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Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 11

Despite three straight losses in SEC play, Tennessee is still alive in the SEC East division. Their opponent in week 11, Kentucky, is also still alive to win the SEC East. (Tyler Lecka/Getty Images North America)
Despite three straight losses in SEC play, Tennessee is still alive in the SEC East division. Their opponent in week 11, Kentucky, is also still alive to win the SEC East. (Tyler Lecka/Getty Images North America)

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 11

We are closing in on the end of the season with about a month until we find out the four teams that will comprise the College Football Playoff. Week 11 is not the best week for games with the best ones being #25 Baylor at #9 Oklahoma, #11 West Virginia at Texas, Pittsburgh at #3 Clemson, #19 LSU at Arkansas, Minnesota at #21 Nebraska, and USC at #4 Washington.

We will focus on games that may not appear to offer much at first glance. These games might not have a national impact, but they could affect a team’s bowl chances or a conference title race. Note that these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.

1. Eastern Michigan at Ball State (11/8 at 7 PM) – Some Tuesday MACtion kicks off the week and this column. This game is all about bowl implications with both teams still looking for 6 wins.

Eastern Michigan is sitting at 5-4 and have lost 3 of their last 4 games after starting a strong 4-1. The Eagles will want to win this game because their next two are against the suddenly hot Northern Illinois Huskies and Central Michigan. Both of those games are at home, but the pressure will build the longer the season goes. In addition, both of those teams are still alive for a bowl berth.

Ball State is currently 4-5 and their road (literally) is just as tough. After this game they face both Toledo and Miami (OH) on the road. Miami (OH) is still alive for a bowl berth at 4-6 while Toledo has a chance at winning the MAC West. This game is big for both schools in terms of a bowl bid.

2. Kentucky at Tennessee (11/12 at 12 PM) – The SEC East is still wide open, which is why this game is crucial. Kentucky still has a glimmer of hope, but needs a lot to go their way to win this division. They own losses to Florida and Georgia, but a win here would put them at 5-3 in conference, in a bowl game, and two Florida SEC losses from a conference title game. Imagine that.

Tennessee’s path is clearer and they just need Florida to lose once in SEC play while the Vols need to win out. The Vols end the season with Missouri (home) and Vanderbilt (away) with the latter being the tougher of the two.

For as crazy as the SEC East has been this year, are there still a few twists left in the plot?

3. Cincinnati at Central Florida (11/12 at 12 PM) – Bowl hopes are on the line here and both teams are facing a must win. Cincinnati is 4-5 with losses in 4 of their last 5 games while their final two games are against good AAC West foes in Memphis (home) and Tulsa (away).

Central Florida, against the backdrop of a horrendous 0-12 season in 2015, sit just one win away from a bowl. They are 5-4, but their final two games are just as difficult as Cincinnati’s. They face Tulsa (home) and AAC East contender South Florida (away).

This game is big, but there is the possibility Cincinnati wins this game and both teams lose their final 2 games to finish 5-7. That would be a disaster for the American Athletic Conference.

 4. Tulsa at Navy (11/12 at 12 PM) – There is not much on the line here except the outright lead in the AAC West. Both teams have already hit the six win mark with Tulsa at 7-2 and Navy at 6-2. Both teams control their destiny in this division with identical records of 4-1 and Navy could hold a commanding lead with a win over Tulsa.

Outside of getting blasted by Ohio State, Tulsa has played well in every game. They lost by a touchdown to Houston, but also went to overtime against Fresno State and SMU. Since that 38-31 loss at Houston, Tulsa has won their last three games by an average of 24.3 points per game. That loss to Houston also means they need to win out against Central Florida and Cincinnati or get another loss from Houston in addition to two more losses by Navy.

Navy is coming off their 28-27 win against Notre Dame and they have already beaten Houston this year. Navy needs a win this week and one win in their final two AAC games against East Carolina and SMU to clinch the AAC West Division.  Both of those games will be on the road, which may be a little cause for concern because that is where they had their two losses this season (at Air Force and at South Florida).

This could be a high scoring affair as both teams have been putting up points. Then again, Navy could just do what they did against Notre Dame and allow only 2 possessions for Tulsa in the final 30 minutes. This should be a good game.

