06:57 AM, September 6, 2022
Conference USA Expansion: 2022 Football Records for New Teams
Emily Van Buskirk
College football realignment this summer reminded me of a middle school cafeteria – no loyalty, just jockeying for the prime lunch spot. Oklahoma and Texas are leaving for the SEC, prompting the Big 12 to invite three schools from the American Athletic Conference – Houston, Cincinnati, and UCF. The AAC turned around and grabbed six schools from Conference USA – Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB, and UTSA. Luckily, C-USA was already scheduled to add Liberty, New Mexico State, Jacksonville State, and Sam Houston State to the conference next season.
Conference USA Expansion
C-USA lost the fight to keep Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Mississippi, who all bolted for the Sun Belt Conference. The five remaining schools, Western Kentucky, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, and UTEP, will be joined by FBS schools Liberty and New Mexico State, as well as FCS programs Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State.
2023 Conference USA Football Teams
FIU welcomed new head coach Mike MacIntyre this year, who had previous stops at Memphis, Colorado, and San Jose State. The Miami native has already brought life to the program, led this season by quarterback Gunnar Holmberg. The Panthers have notable games at Texas State and against Uconn.
The Gamecocks are a team we’ve had a chance to see – they defeated Stephen F. Austin 42-17 in Week Zero. Helmed by new head coach Rich Rodriguez, this version of Jacksonville State is a more resilient one – the Gamecocks bounced back from the first three drives that resulted in turnovers to score touchdowns on five of their next seven possessions. This will be a fun team to watch in 2022.
The Flames finished with a respectable eight wins under third-year head coach Hugh Freeze last season. With quarterback Malik Willis gone to the Titans, Liberty will be able to spread the love around and not have to rely on one standout guy as the program looks to make its fourth-straight bowl game appearance. The Flames boast a demanding schedule with games at Wake Forest, UCONN, and Arkansas and against BYU and Virginia Tech.
The Bulldogs start their 2022 season with a bang at Missouri, where a win for newly minted head coach Sonny Cumbie will be hard to come by. But expect a fight from players like quarterback Matthew Downing and running back Smoke Harris, who will be looking to record his first 1,000-yard season this year. La Tech also has a matchup at Clemson on the schedule.
The Blue Raiders are being paid $1.5 million to play James Madison in their Week 1 season opener. Missouri paid MTSU $800,000 for backing out, and JMU paid the Blue Raiders $700,000 because they needed a game. In his 16th year as head coach at MTSU, Rick Stockstill has a lot to be excited about this season – senior quarterback Chase Cunningham, who had 1,318 yards and 16 touchdowns before his season was cut short due to injury, and sophomore wide receiver Jaylin Lane, who caught 42 passes for 466 yards and four touchdowns last year. Defensively, MTSU led the nation with 32 forced turnovers last season.
New Mexico State
Yet another team we saw play in Week Zero, New Mexico State, suffered a 23-12 loss to Nevada. The Aggies will look to rebound against Minnesota, but watch out for the beef between head coaches Jerry Kill and P.J. Fleck. The Aggies’ lack of depth will be problematic this season as they face off against Wisconsin and Missouri down the stretch.
Sam Houston State
The Bearkats start the 2022 season strong with a matchup against sixth-ranked Texas A&AM at Kyle Field. An FCS quarterfinalist last season, Sam Houston State will be leaving that all behind as they enter the FBS world next year. I bet you didn’t know that the Bearkats have seen 37 former players participate in the NFL. Head coach K.C. Keeler is set to start Georgia Tech transfer Jordan Yates at quarterback – he’s a dual-threat QB with three years of college football under his belt.
University of Texas at El Paso dropped its first game against Nort Texas in Week Zero 31-13. The Mean Green has a good squad this season, so don’t put too much stock into the loss. But the Miners face No. 9 Oklahoma in Week 1, which will be a hard pill to swallow. Their 2021 season was beautiful – seven wins, a bowl appearance, the best season since 2014, and more wins than the previous four years combined. They lost their leading receiver Jacob Cowing to Arizona, but Tyrin Smith caught seven passes for 127 yards against North Texas. The offensive line is beastly, and the defense allowed just 25 points per game last season.
The Hilltoppers have to be a little miffed at the fact that they were left behind in all this realignment business. They have gone to seven bowl games in the last eight years, played in three Conference USA Championship games, and boasted an unstoppable offense. This year’s passing game lost QB Bailey Zappe and 150 catches and 17 touchdowns from Jerreth Sterns, who is now with Tampa Bay. Getting a complimentary running attack will be necessary without Zappe, so it will be Kye Robichaux’s and Jakairi Moses’s time to shine. The Hilltoppers won their first game against Austin Peay 38-27 but go on a challenging road stretch at Hawaii and Indiana before settling into conference play. Plus, a late game at Auburn looms on the schedule.
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