2022-08-22 13:11

We are closing in on the September and that means the Football-World will start spinning again on the fields.

But during the so called 'off-season' the spinning did not stop, and we are far from done, regarding changes.


Yes, and those come slowly, but with a lot of power.

Do you remember that Texas and Oklahoma said 'F*** YOU' to their conference and will join the SEC in the near future (not this season)?

Do you remember that since summer last season College Football Players can make deals to promote their names, image and likeness (called NIL)?

Did you hear the change that the NCAA did abandon the prerequisites for Championship games totally and therefore many conferences did announce to skip their division models starting this season or in the future?

Did you hear that many teams, based on the Texas / Oklahoma change, did decide to switch conference also?

Did you hear the latest blockbuster move in which USC and UCLA did decide to leave the PAC-12 to join the BIG10? And that despite the fact, that the PAC-12, the ACC and the BIG10 had some sort of alliance agreement to NOT do this?

Did you hear that several conferences are afraid to lose more members based on the USC / UCLA move?

We are far from done with the big changes.

Several looming changes and deficits are now starting to catch up and it will likely change the world of college football in a severe way as it was not changes in ages. Maybe the change for full scholarship and the afterwards happening split into 3 football divisions (Div I, Div II and Div III) and even after the split of DIV I into Div 1-A and Div 1-AA (now FBS and FCS) can be taken as such a period. That was in the late 60s to late 70s.

Beside some changes regarding on which teams play, some new conference and dying conference, the systems did stay, only the how-tos did change, like how to s e l e c t a champion nationally.

College players were 'compensated', at least on the higher levels, by getting a school education for free, housing and medical treatments. They were not allowed to earn money, even it was common practice to get some money 'under the table' from early on. A player found to take money had a HUGE problem, so did sometimes even the school he played for. Ask USC on Reggie Bush and the vacated National Championship as example.

But times did change, and the system got out of shape. The amount of money earned by the conferences and schools did rise, especially for the big and very big schools and the players did not participate, except their training facilities became extensive, sometimes so much over the top that even professional teams do not match that level.
Because the college football money has to be spent, or you have to pay taxes or you lose the amateur status.
So the money was flushed into facilities and coaches.

I remember Dabo Swinney, HC of very successful Clemson, stating that he would consider quitting, if college football would lose the amateur character. He said that, when he did earn roughly 9.000.000$ a season, while the average player in his roster got nothing (beside the mentioned stuff) and had also only limited chance to become a multi-millionaire pro player. Yes, Clemson did bring in a lot of talent on the draft, but those are not the average players, right? The average player leaves after 4 seasons (or if he was dump and believed his friends, after 3 seasons, declared for the draft and got not even a degree) with an degree in something. Good luck.
In that time did Dabo earn 36.000.000$ on wage plus whatever his agent was able to get for advertisement and TV-appearance and whatever.

Assuming a roster has 100 players, assuming each would get 10.000$ equally, that would be 1.000.000$ per season.
Just to crunch an example. I think also Dabo could still pay his bills with 8.000.000$ per season.

Likely he was looking at a different aspect, likely that a semi-pro-approach would kill some parts of the 'college atmosphere' or the 'passion'. Still, it sounds silly to deny players a bit of money, while himself earning a multiple lifetime income per season.

But that was seasons ago and the numbers are just increasing.
Last season did SEVERAL coaches crack the 10.000.000$ per season barrier, while before that it was only less than a handful.

The NIL aspect did result from several issues in the past, when the schools did earn money by promoting single players names and so on for games, adds and whatever and the player was left out.
Some did go to court and got right, which led to the NIL agreement, but those rights are based on state law, not federal law.

And on top comes that teams switch conference, which they simply do for ... money.

It turns out, that the SEC and the BIG10 are right now the winners in money making. SEC at #1 and BIG10 at #2 and then a long time no competition.
And with the money for the conferences, all other topics do line up right behind them.
More money means better paid head coaches, assistants and facilities.
Those do lead as total package to a more successful brand and teams.
Those do lead to better chances for NIL for each player, so the good and great players are more likely to s e l e c t such a school.
That leads to more success on the field.
It seems there is no way for other conferences to crack THAT circle.

The PAC-12, the BIG-12 and the ACC are the 3 other Power-Five-Conferences, and they are a bit desperate, for different reasons. The PAC-12 lost 2 of their iconic programs and right now the conference has no plan what to do. Some programs might leave also. The Big-12 did OFFICIALLY announce to check the status of several programs from the PAC-12 to switch to the BIG-12. The PAC-12 is by that in fear to become obsolete.
The BIG-12 had invited several AAC-teams and BYU to join the conference (likely 2023) to fill their ranks, but their footprint is weakened, and they are right now in a fight to eventually stay on top of this elite conference not named SEC and BIG10. And the ACC looks stable, but only because the programs are contractual linked to the conference (more the marketing rights) until 2030, but of course nobody knows the details of the deal and whether some teams might fight it to leave early. The ACC has 2 to 4 teams which might want to switch to SEC or BIG10 to participate in what many think will be the progress to 2 Super-Conferences. The rest would then need to reevaluate their standings.

