Or you can call it Super Sun Belt or Sun Belt Squared or something equally stupid. 40 years from now when the upper echelon teams have broken off from Division 4 to create Division 5 (after leaving FBS for Division 4 30 years earlier), we will look back at conference re-alignment and wonder why the fuck we even bothered since it seems almost entire conferences tended to move up (see C-USA to the Big Least, Sun Belt to the C-US of A, several FCS conferences to the Colonial, etc.).
Now just like last year, the conference prediction order was done by random draw (kind of like that Price is Right game where you pick the chips out of the bowl…I’ll think of the name in three months I’m sure). Last year, Conference USA ended up as the last set of predictions. This year, they will be #1 (in predictions, not as a conference because, well, come on, seriously?). So here are the predictions.
- Marshall Thundering Herd (8-0 conference, 12-0 overall) – This is not even in doubt. One of the best mid-major (do they still use that term?) coaches in Doc Halliday, a dark horse Heisman contender in Rakeem “The College Football Playoff Dream” Cato (OK I will stop with the Berman-esque bullshit), and a schedule fitting of the finest team…of the Ivy League. This should be like playing NCAA Football (RIP) on Freshman with all the sliders at max.
- Florida Atlantic Owls (5-3 conference, 6-6 overall) – And the winner of the consolation prize goes to Bo Pelini’s (potentially crazy) brother’s former team. Things are looking up in Boca Raton however; a much more stable team than last year’s plus a new bowl game on campus. How soon until they beat the Gators?
- Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (4-4 conference, 6-6 overall) – Probably easily the second-best team in the division but with a much tougher schedule having to go to Marshall, ODU, and up-and-comer UTEP, along with non-conference tilts against Minnesota and BYU. Wait for this team next year as that should be their best chance to win the division.
- Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (3-5 conference, 4-8 overall) – To answer your question, yes, I do believe losing Fun Bobby Petrino will be a huge loss. A decimated defense won’t help either. Either the offense has to start playing Mike Leach football or they may not even make it to four wins.
- Old Dominion Monarchs (2-6 conference, 4-8 overall) – Welcome the newbie to the conference by kicking their ass. That’s what usually happens. But hold on there, fella. Taylor Heinicke, he of the 730-yard passing game two seasons ago, should keep the Monarchs (who have a fantastic logo by the way) competitive. However, if you think WKU’s defense looks bad, they look like the 2000 Baltimore Ravens compared to this outfit which would struggle in the FCS.
- UAB Blazers (2-6 conference, 3-9 overall) – If I had a vote to move a single team down to FCS (and don’t worry…I will never have a vote on anything college football related after last year’s predictions), I would pick the Blazers. Just a school with a football team in disarray. Horribly massive broken down stadium, terrible team that hasn’t been relevant since starting in Division 1-A, and a team that is forgotten everywhere outside of campus (and probably in many sections on campus). I hate seeing a team have so many issues so the hope is that a new coach can turn things around in Birmingham.
- FIU Golden Panthers (0-8 conference, 2-10 overall) – The worst offensive team in the nation last season. And they won’t be much better this season. Which is horrible for two reasons: One, in a sport where offense is much more important than it’s pro counterpart, the Panthers are brutal and Two, I am sure they show up on CBS Sports Network at least once this season and it might be painful to watch.
- UTSA Roadrunners (7-1 conference, 9-3 overall) – Normally being predicted the weaker division’s winner just to have your ass handed to you in the conference championship game is not a fun thing to be. But for a team that has only been around for three years, this is a coup. Finally, UTSA will be in the national spotlight, at least twice; C-USA title game and a bowl game potentially in their own state (since there are approximately 250 bowl games in the state of Texas this year). Larry Coker has spun his magic yet again. Don’t expect him to be railroaded out of this job for Randy Shannon (see how well that worked out?).
- North Texas Mean Green (6-2 conference, 9-3 overall) – Dan McCarney has done a masterful job in the Mean Green’s move from the Sun Belt to Conference USA. He has brought the team back to their, um, glory? of their four straight Sun Belt titles. They should be considered one of a few teams who could win the west. It could come down to their final week game against the Roadrunners in San Antonio.
- Rice Owls (6-2 conference, 8-4 overall) – Finally, the smartest team (academically) in the conference came through with their first conference title in almost half a century. So to celebrate they lose one of the best QBs they have ever had in Taylor McHargue, and their team MVP in running back Charles Ross. If they can figure out who to put in those two spots as more than fill-ins, they may have a shot to get back to the conference title game.
- Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (6-2 conference, 7-5 overall) – I made a big mistake picking them to win the conference last year and they were mediocre (at best). LaTech comes back this year stronger and looking to shake up the west division. The one reason they would be tied for second is their incredibly easy conference schedule since they are a step down from the top three.
- UTEP Miners (3-5 conference, 4-8 overall) – They will finally see some improvement in El Paso this season after a few seasons of terrible ball. I would consider them as an outside shot for a bowl game if it wasn’t for the depth in the division.
- Southern Miss Golden Eagles (0-8 conference, 1-11 overall) – Has there been a worse FBS team the past two seasons than the Golden Eagles? I said it last year and I will say it again this year…this team sorely misses Larry Fedora on the sideline. Expect another brutal season in Hattiesburg as this team has to somehow find a way to get back to being more than just somewhat relevant in Conference USA (which they were under Fedora and his predecessor Jeff Bower).
Gee, I wonder who I think will win the conference championship game? This Marshall team should be the one team selected to take part in the College Football Playoff Bowlapalooza Extravaganza thing from the poor, poor Group of Five. Expect Cato to get some Heisman consideration and people wondering what it will take for one of these teams from the lesser conferences to get a shot in the semis.
3 Strikes! That’s the game. 3 Strikes. I knew I’d remember. It’s just like that. Except infinitely worse. And no car.