5. North Carolina State at Syracuse (11/12 at 12:30 PM) – Here are two 4-5 teams that will still need quite a lot to go their way if they win. A win will push one team to 5-5 and the other 4-6, but both teams’ final two games will be hard to win.

NC State started 4-1 this year, but have lost four in a row including three games by a touchdown or less (Clemson, Boston College, and Florida State). They end with Miami (FL) at home and North Carolina away. If they can get enough offense, they may be able to sneak into an upset, but they must beat Syracuse first.

For Syracuse, they have had an up and down season. The offense has looked good at times, though last week against Clemson was terrible. The defense has not been great, but has shown some improvement at times. Both sides will need to be in sync with games against Florida State (home) and Pittsburgh (away) to end the season.

6. UT-San Antonio at Louisiana Tech (11/12 at 3:30 PM) – The C-USA West Division will be on the line here. UTSA is 5-4 overall and 4-2 in C-USA while Louisiana Tech is 7-3 overall and 5-1 in C-USA.

UTSA is playing really well the last five games with a 4-1 record and their lone loss was a 52-49 to UTEP that went to five overtimes. Their win against Middle Tennessee last week was impressive as they won by 20 points on the road and considering UTSA has struggled away from home this year. A win here puts them in their first bowl game in their short history and in first place of the C-USA West.

Louisiana Tech has been on fire the last six weeks, which have all been wins. Five of those games have been blowouts and the close game of those was a 55-52 win over Western Kentucky. Even their 1-3 start is deceiving because they lost 21-20 at Arkansas, demolished FCS South Carolina State, lost 59-45 at Texas Tech, and lost 38-34 at Middle Tennessee. A win here does not completely clinch the C-USA West because Southern Miss has only 2 losses in conference play.

7. Appalachian State at Troy (11/12 at 3:30 PM) – What a game we have here in the Fun Belt. 7-2 Appalachian State (5-0 in SBC) and 7-1 Troy (4-0 in SBC) meet in one of the biggest conference games of the year.

Appalachian State has a strong defense and they will be put to the test against Troy’s offense that averages 39.4 points per game and have scored at least 31 points in six of their eight games (6-0 in those games). Appalachian State’s defense has given up 19.6 points per game and just 8.4 points per game in Sun Belt games.

A win for Appalachian State would pretty much put them in position to win the Sun Belt or at worst tie for the title. Their final two games are against UL-Monroe (home) and New Mexico State (away).

Troy’s final four games are daunting. They face Appalachian State, fellow Sun Belt undefeated Arkansas State (home), Texas State (away), and Georgia Southern (away). Keep an eye on this game to see which side can gain the upper hand.

8. South Florida at Memphis (11/12 at 7 PM) – The third AAC game to make an appearance this week and this one also has possible conference title game implications. South Florida is 7-2 overall while Memphis is 6-3 overall.

South Florida, which already holds a loss to Temple, is 4-1 in the AAC East and needs Temple (5-1 in the AAC) to lose another game while winning out to win the AAC East. They face SMU (away) and Central Florida (home) in their final two games so their last three games in total will not be easy wins.

Memphis is 3-2 in the AAC and are a long shot to win the AAC West division having lost to both Navy and Tulsa already this year. Still, this is a solid team that could ruin South Florida’s AAC hopes if they are at their best. Memphis also faces Cincinnati (away) and Houston (home) to end the year so this could be a chance to build momentum heading into the bowl season.

Check back next week for the week 12 edition of Under The Radar Games. In addition, you can find the previous columns below.

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Week 9

Week 10

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 10

Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss are sitting at 3-5 overall. The Rebels are facing a must win for the rest of the season starting with Georgia Southern in Week 10. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images North America)
Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss are sitting at 3-5 overall. The Rebels are facing a must win for the rest of the season starting with Georgia Southern in Week 10. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images North America)

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 10

We have now entered the final full month of regular season action the 2016 college football season. Week 10 offers us #8 Wisconsin at Northwestern, #22 Oklahoma State at Kansas State, TCU at #13 Baylor, #10 Florida at Arkansas, Iowa at #20 Penn State, and the two biggest games on Saturday night: #1 Alabama at #15 LSU and #9 Nebraska at #6 Ohio State.

