After six weeks of Power Five action, we return to the Group of Five with Conference USA.
Here are the Conference USA standings.
having too many men on the field during a punt return. Middle Tennessee was a solid 2-1 in one-score conference games (prior to their close loss in the title game), but turnovers and non-offensive touchdowns were the reason they were able to exceed their expected record. The Blue Raiders had a league-best in-conference turnover margin of +10 and they also scored three non-offensive touchdowns while allowing none. UTEP and Florida Atlantic were the two Conference USA teams that failed to live up to their YPP numbers. UTEP had a league-worst in-conference turnover margin of -12, finished 1-2 in one-score conference games, and allowed four non-offensive touchdowns while scoring none of their own. For Florida Atlantic, the culprit was close game performance. Of their five conference losses, four came by a touchdown or less. Those four close losses came by a combined fifteen points, while each of their three conference wins came by at least nineteen points.
From the Penthouse to the Outhouse
Going in to the 2018 season, Florida Atlantic was a prohibitive favorite in the east division of Conference USA. And rightfully so. The Owls dominated the league in 2017, winning all eight of their regular season games, with seven coming by double digits, drubbing North Texas in the Conference USA Championship Game, and embarrassing Akron in their bowl game on the way to a school-record eleven victories. Thanks to the, shall we say, interesting career path of their head coach, they even got to hang on to him for another year. A lot of things can go wrong over the course of a football season, but worst case scenario for 2018 seemed to be a second consecutive bowl game. Yet, when December rolled around, the Owls were home for the holidays, having posted a 5-7 overall record (just 3-5 in Conference USA). While it probably wasn’t what their fans were expecting, Florida Atlantic did put together a historic season in 2018. They became just the tenth team since 1998 (the beginning of the BCS era) to finish with a losing conference record one season after going unbeaten in league play. The others are listed below.
BYU, were the lone mid-major (non-BCS or Group of Five) team to post a losing record despite retaining their head coach. The other mid-major teams on this list (Ball State, Central Michigan, Kent State, and Tulane) lost their head coaches to better jobs after their undefeated campaigns or in the case of TCU, moved to a power conference.
Can Florida Atlantic expect to rebound to their previous status in 2019? To find out, I looked at the follow-up conference records for those nine teams. They are summarized below.