NCAA Football 2017 Season
C-USA East Division Preview
WKU has claimed back-to-back Conference USA titles and is a slight favorite over MTSU to win the East Division this fall. The Hilltoppers have a new coach in former Notre Dame assistant Mike Sanford, but this program shouldn’t miss a beat behind a dynamic offense. FAU is the wild card, and they should be worth a watch with the Kiffin family running the show there. The new season of fantasy college football kicks off Saturday August 26 at FanPicks
WKU made three straight solid coaching hires in Willie Taggart, Bobby Petrino and Jeff Brohm, all of whom are now coaching at Power 5 programs. After Brohm left for Purdue, athletic director Todd Stewart turned to Mike Sanford, who spent the last two years as Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. He’s just 35 years old, but the coaches he’s worked under or played for include Chris Petersen, Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw. The son of longtime college coach Mike Sanford Sr., the younger Sanford has been groomed his whole life for the chance to lead his own program.
The key returnee for Sanford is quarterback Mike White, who piloted WKU to an FBS-best 45.5 points per game and 7.7 yards per play last season. Program stalwarts Forrest Lamp and Taywan Taylor are gone, but there’s enough of a foundation that Sanford doesn’t have to completely rebuild. The two-time defending Conference USA champion Hilltoppers won’t give up their league crown without a fight.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Head coach Rick Stockstill’s track record says that Middle Tennessee will be explosive on offense, especially as long as his son Brent is behind center taking snaps. Just that should lead the team to a bowl bid. The Blue Raiders have been bowl-eligible in seven of the past eight seasons. Reaching beyond that will be a tougher task. Middle Tennessee has never earned an outright league championship in the school’s FBS era.
The Blue Raiders knocked off Missouri last season, and there are similarly winnable non-conference games early on against Vanderbilt, Syracuse, Minnesota and Bowling Green. A good record in that first month could yield a special season, but a 2–2 split would be a reasonable feat.
There’s little mystery to this team’s deciding factors. They reside on the respective lines. If the Blue Raiders can fill the gaps on the offensive line, Brent Stockstill and company again will attack the record book. And if the inexperienced defensive line can grow up fast, it will support an otherwise strong defense. If neither happens, Middle Tennessee could fall into inconsistency. But either way, the potent offensive weapons should ensure a bowl appearance.
Old Dominion Monarchs
While falling a game shy of a league title, Old Dominion’s 10-win 2016 campaign was undeniably a breakthrough. And with 15 starters back, the Monarchs have every reason to expect that success to continue.
Florida Atlantic Owls
FAU has athletes on offense, and with head coach Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles guiding that side of the ball, the Owls are almost certain to score more points. Under the guidance of Chris and Monte Kiffin, the defense can’t help but improve, right? After the Owls lost four games by less than a touchdown last season, it doesn’t take much imagination to envision FAU as a bowl-eligible team, as long as the new coaches, transfers and returning players mesh quickly.
Marshall Thundering Herd
Marshall is looking to erase the taste of a year in which everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. Whether it was on-field execution or off-field chemistry, the Herd had countless issues during the 3–9 campaign. However, there is plenty of new talent coming in, providing reason for optimism. What remains to be seen is how the chemistry holds once adversity hits. If the Herd can solve that issue, a rebound season is in order.
On paper, FIU has a solid outlook heading into the 2017 season. Head coach Butch Davis is a proven winner, and the Panthers have one of the nation’s most experienced rosters taking the field. The new staff also landed an outstanding recruiting class in his first two months, which could provide instant depth.
The two areas crucial to immediate success are improvement along the offensive front and more consistency from the punting game. If FIU can improve in those two areas, the team could be in position to go to its first bowl game since the 2011 season.
Charlotte’s third season in FBS and fifth overall will feel strange since it’s the first without the 19 players who made it through from the program’s initial recruiting class. So not only is the group trying to fill some major holes on the field, but it’s also trying to find its identity off of it.
Last season’s four wins doubled the output from the year before. And with three losses coming by a touchdown or less, that improvement could have been steeper. But this season, Charlotte will likely need to keep its expectations in check. While the 49ers have potential, they’ll also likely need to draw on plenty of patience.