By Marc Lawrence….. 2016 Conference USA Football Betting Preview
We Won’t Back Down
Conference USA teams never shy away from playing challenging non-conference
competition and this season is no exception.
The 2016 schedule has 13 playing weeks, which provides for one open date for each
team. The last two seasons were 14-week schedules, providing two bye weeks per
A total of 22 games are scheduled against teams that played in a bowl game last season.
Conference USA will face at least one opponent from all nine of the other FBS leagues.
Letter Winners Galore
Six teams return a minimum of 50 letter wines in 2016, led by North Texas (62), Southern Miss and Western Kentucky (55), Charlotte 54, Rice (52) and FIU (50).
Only FAU (32) returns less than 40 lettermen.
We’ll Be Back Soon
UAB will return to playing football in Conference USA for the 2017 season. A total of 67 players took part in the first on-field action for the team since the program was reinstated last summer.
Bill Clark, who served as head coach during the 2014 season and guided UAB to a four-win increase in his first season, will continue to build the program as it returns to play as an FBS member for 2017.
Bowling For Dollars
For the second consecutive season, C-USA sent five teams to bowl games in 2015. They finished 3-2 in bowls, giving the league an 18-8 SU and 16-9-1 ATS mark the past four seasons in postseason play. No other FBS conference owns a higher bowl win percentage than the C-USA the last five years.
Note: Team write-ups are excerpts from the 2016 PLAYBOOK College and Pro Football Preview Guide magazine, now on sale at newsstand nationwide. Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.
2016 C-USA EAST PREVIEW
CHARLOTTE Off – *9/4 Def – 9/3 54 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: YOUTHFUL EXPERIENCE
Last year the FBS’ newest spring chicken, the 49ers made their debut fast-tracking from a program that launched as an FCS Independent in 2013 and landed in Conference-USA in 2015. Head coach Brad Lambert and his 10-man staff boast over 140 years of collegiate coaching experience, with Lambert (27), assistant head coach Dean Hood (29), and coordinators Jeff Mullen (25) and Matt Wallerstedt (24), each with over 20 years of know-how. Coupled with a wealth of experience and returning starters (11 returners have started at least 20 games in their 49ers career, including 5 who have made 30 or more starts), it will be hard to hush Charlotte’s sweet talent level this year.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: 22 players who were part of the first 49ers team in 2013 make up the 2016 senior class.
PLAY ON: at UTSA (11/26)
FLORIDA ATLANTIC Off – 8/4 Def – 7/3 32 Lettermen
Team Theme: WET DREAMS
Just when it appeared FAU was making progress, a pair of 3-win seasons under head coach Charlie Partridge was received like a wet blanket. Making matters worse, double-threat QB Jaquez Johnson, who tossed for 3,807 yards and rushed for 1,014 more over the last two years, is gone. Fortunately, Partridge hit the streets and welcomes in strong back-to-back recruiting classes. Included is SO QB Jason Driskell, brother of former Florida QB Jeff Driskell, who started two games while passing for nearly 1,000 yards last season. In addition, both of last year’s top RBs return. Coupled with a nation-leading 16 true freshmen that started a game last season, the young Owls (68 underclassmen) appear perched for success. The Owls are projected to have 32 freshmen (19 true) in 2016, 36 sophomores, 18 juniors and 17 seniors. Just two of the team’s incoming class hails from a state other than Florida.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Owls are 5-14 SU in one-possession games since Howard Schnellenberger resigned, including 1-4 last season.
PLAY ON: vs. Old Dominion (11/19) – *KEY
FLORIDA INTL Off – *9/5 Def – 5/1 50 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: STANDING ON OUR OWN
Strangely, the Golden Panthers will most likely be indebted to Pete Garcia, the school A.D., for scheduling 7 consecutive losing opponents to open the season. They will also likely be thankful for the services of JR QB Alex McGough, JR RB Alex Gardner and SR TE Jonnu Smith who, upon their eventual graduations, will each own school records. Then again, it could all be for naught as the defense must replace 4 top all-CUSA performers, the same stop-unit that collapsed down the stretch last year and allowed 44.25 PPG during the final four games. In what’s been a series of baby steps under Ron Turner, the training wheels are set to disengage this year.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: After going 2-22 ‘In The Stats’ in Ron Turner’s first two seasons, the Panthers ‘improved’ to 4-8 ITS last year.
