Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Conference USA has added two new teams this season (Old Dominion and Western Ky) and lost three (Tulsa, East Carolina and Tulane) but it is really a one team league. And that team is Marshall.
The Thundering Herd have an excellent chance of going undefeated as none of the other 12 clubs come close to them in terms of talent, both offensively and defensively. That is why they are 1-6 to win the C-USA title.
Time now to take a deeper look into the league, along with conference championship odds and predicted SU (overall and conference) records for those wagering on over/unders for team victories. In addition, all statistics provided are from conference-only play unless otherwise indicated. (All odds courtesy of LVH.)
6) SOUTHERN MISS (75-1) - The Golden Eagles are 6-14 ATS in non-conference play the last five years. After going 0-12 two years ago, they scored fewer points and allowed more points in 2013 despite finishing 1-11. Expect a better campaign this season as the club returns the most starters since 2009.
Final thought - Southern Miss went 3-9 ATS each of the last two years. Look for about six ATS victories in 2014. Predicted overall and conference records - 4-8, 2-6.
5) TEXAS-EL PASO (100-1) - The Miners have finished below .500 ATS seven of the last nine years. The offense scored touchdowns on just 35 percent of their red zone opportunities in 2013, a percentage that will surely rise this year, especially if Jameill Showers can stay healthy. Don't forget, the Miners averaged 31 points per game with him under center (12 ppg without). They also return six of their top nine tacklers after bringing back only one of the top eight last season.
Final thought - Don't sleep on Texas-El Paso this year as the Miners could upset some opponents. Predicted overall and conference records - 5-7, 3-5.
4) NORTH TEXAS (15-1) - The Mean Green exploded for a 10-3 ATS record last year after a combined 18-17 ATS mark the previous three seasons. This will be a down season after improving their scoring average 13 points per game, while averaging just 17 more yards per game. Furthermore, their red zone numbers will decline after a monstrous 28 percent improvement on offense and a 29 percent jump on defense.
Final thought - Not only do the Mean Green lose their starting quarterback, leading rusher and top two receivers, but they also lose their top four tackles for loss leaders. Predicted overall and conference records - 5-7, 4-4.
3) RICE (8-1) - The Owls are 11-4 as home favorites the last six years. They lose 25 lettermen this season after losing just 11 in 2013. They also won five games last year by a combined 20 points. This season will not be as successful since they lose their starting quarterback and leading rusher. Still, the weaker league schedule will allow them to finish above .500 in conference play.
Final thought - Rice finished 2-10 SU and 4-7-1 ATS the year after winning 10 games in 2008. The Owls won't be that bad in 2014 but expect more defeats than the four they encountered a season ago. Predicted overall and conference records - 6-6, 5-3.
2) UTSA (8-1) - The Roadrunners are 4-0 as road favorites the last two years. They return 20 starters from a team that had seven straight-up victories. Even though they allowed 26 ppg overall, they gave up just 19 in league play, finishing third behind North Texas and Tulane. New quarterback Tucker Carter gained some valuable experience last year against the likes of Houston, Marshall and Oklahoma State so look for UTSA to continue its winning ways.
Final thought - They might be the most talented team in the division and certainly the most experienced, but have to travel to both Rice and Louisiana Tech. Predicted overall and conference records - 8-4, 6-2.
1) LOUISIANA TECH (40-1) - The Bulldogs are 6-2 as road favorites the last three years. Their offensive production declined more than any team in the country last year going from 52 ppg to 19. Expect a giant rise this year, particularly if Cody Sokol is the real deal at quarterback. Defensively, they return 12 of the top 17 tacklers after losing their top seven a year ago.
Final thought - Last season was a transitional year for Louisiana Tech with just seven returning starters and a new coaching staff. This year will see great improvement, and at 40-1, the Bulldogs are a great value play to win C- USA. Predicted overall and conference records - 7-5, 6-2.
7) FIU (100-1) - The Panthers are 12-24 ATS off a straight-up loss the last five years. They improved from 1-11 to 5-7 in Mario Cristobal's second season so there is hope for Ron Turner after last season's 1-11 mark, especially with 17 returning starters. Still, there's no T.Y. Hilton on this squad and the conference schedule is more difficult than last year's.
Final thought - A lot depends on how well freshman quarterback Alex McGough progresses this fall. Predicted overall and conference records - 3-9, 1-7.
6) UAB (75-1) - The Blazers are 1-8 as home favorites the last four years. As is the case with FIU, they bring a new quarterback (Cody Clements) to a veteran offensive lineup, but the big question mark is a defense that must improve from a last place league finish in scoring and total defense.
Final thought - New schemes need to be implemented since the spring was not helpful with multiple offensive line injuries and poor weather. Predicted overall and conference records - 2-10, 1-7.
5) OLD DOMINION - (40-1) - The Monarchs went 3-2 ATS versus Football Bowl Subdivision competition last season. They trailed both Pittsburgh and East Carolina by only four points heading into the fourth quarter so they should be able to perform decently in C-USA play.
Final thought - The only major issues are the loss of 2/5 offensive line starters, including left tackle Jack Lowney, and the upgrade in the schedule. Predicted overall and conference records - 5-7, 3-5.
4) FLORIDA ATLANTIC (40-1) - The Owls are 11-2 as road underdogs the last two years. They finished 6-6 despite ranking 11th nationally in total defense. Look for the defense to suffer this season with the loss of six of their top 12 tacklers. They also lose their center and left tackle so the offensive line will be weaker.
Final thought - Despite a tremendous defense, the Owls still finished fifth in scoring allowing 21 points per game. Predicted overall and conference records - 4-8, 4-4.
3) MIDDLE TENNESSEE (15-1) - The Blue Raiders are 3-12 ATS in non-conference play the last four years. Look for the offensive numbers will shrink this season after scoring 35 ppg in 2013. They must replace Logan Kilgore at quarterback and it is doubtful they will have the same red zone success as last season (24 touchdowns in 35 opportunities) - a 30-percent increase from the year before. In addition, they lose their starting guards and center.
Final thought - The defense will keep them in most games but they won't come close to eight wins. Predicted overall and conference records - 5-7, 4-4.
2) WESTERN KY (40-1) - The Hilltoppers are 8-2 in their last 10 games as home underdogs. Antonio Andrews is gone but folks wondered what would happen in 2012 when they lost Bobby Rainey and the Hilltoppers averaged just one fewer ppg. The defense will be the weak spot without last year's top five tacklers but never underestimate a Nick Holt-coached defense.
Final thought - Three of the other four former Sun Belt teams finished .500 or better in C-USA play last year and Western Ky will do the same. Predicted overall and conference records - 5-7, 5-3.
1) MARSHALL (1-6) - The Thundering Herd are 1-6 in their last seven games as home favorites. Everyone expected the offense to put up points last year but it was the defense that made the team special. Marshall had the most improved defense in the country allowing just 23 ppg after giving up 43 in 2012. This year, 11 of the top 12 tacklers return. The Herd might not be as effective on offense as they were last year, but it will not matter as their schedule is extremely easy.
Final thought - Marshall will be the lone undefeated team in the country. Predicted overall and conference records - 12-0, 8-0.