And the group of five conference are right now in some sort of 'spare parts container' role, having already lost several teams to the BIG-12 and several teams switching inside the group of five conference, thanks to Texas and Oklahoma. USC and UCLA will likely cause something else on top. But what that will be, is open.
The only thing is for sure is, that the money gap between those conference, the 3 'weaker' power five conferences and the 2-super-conference-to-be will likely increase dramatically.

Right, it is already a giant leap between a HC on a MAC team and a SEC team. Best paid HC in the MAC is likely Jim McElwain of Central Michigan with 1.800.000$ and worst paid SEC coach is likely Clark Lea at 2.500.000$. Numbers from last season. So, you can image, the average between those 2 conferences are MUCH bigger. Even for assistants the gap is even much bigger. There are Coordinators on SEC teams earning way more than a HC in a group of 5 team.

I'm still waiting on some sort of fusion / hostile takeover on the group of five level and at least one of the conferences just exiting the competition, but so far it seems they can fill the ranks, from the independents and thanks to still having some teams coming from FCS level to FBS level, so increasing the total number of FBS teams.

In the long run, we might see some sort of split between FBS Super-conferences and FBS-rest and the former DIV I is no longer a 2-part field, more a 3-part field, having SEC/BIG10, Rest-FBS and FCS.

AND to make the things even more complicated, the NIL-thingy might lead to some sort of Free-Agency, which is right now only possible in some sort of way by transferring. This becomes more and more attractive, since the rules got a bit less conservative, especially for graduated players. But with NIL it's expected to not only have the 'you can be starter'-aspect, which we have right now. We will see 'you can earn more here'-aspect on top of that.

Did I mention the Northwestern players try to create some sort of union in the past?

I also think that this aspect, representing the players as employees, will become important in the future.

So ... college sport, especially football, will change in the next seasons and if you like it or not, it will change dramatically. Some rivalries will cease to exist. Even the scheduling will change. The whole business model will change.
There is even (not that loud) discussion, how to deal with the bowls and the playoffs.

Expansion of the playoffs to 6, 8 or more teams was declined in the 1st run, maybe because the commissioners declining it had already the changes in mind and wanted to avoid having more teams dining on the rich table. Or more, gambling one being near the top at the end of the process.
Right now, the SEC and the BIG10 are well set with the 4 team format and the others do often miss a spot or even two.
So, we might see the expansion only, if the other things have settled down.

This season the changes are not that big, still some did already happen.

I will give you a short overview starting with the Group of 5 conferences, then Independents and then Power 5 conferences.
As last season I will split that in half. Power 5 conferences will be covered in the preview for week 1.

Let's start with the Group of 5 and the weakest conference and then forward.

Conference USA
The CUSA lost Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss to the Sun Belt Conference.
Next season they will lose another 6 Teams, this time to the American, and will gain 4 Teams, 2 FCS-transfers and to independents.
A lot of movement and it's not clear, whether the then 9 teams will be enough in the long run.
However, the does feature THIS season 11 teams, ditched the divisions and each team will play 8 of the 10 conference opponents.

The top 4 spots will likely be decided between UAB, UTSA, WKU and UTEP.
Before end of June, I would have picked UAB as the most likely #1 team, but then did Bill Clark, HC in the past 6 seasons with 2 Conference titles, resigned because of health problems and the team is now under reign of interims coach Bryant Vincent. He was the teams OC since 2018.
Likely the team will perform well, but THAT good? Who knows. Their toughest game will be against reigning CUSA Champ UTSA, at home.
Such a change as switching the HC prior the season does likely change the dynamics inside the team. Which direction is open. Most of the time it declines a bit of a lot. Not every OC is born to become a HC. But don't despair, this can also become a chance and the interims coach will become permanent.
So my tip is that UTSA will become the best bet for a sure place inside the championship game. As reigning champ UTSA has some spots to fill, but in the past the teams was able to recruit well and UTSA has the potential to become a bigger player inside the FBS.
Jeff Traylor, the HC, is only in his 3rd season, he should be at least a season away from falling into the recruiting slump. Likely the UAB game on the road will decide #1 or #2.
At #3 and #4 in position to step leapfrog the most likely candidates are sitting WKU and UTEP.
WKU is still led by HC Tyson Helton, now in his 4th season, but lost all coordinators after last season’s great results, which was only tarnished by the loss in the conference championship game. On top the starting QB of last season is gone and all hopes are on a transfer. Overall, the offense will likely be a bit worse than last season, which will eventually cost them some games, especially the tough ones against UTSA and UAB.
UTEP is on the rise and did surprise the world with a much better result than expected. Dana Dimel, the HC, is now in his 5th season and had the 1st winning season with the team last year. The return some crucial team members, so it's expected to build on this further.
I don't think they will really challenge the top 3 teams, but they avoid WKU and UAB, so they might sneak in, based on a weaker schedule.
The next 4 teams are quite blurry.
FAU, North Texas, Charlotte and Middle Tennessee could each be at #5.
Willie Taggart is at FAU in his 3rd season and should manage to make a step into the right direction, right? I'm not convinced, but to be fair, since his real good season at Southern Florida he did not have the time with a team to do his thing. So, I'm not willing to let him slip away on the to-be-fired-list, but on the other hand were his results with top level talents bad. Could be an adjustment thing, could be a Not-so-good-HC-as-thought-thing. I think after this season FAU will either seek a different HC or they have at least a bowl bid and maybe more.
North Texas under Seth Littrell had 6 seasons with a lot of bowl games, but no wins in those bowls. The team has mixed results in the past few seasons and likely only their great finish last season (except the bowl) did save the HC. This season they have a very tough conference schedule, so either they will survive and get another bow trip, or we might see some changes.
With Charlotte we have 4th season Will Healy as HC and he had last season the first win over a power 5 team for the program but finished 5-7 and has now to seek further improvements. The Defense was hit hard by the leaving starters, so this could become a problem. Overall, it will be tough for the team, but the schedule might help to get a better result than last season.
And Middle Tennessee with Rick Stockstill in his 17th (!) season is very hard to predict. They lost basically the whole O-Line, which might result in some sacks on the new installed pass-heavy offense. If that does not happen, they could actually rise much higher than #5. But also on defense are concerns, since the backfield has to be substituted. Overall, the circumstances are tough, hence the will likely not make it to a bowl.
And the last 3 are all teams to worry about.
Louisiana Tech did fire their HC and hired TTUs OC Sonny Cumbie. As for many HC changes, this has the chance to make a turnover quickly or we will see a tough adjustment. Hard to tell. The talent on the team is unproven under the new HC, so we will have to see.
Rice is slowly improving under Mike Bloomgren, getting the Owls from 2 wins in his 1st season to now 4 wins in his last, the 4t season. But the offense needs to step up to become better and the bad defense does return almost all starters, but will this make the bad defense better, by more experience, or will they just play further bad defense? I'm not that optimistic and I expect even a setback.
And at last, one of the worst programs right now, Florida International. The team hired experienced Mike MacIntyre, former HC of Colorodo, as new HC and this might change it all. Overall, the talent level likely has to be improved over the seasons, so don't expect a big jump this season. Hopes are high that MacIntyre can build the processes to improve in in the next 2 to 4 seasons, if they let him do his thing.

