The 2017 Southern Miss football team greatly benefitted from a schedule that included struggling conference opponents and a few close wins last season that led to their 8-4 regular season record and 6-2 conference record.
In C-USA’s East Division, FAU should be the odds-on favorite to win not only the division, but the conference. Marshall is another East Division foe that will make some noise in that division.
In the C-USA West Division, only Southern Miss, North Texas and UAB had winning records in conference and overall play in 2017. Still, the Golden Eagles were on the winning side in multiple close games, including a 31-29 win over UTSA, 34-27 overtime win over LA Tech and a 28-27 win over Marshall during the final week of the regular season. If just a few plays in those contests had gone the other way and benefitted Southern Miss’s opponents, the Golden Eagles’ record may have been drastically different.
This season, the team is left with many questions in terms of personnel, especially on offense. With new lead running backs, receivers and possibly a new starting quarterback, it still remains to be seen if the offense can keep up the high level of production it has been known for over the past three seasons.
Due to all of the uncertainty, I am predicting a 6-6 overall record and 4-4 conference record for the Golden Eagles in the regular season, with losses against Appalachian State, Auburn, North Texas, UTSA, Marshall and UAB, and wins against Jackson State, Louisiana-Monroe, Rice, Charlotte, Louisiana Tech and UTEP.
Southern Miss will also finish fourth in the West Division, behind UAB, North Texas and Louisiana Tech. In the Conference USA championship game, I predict that FAU will represent the East, while UAB will represent the West.
It would almost be unprofessional to not acknowledge Florida Atlantic as the odds-on favorite to take the East Division and finish atop the conference after going 8-0 in conference play during 2017 and boasting one of the most potent offenses in all of college football.
With 10 starters returning on defense, it’s difficult to see any conference team keeping up with the Owls’ average of 40 points per game. Their closest division competition should be Marshall, a team returning 17 starters from last year and nearly upset the Owls on their own turf.
The West Division seems a little more uncertain, being that no team has repeated as division champion since 2012. The biggest wildcard in the division should be our Golden Eagles, who have a favorable schedule featuring home games against Louisiana Tech and Marshall — both of which Coach Hopkins’ team defeated on the road in 2017.
Southern Miss has two crucial road games against the defending division champs North Texas and UAB. A win in Birmingham over the Blazers should get them to the six conference wins they’ll need to finish atop the West. I believe North Texas falls to third place behind UAB after suffering three conference losses to UAB, Florida Atlantic and UTSA.
Florida Atlantic is the clear-cut favorite to win and repeat as C-USA championships, which
makes this season more of a battle for second place. The only team that could give FAU trouble is Marshall since they were closed to beating FAU by just five points.
This year the Thundering Herd will host FAU, which could be the game that determines the East Division. While the East seems to be set, the West will naturally be wild.
Southern Miss was picked to finish fourth with UAB, Louisiana Tech and North Texas picked ahead. North Texas returns the best offense in the west, but its defense gave up 35 points per game. With that said as talented as North Texas should be, UAB returns a strong corps of players and has a favorable schedule with its toughest game being a road game to LA Tech.
Next to UAB, Southern Miss has the easiest conference schedule, but the two toughest games that could determine how they fall this year will be road games to North Texas and UAB, both of which USM lost to last season.
This year Southern Miss is under the radar and will very likely get overlooked by some teams. The West should be between UAB and Southern Miss to make the C-USA championship game, but with the Blazers’ favorable schedule hard to not see them in the championship.
FAU vs. UAB
Conference USA did not really get the attention it should have last year. FAU won 11 and showed that they can handle they own in the conference.
The question is whether or not any team in the conference compete with FAU.
There are a couple of teams that can challenge FAU, though. Teams like Marshall, North Texas, UAB, Southern Miss and Middle Tennessee all make strong cases to challenge FAU, but only one of those can win the conference.
Marshall is my pick to win the East Division, although their biggest question mark is at quarterback. I believe a guy like Alex Thomson can win that battle and prove that they can compete with FAU.
The team has strong set of running backs that can provide much needed help to their quarterback. Their o-line is experienced, and that is always Ideal heading into a season.
Also in the east, Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky both can compete as well. No team is guaranteed to win it. It will be tough for all teams, but FAU is the favorite according to many reports.
Southern Miss proved last season that they can compete as well by going 6-2 in the conference, only losing to North Texas and UAB. The Golden Eagles quarterback situation is most likely settled with Jack Abraham being named the starter.
My prediction for the C-USA championship game will be North Texas vs Marshall. With Marshall having 18 starters coming back and North Texas going 7-1 in the conference in 2017, both teams are my favorites to face one another in the conference championship.
Overall, everyone is expecting FAU to dominate with head coach Lane Kiffin at the helm, but I truly feel North Texas and Marshall will give them a run for their money.