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2014 College Football Preview: Conference USA
By: Brian Graham - StatFox
Published: 7/23/2014  at  4:28:00 AM
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To get you prepared for the upcoming college football season, we continue our run of all FBS conference previews over the next several weeks. For complete coverage, download your copy of the 2014 StatFox Edge Football Preview. Next up is Conference USA, which lost East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa from last season. The replacement schools are Old Dominion and Western Kentucky, which now help form a 13-team conference.

Here is the BetDSI Sportsbook breakdown of odds for the first week of the college football season:

Predicted Order of Finish

EAST DIVISION
1. Marshall
2. Florida Atlantic
3. Western Kentucky
4. Middle Tennessee
5. UAB
6. Florida International
7. Old Dominion

WEST DIVISION
1. Rice
2. Louisiana Tech
3. Texas-San Antonio
4. North Texas
5. UTEP
6. Southern Miss

MARSHALL THUNDERING HERD


2013 Statistics:
SU Record: 10-4 (7-2 in Conference USA)
ATS Record: 8-5-1 (62%)
Over/Under: 7-6-1
Points Scored: 42.1 PPG (7th in FBS)
Points Allowed: 22.9 PPG (32nd in FBS)
Odds to Win 2015 BCS National Championship: 100/1 (Field)

2014 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 6
Defense: Starters Returning: 7
The Herd play at a break-neck speed on offense, which perfectly suits star QB Rakeem Cato (3,916 pass yds, 39 TD, 9 INT) and top WR Tommy Shuler (106 rec, 1,165 yds, 10 TD). TE Eric Frohnapfel (2 rec TD) will try to replace departed TE Gator Hoskins, who scored 15 TD, and Marshall will use a three-heading rushing attack. The defense improved greatly in 2013 (22.9 PPG) and the line is still potent with senior DT James Rouse (6 sacks, 14 TFL) and DE Ra’Shawde Myers (4.5 sacks, 51 tackles). LB Evan McKelvey (97 tackles) can sure play, as can CB Darryl Roberts (7 PD) and FS A.J. Leggett (4 INT).

FLORIDA ATLANTIC OWLS


2013 Statistics:
SU Record: 6-6 (4-4 in Conference USA)
ATS Record: 8-3-1 (73%)
Over/Under: 5-7
Points Scored: 26.4 PPG (78th in FBS)
Points Allowed: 22.3 PPG (26th in FBS)
Odds to Win 2015 BCS National Championship: 100/1 (Field)

2014 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 5
Defense: Starters Returning: 5
New Head Coach: Charlie Partridge
FAU was a perfect 4-0 in November under promoted OC Brian Wright, but decided to hire Arkansas assistant Charlie Partridge and keep Wright as the OC. QB Jaquez Johnson (7.3 YPA, 12 TD, 8 INT; 767 rush yds, 10 TD) still has star WR William Dukes (553 rec yds, 6 TD) to force-feed, and the club is high on RB Jay Warren (340 rush yds, 4.8 YPC). New DC Roc Bellantoni will not make major changes to a tough defense (22.2 PPG, 26th in FBS) that brings back most of its top players in DT Brandin Bryant (5 sacks), LB Andrae Kirk (84 tackles), CB D’Joun Smith (6 INT) and SS Damian Parms (77 tackles).

WESTERN KENTUCKY HILLTOPPERS


2013 Statistics:
SU Record: 8-4 (4-3 in Sun Belt)
ATS Record: 5-7 (42%)
Over/Under: 5-6-1
Points Scored: 30.8 PPG (53rd in FBS)
Points Allowed: 24.6 PPG (T-44th in FBS)
Odds to Win 2015 BCS National Championship: 100/1 (Field)

2014 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 7
Defense: Starters Returning: 2
New Head Coach: Jeff Brohm
Promoted OC Jeff Brohm replaces Bobby Petrino in the school’s first C-USA season and he’s happy to have back QB Brandon Doughty (2,857 pass yds, 14 TD, 14 INT) and top WR Willie McNeal (599 rec yds, 5 TD). RB Leon Allen (559 total yds, 6 TD) replaces Antonio Andrews. But only CB Cam Thomas (5 INT, 10 PD) and DE Gavin Rocker (37 tackles, 2 sacks) return on defense. DC Nick Holt will expect a lot of out JUCO transfer -- and son -- LB Nick Holt.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE BLUE RAIDERS


2013 Statistics:
SU Record: 8-5 (6-2 in Conference USA)
ATS Record: 5-7-1 (42%)
Over/Under: 5-8
Points Scored: 29.0 PPG (68th in FBS)
Points Allowed: 26.2 PPG (60th in FBS)
Odds to Win 2015 BCS National Championship: 100/1 (Field)

2014 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 4
Defense: Starters Returning: 7
The Blue Raiders earned a bowl bid with 42.6 PPG during a five-game win streak to end the regular season. Either QBs Austin Grammer (4.1 YPA, 1 TD, 2 INT) or freshmen AJ Erdely or Brent Stockstill (son of head coach Rick Stockstill) will start under center. WR Marcus Henry (549 rec yds) is the go-to receiver, while RBs Jordan Parker (745 rush yds, 6 TD) and Reggie Whatley (657 rush yds, 6.5 YPC) are both capable backs. MTSU tied for fifth in FBS in forced turnovers, but needs a better pass rush. LB T.T. Barber (119 tackles, 3 INT, 3 FF) and S Kevin Byard (106 tackles, 5 INT, 2 TD) excel.