That's it for the CUSA. It will be a strange season, since so many teams will have their farewell tour inside the conference, but overall the competition inside should be alright.

Mid American Conference
The MAC looks like an unmovable object in those rough times.
It's not like the conference had no additions in the past, the last was UMass in 2012, but it did turn out that since 1998, when Buffalo did join, the same 12 teams do face each other and all additions afterwards did not stick, but none of the 'old' teams did leave.
None of the 'old' teams was heard to be in the mix to join any other conference, making likely then a step forward on the money picking order.
There was a chat that WKU and MTSU of CUSA would like to join the MAC, but MTSU did decide to stay put inside the CUSA and WKU was then, as it seems, not ask to switch by the MAC.
The MAC did also not ditch the divisions.
So far it seems the MAC exists outside the hurricane of the college football changes.
Whether this will stick is open, it seems the conference found their small market spot, where it can live.
Of cause, no changes will likely also mean, no positive changes, so when the college world, name it money pot, gets bigger, it's likely the MAC will not participate in the same matter of increase also.

The East Division will likely be wide open. Top 3 teams could be Miami (Ohio), Kent State and Bowling Green, but don't be surprised if like last season some other team just runs the table.
Chuck Martin is in his 9th season as HC with Miami (Ohio) and would like to add some more wins this season, after last season’s 2nd place. A quite intact roster on key positions and a home game against reigning division champ Kent State should help to get those extra wins.
Kent State did march through the division last season and won it but lost their starting QB. Sean Lewis is in his 5th season as HC and we will likely see some setback from last season’s result. But maybe the new QB does come up big and the Flashes can surprise again.
The results of Scot Loeffler as HC at Bowling Green are quite low so far, but in his 4th season he might have the pieces together to make a push. They have 17 returning starters and do play against Miami and Kent State at home.
The likely 2nd part of the division race is led by Ohio. The program had to switch HC before the season start last year and Tim Albin is now in the 2nd season, but effectively had only 1 off-season to prepare. Still, he was the OC before the promotion to HC and we will see whether the bad results were based on the shock of the team, or maybe because not every OC is a good HC. Chances are high the results will be better that last season.
It might be that Ohio will finish 4th, thanks to Buffalo playing worse. Maurice Linguist had an almost similar situation as Albin had in Ohio but was an outsider taking over a solid team. The Bulls did win only 3 teams under the new management, many left the team, and the ranks were closed by other transfers. Defense should be a bit better than offense, overall, this comes down to whether in his 2nd season the HC is able to build a team out of that bunch of players.
And at last, the Akron Zips. After a bad period, the team did hire now Joe Moorhead, former HC of Mississippi State, as new HC. Whether that is a good move is a future judging to be made. He brings in experience into one of the worst teams in all FBS football. He will likely need several seasons to make the team competitive again (which they were a few seasons ago, which was a great accomplishment for that HC), so likely the Zips will lose a lot of games again this season.

