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2019 C-USA power rankings, where more than half the conference is a contender

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Are you a Conference USA team fielding a football team? Congrats, you might win it! (Except you, Texas schools not named North Texas.)

NCAA Football: Marshall at Southern Mississippi Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of each conference previews 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. This is just how I would rank the teams after writing thousands of words about each of them. We have already completed the MAC.

Bill C’s C-USA power rankings

Here’s a link to every team’s data, and each team’s name below is linked to its preview.

Tier 1

1. Marshall
2. North Texas
3. FIU
4. FAU
5. Southern Miss
6. Louisiana Tech

In my MAC power rankings, I theorized that the home of MACtion might also be the home of the best title race in FBS. If it’s not, it’s because Conference USA took that crown instead.

I have no idea how to separate the six teams here from one another, and either of the two teams in the tier below — you know, the two that played for the title last year — could make a run with minimal surprises.

I appear to be leaning toward upside. Marshall could have depth issues, depending on where the injury bug bites, but the defense was dominant at times last year, and the offensive potential is clear. North Texas was maybe the most balanced team last year, and while the defense should take a step backwards, the offense could be otherworldly. But this is a lot closer to 1a-1f than 1-6.

Tier 2

7. MTSU
8. UAB

MTSU needs a quarterback, and UAB needs new lines. The Blue Raiders still have play-makers, though, and the Blazers still have Bill Clark.

Tier 3

9. WKU
10. Charlotte
11. ODU

To me, there is a pretty spectacular drop-off between the top eight teams and the bottom six — or even the top eight, the next three, and the three after that. But all of these Tier 3 teams are capable of eking out a 6-6 season and bowl eligibility.

Tier 4

12. UTEP
13. UTSA
14. Rice

Woof. I see what both Dana Dimel (UTEP) and Mike Bloomgren (Rice) are building, and I like UTSA’s defense a good amount. But they’re probably all at least a year away from a bowl run. A 4-8 season would be a success.

How does S&P+ see things?

Here’s how my statistical system has the C-USA laid out for 2019, with zero equating to an average FBS team. (You can find full 2019 S&P+ projections here.)

S&P+ didn’t really love either of last year’s division champs, and now both are retooling. Marshall and UNT both have some questions to answer, as well. (I clearly think both will have satisfactory answers.) But Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech, FIU, and WKU are all bringing back a ton of last year’s production. If MU and UNT don’t fall far, that will create quite the logjam at the top.

2019 projected standings (per S&P+)

Projected conference wins, with overall wins in parentheses.

West Division

  1. Southern Miss 5.8 (7.2)
  2. North Texas 5.7 (7.9)
  3. Louisiana Tech 5.3 (8.1)
  4. UAB 4.4 (6.9)
  5. UTSA 2.3 (3.0)
  6. Rice 2.3 (2.6)
  7. UTEP 1.4 (2.5)

Three teams within 0.9 conference wins of each other, and the defending champ not far behind.

East Division

  1. Marshall 5.5 (7.6)
  2. FAU 5.5 (7.5)
  3. FIU 5.1 (7.5)
  4. MTSU 3.9 (5.1)
  5. WKU 3.8 (5.5)
  6. ODU 2.6 (4.1)
  7. Charlotte 2.5 (4.1)

Three teams within 0.4 wins of each other, and the defending champ not far behind.

Yeah, this is going to be fun.

C-USA offenses heading into 2019

I had to change the scale on the chart a good amount to fit UTSA in there. What a collapse that was. At least Rice could blame Year Zero for its own inefficiency (the owls also occasionally made some big plays).

C-USA defenses heading into 2019

C-USA defenses ran the gamut last year, from all-or-nothing (UAB) to massively bend-don’t-break (FIU) to, well, nothing-and-break, I guess. But Southern Miss and Marshall are both well-positioned to replicate last year’s numbers, especially the Golden Eagles.

Best 2019 offensive players by team (best overall in bold):

  • Charlotte: RB Benny LeMay
  • FAU: QB Chris Robison
  • FIU: QB James Morgan
  • Louisiana Tech: WR Adrian Hardy
  • Marshall: C Levi Brown
  • MTSU: WR Ty Lee
  • North Texas: QB Mason Fine
  • ODU: LT Isaac Weaver
  • Rice: WR Aaron Cephus
  • Southern Miss: QB Jack Abraham
  • UAB: QB Tyler Johnston III
  • UTEP: LG Bobby DeHaro
  • UTSA: RT Josh Dunlop
  • WKU: RB Joshua Samuel

Only a late-season injury could keep Fine from another 4,000-yard passing season last year, and he’ll have the weapons to do it again this year. (He might also have a worse defense at his disposal, which means he’ll have to keep his foot on the gas a bit more.)

NCAA Football: North Texas at Arkansas
Mason Fine
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Best 2019 defensive players by team

  • Charlotte: DE Alex Highsmith
  • FAU: CB James Pierre
  • FIU: FS Richard Dames
  • Louisiana Tech: CB Amik Robertson
  • Marshall: DT Channing Hames
  • MTSU: LB Khalil Brooks
  • North Texas: DE LaDarius Hamilton
  • ODU: LB Lawrence Garner
  • Rice: SS Prudy Calderon
  • Southern Miss: CB Ty Williams
  • UAB: LB/NB Kristopher Moll
  • UTEP: DT Denzel Chukwukelu
  • UTSA: CB Cassius Grady
  • WKU: NB Ta’Corian Darden

This conference is a lot stronger in the back of the defense than in the front, but even with stiff competition, Robertson appears to lead the field by a couple of lengths. He’s phenomenal.

Louisiana Tech v South Carolina
Amik Robertson
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images