Welcome to Summer.
One great thing about college football is that it is the same thing it has always been while being completely different all at the same time. Every June every team is working hard and getting ready to shock the world. Occasionally it happens and we get excited about it. The regularity at which teams fail at achieving this is important because it makes the ones that break through all the more special.
College football means nothing in the greatest scheme of things, and yet watching Brent Stockstill cry in the CUSA Championship post game suggests it means a whole lot.
That is the trick of these games. They are not life-and-death gladiatorial combat, but they go right up to that edge, requiring the dedication, time, money, and attention as if it were.
Let them earn money like everyone else.
Who Wins This Thing?
Let us be clear that not every team is really competing for a title. Sure, they will prepare like that is the goal, but they know deep down that the realistic ceiling is simply competing for a bowl appearance or saving a job.
For others, a league title is almost a requisite to keep the big donors happy. Such is the game.
UAB are your reining champs. More than one coach took a dig at the perceived advantages that the Blazers had in re-starting the program. There are quite a lot of questions about this program at the moment to simply declare them favorites. The offense might have QB upgrade in talent, but does it in leadership? The defense lost a ton, but the run game and the coach remain.
North Texas have the best QB in the league, but are down one play-making receiver and have no defense to support the offense. The offense literally piled up cumulative stats last season but came up short when it mattered against the good teams in this league — Tech, UAB — they faltered. There is a new coordinator and lots of new coaches on this squad.
Louisiana Tech is always a threat because they are always talented. They got in their own way last season and underperformed a ton despite finishing 8-5 with a Hawaii Bowl win. Given the weakness in UAB and UNT, Tech might be good enough to win this thing.
Southern Miss nearly hired Art Briles and saved themselves from further scorn by simply _nearly_ doing it rather than actually pulling the trigger. Jack Abraham is accurate and USM always has playmakers. This might be the team of the season if all those JUCO guys gel a bit more.
UTSA might be good if it can prove that the promotion of Jeff Kastl to OC was not over thinking a one-game performance. The Runners had something like six QBs last year but the one they really wanted — Frank Harris — is back and healthy.
UTEP and Rice are still rebuilding. Both had some nice moments along the way, and both also looked like the worst team in football at times.
Middle snuck themselves into that tile game — and hosted it! — all of which seemed both deserved and undeserved at once. The last chance of Kid Stockstill fell through in a drama-filled moment where he had the chance to go down and move his team in position to score. This team is brand-new and does not have the Kid to guide them any longer.
Marshall were supposed to be really good but could not get over their own offensive woes. They could run the ball seemingly at will but had trouble throwing the ball when they absolutely needed to do so. The tough loss to Southern Miss ruined things but they finished strong against USF.
FIU had it all in front of them. They needed a win over Marshall on the final day to clinch the East. It did not go so well. Still Butch Davis is 17-9, 8-5 in his time. His rival Lane Kiffin is 16-10, 8-5 in his time at FAU. Head-to-head and conference hardware aside, this rebuild is going well for Butch Davis. The Panthers were a play or two away from competing for a conference title and are poised to bring back a good squad this season.
Charlotte has a new coach and a good running back in Benny LeMay. They won some surprise games but it was not enough to save Brad Lambert’s gig.
Speaking of Lane Kiffin, he burned brightly in his first year, hiring/rehabbing Kid Briles and dominating the conference on the way to headlines and a big non-conference matchup against Oklahoma. The last year was hit-and-miss based on the play of his freshman QB. The best running back in school history and a handful of other playmaking talent is gone. Kiffin has always been able to recruit and game plan, and we will see his ability to coach this year.
ODU had a strange season, winning only four games but with a couple of those being some epic, memorable wins. They beat Va Tech in an incredible game and then came back from 21 down against North Texas. Oh, yeah and they had a ridiculous end-game scenario against WKU. The team was built to win last year. So that means this season is likely going to be tough.
Western fired their coach Mike Sanford a year too late but now has Tyson Helton at the helm. He has been in Bowling Green during the recent good times (Brohm) and also coached under some talented offensive coaches. There is still a rebuilding process to deal with here.
Super Early Predication
It looks like Tech vs Southern Miss in the west, and Marshall and FIU in the east. North Texas and maybe FAU are going to make noise but are very limited right now.
Here are the coaches in the league ranked by seniority:
Rick Stockstill, MTSU 14th season
Bobby Wilder, ODU 11th season
Doc Holliday, Marshall 10th season
Skip Holtz, Tech 7th season
Seth Littrell, UNT 4th season
Jay Hopson, USM 4th season
Bill Clark, UAB 4th season
Frank Wilson, UTSA 4th season
Butch Davis, FIU 3rd season
Lane Kiffin, FAU 3rd season
Mike Bloomgren, Rice 2nd season
Dana Dimel, UTEP 2nd season
Tyson Helton, WKU, 1st season
Will Healy, Charlotte 1st season
Bill Clark and Rick Stockstill have their job until they want to leave it. Bobby Wilder has weathered some storms these last few years. Doc Holliday is entrenched. Skip Holtz has won enough to keep the boisterous donors happy. Seth Littrell keeps getting raises and if Denton finds it is not happy with him, some other program will gladly scoop him up.
Jay Hopson may be on some thin ice, but some winning will cure that. He is not paid nearly as well as his peers and that is probably not making him too excited about staying if fortunes put him in the stronger negotiating position.
Butch Davis and Lane Kiffin are having successful rebuilds. One of the twain seems like a more likely candidate for leaving than the other. That leaves Frank Wilson, who started out solidly and the subject of much speculation for SEC gigs. He has since underperformed relative to his roster, and made some questionable coaching hires offensively.
His extension put him under contract until the end of the 2020 season. If things do not go well this year, I wonder if UTSA will eat that money and move on.
Everyone is talking about Mason Fine — he is the best returning QB and is entering his senior season looking to break program records or extend ones he already has. His team will be even more reliant on his ability and he should be in line for big numbers. However . . . that seems a bit too easy.
Fine finally succumbed to the beatings he took all season in the bowl game. That made two seasons in his three that he was injured during or before the bowl game. He also took a hurting in the 2017 New Orleans Bowl as well.
Look for James Morgan, Jack Abraham, or J’Mar Smith to steal some awards from Fine.
The league added the NFL Network but the real attention is going to come from non-conference wins. North Texas beat a really bad Arkansas team and there are some beatable P5s.
North Texas at California is interesting. FAU and UCF is also. There are other big names on the schedule but not a whole lot of realistic win probability.