Conference-USA has demonstrated prolific offensive teams last season that almost led to having a team in one of the New Year Six bowls until eventual champion Marshall lost to Western Kentucky in a shootout that saw the point total surpassing the 100-point benchmark.
The Thundering Herd won the war despite losing the battle last year but Western Kentucky looks like the frontrunner to claim the C-USA title this season. In head coach Jeff Brohm’s first year, fifth year senior quarterback Brandon Doughty led the FBS with 74 completions for 20 yards or more and 6th in the FBS with 31 two-minute touchdown drives. He’s coming back for a sixth season and with a second year of the marriage between coach and quarterback, Western Kentucky looks like the team to beat in the C-USA.
That doesn’t mean Marshall won’t have a say in the matter. Even with one of the most prolific pass and catch combo in school history (Rakeem Cato to Tommy Schuler), the Thundering Herd was very balance on offense in 2014. Only 51.4 percent of their yards came via areal assault.
Senior running back Devon Johnson (preseason All-Conference 29 rushes of 15 yards or more in 2014) is going to be the key cog in this offensive machine, but don’t expect Marshall to shy away from the deep ball. Whoever takes over at quarterback will look to get the ball to senior wide receiver Devonte Allen.
One advantage that Marshall has over Western Kentucky is the luxury of having Charlotte on their schedule. The 49ers are in their first year in the FBS and C-USA after failing to amass 3,000 passing yards on offense in the FCS. The bill on them is to simply stop junior running back Kalif Phillips (6.3 yards per carry in 2014) in order to stop Charlotte.
The rest of the C-USA softies are in Texas. North Texas will be returning a potent pass rush that will make them a pest to contenders, but their rebuilding offense will ultimately make them obsolete. Texas-San Antonio is opening up their season with three Power Five opponents, all with winning records. They will be broken before they begin.
Texas-El Paso returned to the New Mexico Bowl for the first time since losing to BYU in the 2010, only to be dealt the same fate by Utah State. Having to replace their quarterback puts them back to square one.
One Texas team that will not be a softie in the C-USA is Rice. They have a quarterback named Driphus Jackson that will make people take notice and help balance an offense that ran for 70 percent of their snaps last season.
Another dark horse quarterback to look out for is junior Nick Mullens of Southern Miss. He returns along with his top receiving targets and will look to air it out at a higher rate than anyone else in the C-USA for the second year in a row, which may or may not make up for their poor defense.
Old Dominion looks like the opposite of Southern Miss. Unlike the Golden Eagles, the Monarchs rely more on the ground led by their deep offensive line. Middle Tennessee is also on that same boat. They’d both be better if their question mark at quarterback suddenly becomes an exclamation point.
Florida International and Florida Atlantic are looking to be led by their defense. FAU has three defenders in the first-team All-C-USA list, two in the pass rush, while FIU is more known for their ball hawking secondary. Where they are set apart is their offensive approach. FAU is more ground and pound led by quarterback Jaquez Johnson, who is more like a fullback who can pass. FIU is looking to be more dynamic with the improvement of sophomore quarterback Alex McGough and freshman receiver Anthony Jones, who head coach Ron Turner is planning on using for wildcat packages.
The biggest dark horse in the C-USA is Louisiana Tech, who brings back 13 starters and added quarterback Jeff Driskel from Florida. Their loaded offense compliments their defense that led the FBS last year with 176 points scored off of turnovers. They will likely meet either Marshall or Western Kentucky in the C-USA Championship Game.