PLAY AGAINST: at Old Dominion (11/26)
MARSHALL Off – *7/4 Def – 4/2 48 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: ON AND ON IT GOES
Behind a 5th straight bowl win, Marshall became the only Group of 5 program to record a 3rd straight 10-win season last year. In fact, the only schools with more consecutive double-digit win seasons are Alabama (8), Clemson (5), and Ohio State and Florida State (4 each). And in 2015, a total of 30 defenses in the FBS faced 965 or more plays. Of those, the only team that allowed fewer yards per game than Marshall’s 360.0 was once beaten and College Football Playoff runner-up Clemson (313.0). SO QB Chase Litton, 9-2 starting the final 11 games of the season while leading all true freshmen with 23 TD passes, returns for more.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Thundering Herd are 7-0 SU and 6-1 ATS as home favorites with conference revenge.
PLAY ON: vs. Western Kentucky (11/26)
MIDDLE TENNESSEE ST. Off – *6/3 Def – 5/3 40 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: ALL IN THE FAMILY
One of only 4 teams to complete the season with a 4,000-yard passer and two 1,000-yard receivers (joining Bowling Green, Tulsa and Washington State), the Blue Raiders are opting for more in 2016. MTSU brought OC Tony Franklin (former Auburn, California and Murray State offensive coordinator) in to work with CUSA Freshman of the Year QB Brent Stockstill (coach Rick’s son), who led the nation’s freshmen quarterbacks in yards and TD passes, and added weight and strength in the offseason. The defense, though, loses 4 all-CUSA performers, including all 3 starting linebackers. Expect the Raiders to rely heavily on HC Stockstill’s 20 years of bowl game experience to get them back to the postseason this year.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Blue Raiders ranked 4th nationally in red zone defense.
PLAY ON: at Vanderbilt (9/10)
OLD DOMINION Off – *9/3 Def – 8/3 42 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION
After force-feeding freshmen who made a whopping 64 starts last season, Old Dominion suffered its first-ever losing season under head coach Bobby Wilder. Rest assured, they didn’t like the taste and will be hell-bent to return to their winning ways in 2016. The team is loaded with returning starters and promising youngsters. RB Ray Lowry followed up his C-USA Freshman of the Year season with another solid effort in 2015, leading the league with 1,136 yards and rushing for 11 touchdowns. Meanwhile, SO QB Shuler Bentley and SR QB/WR David Washington are back, combining for 2,587 yards and 20 TDs last season, with each taking significant snaps. ODU’s top 5 leading receivers also return for the 2016 season, along with SR LB TJ Ricks, the conference’s leading tackler.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Monarchs have sold out all 48 home games in school history and own a 35-13 SU record in those games.
PLAY ON: at Appalachian State (9/10)
WESTERN KENTUCKY Off – 7/5 Def – 4/1 55 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: BROHM SQUAD
The hire of Jeff Brohm at WKU has proved to be electrifying. Since coming aboard in 2014, only 2 teams in the nation have finished in the Top 10 in Total Offense, Scoring Offense and Passing Offense: WKU and TCU. Having to replace legendary QB Brandon Doughty in 2016 means the Hilltoppers must now scale a mountain, but they do return all 5 starting offensive linemen (with 125 games of starting experience), as well as a 1,500-yard receiver, a 900-yard receiver, a 1,000-yard rusher, and a freshman running back who was 3rd nationally among freshman with 11 rushing touchdowns last season. Look for SR QB Nelson Fishback to plug into Brohm’s system like a light bulb into a socket.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The 2015 Hilltoppers were the 2nd most dominant league champion in C-USA history, winning league games by an average margin of 27.1 points.
PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite at Louisiana Tech (10/6)
2016 C-USA WEST PREVIEW
LOUISIANA TECH Off – 6/4 Def – 3/2 44 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: SKIP FORWARD
After stumbling in his first year with Louisiana Tech, a pair of 9-win seasons has followed for Skip Holtz since, including back-to-back bowl wins for the first time in school history. The task could be more daunting in 2016, however, as the Bulldogs’ stop-unit takes a big hit, replacing 8 starters on the defensive side of the ball, with 2 assistant coaches gone as well. In addition, La Tech seniors made 166 combined starts last season, the 4th most in the nation. That’s a lot of lost experience. As a result, it appears Skippy will once again have to rely on his famous ‘dog-log’ (see below) in order to help keep this team on a forward path.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Head coach Skip Holtz is 39-19-1 ATS as a dog, including
15-4 ATS during the first 3 games of the season.