We will focus on games that may not appear to offer much at first glance. These games might not have a national impact, but they could affect a team’s bowl chances or a conference title race. Note that these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.

1. Louisville at Boston College (11/5 at 12 PM) – Ever since Louisville lost at Clemson they have not looked like the same team. They struggled against Duke at home, took care of NC State at home, but then struggled at Virginia. They needed a late touchdown to defeat the Cavaliers on the road and now they go to Chestnut Hill to face Boston College.

The Eagles sit at 4-4 overall and still have a solid chance at making a bowl game even with a loss. However, they can give Louisville fits if their defense is playing at their very best.

This game is bigger for Louisville because they have struggled since the loss at Clemson. They still have an outside shot of making the College Football Playoff, but how will the Committee view them if they continue to squeak by teams? A big win would help Louisville here.

2. Air Force at Army (11/5 at 12 PM) – The Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy is at stake in this game for Air Force. Both teams are 5-3 and win puts Air Force in a bowl while Army would still need another victory due to their schedule containing two FCS schools.

Air Force started 4-0 including a 28-14 win at home against Navy. They then lost the next three games before needing a rally against Fresno State to reach 5-3. Army started 3-0 before back-to-back close losses to Buffalo and Duke on the road. They crushed Lafayette before North Texas soundly defeated the Black Knights. Army was able to get a big win last week against Wake Forest on the road to reach 5-3.

Army can also win the CIC Trophy by defeating Air Force this week and Navy to end the regular reason. This will be a fun game to watch the old school triple option offense from both teams.

3. Georgia Southern at Ole Miss (11/5 at 12 PM) – No conference implications here, but there are bowl implications for both teams. Georgia Southern is 4-4 overall with their final three games consisting of Louisiana-Lafayette, Georgia State (away), and Troy. They will probably be favored in two of those games and a bowl game still looks likely even with a loss here.

The same cannot be said for Ole Miss and they must treat every game as a must win. They are currently 3-5 with Texas A&M (away), Vanderbilt (away), and Mississippi State after this game. They can lose only one game the rest of the way and still make a bowl. Given their schedule (read as: Texas A&M), this is not the one to drop.

4. Texas at Texas Tech (11/5 at 12 PM) – Neither of these squads will be winning the Big 12, but the bowl implications are huge. Both teams sit at 4-4 overall and their schedules to end the season require little margin for error.

Texas will face West Virginia, Kansas (away), and TCU after this contest. Texas Tech will play Oklahoma State (away), Iowa State (away), and Baylor. Now we can see why the winner of this game will be in much better position to make a bowl.

Looking beyond this game and season, could either or both coaches be fired if they fail to make a bowl game? Some outlets already have marked Charlie Strong as a lame duck. What about Kliff Kingsbury? That would make it two of four years that Texas Tech did not reach a bowl under Kingsbury, assuming they do not win two of their final four games in 2016. He probably will not be fired if the Red Raiders fail to make a bowl game, but his seat will undoubtedly be warmer.

5. Pittsburgh at Miami (FL) (11/5 at 12:30 PM) – What a difference a month makes for both teams. Pittsburgh was 2-2 going into October, but have come out ahead with a 3-1 record last month to make them 5-3.

Miami was 3-0 after September and it was 4-0 after defeating Georgia Tech, but it has been all downhill since. The Canes have lost four in a row with three games determined by a touchdown or less. Miami has a forgiving schedule the final month with games against Pitt, Virginia (away), NC State (away), and Duke, but nothing can be taken for granted with the slide they are currently on.

Pittsburgh has Miami (away), Clemson (away), Duke, and Syracuse to end the season. Both teams look likely to make a bowl game based on the schedules, but this game will be worth watching to see how they respond to losses last week.

6. UT-San Antonio at Middle Tennessee (11/5 at 2:30 PM) – Both teams are alive in their respective Division races in Conference USA. UTSA is 3-2 in the West and sit a game out of first place. Middle Tennessee is 3-1 in the East and are a half-game behind Western Kentucky in the win column, but the Hilltoppers own the head-to-head victory.