UAB BLAZERS


2013 Statistics:
SU Record: 2-10 (1-7 in Conference USA)
ATS Record: 4-8 (33%)
Over/Under: 10-2
Points Scored: 26.3 PPG (82nd in FBS)
Points Allowed: 43.8 PPG (121st in FBS)
Odds to Win 2015 BCS National Championship: 100/1 (Field)

2014 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 6
Defense: Starters Returning: 8
New Head Coach: Bill Clark
Bill Clark takes over a 2-10 team that will start either JUCO QB Cody Clements or redshirt freshman QB Jeremiah Briscoe. RB Jordan Howard (881 rush yds, 6.1 YPC) will get the most carries, with the top receivers being star WR Jamarcus Nelson (846 rec yds, 8 TD) and TE Kennard Backman (302 rec yds). Clark’s defense should improve with the healthy return of S Calvin Jones (71 tackles in 2012) joining standout CB Kelton Brackett (8 PD). DE Diaheem Watkins (5.5 sacks) leads a front seven starting to make strides.

FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL GOLDEN PANTHERS


2013 Statistics:
SU Record: 1-11 (1-7 in Conference USA)
ATS Record: 4-8 (33%)
Over/Under: 4-8
Points Scored: 9.8 PPG (T-124th in FBS)
Points Allowed: 37.0 PPG (112th in FBS)
Odds to Win 2015 BCS National Championship: 100/1 (Field)

2014 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 11
Defense: Starters Returning: 7
FIU returns all offensive starters, but that might not be a good thing considering the team scored an FBS-low 9.8 PPG with three shutouts. QB Alex McGough appears to be the best fit for Ron Turner’s pro-style offense, but he doesn’t have polished receivers to throw to. RB Lamarq Caldwell (547 rush yds, 3.8 YPC) will get the most touches on offense. The Panthers also struggled defensively in 2013 (37.0 PPG), and the front seven has several areas of concern. FS Justin Halley (3 INT) leads an adequate secondary.

OLD DOMINION MONARCHS


2013 Statistics:
SU Record: 8-4
ATS Record: 3-2 (60%)
Over/Under: 3-1
Points Scored: 42.3 PPG
Points Allowed: 34.0 PPG
Odds to Win 2015 BCS National Championship: 100/1 (Field)

2014 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 8
Defense: Starters Returning: 9
The Monarchs’ enter C-USA with senior QB Taylor Heinicke (4,022 pass yds, 33 TD, 8 INT) and an experienced group of receivers headlined by WRs Larry Pinkard (1,020 rec yds, 9 TD) and Antonio Vaughan (843 rec yds, 9 TD). ODU has rushing depth with RBs Cam Boyd (450 rush yds, 5 TD) and Gerard Johnson (372 rush yds, 5 TD). The club lost only two defensive starters to a unit that allowed 34.0 PPG to a weak 2013 schedule. S Fellonte Misher (95 tackles) and S-turned-LB Andre Simmons (78 tackles) shine brightest.

RICE OWLS


2013 Statistics:
SU Record: 10-4 (8-1 in Conference USA)
ATS Record: 8-6 (57%)
Over/Under: 6-7-1
Points Scored: 29.6 PPG (62nd in FBS)
Points Allowed: 24.4 PPG (42nd in FBS)
Odds to Win 2015 BCS National Championship: 100/1 (Field)

2014 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 6
Defense: Starters Returning: 6
Rice promoted OC Larry Edmondson from quarterbacks coach to help QB Driphus Jackson (5-for-16, 50 yds) become a suitable replacement for Taylor McHargue. Jackson will mainly target WRs Jordan Taylor (848 rec yds, 8 TD) and Dennis Parks (508 rec yds). Top RBs Jawon Davis (476 rush yds) and Darik Dillard (396 rush yds) are also solid. The Owls defense was strong in 2013 (24.4 PPG) and returns DT Christian Covington (4 sacks, 11.5 TFL) and LB James Radcliffe (64 tackles, 2 FF). Losing CB Phillip Gaines hurts, but senior CBs Bryce Callahan and Malcolm Hill and both had 3 INT last year.

