Conference USA has a ton of great football programs, even if we don’t hear much about them throughout the season. This could be the year, however, that this conference really gets recognized. The Top 25 has been pretty elusive for the group but this season we could see the top team, UAB, cracking it. Other teams like UTSA and Marshall could get in there if they can improve their inconsistencies, but overall, C-USA is looking good for 2021.
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Top Conference Players
There isn’t really a typical group of star players here, meaning that there aren’t any quarterbacks worth noting. The best is Marshall’s Grant Wells, but after a disappointing finish to his freshman campaign, we don’t even know if he’ll hold the job all year long. The big name in the conference is UTSA running back Sincere McCormick. If he doesn’t win Offensive Player of the Year, the season will be a bust. He is that good: one of the best backs in the entire country and arguably the best in the group of five. Defensively, the big name is Western Kentucky’s DeAngelo Malone. Malone had six sacks last season and looks to ramp up his production even more in 2021. Other running backs like UAB’s DeWayne McBride and son of the legendary Frank Gore, Frank Gore Jr., will look to break out and show out this season.
Coaches on the Hot Seat
The main name that comes to mind is Middle Tennessee’s Rick Stockstill. Stockstill has been with the program since 2006 and has only won the conference in that first season. The Blue Raiders have not had a winning season since 2018 and it seems like a change is needed. UTEP coach Dana Dimel is another guy who could (and probably should) be out of a job by next season. He has a 5-27 record with the Miners and they’ve never shown promise during his tenure. If things go the same this year, there’s no doubt his time at UTEP will be up.
Three Conference Games to Watch
For as unpopular as the conference may seem, there is actually some really good history to this conference and its rivalries. We have 100 Miles of Hate (WKU Hilltoppers against Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders), Rivalry in Dixie (Louisiana Tech Bulldogs and Southern Miss Golden Eagles), and The Shula Bowl (FIU Panthers versus Florida Atlantic Owls) to look forward to, among others. Now, while these games are very exciting, we want to look more at the games with the top teams, and there are certainly tons that make each divisional race tighter.
UAB vs UTSA
UTSA was just one score away from beating UAB on the road last year, which would essentially have sent them to the title game. Now they are back at home in 2021, trying to upset the Blazers. Last year’s 21-13 affair showed that both of these teams have great defenses, but they also pack very good offenses into the mix. UTSA has so much experience on their offensive unit and they need to utilize it to their advantage to be as consistent as they can against UAB. Being at home favors the Road Runners as well, obviously, and there’s a legitimate chance they win this football game, although it will be one that comes down to the wire.
UAB vs Marshall
UAB has gotten really unlucky, drawing Marshall as an out-of-division opponent. Not only that, they are on the road against both the Thundering Herd and UTSA. However, it’s something they’ll have to live with and the Blazers obviously will not back down. The top team in each division go head-to-head, here. UAB will be favored, but once again, being on the road is pretty tough. When we get closer to game time we can sift through predictions with all of Marshall’s unknowns. Early on, though, this looks like a game that could be close if the Herd control the time of possession… and one worth tuning in for.
Southern Miss vs LA Tech
We mentioned this rivalry a little earlier, and it could be a pretty big game in the standings as well. The talent is clearly stocked up in the West Division and teams could be taking each other out left and right. Gore will need to have a big game to pace what is expected to be an electric Golden Eagles offense, while LA Tech will need their offense to perform so their incredible defense led by Tyler Grubbs can win this game for them. This should be a big offense versus defense battle, and it will be really fun to see which unit cracks first.
One Bold Prediction
Four coaches get fired after this season. We already mentioned two potential candidates, and they could very well see their jobs gone before the end of the year. It’s quite likely at least two others see their names hit the coaching carousel. North Texas and Rice have each been disappointing, and one of the top four in the West could disappoint, resulting in a firing. This would be a ton of turnover in the conference but is a real possibility.
Dark Horse Teams
It seems like there are a ton of dark horses throughout the conference. While teams like Rice aren’t ready to compete, they do have a lot of potential. North Texas is another that can just absolutely explode on any given night and land some upsets. Perhaps the two teams not being talked about enough are Florida Atlantic and Charlotte. Willie Taggart’s FAU squad is led by former Miami quarterback N’Kosi Perry and has a great defense. Charlotte is led by the best receiving core in the country highlighted by Victor Tucker. Both of these teams will certainly make a great push for contending in the East.
- Florida Atlantic
- Western Kentucky
- Middle Tennessee
- Old Dominion
- Southern Miss
- LA Tech
- North Texas
Not a ton of shakeup compared to what has been advertised so far, but still lots to discuss. Even with the uncertainty, Marshall should win this division, but FAU will be right on their tails. Charlotte and Western Kentucky will duke it out for the third spot while FIU, Middle Tennessee, and Old Dominion should fall to the bottom. In the West, UAB will edge out UTSA by one game once again. Don’t be surprised if UAB does not have a conference loss and UTSA only has one at the end of the year. Southern Miss and LA Tech will be fighting for the third spot in this division, but we’ll take the up-and-comers. North Texas and Rice are very promising squads, while UTEP is going to have a rough time this year.
Conference Championship Matchup
For the second year in a row, UAB and Marshall will square off. As we mentioned, they will have already played in the regular season, and whoever wins that game will have a tough time winning again. They’ll both have film on what they want to do against each other, so coaches will have to mix it up throughout. All in all, the more talented Blazers should win this won, and crack into the top 25, promoting Conference USA greatly.
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