The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 11, 2018

2018 Conference USA Preview

Note: The preseason ratings you see in the previews may not be the same as the ratings you see for the first game. We update every team’s rating based on player injuries, changes to the depth charts, and other factors that may change during preseason practice.

Some of our Group of 5 Conference won-loss predictions were figured before the beginning of August preseason practices. Thus, it could be that a player or players on some teams have already suffered season-ending or multiple game injuries or have left their teams, and these won-loss predictions no longer accurately reflect our ratings. We hope that by the time we preview the Power 5 conferences, we will know who is not going to be available (players and head coaches).

 

Conference USA is an interesting league. Annually, it comes in as the second weakest conference overall to begin each season, sometimes just a fraction ahead of the Sun Belt. Yet. this league produces a plethora of bowl-eligible teams. Last year was no different, as 10 of the 14 schools earned bowl eligibility, and nine received bowl invitations.

Last year, after a slow start that saw his team lose big to Navy and Wisconsin and then suffer a heartbreaking loss at Buffalo, Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic team caught fire and won their final 10 games. Included in the season-ending sweep were a CUSA Championship Game title and a victory in the Boca Raton Bowl, both by fat margins. The Owls finished the season averaging better than 40 points and almost 500 total yards per game, but Kiffin will have to rebuild on this side of the ball. Expect defense to help FAU contend for another conference title.

Marshall and Middle Tennessee should be FAU’s chief competition for the title. Coach Doc Holliday is one of the best recruiters in the Group of 5 conferences, and he has a lot of experienced talent returning to Marshall. If not for the fact that the Thundering Herd will have to break in a new quarterback and has no player that has thrown even one pass for the school in a game. Additionally, there will be a new offensive coordinator, as Tim Cramsey comes to Huntington from Sam Houston State and brings a new offense.  Of course, his 2017 SHU offense merely averaged better than 43 points per game and proved to be powerful running and passing the ball.

Middle Tennessee has the top returning quarterback in the division in Brent Stockstill, but the Blue Raiders have an iffy secondary and could be forced to outscore opponents every week.

The West Division looks like a three-team race. North Texas, Lousiana Tech, and UAB could finish in a three-way tie, with Southern Mississippi a distant fourth. Having two of the weakest FBS teams in the same division in Rice and UTEP, means that the other four division rivals can almost count on two conference victories already.

North Texas has the top overall quarterback in the league and maybe the best overall in the Lone Star State in Mason Fine. As a sophomore last season, he finished 6th nationally in passing yards, and he is the leading passing yardage leader among returning quarterbacks. Fine has most of his receiving corps returning this year, so if he gets just a little better pass protection, he could lead the Mean Green to the best season in Denton since Hayden Fry coached there in the late 1970’s. UNT Coach Seth Littrell is on a fast track to taking over a big time program. Every stop along the way, the team he has coached as an assistant set passing and total offense records. Mentoring Fine is not the first time he has trained a top prospect into a big-time talent. He previously tutored Nick Foles at Arizona.

UAB coach Bill Clark takes a back seat to nobody. How’s this for an incredible feat of wizardry? Clark stayed with the program when the school dropped football for two seasons. With just a handful of recruits to work with and a promise of playing again in the future, he recruited enough talent and then “coached ’em up.” Picked to maybe win two games by most pundits last year in their return to the game, UAB enjoyed an 8-win season and bid to the Bahamas Bowl. With 14 starters returning from last year’s first team back in football and a decent recruiting class, UAB should be right there with North Texas in the West Division race.

Skip Holtz is the big name in the West Division of CUSA, and his Louisiana Tech Bulldogs have to be considered one of the tri-favorites in this division. His team underperformed a bit last year but still managed to win seven times and make an appearance in the Frisco Bowl, where LT looked more like the team people expected them to be, dusting SMU 51-10. The Techsters have a lot of returning talent, and if said talent plays more like they did in the bowl and less like they did against Southern Miss and Rice, then the Bulldogs could make it back to the top of the division.

Here is how the CUSA media voted in the preseason poll.