A loss for either team will probably end their hopes of making the Conference USA Championship Game. Middle Tennessee faces Marshall (away), Charlotte (away), and Florida Atlantic to end the season. They will probably be favored in all three of those, but would still need a loss or two from Western Kentucky to make the Championship Game.

UTSA faces Louisiana Tech (away), Texas A&M (away), and Charlotte to end the season. A loss here and they would be 4-5, out of the West Division race, and facing the real possibility of missing a bowl game. The Roadrunners are also 1-2 on the road this year. Their win was over lowly Rice by a score of 14-13. This game is very big for the Roadrunners.

7. Hawaii at San Diego State (11/5 at 7 PM) – San Diego State can put a hammerlock on the West Division of the Mountain West with a win. The Aztecs sit 4-0 in conference while Hawaii is 3-2. Hawaii is currently the only other team in the West Division that has not lost at least 3 conference games.

The Aztecs are also still in the race for the Group of 5 bid to one of the New Year’s Six Bowls. They need some help with Western Michigan still undefeated as well as Boise State having only one loss. Those two may also face in the Mountain West Championship Game.

As for Hawaii, they are currently 4-5 overall and will need to reach 7 wins to make a bowl game. They wrap up with Boise State, Fresno State (away), and Massachusetts. This is basically a must win game for Hawaii to reach those 7 wins.

8. Georgia at Kentucky (11/5 at 7:30 PM) – This is weird to fathom, but Kentucky is currently the second placed team in the SEC East and also have a better overall record (5-3) than Georgia (4-4).

Georgia really has not looked good since their opening win against North Carolina. They struggled against Nicholls State and Missouri to reach 3-0, but are just 1-4 their last five games including devastating late game losses to Tennessee and Vanderbilt at home.

Kentucky started 2-3 this year, but have reeled off three straight wins to reach 5-3. Kentucky has not finished ahead of Georgia in the SEC East since 2006 when both teams finished 4-4 in the SEC and Kentucky defeated the Bulldogs that year.

With a win Kentucky will be in a bowl, but probably would make one even with a loss against Georgia. They face Tennessee (away), Austin Peay, and Louisville (away). For Georgia, they face Auburn, UL-Lafayette, and Georgia Tech all at home to end the season. A loss is not crushing for the Bulldogs, but it will make things far easier for this inconsistent and underachieving team.

Check back next week for the week 11 edition of Under The Radar Games. In addition, you can find the previous columns below.

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Week 9

Five Predictions For Conference USA In 2016

Middle Tennessee QB Brent Stockstill against Alabama in 2015. Stockstill is one of the top passers and is only a sophomore this year. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)
Middle Tennessee QB Brent Stockstill against Alabama in 2015. Stockstill is one of the top passers in C-USA and is only a sophomore this year. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

Five Predictions For Conference USA In 2016

The 2016 College Football season is right around the corner and that means prediction time. Below are five predictions for Conference USA for the 2016 season. Some predictions will be right, some predictions will be wrong, and some will be spectacularly awful by the end of the season.

There are no changes to the teams in 2016 as all thirteen teams will be the same from 2015 with seven teams in East Division and six in the West Division. The seven East teams are Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion, and Western Kentucky. The six West teams are Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Southern Mississippi, Rice, UTEP, and UT-San Antonio.

Here are five predictions for Conference USA in 2016:

1. Rice will win the West Division – This will be either a spectacular pick or “what was I thinking pick?”. Rice has a total of 16 starters returning (7 on offense and 9 on defense), but will have to break in a new quarterback. The defense gave up 35.8 and 447 yards per game in 2015, but that was with only three starters back and that number triples this year, which should provide a vast improvement.

Rice will have to navigate a tough conference schedule of Western Kentucky (on the road in week one), at Southern Miss, and at Louisiana Tech. Each team in the West has questions surrounding them going into 2016 and Rice has a solid chance of taking the division this season.

2. Old Dominion will make a bowl game – Should this prediction come true, it would be the first bowl in school history for Old Dominion. ODU played in the FCS between 2009 and 2013 while taking the step up to the FBS and C-USA in 2014. They went 6-6 in 2014 (were not bowl eligible) and then 5-7 last year. Last year’s team lost a lot of experience and had 7 starters back on offense with 5 on defense while the quarterback position lost both experience and time due to injury.

