UAB abandoned football at the conclusion of the 2014 season, but returned with a vengeance in 2017. The squad finished the regular season 8-4 went on to make the school's second-ever bowl appearance. But for all the success had by UAB, the story of the year in CUSA was written in Boca Raton where Lane Kiffin led FAU to the conference championship in his first season as the Owls' head coach.
By finishing 2017 with a resounding 41-17 home win over North Texas in the title game, and then crushing Akron 50-3 at home in the Boca Raton Bowl, FAU will begin 2018 on a 10-game winning streak. But don't expect that streak to reach 11 as FAU's first task is a road trip to Oklahoma as a 26.58-point underdog. To many, the big shocker may come in week 2 when Air Force goes to FAU as a 20.59-point underdog. That victory is projected to be the first of 12 in-a-row, carrying right on through another home conference title game win over North Texas.
FAU's road to a second straight East division, and Conference USA, title will be met with some resistance. The top three teams in the division are separated by no more than 7.24 power points and the top 5 are all potentially destined for the bowl season. Thus, the Owls are only a 4.25-point favorites at MTSU, and a mere 1.98-point pick at projected second-place finisher Marshall in a game that is expected to determine the division winner.
FIU also had a solid 2017 in its first year under Butch Davis, finishing second behind FAU. The former Miami and North Carolina head coach led the Golden Panthers to their first winning season (8-5) since 2011, punctuated with a trip to the Gasparilla Bowl. FIU is picked to slip to 4th this year, just ahead of Old Dominion.
Meanwhile, Western Kentucky is uncharacteristically picked 6th, though 3 of the forecasted losses (at Ball State, at Charlotte, home vs. FIU) are by less than a point. Charlotte brings up the rear.
In the West, North Texas is expected to survive a close battle with Louisiana Tech and UAB to capture back-to-back division titles. The Mean Green are 3.19-point home favorites over the Bulldogs in late September, and a 2.71-point choice at UAB on October 20. All 3 of those schools are predicted to turn in bowl eligible records. Southern Miss will be on the cusp, with UTSA, Rice and UTEP all left on the outside looking in.