Team
East Division 1st Place Votes
1. Florida Atlantic 22
2. Marshall 4
3. Middle Tennessee 0
4. Florida Int’l. 0
5. Western Kentucky 0
6. Old Dominion 0
7. Charlotte 0
Team
West Division 1st Place Votes
1. North Texas 18
2. Louisiana Tech 4
3. UAB 3
4. Southern Miss. 1
5. UTSA 0
6t. Rice 0
6t. UTEP 0

There were no votes for overall conference champion.

The PiRate Ratings basically confirm the media’s preseason opinions.

Conference USA
East Division
Team CUSA Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Florida Atlantic 0-0 0-0 102.0 103.0 103.3 102.8
Marshall 0-0 0-0 94.3 97.1 95.0 95.5
Middle Tennessee 0-0 0-0 91.4 93.4 93.0 92.6
Old Dominion 0-0 0-0 87.5 91.3 89.0 89.3
Florida Int’l. 0-0 0-0 82.0 86.8 82.6 83.8
W. Kentucky 0-0 0-0 80.4 84.6 81.2 82.1
Charlotte 0-0 0-0 76.2 78.7 76.3 77.1
West Division
Team CUSA Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Louisiana Tech 0-0 0-0 93.8 96.4 95.2 95.1
N. Texas 0-0 0-0 93.0 96.3 93.6 94.3
U A B 0-0 0-0 91.1 93.6 91.5 92.1
Southern Miss. 0-0 0-0 81.6 85.0 82.1 82.9
U T S A 0-0 0-0 80.2 85.6 81.6 82.5
Rice 0-0 0-0 71.4 74.5 69.7 71.9
U T E P 0-0 0-0 69.3 72.5 68.6 70.1
CUSA Averages 85.3 88.5 85.9 86.6

New Coaches

When a large majority of schools gain bowl eliibility, there are not going to be a lot of coaching dismissals. Unless coaches get better jobs, they will return to their respective schools. As mentioned previously, Rice and UTEP ranked in the bottom 10 of all FBS schools last year, and these two teams will welcome new leaders.

Rice hired MIke Bloomgren and hopes to get the same results that Bloomgren produced as offensive coordinator at Stanford. He also has experience coaching with the New York Jets during the Rex Ryan era. The Owls will use power running mixed with play-action passing and hope to improve on 16 points and 330 yards per game on offense. Thanks to home games with Prairie View and UTEP, Bloomgren should double the win total from one to two.

UTEP wore the collar last year, going 0-12 and losing by an average of 25 points per game. The Miners hired 55-year old Dana Dimel, who for the last decade has been the offensive coordinator at Kansas State. Dimel has past head coaching stops at Wyoming and Houston. He succeeded in Laramie but failed in Houston. In year one, he faces a gargantuan rebuilding process, but you cannot really go south from 0-12, unless you repeat with another 0-12 that includes a loss to an FCS team. Northern Arizona will be a tough FCS opponent for the Miners.

Predicted Won-Loss Records

East
Team Conference Overall
Florida Atlantic 8-0 11-2 *
Marshall 7-1 9-3
Middle Tennessee 6-2 7-5
Old Dominion 4-4 6-6
Western Kentucky 3-5 5-7
Florida Int’l. 2-6 3-9
Charlotte 0-8 1-11
West
Team Conference Overall
North Texas 6-2 9-4
UAB 6-2 9-3
Louisiana Tech 6-2 8-4
Southern Miss. 4-4 5-7
UTSA 3-5 5-7
Rice 1-7 2-11
UTEP 0-8 1-11
* Fla. Atlantic picked to win CUSA Championship Game

Bowl Tie-ins
CUSA does not have a set bowl order. They send teams to bowls to create the best overall matchups.

These are the bowls tie-ins for 2018.

Bahamas Bowl in Nassau, Bahamas
Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, FL
Gasparilla Bowl in St. Petersburg, FL
Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu, HI
Heart of Dallas Bowl in Dallas, TX
New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque, NM
New Orleans Bowl in New Orleans, LA

There are secondary bowl agreements with the Frisco Bowl in Frisco, Texas, and the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, if those bowl need at-large alternates.

Coming Tomorrow–The Mid-American Conference

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