Preseason Power Rankings: Conference USA

Please note that power rankings are meant to rank teams based on current team strength on a neutral field. It is not necessarily a projection of where I think teams will finish or who has a better resume. It is forward thinking but does not factor in strength of schedule, schedule breakdown, etc.

ICYMI Other Conference Preseason Power Rankings:

Mountain West
Sun Belt

2022 Conference USA Preseason Power Rankings

  1. UAB: UAB has established themselves as one of the most consistent G5 programs in the country. They are coming off a down year (by their lofty standards) in which they finished 9-4, and missed out the on CUSA title game by losing in the last minute to UTSA, but rallied to beat BYU in their bowl game. They have a lot coming back this year. On offense, they return 8 starters including QB Dylan Hopkins who is coming off a strong 2021 season. He was unable to play this Spring due to an injury, so former 4-star Baylor transfer Jacob Zeno got the reps. Both look like strong options for the Blazers in 2022. They also return their stud RB duo of McBride & Brown, big play WR Trea Shropshire, and 3 OL starters. Their defense was #1 in the conference last year and returns 8 starters, but will have to find replacements for their two stud edge rushers that they lost. A surprise came a few weeks ago when established head coach Bill Clark announced he was suddenly retiring due to health reasons. Clark had established himself as a quality coach. He is being replaced in the interim by OC Bryant Vincent. I listened to a few podcasts about this, and beat writer Evan Dudley seems to think UAB will be able to weather this sudden change okay. They have a lot of talent coming back on offense and having a more offensive-minded head coach may come with its advantages.
  2. UTSA: The Roadrunners we’re the G5 darling in 2021 as they surprised many with a Conference USA championship. Head Coach Jeff Traylor was a hot name in the coaching search rumors and the former Texas high school football coach was rewarded with a $28 million dollar extension through the 2031 season. This year they lose conference player of the year RB Sincere McCormick and NFL OT Spencer Buford but they still have plenty of talent coming back. They return 13 starters – 8 on offense and 5 on defense. QB Frank Harris is back and is my #1 QB in the conference. He is coming off a 3,177 yard 27 TD-6 INT season. He battled injuries early in his career, but if he can stay healthy he is a dangerous dual threat QB. He also has 4 returning OL and his dangerous trio of senior WR back. They also added Arkansas transfer RB Trelon Smith who should help replace McCormick. On defense they return 5 of their 7 top tacklers. They will once again be one of the better teams in the conference, but Traylor will have to navigate a really difficult opening non-conference schedule of Houston, @ Army, and @ Texas as well as the target on their back as the reigning conference champions. It’s very possibly they could be a better team than last year, with a worse record as result of their schedule.
  1. Western Kentucky: Western Kentucky was a team we correctly identified last year during our preseason conference previews as a fun team that would play a ton of high scoring games with the addition of QB Bailey Zappe from Houston Baptist. All Zappe did was throw for 62 TD & 5,967 yardsd en route to a conference championship game appearance and a 59-38 bowl game win vs. Appalachian State. The Hilltoppers put up 44.2 ppg, 536 ypg, and we’re #1 in the conference at +139 ypg last year. This year Zappe is gone, along with their top WR and offensive coordinator. Last year’s QB Coach Arbuckle, who was the right hand man of the OC in 2021, will take over the play calling duties in 2022. He is familiar with the system and will have a couple nice QB options in veteran Western Virginia transfer Jarret Doege & D2 National Title winner Austin Reed. They lose a lot on offense but the system is strong and they have some talent in the QB room. The defense should be solid this year as they have Phil Steele’s #3 DL, #2 LB, and #2 DB in the conference.
  1. UTEP: UTEP continued their rebuild with a nice 7-5 season and a trip to a bowl game in 2021. While none of those 7 wins came against a team with a winning record, this was still a really nice season considering how bad they’ve been in previous years and a big step in the right direction. By going to a bowl game, they got the benefit of getting the extra bowl practices for the first time in 8 years. That will come in handy as they have many players coming back this year. They return 7 starters on offense, including QB Gavin Hardison. He loses his top 2 WR who combined for about 70% of the receptions last year, but he does have a strong RB duo of Awatt & Hankins back who combined for over 13K yards and 12 TD in 2021 despite battling injuries. They look to have a strong offensive line as well. The defense returns 8 starters. This looks like a team that will play physical football with Phil Steele’s #1 DL, #2 LB, and #4 OL units in the conference. I like the Miners this year.