The West Division is Northern Illinois to lose as reigning conference champ, but they will be challenged by Toledo and Central Michigan.
Thomas Hammock won surprisingly with NIU the MAC last season after a winless season in 2020. He did manage to build a competitive team and there is no reason to believe they will be much worse in his 4th season. They might have to battle it out against Toledo at home.
Toledo has all the tools to win the division but were not able to translate it into a lot of wins. They did fall always on the way. This might change this season, the 7th of HC Jason Candle. With a returning QB and a good roster, it's up to them to produce more wins.
I'm surprised that Jim McElwain is still the HC of Central Michigan, now in his 4th season. Likely the problem for the former HC of Florida and CSU is, he did not deliver a conference title, ever. I would have expected that he would get a job in the American or Mountain West fast, maybe even higher, but so far, he stays at CMU. Good for them, with a quite OK schedule they might be able to leapfrog the division rivals and win the division again (last season tied, but no spot in the championship game). Unfortune for them they play Toledo and NIU on the road.
Tim Lester is now in the 6th season HC of Western Michigan, but did so far produce only mid-level results, which is from my understanding not the level of competition WMU has in mind. This season the Broncos will have to replace their QB and is likely better suited on defense, but overall, they might just not play good enough to get more wins. In this division (and conference) the teams can leap up fast, but can also drop fast, so everything is possible.
At Eastern Michigan, Chris Creighton in his 9th season as HC did do wonders and should be in the mix of coach of the year almost every season. The program is one of the worst in FBS and he did guide them to 4 bowls in the last 6 seasons (but lost all). A program which got to a bowl before that in 1987. Granted the bowl spots did expand and it was much tougher to get to a bow at those times, still he did earn them by winning at least 6 games. This season the team will have a tough time, but with him everything is possible. If the roster clicks, they can get a great season, but likely they will drop a few ones.
At last, I have Ball State with Mike Neu in his 7th season. The roster has some question marks and likely the squad needs some experience to win games. QB position is a major concern, but if they team grows faster than expected, they could become the NIU of this season.

In total the conference looks quite competitive inside, likely not that much competitive in FBS.

Sun Belt
OK, let's move to the Sun Belt Conference.
So far, the SBC is a winner in the realignment circus happening right now. They did lure Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss from the CUSA and added also FCS-to-FBS-transition-team James Madison.
Now with 14 teams packed up, the conference looks quite padded, but since UCLA/USC is just a few weeks ago, this might change, if some conferences start recruiting or better filling up the ranks again.
Several teams are since a long time the top teams, financially and regarding success, so it would not surprise, if they would like to make the next step.
But ... nothing so far.
Since now 14 teams are a lot to handle them in a non-division-format, the Sun Belt did also not scrap the division format and added the schools into the divisions.
Troy was shifted from East division now into the West, which led to 3 new teams in the East and 1 new team in the West, regarding Sun Belt Newbies.

The East division is quite open between Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia State and Marshall.
Appalachian State is likely to get out on top with Shawn Clark as HC in his 3rd season and 13 returning starters. But the wins won't come easy with some concerns on defense and the likely top game against CCU on the road.
Coastal Carolina has a huge problem, since they do only return 6 starters. Why Jamey Chadwell is back for a 4th season looks like a wonder, since he got so good results, including a conference championship in 2020, that I would have expected him to get somewhere else to get a better paycheck. Now he has to at least reload, maybe rebuild, the team and likely the win total will drop. How far is anybody’s guess. I expect a winning record, but less than double digits, which they had in the past 2 seasons.
Shawn Elliott is in his 6th season with Georgia State and has built it up to his best record so far last season with 8 wins including a bowl win. In theory the team can win it all with 15 returning starters, but a tougher schedule will likely limit them.
And Marshall comes from the CUSA and Charles Huff in his 2nd season has to face completely new division rivals with a quite shuffled roster. Likely it will depend on how good the new starters and new faces do interact. A favorable schedule could help them to climb a bit higher.
Whether then Old Dominion or James Madison will be the next is a guess, too.
Old Dominion did not play in 2020 and had some trouble in 2021, until they had a good series of wins late in the season. Ricky Rahne is now in his 3rd year with the team but had only 1 playing season and faces a new conference. On top comes a very tough schedule, so the team might improve, the win total eventually not.
James Madison was 1st destined to play as independent, but later they were OK to play inside the conference, but not eligible for the championship game and post season. And they will have a tough time. Curt Cignetti is in his 4th season and HC and has a fantastic record on FCS level, but the team shifts to FBS and his team is in rebuild mode, including the QB. Add a quite challenging schedule and we might see a losing season.
At last on the East, we have Georgia Southern, which was a mess in the last seasons. Their HC was let go after a 1-3 start and the team did never catch up. New HC this season is Clay Helton, former USC HC. He was never THE answer at USC, did still manage the team OK, just under expectations. So, we will have to see what will happen at Georgia Southern. Likely a rebuilding year, but in such cases sometimes the teams do explode for a lot of wins. I doubt it here.

