It’s only fitting that for the week of the Fourth of July, we preview Conference USA. While the conference has been pretty weak and boring outside of a few teams the last few years, a few new hires and a few perennial underachievers suddenly looking competent could make for a fun conference this year. Let’s take a look at the C-USA.
One of the newest teams in the FBS (they played their first FCS game in 2013, and moved into the FBS in 2015), the 49ers haven’t really had the time to build any sort of history; with Auburn, or anyone else. Fortunately for Charlotte, they play a pretty light schedule this year (not facing Lamar Jackson again is a plus), so with only a little bit of improvement over last season’s 4-8 record, Charlotte might be able to make a bowl for the first time! It’s a bit of a longshot, but I always enjoy seeing a startup make their mark.
I’ve never understood why so many people are emotionally invested in the Kardashian’s (or any other celebrity’s) lives. Then I remember the stories surrounding Lane Kiffin, and I can begin to understand. I’m not really sure what I think of Kiffin as a coach, but I will never cease to be fascinated by the wild rumors that surround this guy. How did he land an NFL and two elite power conference head coaching jobs? What happened with him at USC that the Shutdown Fullcast won’t tell us? Just who is Joey Freshwater: International Man of Mystery? Nevertheless, I’m mildly interested in how FAU performs this year, which is more than can be said than any other year.
On the other end of the “famous head coach taking a Florida CUSA job” spectrum is Butch Davis. His only connection to Auburn that I can find is that he was the defensive line coach for the 1984 Miami team that beat then #1 Auburn in the Kickoff Classic in Giants Stadium. That may have happened 11 years before I was born, but hey, why can’t we be petty?
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
These Bulldogs play host to the Mississippi State Bulldogs on September 9th. LA Tech is usually a decent bet to be a contender in the C-USA, so I would say State needs to be careful with this one. It should also give Auburn fans and coaches a decent opportunity to see what State will look like this year before the come to Auburn three weeks later.
Marshall Thundering Herd
If watching Matthew McConaughey in We Are Marshall isn’t enough of a reason for you to always root for Marshall, I don’t know what to tell you.
MTSU Blue Raiders
I’ll be blunt. There’s a chance MTSU could be this year’s Western Michigan. Although that’s a big claim, and although Bill C has the Blue Raiders favored in seven games, it’s a limb I’m finding myself wanting to climb on. They open with three straight winnable power conference games, hosting Vandy and going to Minnesota and Syracuse. It’s unlikely, but should MTSU win those games, look out. With a veteran coach (Rick Stockstill has been there twelve years!) and his son at quarterback, along with a very strong WR set and shaky defense, this team will play in some shootouts. I’m down for that!
I’m also obliged to mention Tony Franklin is their OC. No further comment.
North Texas Mean Green
I’ll admit, I had to dig fairly deep for an Auburn connection here. So, what did I come up with? Jeff Koonz. You can be forgiven for not knowing his name, but Koonz is currently the linebackers coach for the Mean Green. Koonz is one of the rare cases where a guy doesn’t play college football, but becomes a coach by simply working through the ranks. He began as a student assistant at Auburn in 2002, became a grad assistant in 2004 for the Tigers, and then followed Chizik to Texas and Iowa State. He paired up with his first coach, Tommy Tuberville, at Cincinnati since 2014 before taking a new job in Denton this year. Safe to say, Koonz has been around college football and seen it all. While he may not have taken the field as a player at Auburn, he’s an Auburn guy for sure. War Eagle Jeff Koonz!
Old Dominion Monarchs
For the longest time, my rooting interest in Old Dominion was because of quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who I went to high school with. Heinicke was the quarterback who put up 790 total yards against New Hampshire in 2012 (while ODU was still FCS), which was an NCAA record at the time, and he has since gone on to play for the Minnesota Vikings.
But how can I connect Old Dominion to Auburn football? Well… Let’s see… Old Dominion (the band) was the opening act for Music and Miracles in 2016? Technically, Old Dominion played in Jordan-Hare.
In case you’re a junkie that needs your college football fix as soon as possible, Rice and Stanford go to Sydney, Australia to play their opening game on August 26th. And if you’re reading a C-USA preview in early July trying to find out why you should care about Rice football, you most definitely are a junkie. We’re only 51 days away.
Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Southern Miss is another one of those schools which has some history and the ability to field a team that’s a legitimate threat to most power conference schools in any given year. That being said, while Auburn and Southern Miss likely won’t cross paths this year, the Golden Eagles do come to Auburn in 2018 and 2020. Consider checking them out this year for some early scouting. They host Kentucky on opening weekend and go to Tennessee in November this year if you want to catch them against stronger opponents.
UTEP and Auburn have never played, and the Miners very rarely venture into SEC territory at all. However, they have one of the best views from their stadium in college football, save the Rose Bowl and the schools set in the Rockies. Take a look for yourself.
The Roadrunners employ former Auburn center Ryan Pugh as their offensive line coach. I know Pugh has varying degrees of support around the Auburn internet (and quite a bit of vitriol from LSU fans), but he’s another former Auburn player on an FBS staff. I’ll leave it there.
Western Kentucky has made its name as a team which puts up boatloads of points. They were #6 nationally in PPG in 2014, #3 in 2015, and #1 in 2016. Although they’re breaking in a new coach (again) in Mike Sanford, it hasn’t slowed them down in the past. They don’t really play any strong defenses in the C-USA, so look for the Hilltoppers to put up points like it’s nothing once again in 2017.