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Previewing Conference USA Football with Underdog Dynasty, Part 1

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Beyond the Empire continues by asking if Western Kentucky remains the conference front-runner, a C-USA team can make the NY6, and when Skip Holtz will coach Rutgers.

CUSA Championship - Southern Miss v Western Kentucky Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

We interrupt your arguing over millennials and the Big XII, apparently, and preempt your arguing over if Illinois will go 2-10 (probably) or 3-9 (meh) with more from Beyond the Empire. Weren't paying attention when Jesse interviewed David Ubben on the Big XII (twice)? Well, here's the skinny:

Every year, Off Tackle Empire aims to give you the most in-depth previews and articles for you to chew on as you get ready for football. Also every year, Off Tackle Empire generally gives you broad, oft shallow musings that have jokes about the Midwest and food references. These things - while not always mutually exclusive - are put aside as we launch the 2017 Beyond the Empire series. For those of you uninitiated in the ways of OTE, the Beyond the Empire series is our annual conversations with those that follow teams outside the land of Casseroles and Snickers Salad.

As if we could want a world outside Snicker Salad.

Anyway, today we head... South? East? To the USA? I'm not actually sure where, but Underdog Dynasty's Conference USA editor, Tanner Spearman (give him a follow @techdawg12), was kind enough to take our questions on the state of the...jewel of the not-quite-Deep-South? Y'all gotta let me know on a nickname.

We'll get the State of the Conference today, then preview the five Big Ten vs. C-USA matchups tomorrow morning!

(1) Give us the state of the race in Conference USA. With Western Kentucky prepping for a small rebuild, is this finally the year Skip Holtz and Louisiana Tech break through? Who's a dark horse for the conference title?

It very well could be. Despite the production the Dawgs lost with Trent Taylor, Carlos Henderson, and Ryan Higgins gone, La Tech looks to be in for more of a reload than a rebuild. J’Mar Smith has already shown a bit of what he can do at QB, and Teddy Veal and Adrian Hardy should fill in the gaps at receiver. Throw in an experienced running back corps and three returning starting linemen and all Tech needs is a moderately better defense.

Still, people doubted WKU last year with the loss of Brandon Doughty and others, yet they still won the title. Can they prove the doubters wrong again? It will be tough with a new coach and only four returning offensive starters, but I wouldn’t be shocked, especially when many of WKU’s backups got plenty of playing time in blow out wins last year.

However, if WKU does take a step back, this could be the year Middle Tennessee finally takes the east, and they are my pick to do so. Brent Stockstill is a junior and the Blue Raiders will likely have a chip on their shoulder after the way last season ended. The 100 Miles of Hate game against WKU looms large for C-USA.

As for a dark horse, I’d have to go with either Old Dominion or UTSA. ODU may be the most talented team in C-USA to not know who the QB will be following the loss of David Washington. If the Monarchs find a serviceable QB, they might be able to ride preseason all-conference running back Ray Lawry to their first conference title. As for UTSA, Frank Wilson doubled their win total in his first year and got them to a bowl game. They were one game away from winning the division title and most see them as the biggest threat to La Tech in the west. If the Roadrunners can find a way in week 13 at Tech, they could be one game away from their first title.

Personally, my pick is for Louisiana Tech to win the title on the road against Middle Tennessee. However, the conference is pretty open this year.

(2) Who's a Heisman trophy dark horse from the conference we should be looking for in 2017? Is it Western Kentucky's Mike White, or will some other QB (Middle Tennessee's Brent Stockstill?) seize the attention?

Let’s be honest. It’s gonna take a helluva season for someone in C-USA to take the Heisman. Considering it almost has to be a quarterback, it would have to be one of the two you mentioned. I’d be satisfied with either one.

(3) With UAB returning this season, do you see C-USA as relatively stable in the world of college football expansion? What will it take for a C-USA team to crack the New Year's Six? Bill Connelly's noted the regression in the C-USA's average S&P+ rating...is this as bad as it looks?

For now, yes, C-USA should be stable. The only thing that seems like it would mess with that is if the American came looking for new teams, but that doesn’t seem to be in their plans for a while. I think realignment nationally is pretty much on hold until the Big XII grant of rights expires.

I think a C-USA team is absolutely capable of getting into a NY6 bowl. Middle Tennessee starts with three out of conference games against power 5 opponents. Win at least two of those and they’d be in a good position. La Tech also could break in if they can take down their two SEC opponents. WKU’s schedule is a little weaker, but if they go 13-0 they’d be hard to ignore. It just comes down to scheduling (and beating) the right opponents.

I look for C-USA to be better going forward. North Texas and UTSA are rising in the west, and UAB has more support than ever. Florida Atlantic and FIU made great hires and Old Dominion has burst on to the scene. If Southern Miss stays relevant and Marshall gets back on their feet, this could be a strong conference for the next several years.

(4) Jeff Brohm is the first C-USA coach to make the jump straight from the C-USA to the Big Ten since John L. Smith (Louisville to Michigan State) in 2002 [Mark Dantonio's Cincy moved to the Big East for 2005 and 2006]. Who's the next coach to make the jump, both to P5 football AND to the Big Ten?

That’s tough. On the one hand, conventional wisdom says Skip Holtz could be next on the list, and he does have Notre Dame roots, so maybe a Big Ten team takes him. His father’s name wouldn’t hurt him. However, a team could get stuck on his struggles at USF before he came to Tech. Rick Stockstill has been at Middle Tennessee for a while and has done well, but not necessarily well enough. Neither is your typical young up and comer, and both could be where they are for a while. Frank Wilson and Lane Kiffin seem like the most likely to jump ship for a P5, but both are more tied to the SEC. Perhaps it could be two WKU coaches in a row? WKU has been a revolving door for coaches, and I could see Sanford making that jump after a few years.


Thanks to Tanner for making time to chat with us! Tune in tomorrow for when more folks from Underdog Dynasty show up to help preview B1G/C-USA action, give UD a follow on Twitter, and weigh in by voting in the polls and sharing your comments!

Poll

Who wins Conference USA in 2017?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    Western Kentucky
    (51 votes)
  • 21%
    Louisiana Tech
    (54 votes)
  • 19%
    Middle Tennessee
    (48 votes)
  • 8%
    Southern Miss
    (21 votes)
  • 29%
    Someone else (comments, yo)
    (74 votes)
248 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Where do you rank C-USA among the G5 conferences?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    1st
    (47 votes)
  • 38%
    2nd
    (94 votes)
  • 21%
    3rd
    (52 votes)
  • 10%
    4th
    (27 votes)
  • 10%
    5th
    (27 votes)
247 votes total Vote Now