The West division was a long time Louisiana’s to lose, but their HC is gone to Florida, so changes are here. Unfortune the other contenders do have some problems, hence Louisiana is likely to repeat, if the transition is not too hard. South Alabama might be able to catch them.
Michael Desormeaux got the job on one of the most notable programs of the Sun Belt in the past 10 seasons at Louisiana (formally known as Louisiana-Lafayette). The good thing is, he is with the program since 2016 and got promoted from OC position. Biggest concern is the QB position, the rest is quite OK and even the schedule is in their favor, having the likely contenders at home and avoiding some big programs from the other division.
That’s why South Alabama has needs to improve more to have a chance. Kane Wommack is in his 2nd season as HC and last year was not THAT good. But chances are good the team will win more than 5 games this season and except the road trip to Lafayette, the schedule looks great.
Troy comes from the East to the West and is already in contention for the title. The have a new HC, former Kentucky DC Jon Sumrall, and they have a quite good roster. I doubt they will improve that heavily to leapfrog Louisiana and South Alabama, but you never know.
Southern Miss comes from the CUSA and had last year a very bad season under new HC Will Hall. But they had no QB, the starter was injured, and the Backups were rubbish, so with a healthy starter back and Frank Gore Junior at RB, the offense might improve heavily. This team is a coin toss and can land at any spot.
Jake Spavital, the HC of Texas State, is eventually toast latest at the end of the season. Now in his 4th season the team has not won more than 4 games. Expectations are higher, for sure. Some changes were made, including a transfer on QB, so we might see some improvements. Just a guess, but no bowl, no job, is my expectation for Jake Spavital.
And here comes the SBC mystery. Arkansas State had some great seasons in the past few years. Butch Jones, the former very successful HC of CMU, Cincinnati and Tennessee (not that successful there), is now here in his 2nd season and will try to turn the ship around, fast. Last year was the worst since 2001 and that is NOT the level of contention ASU is expecting. Was that bad coaching, the transition? I expect a smoother season this year, but only a few more wins. Not sure they will earn enough for a bowl.
And at last, the team which really needs some improvements. Louisiana-Monroe has won 4 games under new HC Terry Bowden last year and might improve but need to come over the loss of OC Rich Rodriguez, who became a HC at FCS level to guide the program to the FBS. Unfortune, the schedule is a nightmare, so more than 4 wins would be a great accomplishment.

This looks like a fun season to come with the new programs and the changes on HCs and on scheduling. My fear is, that eventually the division winners might not always be the best team inside the division, thanks to so widespread differences in strength of schedule.

Mountain West Conference
The Mountain West was able to block any attempt from the American to lure several teams (4 Teams) into their conference, to fill the ranks left by the teams leaving for the Big 12. Likely with the loss of 3 very competitive teams the American was or even is at the brink of losing the top spot in the group of 5 conference ranking. The MWC teams did likely think of their options and decided to stay. What will happen now with UCLA and USC joining the BIG10 is a completely new game. So far, the MWC is intact and will play at least this season unchanged.
Air Force is under the management of Troy Calhoun since 16 seasons and he had a LOT of success, only a conference championship is missing. This might change this season, since the Broncos are not as dominant as in recent years and the Falcons offense might become this season even better than last year, thanks to a returning QB and RB. If only the schedule would not that unfavorable .....
Utah State came back last year under new HC Blake Anderson from a 1-5 covid season in 2020 to a conference championship season. The team lost almost every starting WR, so this might limit the offense a bit. Overall, the team could make it to the top, if all parts do click in fast. The schedule is also not that nice. But they have 3 games to find some answers until it counts against the conference.
Jay Norvell did lift Nevada to a respectable level again but left them to become the new HC at Colorado State. He takes over a CSU team, which had not a winning season since 4 seasons, so there is some rebuilding to do. Transfers, even from Nevada, will help to make the team strong or stronger again. His team might just explode for a fantastic record or there will be several issues unsolved with such a move, we will have to wait.
Oh man, it's already Craig Bohls 9th season at Wyoming and he did a very good job at an university which was at that time he took over in a very unloved destination.
The team did win a lot more games, but the ultimate success he had on FCS level did not happen. This season they will have a hard time to even get the same record as last year, 7 wins, including a bowl win. The team has a lot of question marks regarding the starter or better, whether the starters will do their job. Maybe a reloading year.
Danny Gonzales is in his 3rd year as HC with New Mexico and so far, the rebuilding is going slow. Hopes are, the team will get 6 wins at least, but as long as they have a big question mark on the offense, they will have a problem. This team might become the 'don't like to play them'-team of 2022, but I think they will lose more games than winning them, even in close ones.

