By Ron Wynn
Last year when prolific and controversial coach Lane Kiffin resurfaced at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) after his less than happy exit as Alabama’s offensive coordinator, there were questions regarding whether he would be a good fit.
It didn’t take long for those to be answered. Kiffin’s first FAU squad went 8-0 in the conference, rolled over North Texas in the Conference USA (C-USA) title game, and had a school record 11 wins. Now Kiffin’s team is widely expected to do an encore romp through the conference, with many observers also pegging FAU as being the best team outside the Power 5 conferences.
FAU has a stacked offensive unit returning, and despite having to break in a new QB, no problems are anticipated there. The team that gave them their toughest fit during the season was Marshall. They return 17 starters from the team that only lost to FAU 30-25 on the road. This season they have FAU at home.
Middle Tennessee State’s best chance to top either of these two rests with QB Brent Stockstill managing to play an entire season and remain healthy. Their second biggest problem is a schedule with three SEC games. Following behind, at least according to how things look in the preseason, are Western Kentucky, Old Domiion, Florida International and Charlotte.
The West could a three-way battle, though defending division titlist North Texas is being given a bit of an edge. But either Louisiana Tech or last season’s big surprise UAB could challenge. Southern Mississippi and USTA are both seen as possible 2018 sensation, while Rice and UTEP will both be breaking in new coaches and expectations aren’t very high for either team this year.
It will be quite interesting to see if FAU can repeat its great season, whether Marshall will overcome them, and if MTSU can survive playing three Power Five conference squads and still make a bowl game. Once again C-USA offers as much variety and entertainment as some of the bigger conferences, despite the lack of publicity and exposure often given their accomplishments.