,005 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2015, so most MTSU fans will hope for an encore performance and not a sophomore slump.

Marshall edged out Western Kentucky for the second spot in the division, while Florida Atlantic, Old Dominion, Florida International and Charlotte round out the bottom four in that order.

The Southern Miss Golden Eagles were picked by Athlon's four member panel to take the west division and win the CUSA title over Middle Tennessee. After an appearance in the conference title game last year and the number of returning players, including quarterback  Nick Mullens, it's easy to see the potential the Golden Eagles have.

Louisiana Tech was picked to finish behind the Golden Eagles and UTEP was tabbed to take third. Rice and UTSA were put in the fourth and fifth sports, while North Texas capped off the bottom three.

WKU's Jeff Brohm was picked as having the best coaching job in Conference USA, with Doc Holliday at Marshall and Skip Holtz at La Tech being selected at second and third. The picks differ from our own rankings, which says the Thundering Herd's spot as the best job in the league.

USM's Mullens and FAU's Trey Hendrickson were selected as potential offensive and defensive players of the year by the panel, while Stockstill and Louisiana Tech defensive end Jaylon Furguson each received a single vote.

Even with a team tabbed to finish last in the west, UNT's Sean Littrell was selected as the best coaching hire for the upcoming season.

Last year's Athlon rankings correctly picked WKU to take both the east division and the conference title, but incorrectly picked Louisiana Tech to make the title game. West winner USM was picked as only the fourth best in the west, showing you can't always pick 'em all.