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2015 Conference USA football power rankings, from Charlotte to WKU

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Marshall and Western Kentucky should be the class of Conference USA, though Louisiana Tech, Rice, and Middle Tennessee aren't far from making a run.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of each conference run-through, I take a look at how I perceive the conference's balance of power heading into the season. This is in no way based on schedules, so they are not predictions. They're just how I would rank the teams after writing thousands of words about each of them.

Five teams could win Conference USA in 2015, but two in particular will begin the season pretty far ahead of the pack.

Tier 1
1. Western Kentucky
2. Marshall

I have gone back and forth on this one quite a bit.

On one hand, as you see below, Marshall was still head-and-shoulders ahead of the rest of the conference last year. On the other, WKU was probably the best team after November 15 and returns its star quarterback and 15 other starters.

I don't believe in bowl bumps, but I do believe in "last five to six games of the year" bumps, and WKU was pretty awesome in that span. So let's go all-in on the Hilltoppers.

Tier 2
3. Louisiana Tech
4. Rice
5. Middle Tennessee

You could make the case for Tier 2 being Tier 1a. Any of these three is just a couple of breaks from making a serious conference title run, especially the two in the West division (Louisiana Tech and Rice). But I do think they're less proven than their Tier 1 counterparts.

Tier 3
6. Old Dominion
7. UTEP
8. Florida Atlantic
9. Florida International
10. Southern Miss
11. North Texas

Tier 3 features a lot of half-full teams, programs with either a strong offense or a strong defense or a strong young core. The strengths will give them chances to win any single game on the conference slate, but extreme weaknesses will keep them from winning too many.

I'm probably being kind to Southern Miss and North Texas in putting them here, as I think they're a step behind the other four, but only a step. Meanwhile, ODU isn't very far at all from Tier 2.

Tier 4
12. UTSA
13. Charlotte

UTSA will have as much athleticism as it ever has this year, but ... five returning starters. Five! That might be a temporary hindrance, but it will be a hindrance.

Charlotte is like New ODU -- the offense should be up to FBS speed in no time, but that defense has a long way to go.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

C-USA East

Team 2014 Record (Conf.) 2014 F/+ Rk 5-Yr F/+ Rk 2-Yr Rec. Rk 5-Yr Rec. Rk 2014 TO Luck/Gm Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)
2014 2nd-order wins
WKU 4-4 (8-5) 50 79 93 90 +2.32 16 (7, 9) 7.6 (-0.4)
Marshall 7-1 (13-1) 17 61 72 72 -3.13 11 (6, 5) 12.5 (-0.5)
MTSU 5-3 (6-6) 87 108 94 99 -3.81 16 (8, 8) 5.7 (-0.3)
ODU 4-4 (6-6) 108 87 91 122 -1.47 13 (8, 5) 5.3 (-0.7)
FAU 2-6 (3-9) 100 118 82 94 -0.74 14 (7, 7) 4.0 (+1.0)
FIU 3-5 (4-8) 96 102 102 92 +5.14 16 (8, 8) 4.7 (+0.7)
Charlotte 5-6 (N/A) N/A N/A 95 108 -1.52 19 (9, 10) N/A

C-USA West

Team 2014 Record (Conf.) 2014 F/+ Rk 5-Yr F/+ Rk 2-Yr Rec. Rk 5-Yr Rec. Rk 2014 TO Luck/Gm Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)
2014 2nd-order wins
La. Tech 7-1 (9-5) 35 64 80 81 +4.22 12 (7, 5) 10.1 (+1.1)
Rice 5-3 (8-5) 86 95 92 83 -0.27 10 (6, 4) 7.9 (-0.1)
UTEP 5-3 (7-6) 90 119 128 126 +0.81 12 (6, 6) 6.3 (-0.7)
So. Miss 1-7 (3-9) 110 96 98 84 +1.11 14 (10, 4) 2.7 (-0.3)
N. Texas 2-6 (4-8) 125 101 109 111 +1.14 11 (5, 6) 4.5 (+0.5)
UTSA 3-5 (4-8) 109 105 111 91 +0.20 5 (2, 3) 4.5 (+0.5)