  1. North Texas: UNT had a brutal 1-6 start to the 2021 season, before rattling off 5 straight wins (3 on the road) to save HC Seth Littrell’s job for the time being and earn a trip to a bowl. This is a make or break year for Littrell who still finds himself on the hot seat with his contract coming to an end soon. The Mean Green return 4 starters on the OL which is probably the best in the conference. They we’re the #5 rushing team in the Nation last year and allowed only 15 sacks (8th fewest in the FBS). Their winning streak coincided with Littrell moving away from the pass happy style he likes and leaning more heavily on his offensive line. I would expect that approach to continue this year. He returns both QBs from last year, Austin Aune & Jace Rudder, who combined for more INT (14) than TD (12) in 2021. They also bring in a transfer QB from Arizona Grant Gunnell who has intriguing upside. For now, Littrell has said it’s Aune’s job until somebody takes it from him. The skill positions are a bit of a blank canvas aside from WR Roderic Burns with lots of players coming in from the transfer portal or coming back from injury. The defense returns only 3 starters and has a depleted defensive line when the twin brothers (who combined for 15.5 sacks & 26.5 TFL) transferred to UCLA. They do have LB KD Davis back, who flirted with the transfer portal before returning. He had 121 tackles in 2022. Overall, this is a team that has a strong OL but needs to figure out the QB position and has a pretty solid back 7 on defense, but needs to figure out the DL.
  1. FAU: After a hot start to the 2021 season, the Owls limped to the finish line and missed out on a bowl game. They are two seasons into the Willie Taggart tenure and only have a 10-11 record to show for it – considered a disappointment by many after the success that Lane Kiffin had there. For the 3rd year in a row they will be brining in a new offensive and defensive coordinator. Miami transfer QB N’Kosi Perry is back for his 2nd season with FAU and will once again be learning a new system. At times he has showed flashes of being great, but often seems to hover around mediocrity. Hopefully the 15 Spring practices in the new OC’s system will help him. Along with Perry, they also return their top RB, top 2 WR, and 4 OL (and also added a transfer from Rutgers). The defense loses 6 of their 7 top tacklers from 2021, but do have 6 starters back and also added some key transfers. FAU is considered to be one of the more talented teams in CUSA, but it’s time for their play on the field to reflect that.
  1. Middle Tennessee State: MTSU has been a consistently solid program, winning 6-8 wins in 8 of their last 10 seasons. They haven’t been great, but they’ve been solid. Last year they rallied despite losing QB Cunningham to a torn ACL to go 4-2 down the stretch and earn a trip to a bowl where they beat Toledo. This year they have a new offensive coordinator who will transition the Blue Raiders from a spread team to an air raid team. QB Cunningham is back but they have to a patch-work Offensive Line in front of him. That unit was hit hard in the transfer portal and will have to rely on starting some JUCO guys immediately. The defense led the FBS in takeaways/game and defensive TDs last year but they lose a ton from their secondary. While the D-Line still looks strong, they will need to figure out the back 7.
  1. Charlotte: The 49ers finished 5-7 in 2021 and ended up losing by an average of 23 points in their last 5 losses. A tough finish after a promising start to the season. They brought in a new defensive coordinator after the defense collapsed down the stretch and they have 6 starters back on that side of the ball, but still have plenty of work to do. Things look a little better on offense. 5th year QB Chris Reynolds is back, who is the school’s all-time passing leader with 7,726 yards & 62 TD. He has an experienced group of skill players coming back with him for an offense that averaged 29.3 ppg in league games last season. An interesting tidbit is that HC Will Healy has really struggled on the road during his time at Charlotte, going only 4-13. That will be worth keeping an eye on.
  1. Louisiana Tech: After a 3-9 season in 2021 the Bulldogs let HC Skip Holtz go. They brought in Mike Leach protégé Sonny Crumble who will bring the air raid system to the program. They return a total of 14 starters, but will need to find a new QB and implement a new system on offense. While the defense does return 8 starters, it’s from a unit that allowed 34+ points in 9 games last year. They will have to learn a new scheme and don’t have much of a track record to fall back on. This feels like a Year 0 developmental season for Crumble to me.
  1. Rice: Rice won 4 games in 2021 giving the Owls their first 4 win season since 2015. They hope to continue their upward trajectory in 2022 with 14 returning starters; 7 on each side of the ball. The offense averaged only 21.5 ppg last season and really struggled to keep their QB healthy as they had QBs leave the game with injuries 6 times last year. QB’s Green & McMahon both played last year and split the reps this spring. They do have 4 starters back on the OL, so hopefully they can keep those guys healthy this year. They run a pro style offense with several Fullback & 2 TE sets with the philosophy of “pound the rock, control the clock.” It makes sense considering their defense gave up 36.2 ppg last year. They want to keep that unit off the field and limit possessions.
  1. Florida International: This was an easy pick for last. The panthers are coming off a 1-11 (0-8) season in which they were -171 in ypg and now have only 10 returning starters. The program was a mess season and new HC Mike MacIntyre (Memphis DC) has a lot of work cut out for him. This feels like another year 0 type situation where he just needs to clean up the culture and anything they accomplish on the field will be a bonus. They brought in Duke transfer QB Gunner Holmberg to run the offense and they do have 1K WR Tyrese Chambers coming back. The defense allowed 491 ypg & 39.7 ppg last year.

7 thoughts on “Preseason Power Rankings: Conference USA

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