As we sit just a month away from the first kick at Legion Field on September 2, I can’t help but be overcome with angst when daydreaming about the daunting challenges that lie ahead.
I, personally, have lifted not one weight or spent one minute training for the games to come. However, I feel that I share some of the burden that the current staff and players feel because I am a fan and in this particular situation, I’ve been a part of a historic movement that brought a team back from the dead and a city’s embrace around a program.
In the months and years leading up to this season, coach Bill Clark has likely spent countless hours observing his peers and their programs across the college football landscape. More recently, you can imagine he’s lost more than a hour or two of sleep as arguably the best of the group of five conferences added two household names in their coaching ranks — Lane Kiffin and Butch Davis.
The Sunshine state duo certainly deserves the headlines they’ve garnered, but I’d be ignorant to not also mention Western Kentucky’s newest general Mike Sanford who is burning up the recruiting trail as I write this.
Toss the new guys in with the monster that Frank Wilson is building at UTSA in his second year, the consistent winning from Skip Holtz and Rick Stockstill at Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee, and you have a conference that is on the precipice of being the perennial non-power football conference.
2017-18 Conference USA Football Expectations
Below are the projected win totals for the conference via Bovada in Las Vegas
- Western Kentucky: 9.5 (Over -135, Under +105)
- Louisiana Tech: 8.5 (Over -110, Under -110)
- Middle Tennessee: 7 (Over EVEN, Under -130)
- Southern Miss: 7 (Over -130, Under EVEN)
- Old Dominion: 6.5 (Over -110, Under -110)
- UT-San Antonio: 6.5 (Over -140, Under +110)
- Marshall: 5 (Over -130, Under EVEN)
- Florida International: 4.5 (Over EVEN, Under -130)
- Charlotte: 4 (Over +125, Under -155)
- Florida Atlantic: 4.5 (Over -130, Under EVEN)
- North Texas: 4.5 (Over -110, Under -110)
- Rice: 3.5 (Over -135, Under +105)
- UAB: 2.5 (Over -150, Under +120)
- UTEP: 2.5 (Over +110, Under -140)
A couple months back we polled Twitter to get a feel of how many bowl games fans thought the conference would participate in this coming season. Seven bowl games seemed to be the consensus, which would match the 2016-17 total.
It’s not a stretch to say that eight or nine bowl games are within reach if the planets align just right for the programs hovering around the middle of the above list. No group of five conference appeared in more than seven last season (C-USA and MWC both with seven), and in my research no group of five conference has appeared in more than eight.
I’ll entertain the argument that the amount of bowls has diluted the accomplishment some, but nonetheless Conference USA has created somewhat of a perfect coaching storm this season. If nothing else, it is looking really good on paper and possibly in some tabloids (Love you Lane).
UAB hasn’t been bowling since 2004, and the safe bet is that it won’t be returning in their first season back from the dead. I wouldn’t be so quick to count out Bill Clark and his staff though. With just enough luck and nightly prayers, he could turn this team into a winner immediately.
I’m not a gambling man, but if I was I’d certainly put my money on the Blazers shocking some folks, and Conference USA firmly seating itself at the top of the group of five mountain.