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While the AAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt have all had teams make some noise on a national scale, Conference USA has faded into the background in recent seasons. But if you pay attention on a weekly basis, there are always opportunities to make some money.
Last year, a late collapse from Marshall allowed UAB to swoop in and win the conference crown. Who will emerge in 2021?
(All odds via BetMGM.)
Western Kentucky: +800
Florida Atlantic: +1100
Southern Miss: +2500
Middle Tennessee: +2500
Louisiana Tech: +3000
Old Dominion: +3000
North Texas: +3000
Florida International: +5000
Best bet: UAB (+300)
In UAB’s four seasons since returning to the field, the Blazers have three division titles and two outright conference championships. Bill Clark is simply an excellent coach and knows how to assemble a winner. UAB is again one of the favorites in C-USA entering 2021, and +300 feels like good value for a team that has consistently been at the top of its division — even with some of the tougher league games on the road. There are some holes to fill on offense, but the defense should be the best in the conference.
Team to avoid: UTSA (+300)
This is more about value than anything. What Jeff Traylor did in his first year at UTSA was impressive. He inherited a team that went a combined 5-11 in conference play in the previous two seasons and he led UTSA to a 7-5 record, five conference wins and its second-ever bowl appearance. Almost all of the team’s 2020 starters are back in 2021, but that doesn’t mean the Roadrunners should be put on the same level as UAB and Marshall just yet. This is a bowl-caliber team, but Traylor needs more time to build UTSA into a conference champion.
Sleeper: Florida Atlantic (+1100)
When you’re in South Florida, you’ve got access to a lot of talent and Lane Kiffin quickly turned Florida Atlantic into a winner. FAU won C-USA in both 2017 and 2019, allowing Kiffin to take the Ole Miss job. That opened the door for the well-traveled Willie Taggart, who has been the head coach at four schools, including Oregon and Florida State, in the last decade. The work Taggart did at USF helped him get those bigger jobs, and FAU has the chance to be a similar fit. FAU’s defense was quite good in 2020 while the offense dealt with injuries. With an infusion of transfers, I expect a big leap from the offense that allows FAU to compete for the C-USA East title. At +1100 to win the conference, the Owls are worth a flier.
Florida Atlantic: 7.5
Southern Miss: 6
Western Kentucky: 5.5
Middle Tennessee: 4.5
Louisiana Tech: 4.5
Florida International: 4.5
North Texas: 4
Old Dominion: 3.5
Conference USA win total best bets
Western Kentucky over 5.5 (-115)
WKU had one of the worst offenses in the country last year and still managed to win five games. In the offseason, WKU coach Tyson Helton hired Zach Kittley, the offensive coordinator from Houston Baptist, and added HBU’s quarterback and three receivers via transfer. HBU played a four-game schedule last fall, and three games were against FBS opponents. In those games, HBU averaged 557 yards and 34 points, including 600 yards in a near-upset of Texas Tech. Couple that Air Raid offense with what was a very good defense from 2020, and I think WKU can get to six wins.
Old Dominion under 3.5 (+120)
Old Dominion went 1-11 in 2019 and then decided not to play in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That opt out delayed the debut of ODU’s new head coach, ex-Penn State assistant Ricky Rahne. Rahne has done a good job recruiting and has added some talented transfers. At the same time, it’s been so long since the Monarchs have actually been on the field. ODU will only be a favorite in one of its non-conference games (vs. Hampton). Are there three conference wins in that schedule to get to four wins? I don’t see them. I’ll take the under, especially with the +120 juice.
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