2021 CUSA College Football Preview and Predictions

August 24, 2021 by Staff

The 2020 covid football season was far from exceptional for Conference USA as Marshall claimed the group's best record with a 7-3 mark over-all, but UAB won the championship game, 22-13, at Marshall en roue to a 6-3 finish. It was the second title for the Blazers in the last 3 years and their third straight championship game appearance.

Seven CUSA teams ended with a losing record and they lived down to low expectations in the bowl season by failing to win a single game. Their cumulative 0-6 record included 4 losses by an average of 23 points while the Herd and UTSA each lost by 7.

The preseason projections from the Congrove Computer Rankings say not much will be different in 2021.  Over-all the 13 members should be a little stronger with just 5 programs given a losing record, but only two teams are expected to finish among the top 46.

UAB is expected to notch a fourth straight division title in the west, and FAU is projected to capture the east for the third time in five years. Each are given a two-game cushion over their closet division challenger and the Blazers get a hefty 8.39-point edge over the Owls in the title game which would be staged in UAB's home stadium (Legion Field) in Birmingham if predictions hold true.

Marshall and Southern Miss each welcome a new head coach. The Herd announced the hiring on January 17 of another Nick Saban disciple, Charles Huff. He was associate head coach as running backs coach for the Tide over the past two seasons. He becomes the 13th Alabama assistant hired as a head coach in the past 14 years.

The opening at Marshall was created when the school declined to renew the contract of Doc Holliday (announced on Monday, January 4). Holliday had an 11-year tenure in Huntington that produced records of 85-54 over-all and 55-30 in Conference USA. The move is more than a bit surprising, given that the Thundering Herd just played in the conference championship game for the first time since 2014. Marshall began the season 7-0 but ended on a 3-game losing streak, bowing to Rice, UAB (title game) and Buffalo in the school's third straight Gasparilla Bowl. Holliday's teams were 6-2 in bowl games, losing the last two. He leaves as the second-winningest coach in school history (Bob Pruett, 94-23).

Southern Miss and head coach Jay Hopson mutually agreed to part ways after the first game of the Covid pandemic-stricken 2020 football season. The move was announced on Labor Day Monday after the Golden Eagles fell 32-21 at home to South Alabama in the season opener on Thursday, September 3. Hopson was 28-23 in 4+ seasons in Hattiesburg, but the loss to the Jaguars was the 4th straight for Southern Miss after closing the 2019 campaign on a 3-game skid. His teams were 20-12 in Conference USA games and 1-2 in bowl games. Scotty Walden, who was serving as the co-offensive coordinator and WR coach under Hopson, was named the interim head coach and went 1-3 before he left to take the head coaching job at Austin Peay on October 27. Then, Southern Miss turned to defensive coordinator Tim Billings as interim head coach who went 2-3 to close out the season. On December 2, Southern Miss hired Tulane OC Will Hall to become the new head coach.

Last year, the computer's preseason picks nailed the exact conference record of 4 teams and missed by just one game on 4 others.

46 FAU 10 3   7 1 65.75 127
66 Marshall 7 5   5 3 63.19 129
70 Middle Tennessee 7 5   5 3 59.02 124
114 Charlotte 3 9   2 6 53.48 125
115 Western Kentucky 3 9   2 6 52.51 116
117 Florida International 3 9   2 6 49.96 130
128 Old Dominion 1 11   0 8 35.26 122
24 UAB 11 2   8 0 71.14 90
67 Rice 7 5   6 2 62.50 111
65 UTSA 7 5   5 3 63.69 117
80 Louisiana Tech 6 6   5 3 62.56 106
83 North Texas 6 6   5 3 60.82 102
111 Southern Mississippi 3 9   2 6 56.90 108
100 UTEP 4 8   1 7 57.58 128
** - UAB by 8.39 over FAU