There are giant economic forces that exert greater control over the fate of the league’s 14 teams than any one weekend’s worth of wins can do. This weekend is an opportunity to slowly change the fortunes of the conference, putting a little more shine on the sprawling collection of teams.
Houston famously beat Oklahoma to open the season a couple of years back that spurred conversation about a Power Six but that did little for UCF last season. Tom Herman got a job and Ed Oliver became a household name, but little has changed since then. Oklahoma is still a big dog, and Houston is still a G5 school.
None of this is to say that winning will be ineffectual, but we must be realistic about the prize and the cost. The bookies say the Fighting’ Lanes are 21 point dogs and while that is infinitely reasonable, it does not feel good to have the conference’s best team be such such underdogs. That the team that absolutely dominated — FAU beat otherwise league-undefeated North Texas 110-48 and put up 1436 yards in two games — this league and if our best is 21-points away from the Big 12’s best how far is Charlotte?
At some level we all know the answer. It is not really hidden. Every team in CUSA is second or third best in their respective state at best in various categories: legislative support, donor support, fan support, sponsorships etc.
Producing a successful football program is incredibly difficult and even all the support in the world guarantees nothing. The University of Texas is awash in cash, support, t-shirt fans, and has produced a decade’s worth of awful results.
The difficulty is what makes winning so fun.
This season, the talent — on-field and coaching — is good and the schedule is favorable. Florida Atlantic is bringing back much of the squad that tore through the conference last season and what better time to take on Oklahoma than a year after they lose their Heisman candidate?
The one thing that can overcome a talent disadvantage is clever gameplanning. Lincoln Riley is a good coach and an offensive wunderkind, but so is Lane Kiffin.
The eyes of the entire league will be on Norman, but there are some other intriguing matchups as we begin the newest college football season.
All times Central.
Thursday Savannah St. at UAB — 7pm ESPN+
UAB opens with a soft game in which they can flex their muscles a bit while getting ready to show everyone that last year was not a fluke. Look for a dominant run game.
Friday WKU at Wisconsin — 8pm ESPN
Time was that WKU was the team the entire league was resting hopes upon. In two short seasons Mike Sanford has a middling East squad that cannot get out of its own way. Mike White is gone, and the run game needs to be rebuilt. Wisconsin on the other hand, is a good team with designs on winning the Big Ten (they are +225 to win the league). This does not bode well for the Toppers.
FAU at Oklahoma — 11am FOX Sports
A competitive showing would do wonders for everyone.
Houston at Rice — 11am CBS Sports Network
The Bayou Bucket is going to be lopsided. Bloomgren’s Owls have had a game to work things out, and has league film of Kendall Briles’ offense. Unfortunately Ed Oliver and the talent disparity for the Cougars will be too much to overcome. Old Southwest Conference foes in this one.
Marshall at Miami (Ohio) — 2:30pm ESPN+
Marshall are betting favorites to finish just behind FAU in the East, and The Redhawks are picked to finish fourth in the MAC. This should be a win for Doc Holiday’s boys if they are who everyone thinks they are.
Fordham at Charlotte — 5pm ESPN+
This normally would be an easy win for a conference mate but the 49ers lost to North Carolina A&T. Head coach Brad Lambert is on the hottest of seats and is hoping new coordinators will do the job for him. We are skeptical.
ODU at Liberty — 5pm ESPN3
Ed Miller of the Virginian-Pilot speculated at the potential between these in-state schools. Could we see the beginnings of a rivalry or something like it? The Flames are nearby and in a league that extends from El Paso to Florida an north to Kentucky, that is a nice thing to have.
Jackson St. at Southern Miss — 6pm ESPN+
Jack Abraham makes his debut for the Golden Eagles in what should be a straightforward win. With so many new faces in black-and-gold, this is a good warm-up game to get things right. The talent should push USM over the top, but they can’t approach this like a guaranteed win.
Indiana at FIU — 6pm CBS Sports Network
A few years back Indiana lost at North Texas. The Hoosiers are picked to finish fifth of seven in the Big Ten East, a tough division. This has upset written on it if the QB situation (Christian Alexander or James Morgan) figure things out and the defense can be as stout as it was at times last season. Butch Davis is a good coach and has brought talent to FIU.
Louisiana Tech at South Alabama — 6pm ESPN+
The West division favorite brings a deep squad of players eager to right the wrongs of last season. The development over an offseason should be enough to change those one-and-two possession losses into wins this season. J’Mar Smith should be better, and he was solid last year.
Middle Tennessee at Vandy — 6:30pm SEC Network ALT
MTSU goes as Kid Stockstill goes. That is not unusual for a program at this level, but it has been an issue for the Blue Raiders getting to some other level. They once were the class of the league and now are somewhere in the middle tier. On their day, they can compete with the G5’s best, at anything else, there are questions. I do not know that Vandy will be ready to be upset.
SMU at North Texas — 6:30pm Stadium
North Texas has lost three straight to SMU, the ‘rival’ from down the road in Dallas. The Mean Green are celebrating things by staging a wrestling match at Apogee Stadium afterward. The bill sounds like something out of 1930, and that brings its own level of charm. This will be an Air Raid battle, but North Texas has the more experienced group in the system and is at home. That should put things over the top for the Mean Green.
Northern Arizona at UTEP – 6:30pm ESPN3
UTEP is doing a complete rebuild and there will be a lot of difficult games before anything gets better. The talent level was at a nadir — which happens when the coach quits and losses mount — and Dana Dimel will need time to build it back up. Northern Arizona might get the W on this day and that would not be a surprise at all.
UTSA at Arizona State — 9:30pm FS1
The interesting part of this game is on the Sun Devil sideline, where “CEO” head coach Herm Edwards begins his reign. UTSA will have something like an advantage as everyone is years into this program even though there are new faces getting playing time. UTSA will start Cordale Grundy after a QB battle that had Frank Wilson considering four options. The Roadrunners have two new coordinators and are missing an NFLer. Wilson is not quite on any hot seat and will not be for the foreseeable future, but for all they hype he got two seasons ago, he has yet to produce a season worth bragging about.