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College Football 2019: Conference USA Preview

Leading up to the kickoff of the 2019 college football season, The Game Haus will be previewing each FBS conference and those independent teams. As we continue today with Conference USA, we’ll offer league predictions and look at the top performers while also highlighting key games from each conference.

Here we go with Conference USA.

Predictions

EAST DIVISION

1. Marshall
It’s not a cop Out to say the Conference USA East is up for grabs. But, we’re going with the Herd. OK, maybe because they topped the Conference USA preseason poll. While quarterback Isaiah Green (2,459 passing yards in 2018) had a solid freshman season, Marshall also boasts a solid running game and an active defense.

2. Florida International
After 17 wins over the last two years, the Panthers are expected to challenge for the top spot in the Conference USA East. Coach Butch Davis has one of the nation’s best linebackers in Sage Lewis and an exciting all-purpose performer in Maurice Alexander.

Conference USA
Reed Blankenship / Photo courtesy of facebook.com

3. Middle Tennessee
The Family Stockstill days are over, so there is work to be done on the offensive side of the ball. However, linebacker Khalil Brooks (6 1/2 sacks, 14 1/2 tackles for loss) and defensive back Reed Blankenship (107 tackles and four interceptions) are two of the best in Conference USA.

4. Florida Atlantic
FAU has the potential to move up in these rankings if it gets things straightened out following an underachieving 5-7 season. Replacing career 4,200-yard rusher Devin Singletary and improving a defense that yielded 31.8 points per game will be a challenge.

5. Western Kentucky
With three wins last season, WKU missed out on a bowl game for the first time since 2013. Head coach Tyson Helton returns to the Hilltoppers after assistant stints at USC and Tennessee. Arkansas transfer Ty Storey offers an experienced option at quarterback

6. Charlotte
New coach Will Healy is a name to remember. He helped revive Austin Peay on the FCS level and has more resources at Charlotte. It won’t be easy, but the 49ers have a good man at the helm. RB Benny LeMay (1,243 rushing yards) is also a good one.

7. Old Dominion
ODU stunned Virginia Tech for one of its four victories in 2018, but it also allowed more than 50 points three times. There are significant holes to fill on offense, and a trip to face the Hokies and to Virginia are on the slate in 2019.

WEST DIVISION

1. North Texas
Led by talented QB Mason Fine, the Mean Green have their sights set on winning at least nine games for a third straight season. Defensively, senior end LaDarius Hamilton returns after recording 7 1/2 sacks and 11 tackles for loss in 2018.

Conference USA
Jack Abraham / Photo courtesy of sbnation.com

2. Southern Mississippi
The Bulldogs defense has the potential to be the best in Conference USA with talent like linemen DeMarrio Smith, Jacques Turner, linebacker Racheem Boothe and defensive back Ky’el Hemby (six interceptions). However, QB Jack Abraham (2,347 passing yards) led the country with a 73.1 completion percentage.

3. Louisiana Tech
Louisiana Tech has gone to five consecutive bowl games. And won all five of those appearances. The Bulldogs are certainly capable of getting back to extend that streak thanks to receiver Adrian Hardy (75 receptions, 1,145 yards) and defensive back Amik Robertson (four interceptions, 12 passes defended).

4. UAB
Three years ago, the Blazers program did not exist, but last season they won the Conference USA West title and routed Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl. UAB had one of the best defenses in the country allowing 17.0 points per game, but must replace a good chunk of talent from that unit.

5. UTSA
The Roadrunners enter this season on a six-game losing streak. The improvement must start on offense where UTSA averaged 8.5 points over those last six games.

6. Rice
The Owls have been one of the youngest teams in the country while totaling three wins over the past two seasons. So, one can think at some point the experience gained will start show positive results in terms of wins. Then again, maybe not.

7. UTEP
One win in two seasons doesn’t seem like anything to celebrate, but the Miners made some progress at the end of 2018 by scoring at least 30 points twice over the last four games. Senior Derron Gatewood is one of the best offensive linemen in Conference USA.

Players to watch

Conference USA
Sage Lewis / Photo courtesy of fiusports.com

OFFENSE
Mason Fine, QB North Texas: Looking for a fringe Heisman Trophy candidate, try Fine. He’s thrown for more than 9,400 yards and exactly 64 touchdown passes in three seasons for the Mean Green.

DEFENSE
Sage Lewis, LB, FIU: Lewis recorded a whopping 132 tackles last season, and is certainly someone to keep on eye. He’s arguably the best pro defensive prospect in Conference USA.

Key Games

Oct. 12: North Texas at Southern Miss. The Conference USA West title could come down to this contest. North Texas has won three straight in the series, and the last two by a combined 73-35 score.

Nov. 23: Louisiana Tech at UAB. A couple of teams not necessarily getting a lot of love in the Conference USA West, but still worthy of keeping an eye on.

Nov. 30: Florida International at Marshall. As mentioned, the Conference USA East seems there for the taking. We like these two squads as the front-runners. Marshall has won five of seven in the series.

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