Like a lot of conferences, this season will the last under the old guard for Conference USA. Next season Houston, SMU, UCF and Memphis will leave for the Big East. Replacing them will be UNC Charlotte, FIU, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Old Dominion and Texas-San Antonio. Just another day in the world of conference realignment. At least they’re not the WAC, right?

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West
1) Houston
The people may change, but the Cougars still should reign over the West. Gone is record-breaker Case Keenum and his heir appears to be David Piland who had some success in the past. Joining him in the backfield is David Sims, a top RB no one’s heard about. While the receiving loses a lot of pieces there are spots for newcomers to take over, including uber-recruit Deontay Greenberry. The defense is facing its own set of changes. They lose big contributors but retain enough guys with experience to make this a productive unit.

2) SMU
June Jones will try yet again to get his Run n’ Shoot offense to work consistently. It starts with deciding on a QB, between Connor Preston and Texas transfer Garrett Gilbert. RB Zach Line had a breakout season last year, but is recovering from an injury. The WRs go 4 deep and each can contribute. Improvement on defense starts with creating more turnovers. DE Margus Hunt and LBs Ja’Gared Davis and Taylor Reed are the unit’s best players and should help create said turnovers. That’s also because the secondary is facing big turnover and might not contribute as much.

3) Tulsa
The Golden Hurricane featured a high scoring offense last season, but its leader, GJ Kinne is gone and its up to Cody Green to replace him at QB. Bryan Burnham and Willie Carter have all-CUSA potential as receivers, while Trey Watts and Ja’Terian Douglas are an underrated RB duo. The defense will need to up its game and play better against better offenses if the team wants to contend. DE Cory Dorris, LB Shawn Jackson and S Dexter McCoil are tops at each level, but others need to help out as well.

4) Tulane
The Green Wave play in a conference of high-powered offenses, but lack their own. QB Ryan Griffin, RB Orleans Darkwa and WR Ryan Grant are skill players that can produce, but the unit as whole needs to gel better. The D was one of the worst in the country and lacks the talent level to succeed. There are decent pieces, but just not enough to compete with the big offenses they’ll be facing.

5) UTEP
QB Nick Lamaison has a lot of potential this season. However, it could all go to waste if the O-line allows as many sacks as it did last year. RB Nathan Jeffery is an emerging star who could put up big numbers and WR Mike Edwards is a steady, if unspectacular, veteran. UTEP is known as an offensive program for a reason. The defense lost what stars it did have, so it will be a struggle heavily this season

6) Rice
It’s looking like another season in the West basement for the Owls. Sam McGuffie, the offense’s only playmaker, is switching from RB to WR and QB Taylor McHargue is coming off a disappointing season. That’s pretty much it for the offense, but the defense is even worse. It might contend for worst in the country. Being a lower tier school in Texas doesn’t help in recruiting, but the lone bright spot is CB Bryce Callahan, who has all-conference potential.

East
1) UCF
The Knights have been up and down under George O’Leary. Since last season was a down, they figure to be on an up this year. QB Tyler Gabbert and RB Storm Johnson are high profile transfers that will battle with Blake Bortles and Latavius Murray for their respective positions. Along with a deep group of WRs, the offense should have no problems. The athletic defense, led by DE Troy Davis, LB Jonathan Davis and FS Kemal Ishmael will be making plays all season.

2) Southern Miss
A new coaching staff and new QB usually means a step back, but the Golden Eagles have enough talent to remain competitive. The biggest problem will be determining who takes over for four year starter Austin Davis at QB. The talented RB trio Desmond Johnson, Kendrick Hardy and Jeremy Hester running behind a veteran line will pick up the slack. The defense returns just 5 starters, but there is enough left over to form a potent unit.

3) Marshall
A glass half-full person would see several talented players on offense, while the half-empty one would point to the unit’s inconsistency. That starts with QB Rakeem Cato who has a cadre of senior WRs and two RBs, who are recovering from injuries, as weapons. The defense lost all-CUSA performers Vinny Curry and Omar Brown, but should provide opportunities for newcomers to grab playing time. Improving overall pass defense will be a priority this season.

4) East Carolina
The Pirates’ Air Raid offense puts up big numbers, but first they’ll need to find a new QB for this season. The skill positions will be known for their number, but not caliber as the talent level is spread among several players, but features no big names. The defense made strides last season and the front seven will carry the load as the secondary looks ot be the weak spot. NT Michael Brooks and leading tackler LB Jeremy Grove lead their respective units.

5) UAB
New coach Garrick McGee has an interesting offense to run. QB Jonathan Perry is a steady vet who has a plethora of receiving options, but the running game doesn’t figure to produce much behind an O-line that protects better then it opens lanes. Opponents will be able to pass at will against the Blazers, due to their anemic pass rush and horrid secondary. At least stopping the run won’t be as big a problem.

6) Memphis
The Tigers will in the basement of C-USA and definitely in the Big East against superior competition. QB Jacob Karam has a mountain of work to do to improve a woeful offense and while he has some playmakers, it’ll all be for naught if the line can’t protect him. The Poe-less defense figures to be a sieve at all levels. Teams will be able to both run and pass against this unit without much trouble.