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2013 CUSA
College Football
Season Preview


Please note: Our conference reports analyze what the Congrove Computer Rankings preseason forecast predicts. Team power ratings change weekly during the season to reflect the actual results of the games. For projecting results, 3 points are added to the home team.

During the 2012 season, from beginning to end, including bowl games:
Overall, 8 teams gained 10 or more "power points". Mississippi led the gainers at 15.16, followed by Arizona State at 14.24.
Among current CUSA teams, Rice gained the most at 7.74.
Overall, 18 teams gained 5.00 - 9.99 points.
Overall, 35 teams gained less than 5 points.
Overall, 32 teams fell less than 5 points.
Overall, 23 teams fell 5.00-9.99 points.
Overall, 8 teams fell 10 power points or more. Southern Miss fell the most at 17.55, followed by Auburn at 14.14.
Among current CUSA teams, Southern Miss fell the most at 17.55.
Overall, the average change of teams in 2012 was a loss of 0.19 points.
Among current CUSA teams, the average change of teams was a loss of 2.00 points.

2013 Conference Preview
2013 PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH
CUSA East
  Team Over-All
W-L
Conf.
W-L
Nat'l
Rank
Power
Rating
Sched.
Rank
1. East Carolina 9-3 7-1 36 71.89 112
2. Middle Tennessee 8-4 6-2 54 67.58 118
3. Marshall 7-5 5-3 63 66.67 108
4. *-UAB 5-7 3-5 83 60.87 103
5. *-FAU 5-7 3-5 84 57.87 115
6. Southern Miss 1-11 1-7 121 47.17 93
7. FIU 1-11 0-8 123 43.22 116
*-Tie-breaker: UAB beats FAU; Southern Miss beats FIU
CUSA West
  Team Over-All
W-L
Conf.
W-L
Nat'l
Rank
Power
Rating
Sched.
Rank
1. Tulsa 10-2 8-0 23 75.89 62
2. North Texas 9-3 7-1 50 65.70 96
3. Rice 9-3 6-2 44 68.69 117
4. #-UTSA 6-6 4-4 71 65.47 73
5. *-Tulane 4-8 2-6 89 58.02 99
6. *-UTEP 4-8 2-6 91 50.44 104
7. *-Louisiana Tech 4-8 2-6 90 52.86 125
*-Tie-breaker: Tulane beats UTEP and Louisiana Tech; UTEP beats Louisiana Tech.

#-UTSA is eligible for the conference title, but is only eligible for a bowl game under the "reclassification rules" set forth by the NCAA.

Championship: Saturday, Dec. 7 on ESPN or ESPN-2
East Carolina VS. Tulsa
*-Title game is hosted by division-winner with best conference win percentage.
Predicted site: Tulsa, OK

Conference Champ
Tulsa
Title Game Result: Tulsa over East Carolina by 6.70

Also See:
CUSA Preseason Coaches' Poll
Preseason All-CUSA Team

Preview

Realignment led to Conference USA swelling to 14 teams this season. After Houston, Memphis, SMU and UCF all bolted for the Big East - which will operate as the American Athletic Conference in 2013 - CUSA raided FAU, FIU, Middle Tennessee and North Texas from the Sun Belt. It additionally picked up Louisiana Tech and UTSA, both of which were refugees from the WAC after that conference dropped football.

Though many things have changed, one thing is expected to remain the same - Tulsa as conference champion.

The Golden Hurricane are projected to walk through an undefeated league slate as they open the season rated a full 10.19 power points ahead of any other team in the west division, and an even 4 points ahead of the predicted east division champ, East Carolina. If the computer's forecast holds true, the Tulsa-ECU meeting on November 9 in Greenville will determine which team gets home field advantage for the CUSA championship game. The computer says Tulsa wins by 1, and favors the Golden Hurricane by 6.70 points at home in the rematch.

Between them, East Carolina and Tulsa have won 4 of the 8 Conference USA championships ever played with each winning a pair. Tulsa is 2-2 in CUSA title games while the Pirates are 2-0.

Surprisingly, the closest challengers in each division are Sun Belt transplants - Middle Tennessee in the east and North Texas in the west.