2016 should produce better numbers on both sides staring with offense. 9 are back on that side including the both quarterbacks, the top three running backs, and the top five receivers. They had 24.3 points and 371 yards per game in 2015 while those numbers should go up. The defense gave up 35.8 points and 437 yards per game, but will return 8 starters from last year while those numbers should go down.

The schedule will be tricky with non conference games against Appalachian State and North Carolina State with those two both away from home. In conference, they have to deal with Western Kentucky (away), Marshall (home), Southern Miss (home), and Florida Atlantic (away). They can certainly reach six wins with games against Hampton, UTSA, Charlotte, UMass, UTEP, Florida International and a possible upset against the previously mentioned teams will go a long way to securing their first bowl bid.

3. Charlotte’s offense will top 25 points per game in 2016 – Charlotte is entering their fourth season of football with the first two played against weaker teams (FCS, DII, and DIII). 2015 was their first full season against the FBS and they had a rough time. They went 2-10, scored only 17.5 points per game, and gave up 36.3 points per game. This year, the 49ers return a total of 16 starters with nine on offense and seven on defense.

The offense will add in the very talented quarterback Kevin Olsen from Miami (FL) and Robert Washington (originally committed to Syracuse) at running back while also returning the top four receivers from 2015. Speedy receiver Austin Duke led the team with 53 catches for 534 yards and 5 touchdowns. There are few reasons for this offensive unit to not hit 25 points per game in 2016 with the combination of talent and experience.

4. North Texas will finish with double digit losses – The North Texas program went south in a hurry. After going a school record 9-4 in 2013, the Mean Green fell to 4-8 in 2014 and even further in 2015 to 1-11. Dan McCarney was fired after Portland State laid a 66-7 beat down on North Texas in Denton. The offense sputtered averaging only 15.2 points and 320 yards per game while the defense was shredded giving up 41.3 points and 503 yards per game.

The schedule is not kind to North Texas in 2016. They face SMU, Bethune-Cookman, Florida (away), and Army (away). It is not hard to envision a 1-3 non-conference finish for the Mean Green. In conference, their one winnable game in conference on paper looks to be Texas-San Antonio, but that game is away and UTSA should win it. I could be another 1-11 year or 2-10 if North Texas can pull an upset.

5. Middle Tennessee will finish no worse than 2nd in the East – The Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee have a very good offense coming back in 2016. Brent Stockstill (pictured above and also the coach’s son) returns after throwing for 4,005 yards (66.7%) with 30 touchdowns and 9 interceptions as a freshman. Also returning are the two of the top three receivers for Stockstill. Richie James (108 catches for 1,346 yards and 8 touchdowns) and Terry Pettis (29 catches for 612 yards and 4 touchdowns) are those two receivers while three offensive linemen return. Coming into the mix is I’Tavius Mathers from Ole Miss at running back. For a unit that put up 34 points and 457 yards per contest in 2015, there should be no issues reaching those numbers again barring injuries.

The trouble will be on defense and the schedule. Defensively, MTSU returns five starters from the 2015 unit that allowed 26.6 points and 406 yards per game. With some high powered offenses that are in C-USA, that side of the ball will have to perform better. The schedule is not easy for MTSU as they face Western Kentucky (home), Marshall (away), and the potentially dangerous regular season finale against Florida Atlantic (home). Their benefit is they pulled North Texas and UT-San Antonio from the West, which should be two wins for the Blue Raiders. Going 2-1 against the three tough East teams should see MTSU finish second (or better if they go 3-0) in the East.

The Prediction Schedule

With the C-USA predictions above, there are now predictions for three conferences in the books. Below are the predictions completed and which conference is next.