The West Division is again wide open from my point of view and again it looks more like the likely winner of the conference comes from the Mountain division, still, as last year Utah State. Every team here has issues, top 3 are likely Fresno State, San Diego State and San Jose State.
Jeff Tedford is in his 4th season with Fresno State and had last season a rough setback with 4 wins, after winning the conference with 12, a year before. A returning QB and some other key players will help, still there were also some key leaves, so the roster has to find together. The schedule is OK, just the trip to the Smurf Turf of Boise will be tough, quite early.
San Diego State won last year the division but lost big in the championship game. Brady Hoke is in his 5th season with the team and will have a hard time to replace 8 starters in offense. The Aztecs are a tough team, likely they will fight hard, especially on defense, and maybe that will be enough, still the schedule is not nice.
San Jose State won the conference in 2020, but dropped in production on 2021, so Brent Brennan in his 6th season will have to pick up the pieces left and add the transfer QB to eventually get the offense back on track. Defense should be OK with 8 returning starters. Toughest schedule with hard road games will likely kill a return to the championship game.
And now the rebuilding teams do come in. Starting with UNLV, which is already in the 3rd season under Marcus Arroyo. So far he has 2 wins last year and zero the year before. But UNLV seems to be a mess, so any progress is healthy and maybe we will see a bigger increase this season. Offense got some transfers as addition, defense lost their best player to transfer, which will not help. Overall, it looks OK, but a brutal schedule will limit them likely to a smaller win count.
Next in line is Nevada, which might NOT be a rebuilding team, but losing a long-time coach and replacing him can become quite tricky. Ken Wilson was Oregons DC last year and does take over a quite competitive team. But many players left for several reason, so the units have to be rebuilt. Only good thing is the schedule, which includes the toucher teams at home. But if the team is not close that level, the opposite would likely be better to boost the win count.
And at last, there is Hawaii. It's a shame how the team was treated in the past few seasons. Former Hawaii QB and last seasons Nevada WR coach Timmy Chang might change that. His HC skills have to be proven; his heart is at Hawaii. The team needs rebuild, rebuild and rebuild, so don't expect too much.

I'm not sure the Mountain West will field a strong product this season, but likely the teams will at least play tough against each other.
In total, the conference looks in good shape, questions are about the future, with the PAC-12 having now 2 openings and several good teams of the Mountain West are in reach. But it might come down totally different and the PAC-12 dies, nobody knows.

American Athletic Conference
Last season for the American in this setup, afterwards they will lose the likely top 3 teams to the BIG 12. A tough loss.
A pitch to add some teams from the Mountain West was unsuccessful, hence the conference raided the most logical next target, the CUSA.
In total 6 teams will come, so next season the conference will no longer be a 11 teams conference, then they have 14. But the strength of the conference will be likely taking a dive. For how long is open, since it has to be seen, what the new teams will do with the additional money.
But this season the 11 teams are still there and will play since the departure of UConn in one setup, no divisions.
Right now, it seems the conference will be decided exactly by the 3 leaving teams, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF. I doubt SMU or East Carolina will really make a push, but in football you never know.

The Cincinnati Bearcats won the conference the last 2 seasons, but the team under Luke Fickell in his 6th season did lose their starting QB and the successor is not that clear. The O-Line is intact, so we will likely still see a strong offense, but whether it will be strong enough is open. They avoid Houston this season, but face UCF on the road. Could be enough or not enough at all.
Houston under Dana Holgorsen needed some time to adjust so it looked like the experiment was a failure, but last season they won 12 games and lost to Cincinnati in the Championship game. Expectations are high now, in Holgorsens 4th season, with a returning starting QB and no match against Cincinnati AND UCF, the real strength test might only come in the championship game thanks to a fair schedule.
And Central Florida is now in 2nd year under Gus Malzahn, who inherited a loaded team and won already 9 games in his 1st season. 13 returning starter, an easier schedule and a home games against Cincinnati might be enough to bring them into the championship game.
Next in line would be SMU. Rhett Lashlee is the new HC, former OC of Miami, and he inherits a really well build team, which was just not able to throw the deciding punch at the right time in the past few seasons. Main focus should be to get the most out of the returning core of last seasons weak defense. If they can reduce the allowed yardage and the transition is smooth, the team can win a lot of games. But my guess is, there will be growing pains.
East Carolina is slowly gaining some strength under 4th seasons HC Mike Houston. Their schedule is OK, the roster also, it shouldn't be a big issue to replicate the 7 wins of last season. But they had many very close games, wins and losses, so this can go anyway, depended on their close game conversion.
Memphis is under Ryan Silverfields watch now in 3 seasons and his team had a setback last year. All signs do point towards a better win amount this season, thanks to an OK-like schedule and a returning QB.
Willie Fritz has made Tulane a competitive team again in the past 6 seasons, winning at least 6 games since 2018, except last year, when the team did take a nosedive with 2 wins only. Their biggest problem was the defense, which should improve with 7 returning starters. Whether that will be enough for 6 wins is open, I have doubts.
Tulsa had some rough seasons, but also some good ones under Philip Montgomery, now in his 8th season. Problematic is, his best was in year 2, since then it was more a downwards ride, than upwards. Last year they had 7 wins, with a bowl win, and I doubt they will reach that much this season. Returning starters are low, the defense not OK and the schedule looks OK, but that's that then.
Jeff Scott, former OC of Clemson, took over as HC at South Florida, which had some rough seasons in the past. The clock is ticking, since his predecessor was fired on a 4-win-season and Scott had in 2 seasons 5 wins in total. Usually, the program can bring in good talent, but so far it does not show. 18 starters will return, unfortune the schedule is not nice, so likely the team will play better, but might still lose a lot.
Navy was a very good Academy team, but in the past 2 seasons the results are bad. Ken Niumatalolo is in his 15th season and has not many tools to work with, since many starters are gone. A brutal schedule will not help so a return to a bowl game must be earned the hard way.
Stan Drayton is the new HC at Temple; he was before that Assistant-HC and running game coordinator at Texas. The program is a mess, and the rebuilding will take some time, so expect some ugly games.

