Florida Atlantic is the team to beat, and deservedly so.
In 2019, FAU shrugged off an 0-2 start and rallied all the way to a Conference USA title. The Owls delivered a 49-6 beating on the UAB Blazers in the C-USA Championship game and then proceeded to demoralize SMU in the Boca Raton Bowl.
With QB Chris Robinson and RB Malcolm Davidson both set to return, a quick look at the Conference USA football odds makes you think Florida Atlantic is dripping with value. However, let’s dive a bit deeper before we make any C-USA football predictions.
There are quite a few teams in the race.
C-USA Winner – Odds for 2020
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The separation between the top five teams in C-USA is rather slim, and they aren’t the only teams that can win this conference. I wouldn’t call Marshall a sleeper at +1000 either, and frankly, latching onto Isaiah Green and the Thundering Herd at that price is exactly why I love betting college football online.
The futures markets are all about exploiting value.
At the same time, Marshall is a bit of a long shot when compared to the top five options for a reason. A challenging non-conference schedule has Doc Holliday’s bunch lined up to be underdogs in each of their first four games.
Let’s check in with most genuine contenders prior to making a C-USA football prediction.
Florida Atlantic Owls
2019 Record: 11-3 (Won the Boca Raton Bowl)
Best Player: Akileis Leroy, LB
The biggest question mark for the Owls heading into the 2020 campaign surrounds the guy at the top of the food chain. Lane Kiffin bolted for Ole Miss after leading FAU for the past three years and is replaced by Willie Taggart.
I’d love to tell you some great things about the Owls’ new coach, but it’s hard to get on board when Florida State was willing to shell out in excess of $20 million in buyouts just to clear Taggart out of the way. Willie went 9-12 during his stint in Tallahassee and sports a career record of 56-62 as a college football coach.
Top-tier tight end Harrison Bryant is now in the NFL, speedster Deangelo Antoine has moved on, and who knows how charismatic and confident this squad will be now that Kiffin is no longer in charge?
2019 Record: 9-5 (Lost the New Orleans Bowl)
Best Player: Kristopher Moll, LB
Quietly, Bill Clark is turning the Blazers football program into one of the powerhouses in Conference USA. In fact, the defense is among the best in all of the Group of Five and should be even more effective in 2020.
Kristopher Moll leads a crew of linebackers that fly around the field, while Dy’jonn Turner helps command what is a very talented collection of defensive backs. The key for UAB this year is to make progress on offense and develop a more consistent passing attack.
That comes down to Tyler Johnson III cleaning up his accuracy and making better decisions.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
2019 Record: 10-3 (Won the Independence Bowl)
Best Player: Justin Henderson, RB
Blanking the Miami Hurricanes 14-0 in the Independence Bowl gave the Bulldogs their first 10-win season since 1984 — back when they were a member of the NCAA Division I-AA. It also marked the 6th consecutive year Louisiana Tech’s season ended with a victory in a bowl game.
Skip Holtz will likely turn to Aaron Allen now that J’Mar is in the NFL, but weapons like Justin Henderson and Griffin Herbert should help the offensive unit not miss a beat. Of all 14 teams in C-USA, only the Lane Kiffin-led Owls averaged more yards and more points (per game) than La. Tech did in 2019.
The biggest obstacle standing in this team’s way is getting over the early-season hump. Three of the Bulldogs’ first four matchups are true road games, which include traveling to Hattiesburg (Southern Miss) and Waco (Baylor).
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
2019 Record: 9-4 (Won the First Responder Bowl)
Best Player: DeAngelo Malone, DL
Western Kentucky’s defense was ferocious in 2019. The scary part for the rest of C-USA is that nearly every impact starter on defense is returning — led by rising senior DeAngelo Malone. The Atlanta native anchors a front seven that surrendered just 20.1 points per game last year — the fewest among any team in Conference USA.
DC Clayton White will need his group to be at their best as offense must replace QB Ty Storey and OT Miles Pate. Plus Lucky Jackson, the MVP of the First Responder Bowl and a guy who caught 94 balls for 1,133 yards, has run out of eligibility.
Likely losses on the road at Indiana and Louisville before C-USA play gets underway is going to make winning nine games in 2020 a tall order.
Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
2019 Record: 7-6 (Lost the Armed Forces Bowl)
Best Player: Tim Jones, WR
Jack Abraham is back under center for the Golden Eagles but won’t have All-Conference WR Quez Watkins to depend on. Nevertheless, Tim Jones reeled in 45 balls for 547 yards (7.5 catches and 91.2 yards per game) over Southern Miss’s last six games. Jaylond Adams is oozing with big-play potential.
The problem with backing Jay Hopson’s men in a C-USA football prediction is the simple fact that this team can’t run the football efficiently. The Golden Eagles compiled a 3.5 YPC (yards per carry) in 2019 and turned the football over way too much.
A road test at Auburn should help boost Southern Miss’s strength of schedule. I don’t see them doing much beyond treading water in their Conference. A projection of seven to eight wins makes attacking the Golden Eagles’ win total precarious (current win total set at 7.5 games), and I won’t be betting on them to win C-USA.
Who Will Win C-USA in 2020?
When it came down to making my C-USA football prediction, it was pretty much a toss-up between UAB and La. Tech. The Bulldogs are the more explosive team, and the head-to-head matchup between the Blazers and Louisiana Tech takes place Joe Aillet Stadium in Ruston.
Finally, the Bulldogs are hanging out at +500 as opposed to the Blazers being listed at +350. Suddenly, I see a clear path toward capturing a whole bunch of upside when making my C-USA football pick.
Instead of betting on La. Tech winning the East Division of Conference USA, I say roll the dice and back them to win the whole thing.
As a former Division I collegiate golfer, Michael Wynn loves writing about golf. He's also an expert in most of America's most popular sports, writing extensively for GamblingSites.com on football, basketball, and baseball.
Michael's a Las Vegas native and has been with the company since 2017.