July 17 – FBS Independents

July 17 – Sun Belt

July 23 – C-USA

July 24 – MAC

July 30 – American Athletic

July 31 – Mountain West

August 7 – Big 12

August 13 – Atlantic Coast

August 14 – Pac-12

August 20 – Big Ten

August 27 – SEC

2015 College Football Preview: C-USA West

Kenneth Dixon will be a huge part of Louisiana Tech's offense. Will he be able to lead them back to the C-USA Championship Game? (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America)
Kenneth Dixon will be a huge part of Louisiana Tech’s offense. Will he be able to lead them back to the C-USA Championship Game? (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: C-USA West

Part six of Sports Enthusiasts’ 2015 College Football Preview will look at Conference USA’s West division as well as predicting the champion of the C-USA Championship Game. Below is the schedule for the 2015 College Football Preview.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

Sun Belt – July 28

FBS Independents – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

Below is an in-depth look at each team in the Conference USA West Division.

1. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

Louisiana Tech nearly won the 2014 C-USA Championship Game, but came up short against Marshall in 26-23 loss. 2014 was also the second year of Skip Holtz’s tenure and he led them to their first bowl game since 2011, beating Illinois 35-18.

The third year under Holtz will have seven starters back on offense, but one of them will not be at quarterback due to Cody Sokol graduating after a 3,436 passing yard season with 30 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Replacing Sokol is the inconsistent Jeff Driskel from Florida. When Driskel is good, he can play at the top level, but that is the wildcard to do that over the course of a season. He will have Kenneth Dixon to hand the ball off to. All Dixon has done in his first three years is rush for 3,410 yards and become the school’s all-time leading rusher. He ran for 1,299 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2014. The top three receivers also return for La Tech including Trent Taylor, who caught 64 passes for 834 yards and 9 touchdowns. If Driskel can be consistent (and healthy), the offense should do well once again in 2015.

On defense, six starters return including three apiece on the line and in the secondary. The line’s top playmaker will be Vernon Butler at tackle after he made 1st Team C-USA in 2014 with 56 tackles, 1 sack, and 12.5 tackles for loss. The linebacker unit sees all three starters depart, but the replacements are all seniors. The secondary is also senior laden, but the star is junior free safety Xavier Woods. Woods was 1st Team C-USA after making 71 tackles, 1 sack, 2.5 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, and 6 interceptions in 2014. The defense should be good in the 2015 again.

La Tech opens with a home game against FCS Southern before a road trip to open conference play against Western Kentucky and then another road trip to Kansas State. Their non-conference schedule wraps up with a home game against Louisiana-Lafayette (Oct. 3) and a road game at Mississippi State (Oct. 17). In addition to WKU out of the East, they also get a tough game against Middle Tennessee (home) and a winnable game at home versus Florida International. Their toughest West opponents (Rice and UTEP) are both on the road, but Louisiana Tech is in a good spot to make it to a second straight C-USA Championship Game.

2. UTEP Miners

UTEP improved drastically in 2014 on both offense and defense, which culminated with a bowl game berth (New Mexico Bowl), but lost 21-6 to Utah State. Year three for Sean Kugler is expected to provide even more.

Six starters return on the offensive side led by running back Aaron Jones. Jones ran for 1,321 yards and 11 touchdowns to lead the team and he will shoulder the load early on in the season with a new quarterback set to take over. Mack Leftwich and Garrett Simpson are expected to battle it out for the starting QB spot, but they will surely top last year’s production of 1,858 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions by Jameill Showers. The top receiver is gone (27 catches for 579 yards and 2 touchdowns), but his production can easily be replaced with better quarterback play. The offensive line returns four starters so there should be plenty of time for the new QB to gel with the offense.

The defensive side of the ball returns five starters including three on the defensive line. The line will need to get after the opposing quarterbacks. In 2014, UTEP allowed 177 yards rushing per game and recorded 26 sacks. At linebacker, Alvin Jones returns to lead the group. He recorded 55 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss, and an interception. Arkansas graduate transfer Kelvin Fisher will also be in the mix to start at one of the linebacker spots. The secondary returns Devin Cockrell as the lone starter from a unit that allowed 191 yards passing per game and 51.7% completions. The defense is likely to take a step back in 2015, but it may not be a big step back.

