Preseason All-CUSA Team
Last season, the computer's Conference USA preseason forecast correctly predicted UCF would meet SMU for the title, but had the Mustangs winning. Instead, the Golden Knights prevailed 17-7 in Orlando.
The preseason computer projections also nailed the exact records of Southern Miss, East Carolina, Marshall and UTEP.
Every CUSA head coach returns except for Tulsa's Todd Graham who landed at Pitt. The Panthers ran off Dave Wannstedt to hire Michael Haywood from Miami (Ohio), but settled on Tulsa's Graham after Haywood was arrested on New Year's Day on a domestic violence charge.
The Golden Hurricane hired former quarterback Bill Blankenship who spent the last four seasons on the coaching staff and played multiple roles last season as associate head coach, running backs coach and special teams coordinator.
Despite the head coaching change, the Congrove Computer Rankings tabs Tulsa as the favorite to claim the league title with a 5.84-point victory at Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles are picked to go undefeated (12-0, 8-0) in the regular season and enter championship weekend with a No. 12 ranking. Tulsa would go into that game ranked 27th with records of 9-3 overall and 8-0 in the conference. Southern Miss would earn the right to host the championship game by virtue of its higher ranking, but the Golden Hurricane would own the better power rating.
Southern Miss' glowing forecast is somewhat precarious to begin with. Six of the forecasted wins are by 5.45 points or less, and three have margins of 1.94 points or less. The Golden Eagles are favored by just 1.94 at Virginia, 1.07 at Navy and 0.30 at home versus SMU.
Tulsa's three projected losses are in its first four games when it visits Oklahoma and Boise State and hosts Oklahoma State. It is the difficulty of that nonconference slate that boosts Tulsa's schedule to the 19th strongest in the country, despite playing in one the overall weaker conferences in the FBS.
Defending champion UCF is forecasted to finish 2nd in a weak East division with records of 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the conference. Included among the victories is a 0.37-point home win over Boston College and a 0.19-point road win at FIU the following week.
The biggest surprise in the computer's East division forecast may be is its placement of East Carolina in 5th with records of 2-10, 2-6. The computer has nailed the Pirates' record each of the last three seasons. However, ECU is listed as less than a 4-point dog in home games against UAB (+0.04) and North Carolina (+3.75) as well as its game at UTEP (+1.82).
Marshall and UAB are projected to take 3rd and 4th, respectively, in the East.
No one should be shocked that Memphis is picked to go winless. The Tigers are 3-21 over the last two seasons and are easily the computer's lowest-ranked team. However, we have to believe Memphis will find a way to prove the computer wrong with its pick of Austin Peay by 0.72 over the TIgers in week 3. The Governors were 2-9 a year ago and have posted just 6 total wins over the last three seasons.
SMU and Houston will compete for 2nd place in the West division. The Mustangs are a 1.98-point computer favorite over Case Keenum and Co. on Nov. 19 in Houston. The Cougars are favored to win their first 10 games before closing the season with consecutive losses to the Mustangs and Tulsa.
Rice, Tulane and UTEP are all rated relatively equal in the bottom half of their division.
In all, the computer seems to believe the conference will be top-heavy and bottom-awful. Five teams - Tulsa, Southern Miss, SMU, UCF and Houston are all picked to win 8 or more games and end the regular season with a Top 43 ranking. None of the other seven teams are forecasted to win more than 4 games and all are projected to end the regular season ranked 82nd or worse.