8/2 9:05pm: A case for Conference USA #Stinktown teams
Conference USA is just massive to try to cover collectively, so we'll do the more fun stuff tomorrow, but for tonight, I want to make a case for some of the just awful teams in the conference to get a little bit better. These are 3 win-total overs I am playing. Now, 3 win-total overs is a little counter-intuitive because CFB is, for the most part, a zero-sum game. If teams in the conference are getting better, someone has to get worse. I'm pretty sure Western Kentucky and one or two other teams are going to absorb some of those losses among other teams, but we'll get to that tomorrow. For now, a glass-half-full approach to terrible football teams
UTEP ov....just kidding. They're still awful. Maybe 3 wins, but yikes. Big rebuild.
Rice over 3.5 +100
Here we go! Love Rice. Love 'em. Love 'em so much that this # was 3 -140 last week and I didn't bet it and now I'm really mad that I have to eat this half win. Oh well. Here are some things to know about Rice: they have reasonable academic standards, so that immediately puts them behind the 8-ball with anything involving athletics. In an attempt to create an atmosphere that can appropriately deal with that, they brought in a head coach from Stanford, which makes a lot of sense. The good news is, the Stanford style should actually be pretty effective here with 4 returning lineman and a solid running game. The conversion to that type of football could take effect quickly and effectively. They are one of the few teams in the conference with a returning QB I actually like, another plus. Yes, they had basically the worst defense in the FBS last year, but nowhere to go but up, right? They at least have a potentially-competent DC this year who was Michigan's DB coach last year. Talent analysis aside, it's a lot about who Rice plays. UTSA might really be awful. They get UTSA at home. Hawaii might be one of the worst 10 teams in the country, a total rebuild (and they're QB unexpectedly bolted to Oklahoma State) and Rice goes to Hawaii Week 3. Throw in the auto-win over Prarie View in Week 1 and I'm basically there already. Some wiggle room with games against FIU and UAB, 2 teams I have a really hard time figuring out this year, and volatility breeds possible results. A very real chance that home vs ODU in the final week decides it, although I also really like ODU which you'll see a little further down. Anyway, I think their average season here is probably 4-8 more than anything, and I'm taking the over.
Charlotte over 3.5 +105
I had a really nice paragraph written about all the things I like about Charlotte this year, but before I published it I wanted to make sure their transfer QB from Miami was still...you know...going to be here. In the process of confirming that, I stumbled upon the most absurd news story I've ever seen announcing the transfer. This thing takes a DARK turn. It's incredible that this wasn't taken down immediately and re-tooled.
Anyway, I'll give a more abbreviated view of Charlotte now: 19 returning starters + Miami transfer QB who seems poised for success due to system + really bad luck with injuries and 1-score games last year. Defensive returning production, especially in the secondary, is generally a great predictor of improvement the following year, and this team has that in spades. The number is only 3.5. They get an auto-win against Fordham, and host Western Kentucky who I think might be really bad this year. They host Southern Miss which is a deceivingly close game in my opinion because of how much Southern Miss lost. The projections for this team are atrocious spread-wise but I really think all the factors point to a bounce-back, and I could see several of the conference-game spreads flipping dramatically. Over.
Old Dominion over 5.5 -105
Another team that got just massacred by injuries last year. One of my largest plays of the season was North Carolina against them mid-season when ODU's injury report was somehow twice as long as UNC's by that time (an incredible accomplishment really). They played much better towards the end of last season, which always gets my attention. They started a 17-year-old QB last year who almost has to take a step forward after getting that much experience and performing reasonably well. There are only 3 auto-losses on the schedule -- non-con against Virginia Tech and then vs FAU and Marshall who will both be really good again. They scheduled Liberty, East Carolina and VMI in the rest of their non-conference slate, a great chance for 3 wins. A lot of the other games are toss-ups, and at Western Kentucky is projected to be their next toughest game after the 3 losses, and again, I really don't like Western Kentucky this year. I think barring terrible injury luck for consecutive years, you'll see 6 wins and a bowl game here, possibly a little more. Over.