Can UAB Lead The Way In Conference USA West?
The coming year promises a Conference USA East Division in which Florida Atlantic and Western Kentucky will battle for the title. The West looks like a three-team race with no overwhelmingly strong favorite. Let’s take a closer look at the futures here as the season approaches.
The Blazers are the favorite in the division because they replaced eight of 11 starters on defense last year and were great… and now return nearly all of those eight starters this year. This team should have the best defense in Conference USA. It tries to run the ball and brings back a veteran offensive line. The big question is at quarterback. If UAB gets merely decent, low-turnover play under center – without any big game-changing mistakes – that might be enough to win the division under coach Bill Clark, who is widely regarded as the best coach in the conference.
The Bulldogs lost their offensive and defensive coordinators, who left for other jobs. Head coach Skip Holtz has to replace a starting quarterback from last season and most of his secondary, plus a majority of the starters on his offensive line. There are a lot of holes on this roster, but Louisiana Tech has a reputation for patching up its weaknesses and regularly managing to win seven or eight games a season. If the Bulldogs can maintain that standard and win one game they are expected to lose, they could steal the division title.
The Golden Eagles, unlike Louisiana Tech, return their starting quarterback from 2019. That’s a big plus. They bring back nearly everyone on the two-deep from their 2019 offensive line group. They are weak at running back, but with their line play expected to be strong, they have a good foundation. Most but not all of their defensive starters return, though there are some important losses in the secondary. If the running backs and wide receivers can be reasonably good, the Golden Eagles should finish no worse than second, battling UAB for the division crown.
Head coach Seth Littrell fired his two coordinators from 2019 and replaced them. He will have to replace his 2019 quarterback and most of his secondary. A lot of dislocation and disruption have been the recent themes for the Mean Green, who are in a state of transition rather than loading up for a push at a division and conference championship. UNT’s main goal is to build for 2021 rather than to vie for a title this season. Patience is the name of the game in Denton, Texas.
The Owls of Florida Atlantic, over in the East Division of Conference USA, are offense-rich and defense-poor. The Owls of Rice University in C-USA’s West Division are offense-poor and defense-rich. Rice returns its elite defensive forces but has a very bare cupboard on offense. Against teams of equal quality and skill, Rice might do well, but the especially strong offensive teams in the conference – while not dominating the Owls’ defense – are going to get too many cracks at the ball. They will eventually outscore Rice’s meager offense and limit what the Houston-based school can do this season.
The Roadrunners tried out three different quarterbacks last season, but none of them were especially good, an alarming sign for the year to come. The offensive and defensive lines return mostly intact, but the lack of a proven throw-and-catch connection in the passing game, plus uncertainty at linebacker, leave UTSA with a lot more questions than answers for first-year head coach Jeff Traylor. This is a rebuilding project combined with a “get to know the new coach” adventure. It is hardly the kind of season which sets up for a real division title run.
The Miners have gone 2-22 over the past two seasons and have a third-year coach, Dana Dimel, who is just beginning to weed out the rosters he inherited while trying to teach the players he has personally recruited. There’s a reason the Miners are buried at the bottom of the odds list, with no real chance at the division title.