North Texas' forecast is particularly worth watching as the computer's preseason forecast has nailed the Mean Green record 10 times since 1995, including 4 years straight from 2007-2010. It has only missed its mark by 1 game on 5 other occasions, including the last 2 years. UNT hasn't been picked to do this well since 2004 when a 9-2 forecast became a 7-4 reality. The program hasn't been predicted to win, and has not won, more than 5 games in a season since then.

MTSU hasn't been nearly as good at matching expectations. It under-performed the computer's forecast by 5 games in 2010 and 2 games in 2011. Last year, it overachieved by 6 games.

One of the worst turnarounds in college football this season could happen at Louisiana Tech as the computer expects a drop from 9-3 a year ago to 4-8 this season.

The Bulldogs are 1 of 4 conference teams with a head coaching change since the start of last season.

Skip Holtz replaces Sonny Dykes who left Louisiana Tech after three seasons to take his high-powered offense prowess to Cal in the PAC-12. Dykes was 22-15 overall with the Bulldogs and 14-7 in WAC games. After guiding the Ruston school to the WAC title in 2011, a follow-up 2012 campaign ended withe school declining an Independence Bowl invitation when it learned it would be paired against Louisiana-Monroe. The school thought it would have options and believes it was misled by the Liberty Bowl about a forthcoming bid that didn't materialize.

Holtz comes in with a need to resurrect his resume. After much success at East Carolina, Holtz' South Florida tenure was a complete disaster. He was booted from the Bulls after turning in progressively worse records in each of his 3 seasons, finishing 3-9 in 2012 after 5-7 in 2011 and 8-5 in his inaugural year (2010). Under his watch, USF posted back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in its FBS history.

Other new head men in Conference USA are Ron Turner at FIU, Todd Monken at Southern Miss, and Sean Kugler at UTEP.

Turner as former Illinois head coach who has been working as an NFL assistant since his firing from Champaign in 2004. He led Illinois to the Big Ten championship in 2001, but three losing seasons followed. During his 8-year stay, the Fighting Illini went to just two bowl games as he compiled a 35-57 record. Overall, 6 of his 8 years saw Illinois end with a losing season.

FIU fired Mario Cristobal on the heels of a 3-9 overall campaign after being picked to win the Sun Belt by most major preseason magazines and websites. The Congrove Computer Rankings forecasted FIU to go 11-1, 8-0. Cristobal's previous squad went 8-4 when it was projected to go 10-2. Athletic Director Pete Garcia termed the 2012 performance as a "total collapse". Cristobal's 6-year records at FIU were 27-47 overall, 20-26 Sun Belt.

Southern Miss brought in Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken to replace Ellis Johnson. A rash of injuries contributed to making Johnson's only season in Hattiesburg an unprecedented failure. He inherited a team that was 12-2 in 2011 and reversed it to an 0-12 squad in 2012 for the worst turnaround in FBS history.

The new Southern Miss head coaching search went straight to an old well. Johnson's predecessor was former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Larry Fedora. The Golden Eagles' new higher was the Cowboys' OC for the last two seasons. And lest anyone forget, former head coach Jeff Bower spent a season in Stillwater as offensive coordinator before he headed to Hattiesburg in 1990 and stayed for 18 seasons.

UTEP hired former player and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler to replace the retiring Mike Price. Kugler served as an assistant at the school from 1993-2000 and was a 4-year letterman at UTEP in his playing days from 1984-1988. Price's tenure was marked with early success, followed by consistent mediocrity. The Miners won 16 of Price's first 21 games and went bowling in each of his first two seasons, but the school never posted a winning campaign after that. A 6-6 regular season in 2010 produced a New Mexico Bowl invite, but a 52-24 loss to BYU left the team at 6-7 after suffering 6 losses in the last 7 games.

With all of the changes within the conference - teams and coaches - no one should feel they can confidently project Conference USA. Additionally, last season was an anomaly for Southern Miss which could easily bounce back to an above-.500 team.

The computer ranks Conference USA as the worst in college football in 2013, even slightly behind the Sun Belt. And it will continue its decline in status next year when it loses East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa to the American Athletic Conference. As replacements, the league has attracted Western Kentucky (Sun Belt) and Old Dominion (FCS). It adds UNC-Charlotte (FCS) in 2015 to get back to 14 schools.