The Congrove Computer Rankings at CollegeFootballPoll.com said UAB was supposed to be good last year, but not that good. After being picked to go 7-5 (4-4, CUSA), the Blazers went 11-3 captured their first conference championship and first bowl win.
UAB avenged a 27-3 loss at Middle Tennessee on the final week of the regular season by handing the Blue Raiders a 27-25 Conference USA Championship game loss in Murfreesboro. The Blazers went on to deal Northern Illinois a crushing 37-13 defeat in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Under the guidance of head coach Bill Clark, the resurrection of UAB has seen the Blazers go 19-8 overall, 14-3 versus conference foes, and 1-1 in bowl games over the past two seasons. Prior to that, the program went dark for two years when it was eliminated after the 2014 season in a budget-cutting campaign. Clark worked tirelessly to rally community support and funding to successfully re-start the program. It returned with a vengeance in 2017, finishing an 8-5 season with the school's second-ever bowl appearance.
The computer says the Blazers should be 6-1 through October with the only coming at an improved Western Kentucky on September 24. But November turns disastrous with losses at Tennessee on November 2, Southern Miss on November 9, at home vs. Louisiana Tech on November 23, and at North Texas on November 30.
This year, UAB is once again picked to go 7-5 while Southern Miss battles North Texas for the West division title. Meanwhile, Marshall will go toe-to-toe with FIU for the East division throne.
The Golden Eagles advance to the title game by clipping the Mean Green in Hattiesburg on October 12. The Herd prevails over the Panthers in a de facto playoff game in the regular season finale in Huntington.
Marshall hasn't won an East division title since 2014 when it captured its only conference championship. Southern Miss last claimed the West in 2015 and hasn't won the conference title since 2011.
On a national level, this will be a very weak conference in 2019 as 5 of CUSA's 14 teams are ranked in the bottom 25 of 130 FBS teams. Only 4 are ranked higher than 70th, and none are ranked higher than 29th.
Charlotte and Western Kentucky begin the year with new head coaches.
The 49ers welcome Will Healy as Brad Lambert's replacement. Charlotte fired the first and only head coach of the program after a 5-7 season that included a 4-4 league mark. In 6 seasons at Charlotte, Lambert was 22-48 overall and 8-24 in CUSA. Healy, who turns 34 in January, spent the last three seasons as the head coach of Austin Peay where he was 13-21 with an 0-11 first campaign, an 8-4 second campaign and a 5-6 third campaign.
Mike Sanford is gone after just two seasons at WKU. The Hilltoppers announced his firing a day after the team finished the 2018 season with its worst record (3-9) since Willie Taggart's inaugural campaign in 2010. WKU was 6-7 the previous year, falling under .500 with a loss to Georgia State in the Cure Bowl. Sanford was the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame when he was hired away from the Irish after the 2016 season.
Helton, who spent the past season as the offensive coordinator at Tennessee, was the offensive coordinator at WKU under Jeff Brohm in 2014 and 2015. He is USC head coach Clay Helton's younger brother.
*-Tie-breakers: Louisiana Tech beats UAB
*-Championship: Marshall over Southern Miss
First-place votes in parenthesis (total points unreported)
1. Marshall (14)
2. FIU (9)
3. Florida Atlantic (3)
4. Middle Tennessee
6. Old Dominion
1. North Texas (20)
2. Southern Miss (4)
3. Louisiana Tech
4. UAB (2)
Predicted Champion: None selected