The conference will offer some great matches, also against non-conference teams and we might miss next season the top 3 teams a lot.
Still, I'm not sure the conference did the right thing when they invited 6 CUSA teams for next year, but that will only time tell.

The group of independent teams will shrink next season, thanks to BYU joining the BIG 12 and Liberty and New Mexico State joining the CUSA.
But this season the group is unchanged, and my feeling is, there will never be equal or more teams playing as independents on FBS level for years to come.

Notre Dame got a big shakeup end of last season when their longtime HC did leave for LSU. Marcus Freeman, last season coming in as DC, inherited the team and is now the new HC at age of 36. That's a bold move for a school which had a lot of older, more experienced coaches in the past decades. But fine, you never know, what a coach brings in, if you don't try it. Last season the team had ambitions to play in the playoffs, but thanks to a loss to Cincinnati were only ranked 5th and had to play the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State, which they lost (maybe because their HC bolted to LSU). This season the roster lost more due transfers than it gained and features several tough games, starting against Ohio State on the road. In total I doubt they will win as many games as last season, thanks to the transition to a new HC and those tough games. It would be surprising to see them lose too many but winning double digit would also be a surprise.
Next in line should be BYU. It seems the people in Utah did come to the conclusion that their dream of being the 'Notre Dame of the West' did not come true and when the chance was there, they decided to join the BIG 12 (next season). Until then Kalani Sitake, now in his 7th season, will try to replicate the last 2 season results having 10+ wins. They return 18 of 22 starters, including their starting QB, so chances are high they can win some games. Their schedule looks OK, some tougher games are inside which will decide the turn of the season. I see potential between 7 to 11 wins. More likely not a double-digit-season (at least prior the bowl).
Army has some great results in the past few seasons and I'm surprised Jeff Monken is still their HC, now in his 9th season, and has not moved on to a program with a bigger paycheck. But good for the Knights. Their schedule is quite soft, so likely even with some question marks on O-Line and LB, the team should be able to get to a bowl, maybe matching the 9 wins of last season.
Next last-season-as-Indy-team is Liberty. They did prolong Hugh Freeze, now in his 4th season, for huge money, compared to a former FCS program. But the program wants for sure to keep the pace and strength, which did turn heads in the past 3 seasons. 3 Bow-wins in 3 seasons did bring in some extra money also. They have a quite easy schedule, but also with some tough games. Likely they will win 6+ games easily, the rest depends.
New Mexico State decided also to join the CUSA next season and got rid of their HC after last season. The hire was a surprise, since Jerry Kill, former HC if Minnesota, did step down because of health issues and did since serve as coordinator, to have less stress. Now he inherits a BAD team in transition to a new conference. But OK, he should know what he does. Overall, will NMS play a lot of tough opponents, and some weaker ones. If Kill gets the team motivated, the win total should rise above the 2 of last season.
Which leave the 2 ugly ducklings of the FBS, who seems to stumble over their ambitions and did not find their place so far, even when the spots in some conferences were to fill. UMass has hired a former UMass HC back, Do Brown. He coached them from 2004 to 2008 with great success inside the FCS. He left to become a coordinator on FBS level, likely with the ambition to become a HC on FBS-level, but likely he did not think to get his 1st HC job on that level with his old team. He has a 1-win team to turn around, which will take some time. The schedule is quite soft, still likely the team is softer.
And UConn did also not find their place, letting their old HC go after 2 games last season (another 2nd-stint experiment, here it failed), and made a splash on the coaches market by hiring former UCLA and NFL-HC Jim Mora. He takes also over a BAD team and will likely need some time to turn this team around. A tougher schedule will likely leave the team with only a few wins, if any.

Puh, that's that for the 1st part. I apologize for the long text. But with so many teams, and even with just a few lines per team, it just adds up.

Let's have a look at the games coming up in weeks zero.

There are 4 games between FCS teams and FBS teams, all at home of the FBS teams, which will likely end in quite big wins for the FBS teams. Of cause an upset can happen and the biggest fun is, if they happen, but those are hard to predict.

Beside that there are 7 regular games. Overall, it seems the week zero is slowly expanding to a regular gameday, which is a strange development, since it usually means such teams might field 13 games in regular season, which makes the season even harder. But of cause the revenue also goes up.


Sat. Aug 27
North Texas @ UTEP
Is this really a great game?
Well, regarding reputation and let's call it appealing, this is not a great game.
It's a conference game inside the CUSA and the CUSA is not really appealing compared to the juicy conferences.
But .... it's likely the most open game and therefore very interesting.
Nothing is more boring than driving up the scoreboard one-sided (see UConn-Utah State a bit down on the remaining games).
Seth Littrell of North Texas saved his job last season and NEEDS wins. Likely the betting line of -1.0 in their favor is based on the great winning streak they had at the end of last season, winning 5 in a row, but lost in the bowl.
But they visit UTEP on the 1st game day ...
Granted his team did collapse in the 2nd part of the season last year and lost 5 out of 6, including the bowl.
I hope for them they solved some issues and start strong again, like last season.
I pick the home team on such close games.
Miners win.