PLAY ON: as a dog at Southern Miss (11/25)
NORTH TEXAS Off – 5/3 Def – 8/2 62 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: YOUNG GUNS
Thirty-seven-year old new head coach Seth Littrell, considered one of the brightest offensive minds in college football, comes from North Carolina where he served as assistant head coach of the offense. He inherits a squad that led Conference-USA, and ranked 3rd in the nation, in fumbles recovered last season with 14 (12 different players had at least one recovery). This from a team that featured 36 no-scholarship walk-on players who dotted 37% of the roster! The bad news is UNT ranked dead last in 3rd down defensive conversion efficiency last year (.524). That, coupled with our ‘Stat You Will Like’ below tells you where Littrell’s focus should – but won’t – go this year.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Lean Green have gone 0-13 SU and 2-11 ATS away the last 2 years, outyarded by 163 YPG.
PLAY AGAINST: at UTSA (10/29) – *Key if favored
RICE Off – 7/3 Def – 9/3 52 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: MAKE IT OR BREAK IT
After making three straight bowl appearances for the first time in school history, the Owls fell asleep on the job last year. Contributing to the falloff was a secondary that was worst in the nation in pass efficiency, directly attributed to a lack of interceptions, as Rice managed to pick off only 2 passes the entire season. Consequently, the Owls tied Wyoming with the fewest turnovers gained (10) for the year. In addition, major recruiting services report David Bailiff’s feathered fowls have incurred the 2nd largest recruiting decline over the past 5 seasons. Thus, a winning effort behind 16 returning starters this season is crucial in order to reestablish the program’s recent record-setting gains.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Owls’ 30 wins over the last 4 years matches the most in school history. The 5-year record is 36 from 1946-50.
PLAY ON: vs. UTSA (10/15)
SOUTHERN MISS Off – *7/3 Def – 6/2 55 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: BACK FROM THE ABYSS
New HC Jay Hopson, a 24-year collegiate coaching veteran (head coach at Alcorn State the past 4 seasons), and twice a former member of the Southern Miss coaching staff, returns to Hattiesburg. Hopson’s defensive units with the Golden Eagles led Conference-USA in scoring defense each of his 3 seasons as defensive coordinator. That’s good news for a team that witnessed 22 players making their Division-1 debut two years ago, then improved mightily last year while putting a 4-32 run the previous three years to bed in dramatic fashion – after compiling 18 winning seasons in a row prior to their mysterious fall. To paraphrase Arnold as The Terminator, “They’re Back!” – and Hopson figures to reap the rewards.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Golden Eagles will face only 3 opponents that owned a winning record last season.
PLAY ON: vs. Marshall (10/29)
UTEP Off – *8/4 Def – 6/3 47 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: CH-CH-CH-CHANGES
Okay, so 3 of UTEP’s 5 wins last year – and 4 of the last 6 – have been by the grace of a field goal. And sure, they faced the 2nd softest schedule in the nation last season and will square off against the softest in 2016 (only 2 foes sport winning records from last year, including none of the last 7). Yet it’s no accident that the Miners have improved leaps and bounds over the last two football seasons, tallying 12 wins and a bowl game after recording just 2 wins in 2013. Not satisfied, Miners head coach Sean Kugler keeps digging, making several staffing changes this season with the hiring of 5 new assistants, including offensive and defensive coordinators.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Miners are 8-48-1 SU and 13-40-2 ATS in the last 57 games in which they have been outgained in the stats.
PLAY ON: at Louisiana Tech (10/1)
UTSA Off – *7/3 Def – 5/2 42 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: OUT WITH THE OLD
In a move largely designed to infuse fresh blood into a young program, the Roadrunners named Frank Wilson as their new head coach, replacing former 2-time National Coach of the Year Larry Coker. Wilson brings 20 years of collegiate coaching experience to San Antonio (the last 6 as LSU’s assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator). He helped lead 8 teams to bowl games and is widely considered as one of the nation’s top college football recruiters, engineering signing classes that ranked among the nation’s Top 10 five times. UTSA faced gaping holes last season when it lost 38 seniors, thus resulting in a dismal 3-win effort. A new blueprint begins this year.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Roadrunners are 5-0 ATS in non-conference games off a non-conference win.
PLAY ON: at Colorado State (9/10) – *if off a win
Be sure to check back here next week for Marc’s 2016 Independent Football Preview!