Firework finales are pointless without a snazzy introduction.
Each superhero is complimented by a sidekick or foil character that surely goes unnoticed by the average eye.
Appetizers still lack the credit they deserve for satisfying the anxiety ahead of a main course.
Among the chatter surrounding National Signing Day, top recruiting programs, and notable potential College Football Playoff busters, Conference USA won’t headline the SportsCenter tickers like the major conferences do. Yet, the 2015 season holds a true test among its three top teams.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
2014 regular season record: 7-5
Notable wins: Bowling Green, Marshall, Navy
The Hilltoppers’ 2014 offense gave teams like Baylor and Oregon a run for their money. WKU threw for an astounding 373.2 yards through the air while its 44.4 points a contest ranked 6th in the nation.
After a 2013 offense that was solely based on ground game, quarterback Brandon Doughty portrayed numbers found only in video games played on rookie mode in 2014; his 4,830 passing yards topped the conference.
While the defense held question marks throughout each group, Western Kentucky relied heavily on a fast-paced tempo. Scoring 50 or more a game rarely hurts.
Why WKU Can Win the Conference
The Hilltoppers return Doughty along with several threats on the outside. Five receivers that recorded at least 20 catches, 350 or more receiving yards, and multiple scores will stroll back into the offense expecting to display more fireworks of their own.
What bodes well for Western Kentucky lies in its schedule. While a showdown against LSU on the road spells blowout, The Hilltoppers will see an inexperienced Vanderbilt squad to open 2015.
The key? Marshall and Louisiana Tech will both travel to Bowling Green in conference play.
2014 regular season record: 8-4
Notable wins: Illinois
Following a renovation of the Bulldog football team with the departure of head coach Sonny Dikes in 2013, Louisiana Tech mustered up an 8-4 record last season, a bid to compete in the conference championship, and a victory over Illinois in postseason play.
Why LT Can Win the Conference
Louisiana Tech’s balance improved its offensive numbers from 2013 with quarterback Cody Sokol and running back Kenneth Dixon emerging as playmakers.
While the C-USA relies primarily on offensive numbers, Louisiana Tech’s defense stuffed the run almost all season, squandering only 118.2 yards on the ground. With Sokol’s departure, Dixon’s load increases, but the running back has flourished in his role, averaging over five yards a carry in his career.
Marshall Thundering Herd
2014 regular season record: 11-1
Notable wins: NIU
I could write and rave about the Marshall offense and the excitement it brings with every play, but time is of the essence. The Thundering Herd had the pleasure of doing whatever they pleased on the offensive side of the ball, tallying 287.3 yards through the air along with 271.9 rushing yards per game.
Mr. Everything Rakeem Cato blessed the grounds of Marshall with a stellar career at quarterback, paving the way for another gunslinger to make his own mark.
Why Marshall Can Win the Conference
The eye-opening 14,079 yards thrown in Cato’s career will leave any fan base in a frenzy, but Marshall still reloads with terrific wide receivers. Deon-Tay McManus, Hyleck Foster, and Davonte Allen all picked up heavy slack to lessen the pressure on senior receiver Tommy Shuler. The leading rusher in the conference, Devon Johnson, also returns to his role in the backfield.
Marshall’s defense turned the tides in 2014 after failing to find an identity since the team became relevant. The Thundering Herd surrendering just 21 points in an offensive-based conference.
While Marshall still holds threats to score at will, the defensive-mindedness will need to continue in 2015.