UTEP opens with three straight road games in 2015 against Arkansas, Texas Tech, and New Mexico State. They finish their non-conference slate with a home game against FCS Incarnate Word. In Conference USA play, they have winnable games from the East Division against Florida International (road), Florida Atlantic (home), and Old Dominion (road). They also get both Rice and Louisiana Tech at home, which makes them a threat to finish in the top spot as well. UTEP should be in a bowl game once more in 2015.

3. Rice Owls

Rice has been to three straight bowl games between 2012 and 2014. In 2013, the Owls won the C-USA Championship Game by defeating Marshall 41-24. 2015 is a chance to reach the title game again and a fourth straight bowl game.

The offense has six starters returning including quarterback Driphus Jackson and running back Jowan Davis. Jackson threw for 2,842 yards with 24 touchdowns and 8 interceptions while also rushing for 401 yards and 1 touchdown as the third leading rusher. Davis ran for 956 yards and 6 touchdowns while the second leading rusher, Darik Dillard, ran for 652 yards and 11 touchdowns. Dillard also returns this season to give Rice a 1-2 punch in the running game. The top two receivers are gone, but the third, fourth, and fifth leading receivers return. In addition, only two starters return on the offensive line. Rice may have some early season struggles, but should be able to reach their 28.8 points and 399 yards per game they recorded last year.

Rice’s defense has been hit hard by losses with only three starters returning. Linebacker Alex Lyons was the top tackler in 2014 with 71 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss.  The next five leading tacklers depart while Nick Elder was the seventh leading tackler at 40 stops, but did not start any games and is expected to take over one of the remaining linebacker spots. The defensive line and secondary also return one starter. After giving up 28.5 points and 386 yards per game in 2014, this unit will take a step back with the lack of experience.

Rice opens their season against FCS Wagner at home before three straight road trips against Texas, North Texas, and Baylor. They also face Army at home on October 24. From the East Division, Rice will face Western Kentucky (home), Florida Atlantic (road), and Charlotte (home), which should provide a winning record against those teams. They also face Louisiana Tech at home and a road trip to UTEP. With their schedule, Rice should be making a fourth straight bowl appearance.

4. North Texas Mean Green

North Texas made a bowl game in 2013 after a nine year absence. They won that bowl game against UNLV, but fell to 4-8 in 2014 with only nine returning starters. Dan McCarney is entering his fifth year and hoping to return to a bowl game in 2015.

The offense returns six starters beginning with quarterback Andrew McNulty. McNulty started the final six games and finished the season with 1,295 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. Antoine Jimmerson and Jeffrey Wilson also return at running back to provide some help to McNulty. McNulty will also have Carlos Harris back to throw to after he caught 70 passes for 863 yards and 3 touchdowns. The offensive line returns only one starter, which may hurt some of the numbers early in the season. North Texas put up 27.2 points and 326 yards per game in 2014 and this year should produce similar or better numbers.

The defense also returns six starters, but none of the top three tacklers return. The defensive line has three starters back, which easily makes this the strongest unit on defense. They gave up an average of 162 yards rushing per game and should be able to produce that kind of performance again. Linebacker has two starters returning, but lost their top guy in Derek Akunne. The secondary has only Kenny Buyers returning, but he should be able to lockdown one of the corner spots. After surrendering 29.8 points per game in 2014, the defense should be able to match that again in 2015.

North Texas does not play opening week and will face SMU on the road in their first game on September 12. They then face Rice at home before back-to-back road games at Iowa and Southern Miss. They also face Portland State (home) and Tennessee (road) as part of their non-conference schedule. Out of the East Division, NT will face the top trio of Western Kentucky (home), Marshall (road), and Middle Tennessee (road), which puts an upper limit on their finishing position in the West. North Texas will probably need an upset or two to reach a bowl game.

5. Southern Miss Golden Eagles

It is hard to believe how fast Southern Miss fell in College Football after 2011. In 2011, Southern Miss went 12-2 with an upset victory over Houston in the C-USA Championship Game, but fell to 0-12 in 2012. They went 1-11 in 2013 and 3-9 in 2014. 2015 will be the third year in charge for Todd Monken.