Nebraska @ Northwestern
There is no way to avoid this game.
It's between 2 BIG10 teams, it features well-known names on both sides and it features some drama.
My BIG10 preview will come next week, so just a short version on the teams.
Nebraska is in a slump, in a historic dimension.
Last time they had 5+ seasons without a bowl? 1961.
Scott Frost come from UCF (as self-declared National Champion) to bring the team back on track and now in his 5th season the team has won IN TOTAL since he took over 15 games. That's a program, which did fire Bo Pelini 2014 because he won only 9 game MINIMUM EACH SEASON but was unable to bring in championships.
Now 4 seasons under Frost the teams still wait for a pity bowl invite.
Chances are there that THIS season a small turnaround happens, and the team will get into the winning team column again, I did say that also last year.
They do visit Northwestern, which is only Pat Fitzgerald watch since 17 seasons and the school had rough seasons, but also great seasons, greater than the usual Northwestern seasons. This is a program which is happy having a winning team, even only with 6 or 7 wins. Championships are dreams. Still Fitzgerald brought the team to the BIG10-Championship in 2018 and 2020, but both times did the team lose against heavy favored Ohio State.
Last season a 3-win-season crash, which explains the betting line of (hold your breath) -13.0 for Nebraska.
I expect a closer game, but maybe that as much a wish as most fans do expect a landslide win by Nebraska.
Overall, I still expect the Huskers to GET that win, even I expect it to be hard work.
Cornhuskers win.

Vanderbilt @ Hawai'i
It would not be Week Zero, if not Hawai'i would play.
New coach at Hawai'i, hopefully for the better, but still only the 1st game.
And they get visited by traditionally not so good playing Vanderbilt from the SEC. Their HC, Clark Lea, is in his 2nd season, and they won 2 games last year.
Inside the SEC, usually the team loses, last season they lost all those games, but outside the conference the team still fields a team, with SEC talent. Not as deep as the BIG programs, but they gain some attention with the name, the facilities and so on.
I don't expect such a bad start as last season, when they did even lose against a FCS team on season start, but it will be a rough season.
Progress will be there, that's also something Vegas sees and did put the Commodores in as favorite by 6.5 points.
The community does see (or hope) for a Hawai'i win.
I'm torn between the home advantage of Hawai'i and the circumstance with a new HC and Vanderbilt having a 2nd year coach.
Boom or bust, I guess for Hawai'i.
Rainbow Warriors win.

Other (or better all remaining) interesting (or not so interesting) games:

Sat. Aug 27
UConn @ Utah State
The defending Mountain West Champ (11-3) gets visited by one of the worst FBS teams in the past decade, UConn. The Huskies had since 2011, with then a new HC coming in, only 1 winning season, 2015 with 6-7, and a total record in that whole period of 30-85 (with 2020 no games, thanks to Covid) and since 2016 the won only 9 games, last season ZIP. Jim Mora as new HC might bring in reputation and can make hopefully the organizational changes to stabilize the team on some level, but his 1st game in his 1st season will be very, very, very likely a loss.
Betting line is -27.5 for the Aggies, so almost 4 scores.
Last season the opener line was the same, when UConn met Fresno State, result was a 45-0 win for the Bulldogs.
This game won't be pretty.
Aggies win.

Nevada @ New Mexico State
Nevada was likely a bit shocked when their HC of the past 5 seasons bolted for conference rival Colorado State. So, a new HC came in and even he takes over a quite good, developed team, as written above several positions are up for grab and it's open, how the transition will be executed.
Lucky for them, New Mexico State is a real mess, having their last winning season in 2017 with 7 wins, but only 25 wins under their last HC in total in 9 seasons. So, he is out, and Kill is in, and it will be interesting to see, whether he will be able to turn things around and (because I think he will make the team better) how fast. It's unlikely the team will explode on the 1st gameday in his 1st season.
Vegas has Nevada ahead by 9.0 points.
I do expect a higher margin win by Nevada.
Wolf Pack win.

Wyoming @ Illinois
A very interesting matchup.
Wyoming had a OK-season last year, finishing 7-6 and they do face Illinois, who played very tough under then new HC Brent Bielema, former HC of Wisconsin and Arkansas. The Illini finished 5-7, which was only 1 win shy of the best record the previous HC ever had.
I likely their style last season, I don't think many teams did really like to play them, since they always had that attitude they could win against anyone on a good day. They did demolish the seasons of Minnesota and Penn State, both ranked on the gamedays, and did almost do more against other tough teams.
This season, likely the will do more, so Wyoming will be tested.
Illinois is favored by 10.0 from Vegas and I think that's worth it.
On the 1st game, almost everything can happen, if attitude and concentration is right, Illinois will win this.
Illini win.

Charlotte @ Florida Atlantic
Another CUSA game. FAU is favored by 7.5 points playing at home.
Charlotte can gain a lot with a win here, especially on the 1st game on the road against a rival.
But FAU should now what's at stake here and their HC should be able to motivate them.
If FAU loses this, the coach is on a Hot Seat instantly.
Owls win.

'Til next time

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