LOUISIANA TECH BULLDOGS


2013 Statistics:
SU Record: 4-8 (3-5 in Conference USA)
ATS Record: 4-8 (33%)
Over/Under: 2-10
Points Scored: 19.2 PPG (112th in FBS)
Points Allowed: 26.3 PPG (61st in FBS)
Odds to Win 2015 BCS National Championship: 100/1 (Field)

2014 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 6
Defense: Starters Returning: 6
The Bulldogs went from 51.5 PPG in 2012 to 19.2 PPG last year, and are still unsure if QB Ryan Higgins (6.1 YPA, 6 TD, 13 INT) or Iowa transfer QB Cody Sokol will start. LSU transfer WR Paul Turner will stretch the field while WR Trent Taylor (260 rec yds) works underneath. RB Kenneth Dixon (917 rush yds, 6.1 YPC, 4 TD) is confident his knees are healthy. New DC Manny Diaz’s 4-3 defense will lean on Illinois transfer OLB Houston Bates (3.5 sacks, 11 TFL), LB Mitch Villemez (69 tackles, 3 FF) and CB Adairius Barnes (4 INT).

TEXAS-SAN ANTONIO ROADRUNNERS


2013 Statistics:
SU Record: 7-5 (6-2 in Conference USA)
ATS Record: 7-4-1 (64%)
Over/Under: 3-9
Points Scored: 25.6 PPG (86th in FBS)
Points Allowed: 26.3 PPG (62nd in FBS)
Odds to Win 2015 BCS National Championship: 100/1 (Field)

2014 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 9
Defense: Starters Returning: 9
UTSA’s entire O-Line returns to its run-oriented offense propelled by RB David Glasco II (496 rush yds, 5.2 YPC, 5 TD). WR Kam Jones (345 rec yds, 302 rush yds, 6 total TD) is the No. 1 wideout for new QB Tucker Carter (190 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT), who replaces Eric Soza. The Roadrunners’ 4-2-5 defense is strong throughout with DE Robert Singletary (5 sacks), LB Drew Douglas (70 tackles), S Triston Wade (94 tackles) and CB Bennett Okotcha (10 PD).

NORTH TEXAS MEAN GREEN


2013 Statistics:
SU Record: 9-4 (6-2 in Conference USA)
ATS Record: 10-3 (77%)
Over/Under: 4-9
Points Scored: 31.8 PPG (49th in FBS)
Points Allowed: 17.8 PPG (8th in FBS)
Odds to Win 2015 BCS National Championship: 100/1 (Field)

2014 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 5
Defense: Starters Returning: 4
Four returning starters are O-Linemen, which will help QBs Andrew McNulty (5-for-6, 36 yds, 1 INT) and JUCO Josh Greer. A starting QB is TBD. WR Carlos Harris (553 rec yds, 4 TD) is UNT’s only proven wideout, but the ground game of RBs Antoinne Jimmerson (446 rush yds, 7 TD) and Reggie Pegram (338 rush yds, 6 TD) will carry the offense. An excellent Mean Green defense (17.8 PPG, 8th in FBS) lost all but one of its starting front seven, LB Derek Akunne (90 tackles, 4 PD). But the secondary is nearly intact, including CB Kenny Buyers (78 tackles, 3 INT) and S Lairamie Lee (74 tackles, 3 INT).

UTEP MINERS


2013 Statistics:
SU Record: 2-10 (1-7 in Conference USA)
ATS Record: 2-10 (17%)
Over/Under: 6-6
Points Scored: 21.8 PPG (102nd in FBS)
Points Allowed: 39.3 PPG (117th in FBS)
Odds to Win 2015 BCS National Championship: 100/1 (Field)

2014 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 9
Defense: Starters Returning: 7
QB Jameill Showers (6.7 YPA, 11 TD, 4 INT) will miss top wideout Jordan Leslie who left for BYU, making WR Ian Hamilton (354 rec yds) and TE Eric Tomlinson (304 rec yds) his top targets. RB Aaron Jones (625 rush yds, 4 TD) rumbles behind a beefed-up offensive line. The weak 4-2-5 Miners defense needs DE Roy Robertson-Harris (3.5 sacks), LB Anthony Puente (61 tackles), CB Adrian James (3 PD) and S Dashone Smith (70 tackles) to all step up.

SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI GOLDEN EAGLES


2013 Statistics:
SU Record: 1-11 (1-7 in Conference USA)
ATS Record: 3-9 (25%)
Over/Under: 7-5
Points Scored: 17.1 PPG (119th in FBS)
Points Allowed: 41.9 PPG (119th in FBS)
Odds to Win 2015 BCS National Championship: 100/1 (Field)

2014 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 8
Defense: Starters Returning: 7
QB Nick Mullens (6.4 YPA, 13 TD, 14 INT) reunites with high-school coach and new OC Chip Lindsey from Auburn this season. Mullens’ supporting cast is decent with WR Tyre’oune Holmes (410 rec yds) and RB Jalen Richard (318 rush yds). The defense gets a boost with the returns of three key players who missed most of 2013 in S Jacorius Cotton (41 tackles in 2012), LB Alan Howze (66 tackles in ‘12) and DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches (6 TFL in ‘12).

All 2014 College Football Previews:

American Athletic Conference
Conference USA
MAC - July 25
Mountain West - July 30
Sun Belt - August 1
ACC - August 6
Big 12 - August 8
Big Ten - August 13
Pac-12 - August 15
SEC - August 20
Independents - August 22
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