The Conference USA football title game will take place on Dec. 6 at site of the team with the best overall record. It will match up the Eastern Division winner against the Western Division champion. Marshall is the overwhelming favorite to win the East, while the West is wide open between three teams -- North Texas, Rice and UTSA.
Here is a look at the teams in the Western Division, in order of the recent C-USA preseason poll, which came out a few weeks ago.
- NORTH TEXAS
The Mean Green barely got the top spot in the poll by a single vote. Last season, UNT finished the season with a bowl victory over UNLV, and they are looking for their first back-to-back winning seasons since 2003 and 2004. Back then, the Mean Green was a member of the Sun Belt.
Under vocal fourth-year head coach Dan McCarney, the offensive line returns four starters after finishing 2013 only giving up 11 sacks. The group also didn’t commit a single holding penalty.
“This is something we pride ourselves on,” senior offensive lineman Cyril Lemon said. “It is just a standard we raise every year. We are going to play like this, and play to the standard.”
Lemon and fellow senior offensive lineman Mason Y’Barbo were named Preseason All-C-USA first team. For the first time in several years, the Mean Green and the Blue Raiders will not meet this season.
The Owls are the defending C-USA champions, but they have to replace 25 seniors in 2014. Rice will be looking to repeat with a new quarterback under center hoping to replace Taylor McHargue. His rumored replacement, junior Driphus Jackson, came off the bench last season to beat Kansas.
“We have a very talented football team,” Rice head coach David Bailiff said. “We do not have the game reps like we did a year ago. These young men are committed, and they have dedicated themselves all summer. We expect big things out of this bunch.”
The Owls and the Blue Raiders will not meet this season.
The Roadrunners, under former national championship winning coach Larry Coker, were very close to advancing to the C-USA title game last season. The program, which was only born in 2011, has taken over San Antonio in a short time. Last season, UTSA finished up by winning its last five games after being picked to finish last before the campaign. However, UTSA were left out of a bowl game due to it being a transition year in the FBS ranks.
“I want the best for these guys,” Coker said. “Our goal is to get to a bowl game. We have a good football team coming back, and we expect to play at a high level.”
The Blue Raiders and the Roadrunners have never met in football, and it will not happen this season.
- LOUISIANA TECH
The Bulldogs second year head coach Skip Holtz adds former MTSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to the staff this season. Diaz was fired midway through 2013 as the defensive coordinator at Texas after the Longhorns gave up more than 500 yards rushing to BYU.
“He brings energy and he is determined and brings aggression to the table,” Holtz said. “We are more versatile and we want to attack more downhill.”
The Blue Raiders and the Bulldogs will not meet this season.
- SOUTHERN MISS
After dominating the league in 2011, it has been all downhill for the Golden Eagles as they won just one game in the past two seasons. USM did close out the 2013 season by beating UAB 62-27. The team hopes for more success this season.
“You cannot speed up experience,” USM head coach Todd Monken said. “Confidence is a powerful thing, and we lost that.”
USM comes to MTSU on Oct. 4.
Last season was a tough one for new head coach Sean Kugler as he had 18 freshmen and sophomores on the two-deep depth chart. He hopes senior quarterback and former Texas A&M transfer Jameill Showers can help the Miners improve in 2014. The Blue Raiders end the season at UTEP on Nov. 29.