We’ll preview every major conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision between now and the start of college football season on Aug. 26 through the lens of sports bettors. Each preview will include a shallow dive into the favorites, long shots and our favorite pick.
We’ll start with the non-power five conferences and work our way toward the big fish in the pond, finishing with the Southeastern Conference. When the season begins, you’ll have a comprehensive look at the top divisions in the sport.
We’ll continue today with Conference USA.
The University of Texas at San Antonio won last year’s Conference USA title game as it beat its in-state foe, North Texas, 48-27. It was the Roadrunners’ second consecutive conference crown after they beat Western Kentucky 49-41 the year before.
A 23-5 record, as well as the back-to-back Conference USA titles, helped propel UTSA into what many consider to be a better conference this season. The Roadrunners — along with Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice and UAB — are now a part of the American Athletic Conference.
Therefore, last season’s happenings are rather moot considering Conference USA has been overhauled for the 2023 season. The winners of the last six conference titles (UTSA, UAB and North Texas) are gone. The last current Conference USA member to win a conference championship in football was the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs all the way back in 2016.
To recap: Conference USA has been gutted and the conference’s most successful football programs have left for what they believe to be greener pastures. Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB and UTSA are out. Liberty, New Mexico State, Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State are in. Furthermore, Kennesaw State will join the conference in 2024.
Sounds simple enough, right? You’ll get the hang of it as we keep going on.
It is worth noting that the circumstances favor the long-time Conference USA members. The playing field has gotten smaller by three teams, the most successful teams of the last half-decade are gone and some of the new competition is moving up from the FCS.
The team that stands to benefit the most from these changes is the favorite at Caesars Sportsbook to win the conference in 2023: Western Kentucky (+100). The Hilltoppers have won at least nine games in three of Tyson Helton’s four years at the helm. His explosive offense looks to turn a corner this season as a 10-win campaign would surely be enough to top the conference.
Western Kentucky won’t be without competition, especially if the defense fails to improve. Newcomer Liberty (+275) is the only other school with relatively short odds to compete with the Hilltoppers to win Conference USA this season. New head coach Jamey Chadwell looks to pile on to his success at Coastal Carolina in the house that Hugh Freeze built.
Chadwell will have his work cut out for him with a relatively unappealing quarterback battle heading into the season. The Flames haven’t gotten great production from the position in the last calendar year and they could look to Southern Miss transfer, Trey Lowe, to save the day.
Middle Tennessee (+550) returns most of its defensive core from last year, which bodes well for the Blue Raiders in the free-for-all scramble that is next season’s Conference USA.
Louisiana Tech (+850) is the last school to have better than 10/1 odds to hoist the Conference USA crown at the end of the campaign. However, seeing as only seven teams are receiving odds to win the conference in 2023, +850 is being considered a “longer shot.”
The Bulldogs brought in a star-studded cast of transfers, led by former Boise State QB Hank Bachmeier, former Baylor running back Sqwirl Williams and former Nebraska wide receiver Decoldest Crawford. If offensive-minded head coach Sonny Cumbie can get the best of his new recruits, Louisiana Tech could be the old dog showing off new tricks in Conference USA.
UTEP (+1400) and New Mexico State (+1800) have shorter than 20/1 odds, but it’s hard to imagine these incumbents competing for any serious awards.
Middle Tennessee (+550) has a tough schedule. The Blue Raiders start the season against Alabama, and although they managed to upset Miami last year, there won’t be another party in Murfreesboro this season.
MTSU’s in-conference schedule isn’t much easier with games against Liberty and Western Kentucky on the road. However, if the Blue Raiders can split those games on the road and get an offense rolling, they can make noise.
Our value pick here is Liberty (+275). The main reason is there’s no value in picking Western Kentucky at even money. The Flames have all of their tough conference games — aside from Western Kentucky — at home. They have enough skill out wide on offense to mask a sticky quarterback situation too.
Full Conference USA odds and win totals
(Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook, as of Wednesday, July 12)
|Western Kentucky||+100||8 (o-130)|
|Middle Tennessee||+550||6.5 (o-130)|
|Louisiana Tech||+850||6 (u-125)|
|New Mexico State||+1800||6 (o-125)*|
|Jacksonville State||N/A||5.5 (u-170)|
|Sam Houston State||N/A||4 (o-130)|
*-New Mexico State is slated to play a 13-game schedule in 2023
College football conference pieces
July 12: MAC
July 13: Conference USA
July 19: Mountain West
July 26: Sun Belt
Aug. 2: American Athletic
Aug. 9: Pac-12
Aug. 15: Big 12
Aug. 16: ACC
Aug. 22: Big Ten
Aug. 23: SEC