Monken will have plenty to work with on offense, as ten starters return from 2014 and some nice talent has transferred in. Nick Mullens threw for 2,470 yards with 12 touchdowns and 9 interceptions last year, but may be challenged by former TCU player Tyler Matthews. Ito Smith was the top running back in 2014 with 536 yards and 2 touchdowns, but it could be Michigan transfer Justice Hayes who ends up as the number one running back. The top two receivers, Michael Thomas and Casey Martin, both return as does the entire offensive line. Southern Miss put up 17.1 points per game and 316 yards in 2013, 19 points per game and 365 yards per game in 2014, and will certainly obliterate those numbers this year.

The defense under Monken has struggled, but perhaps that is because there was not much in the cupboard. In 2013, eight starters returned and gave up an average of 41.9 points and 436 yards per game. 2014 was a a bit better as six starters returned and gave up 35.4 points and 451 yards per game. There will be five starters back in 2015. Michael Smith will be anchoring the defensive line at tackle, but perhaps the biggest addition is at defensive end with former Auburn player Ricky Parks. The linebacking unit has two starters back while only one returns in the secondary. Picasso Nelson is the returning starter in the secondary after starting 10 games as a freshman and recording 36 tackles, 7 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The defense will continue to make small steps forward in 2015.

Southern Miss will open the season with home games against Mississippi State and FCS Austin Peay before back-to-back road trips against Texas State and Nebraska. The fifth game against North Texas at home on October 3 could determine which team finishes fourth. From the East Division, Southern Miss draws Marshall (road), Charlotte (road), and Old Dominion (home) while having to face UTEP at home and Louisiana Tech on the road. Southern Miss could be pushing for bowl eligibility with an upset or two in C-USA play.

6. Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners

Texas-San Antonio is a relative new program entering their fifth season of play in 2015. Larry Coker has been in charge since the start and has led them from the FCS to C-USA. In 2013, UTSA went 7-5 in their first season of C-USA competition before falling off in 2014 with a 4-8 record. 2015 may not be any better.

Coker has only two returning starters on offense, but that may not be a bad thing. In 2014, UTSA had ten starters returning, but only put up 17.1 points and 298 yards of offense per game! 2015 will see Michigan graduate transfer Russell Bellomy vying for the starting quarterback spot. Jarveon Williams is likely to assume the running back spot after running for 325 yards and 3 touchdowns as the second leading rusher last year. The offensive line returns only one starter while the top receiver returning from 2014 is tight end David Morgan. Despite the dearth of experience, it is hard to imagine UTSA doing much worse of offense than they did in 2014.

The defense has only four returning starters from a unit that was respectable in 2014. The defense gave up 25.9 points and 370 yards per game with ten returning starters last year. Middle linebacker Drew Douglas is the top returning tackler after recording 71 stops, 1 sack, and 6 tackles for loss. The defensive line has zero returning starters while the secondary has the other two starters returning in Bennett Okotcha and Mauricio Sanchez. The defense has been consistent under Coker, but with the lack of experience, there is a strong possibility of a step back.

UTSA has a brutal non-conference schedule with games against Arizona (road), Kansas State (home), Oklahoma State (road), and Colorado State (home) in their first four weeks. In conference, UTSA draws Old Dominion (home), Charlotte (road), and Middle Tennessee (home) from the East Division. It will be a long season for UTSA if both sides of the ball struggle. It is a rebuilding year for UTSA in 2015.


The Conference USA West Division is a three horse race with one team slightly better than the competition. Louisiana Tech looks like the best team in the division, but the duo of UTEP and Rice could win the division as well and it would not be a surprise. North Texas and Southern Miss will be battling it out under those three and will both need at least one or two upsets to get back to a bowl game. UTSA is in rebuilding mode with only six starters returning. Below is the predicted order of finish.

1. Louisiana Tech


3. Rice

4. North Texas

5. Southern Miss

6. Texas-San Antonio

C-USA Championship Game

The previous part of the 2015 College Football Preview looked at the C-USA East Division and predicted Western Kentucky to win the division. That will set up a C-USA Championship Game between Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech. In that game, Western Kentucky is predicted to defeat Louisiana Tech for the Conference USA Championship.

The next part of the 2015 College Football Preview will look at the American Athletic Conference’s East Division. That can be found on Tuesday, July 21 here at Sports Enthusiasts.