CFB Prognosis for Fall 2020 – CUSA
Beginning August 20th, I will be writing a 2020 prognosis, by conference, for each of the 76 teams (6 conferences plus Independents), who are scheduled to play Football in the Fall of 2020.
CUSA – EAST
WESTERN KENTUCKY Hilltoppers
Western Kentucky “topped out” in the 3 years under former HC Brohm. His 3 year regime concluded with a combined mark of 23-5 SU in 2015 and 2016. It was good enough to land him the Purdue job. Enter Mike Sanford who performed as expected by this bureau. The Tops 2 year record under Sanford was a combined 9-16 SU. To be honest, I expected more of the same when virgin HC Helton took over the reins last season. He surprised this bureau with a record of 9-4 SU, ATS culminating with a Bowl victory over Western Michigan. Most surprising was the major improvement of the defense which allowed just 20/335. The emergence of Arkansas grad transfer QB Story, since departed, was a pleasant surprise. This year, the offensive fortunes will most probably rest on the shoulders of oft injured Maryland transfer QB Pigrome. Should he fail, look for experienced backup Thomas to carry the load. Regardless it will be that greatly improved defense who returns 9 who will lead the Hilltoppers in their quest for CUSA superiority.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE Blue Raiders
Little was expected of MTSU in 2019 when they lost 4 year starter QB Stockstill who had led them to 4 consecutive Bowl games. With just 10 returning starters, they dropped to 4-8 SU. This year, I expect a bounce back season in the 15th year for HC Stockstill. With a pair of veteran signal callers returning in QB O’Hara and QB Cunningham, the 9 returning offensive starters should easily surpass the 26 PPG of LY. Their performance will be aided by an OL who returns 4 who were all first year starters last season. Though MTSU had zero spring practices, they have a veteran coaching staff who will respond to that challenge. Keep an eye on their defensive performance whose improvement will flash a buy sign.
FLORIDA ATLANTIC Owls
The 3 year run of former HC Lane Kiffin concluded with a 11-3 SU, 10-3 ATS record in 2019. It was good enough to get him the job at Mississippi. To replace him, Florida Atlantic gambled on the services of former Oregon and Florida State HC Willlie Taggart. Taggart claimed that FSU was his dream job. But he led them to a pair of losing seasons (after 42 consecutive winning years) with an overall record of 11-14 SU. Question going forward is not only his ability, but his motivation after receiving an $18 million dollar buyout from Florida State. That being said, FAU must take the field in 2021 with a pair of new coordinators and no spring practices. If there is strength, it will most probably be an offense that returns 6 led by QB Robison, an Oklahoma transfer. Major issue will be a defense who returns just 3 starters playing with new defensive schemes. In my opinion, this is clearly a watch and see team as I evaluate their performance in the early going.
MARSHALL Thundering Herd
The Herd are yet another team whose offensive expectations are greater than those of the defense. The attack will be led by QB Green who starts for a third season after showing limited improvement last year. The good news is he will be operating behind an OL that has 5 seniors with 126 starts. Issues could potentially be on the defensive side of the ball where the Herd returns just 4 starters to a unit that has allowed more PPG in each of the two previous seasons. 11th year HC Holliday returns at the helm with a coaching profile that is worth following. In the past 4 seasons, his Herd have gone 4-12 ATS as home chalk but 10-3 ATS as road dog. Last year, Holliday lost his 1st Bowl game ever dropping his mark to 6-1 SU, ATS in Bowl games.
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL Panthers
To the surprise of few, 4th year HC Butch Davis has strengthened the recruiting in Miami. Along with his experienced coaching, with stops at Miami FL, North Carolina and the Cleveland Browns, his Panthers have gone Bowling all 3 seasons. That record could be tough to match as he will need to rely on some highly regarded transfers to make up the slack with only 10 returning starters. One of those transfers is from Maryland in the person of QB Bortenschlager. With zero spring practices and having failed to capture a road victory in 6 tries last season, Davis will need to work all his magic if the Panthers are to return to their 4th consecutive Bowl. Role to respect is that of home dog as Davis stands a perfect 6-0 ATS in that role.
2nd year HC Will Healy outperformed even the high expectations with which he arrived. He had just finished turning around the program at Austin Peay. The Govs went 8-4 SU in his 2nd season after going 1-45 SU in the previous 4 years. Charlotte struggled prior to the arrival of Healy going 12-36 SU since coming on the Big Board. To the surprise of many, Healy led the 9ers to a 5-3 SU conference mark, 7 total wins, and a first ever Bowl Bid. The 7 returning starters include QB Reynolds who led the 9ers to 30/412 on offense. Compare that to 14/303 in 2017. Their 13 overall returning starters will be playing with the incredible momentum of a season-ending 5-0 SU conference run, with 3 of those wins by double digits. No surprise to this bureau if the 9ers again outperform expectations.
