Conference USA West Preview
LOUISIANA TECH AND RICE LIKELY TO STAY ATOP CONFERENCE USA WEST DIVISION
The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs have a chance to be very interesting this season. They closed the 2014 season on fire...with a 76-31 rout of respected Rice, a nailbiter loss to mid major power Marshall in the CUSA Championship game, and then a 35-18 bowl win over Illinois. THEN they added transfer quarterback Jeff Driskill from Florida, who will love an opportunity to move the ball vs. CUSA defenses!
Of course, revenge-minded Rice isn't going anywhere. And, it's no sure thing that Driskill's going to be a great fit. Let's dig deeper to see how things should play out in 2015 in the West Division of Conference USA (please see yesterday's report on the East if you missed it!)
2014 Record: 9-5
2014 Rankings: 62 on offense, 34 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Skip Holtz
Notebook: Wow...Game Two of the season is at Western Kentucky, which could be an early preview of the eventual Conference Championship game. Then Tech goes on the road to visit Kansas State the next week! Driskill better be ready. Enough talent returns that you have to give Tech the nod over Rice for now (which becomes stronger once you see Rice's returning starter situation). If the team picks up where they left off...they might be the best in the league. Definitely a squad to put on your watch list.
2014 Record: 8-5
2014 Rankings: 65 on offense, 54 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 2 on defense
Head Coach: David Bailiff
Notebook: Very tough to succeed when only two starters return on defense. Scary to think what Baylor will put up on this team on September 26! There is time to get everything figured out before league play. And, matchups with Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky will be at home. Driphus Jackson returns at quarterback for his senior season. He'll have to carry this team on his shoulders most likely. The respected Athlon publication has Louisiana Tech #86 nationally, Rice #89. We don't have those teams so close together in our proprietary power ratings. Tech might be 30 spots better than that! Rice did impress in their 30-6 win over Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl. But, you have to drop them in your Power Ratings until you see how the rebuilding effort is going.
2014 Record: 7-6
2014 Rankings: 105 on offense, 38 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Sean Kugler
Notebook: The Miners had a lousy offense last year...and now have to find a new quarterback. That's always a bad sign...and it's a bad sign for CUSA West that UTEP is projected to finish third in the division anyway! You can see why Rice stays at #2 even with so much lost talent. Road openers for UTEP at Arkansas and Texas Tech are likely to be brutal. The good news is that Louisiana Tech and Rice don't show up on the schedule in November. And, both of those games will be in El Paso. Don't invest in this team until you see something good happening on offense!
2014 Record: 3-9
2014 Rankings: 97 on offense, 104 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 3 on defense
Head Coach: Todd Monken
Notebook: Only three starters are back from a horrible defense. Maybe that will be a good thing! It usually isn't at this level. Nick Mullens is back at quarterback, and has a chance to push the offensive ranking higher in 2015. A home opener vs. Mississippi State allows an opportunity to make a statement. The Golden Eagles defense will probably be overmatched. Monitor September boxscores to see if the new defense has a chance to hold up.
2014 Record: 4-8
2014 Rankings: 114 on offense, 42 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Dan McCarney
Notebook: Most of the season was a big disappointment after an early 43-6 win over SMU created false hope. The Mean Green could only beat Nicholls State and the Florida CUSA schools after that. You can see that graduation hit both sides of the ball. At least the defense was top 50 in yardage allowed per game. September tests at SMU, vs. Rice, and at Iowa will tell us a lot. You know SMU will have revenge on its mind. Can North Texas even reach 14 points on the slow grass at Iowa? The offense has a chance to be historically bad.
2014 Record: 4-8
2014 Rankings: 119 on offense, 43 on defense
Returning Starters: 0 on offense, 3 on defense
Head Coach: Larry Coker
Notebook: Stop...be sure you read the numbers above. We know some of you like to skim. Texas-San Antonio has ZERO returning starters on an offense that was horrible to begin with. And they only have three returning starters on defense. This may be the most inexperienced college football team ever! Last year was supposed to be a breakthrough season because so many starters returned. Now, they're rebuilding from scratch after fading back to irrelevance. Maybe Larry Coker has some tricks up his sleeve. More likely...September is going to be a DISASTER at Arizona, vs. Kansas State, at Oklahoma State, and vs. Colorado State. If you respect Coker, look for pointspread value late in the season rather than early.
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Back to baseball Monday in the NOTEBOOK. Here's the two-sport mix coming up through the All-Star Break...
Monday: MLB Notes
Wednesday: MLB TV Preview
Thursday: MLB Series Preview...St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates
Friday: MLB Series Preview...Washington Nationals at Baltimore Orioles
Saturday: College Football Preview...Mid American "East"
Sunday: College Football Preview...Mid American "West"
Monday July 13: College Football Preview...Sun Belt
Tuesday July 14: MLB All-Star Break Report Card
If you're a football-only bettor, be sure you're back next week for the Mid American previews and the Sun Belt. After that, it will be major conferences the rest of the summer until the NFL Preseason arrives. Football will be here before you know it. Be sure you take advantage of early-bird rates with Gridiron God JIM HURLEY!
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