In college football, every game is important. With only 12 regular season games, there are no throwaway games. There hasn’t been a team with more than one loss in the national championship game since the wild 2007 season.
With that being said, some games are more important than others. Some games are expected losses, while others are expected wins. In the middle are the games that can define a season. Keeping this in mind, let’s take a look at the most important games for every C-USA team in 2018.
Charlotte 49ers - Appalachian State, week 2
This will be the first-ever meeting between the two schools, but there’s already some animosity between their fanbases. App State is expected to bring a strong contingent to Charlotte, and the 49ers need to show up. They’ll be pretty big underdogs, but this struggling new program would get a huge boost if they could find a way to prevail against the Mountaineers. Chances are App State will win, but if Charlotte pulls it off they might be ready for their first ever bowl game.
Florida Atlantic Owls - @ UCF, week 4
No, not the Oklahoma game. That would be a huge win, but FAU could lose that game and still have a magnificent season. UCF, however, is much more interesting. The Knights have been getting tons of exposure and are now a household name thanks to their national championship claim, whether you agree with its validity or not. If there’s another G5 Florida team that’s a media darling, it has to be FAU. The reigning American and C-USA champs will go at it in a game for state supremacy. Obviously, Scott Frost is no longer UCF’s coach, but unless UCF tanks next season, this should be a huge game with massive recruiting implications.
FIU Panthers - Florida Atlantic, week 10
FIU made a great hire a year ago. FAU made a better one. FIU had the top recruiting class in C-USA this year, but if they want to keep it that way, they can’t afford to lose to FAU too much. They got smoked by the Owls last year, and need to keep that from happening again in 2018. Plus, if they want to be a division contender this year, they’ll have to get through their rivals.
Marshall Thundering Herd - Florida Atlantic, week 8
Marshall was the only C-USA team who was able to keep it close against FAU last year, losing by 5 on the road. This year, FAU comes to Huntington. Marshall could be a big threat to FAU in the east, so winning this game could be huge for the Herd, possibly enough to propel them back to the C-USA Championship Game. The Herd appeared in the championship game in 2013 and 2014, but then were just good in 2015, atrocious in 2016, and then good again in 2017. Will they come full circle in 2018? This game could decide.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders - WKU, week 10
The Blue Raiders still hold a narrow 34-32-1 lead in the all time series against the Hilltoppers, but they’ve lost three straight. They’ve been close each of the past two meetings, but WKU prevailed. This is Brent Stockstill’s last season, and if MTSU doesn’t win this game, the coach’s son will finish his career 0-4 against the archrival.
Old Dominion Monarchs - @ Liberty, week 1
I’ll be honest, there’s really not a good choice for ODU. I decided to go with Liberty because this will the the debut of another in-state FBS team. This is more of a “can’t lose” rather than a “must win.” Old Dominion needs to win or they risk being put in a bad spot in the recruiting game. Having another in-state G5 team, especially one with the resources of Liberty, will be an added challenge in and of itself. Losing to that team will definitely not help matters for the Monarchs.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers - Marshall, week 5
WKU had a disappointing 2017, and hope to rebound. The Marshall game will be at home, the conference opener, and right before the bye week. If WKU intends to get right back in the divisional race in 2018, they need to win this game. It would get them started on the right foot and give them confidence going into the off-week. That momentum could help carry them through the rest of the season.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs - @ North Texas, week 5
No, not LSU. Like the FAU-OU situation, Tech can still have a great season even if they don’t win that game. Beating LSU would be, to use Louisiana terminology, lagniappe. Instead, look at the very next week. The Bulldogs have to quickly put away whatever emotions come after the LSU game, whether it’s the incredible high of knocking off the in-state SEC school or the frustration of a blown opportunity. Tech has to focus on a 2nd consecutive road trip, this time against the reigning C-USA West champs. If Tech wants to return to form and reassert themselves in the West, they need to find a way to take down the Mean Green and give themselves some momentum from their conference opener.
North Texas Mean Green - Louisiana Tech, week 5
North Texas won the West last year, but they did so in a year where Tech was down, Southern Miss was decent but not great, and they won close games against pretty much everyone. If they want to prove they were good, not just lucky, they need to start off conference play with a home victory.
Rice Owls - Prairie View A&M, week 0
This will be Mike Boomgren’s debut as head coach. This will also be the only C-USA game of week 0. After a 1-11 season, Rice needs a good start to the season. Don’t just win, win by multiple scores.
Southern Miss Golden Eagles - @ North Texas, week 7
Last season, Southern Miss held a 21-7 lead over North Texas late in the second quarter. They would lose to the Mean Green 43-28. This year, USM gets UNT on the road, but right after the Golden Eagles’ bye week. This will be USM’s second conference game (the first is Rice), and marks the start of the meat of their season. If the Eagles want momentum to have a better finish in 2018, a win over UNT would be just the thing to spark it.
UAB Blazers - @ Louisiana Tech, week 6
The Blazers took down La Tech in Birmingham last season thanks to a blocked field goal at the horn. That was their first C-USA win since the shutdown and their first ever over Tech. One could argue that the momentum from that win helped propel them to their stunning 2nd place finish in the West. This game will again be their second conference game in 2018. If they want to prove last year wasn’t a fluke, beating the Bulldogs twice in a row could really silence any doubters and help them gain momentum yet again.
UTEP Miners - Northern Arizona, week 1
Like Rice, UTEP is debuting a new coach against an FCS team. UTEP needs to win, and win by multiple scores. After going 0-12, the Miners need to start 2018 in the win column.
UTSA Roadrunners - Baylor, week 2
This will be the first time UTSA ever hosts a Texas Power 5 team. UTSA beat the Bears in Waco last year, but now they have the opportunity to make it twice in a row. As this program continues to grow and seeks to improve their recruiting, another win over the Bears would be a big help. And perhaps, unlike last year, the win would help UTSA gain momentum that lasts throughout the season.