OLD DOMINION Monarchs
Opted out of the 2020 Season
CUSA – WEST
No better story in CUSA, or perhaps the Nation, than this UAB saga. Shutting down the football program in 2015/16 led to low expectations as they returned to the gridiron for the 2017 season. Their projected lack of success was underestimating 5th year HC Clark. In the last 3 seasons, 5th year HC Clark has led them to a record of 28-13 SU, 24-13 ATS. Note the excellence when playing at Legion Field where the Blazers are 12-2 ATS at home the previous 3 seasons. Expect the excellence to continue this year. They have a pair of veteran signal callers in QB Johnston and Hopkins leading the way for 9 returning starters on the offensive side of the ball. Adding to that experience is 76% of their lettermen returning. In a league where 9 of the teams had no spring practices, this veteran squad had 6. The defense led the way last season allowing just 22/304. That should be the case once again this year as it is the best stop unit in the league. Blazers are the best in the West with a great coach and plenty of quality experience.
SOUTHERN MISS Golden Eagles
Under 5th year HC Hopson, the Eagles have posted a winning record each season. This year’s team is led by an offense who, with 8 returning starters including QB Abraham, should surpass the 27/408 output of last season. That veteran unit leads a team who is among the most experienced in the league. 6 returning defensive starters will look to once again repeat their excellence at the point of attack where, in the last two seasons, they have allowed just 109/3.4 overland. Golden Eagles could well be the best in the West behind UAB.
LA TECH Bulldogs
With just 8 returning starters, and only 2 on the defensive side of the ball, where they allowed just 22 PPG last year, little will be expected of LA Tech this season. Adding to that line of thinking, is the fact that 8th year HC Holtz has only 59% of the lettermen returning, has two new coordinators, and a team with zero spring practices. Overlooking a Holtz coached team however, would be a mistake. That is especially true because they may often be an underdog this season. That is where Holtz has done his best work including a record in the previous 3 seasons of 9-3 ATS as road dog. In the past, Holtz has done some of his best work coaching inexperienced teams. This year is just such a case where they may be in the bottom 10% of returning production.
NORTH TEXAS Mean Green
It looked like 5th year HC Seth Littrell was upwardly mobile. He coached the Mean Green to a record of 18-9 SU in 2017/18 as they averaged 35 PPG. Despite having a 4th year starter in QB Fine, and 8 returning offensive starters, they dipped to a mark of 4-8 SU, 3-8 ATS. The bottom fell out in November when they finished with 3 consecutive CUSA defeats, a microcosm of their 1-7 ATS finish. Now they look to pick up the pieces with just 6 returning starters on each side of the ball. They must do so with new coordinators and no spring practices. This does not bode well for a team whose coach has lost 10 consecutive non-home games and was 0-6 SU on the road last year. Not much to positively recommend.
Expect the improvement to continue under 3rd year HC Bloomgren for the Rice Owls. There should be little question that this team will continue their improvement on the defensive side of the ball where, in 2019, they improved by 10 points and 63 yards. They now have 10 returning starters back from that unit, buoyed with their best recruiting class in recent seasons and some quality transfers. The offense may once again be an issue. They averaged just 18/295 last season. But with 3 experienced signal callers and the benefit of 9 spring practices, the most in CUSA, there is little doubt in the mind of this bureau that the Owls ascent under Bloomgren will continue.
UTSA Road Runners
Expect UTSA to look more like “road kill” than Road Runners this season. In the final 2 years under HC Wilson, UTSA was outscored by an average of 16 PPG and outgained by an average of 166 YPG. Enter new HC Jeff Traylor who was previously an Associate Head Coach at Texas, SMU and Arkansas. Good news is that the recruiting pipeline may run deep as Traylor was the High School Coach of the Year in Texas no fewer than 4 times. In an attempt to buoy the offense, Traylor has imported New Mexico State grad transfer Josh Atkins who, in 12 starts last year, threw for 63% C and nearly 2600 yards. It appears that Traylor has the background, experience, and coaching staff in place to eventually lift the Road Runners out of the CUSA cellar. But with no spring practices, this is clearly a rebuilding year in San Antonio.
At the conclusion of last season, no team was rated lower than UTEP. Now in the 3rd year under HC Dana Dimel, who has a 2 year record of 2-22 SU, things could actually go from bad to worse. In the previous 2 seasons, UTEP has been outscored by 16 PPG and outgained by 93 YPG. With just 9 returning starters, the hopes are pined on 10 JUCO transfers. Once again this season, UTEP will bring up the rear of the CUSA contingent.
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