by Mark Mayer | EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fifth in a 10-week series running through Aug. 26 focusing on season openers, individual odds (if on the board), betting strengths and weaknesses among college football’s premier conferences. So clip and save.
Maybe the fact Conference USA only has six members is that the league doesn’t get a lot of respect both in national polls and Las Vegas sports books.
The Hilton did not list any C-USA schools among its elite 30 for over/under season victories prices. And in "Games of the Year" around town, not so much.
However, bettors should know these teams can play. East Carolina, for example, finished 8-5 against the spread, including a bowl win over Boise State. Central Florida was also 8-5 last year and had the nation’s leading rusher in Kevin Smith.
Southern Miss is perennially the power of the league, while Marshall and Memphis have their moments. Alabama-Birmingham did play better than its record.
UAB (2-10 SU, 5-6 ATS): Early on check the over, which was 3-0 in the Blazers’ nonconference matchups. Among the nonleague foes this season are Tennessee and South Carolina. UAB must improve on an offense that was held to 13 points or less five times.
UCF (8-5, 8-5): Yes there is no Kevin Smith, who skipped his senior year for the NFL and the Detroit Lions. The Golden Knights were +12 in takeaways and have drawn an impressive nonleague schedule that includes South Florida, Boston College and Miami. That’s progress.
ECU (8-5, 8-5): The Pirates, like UCF, lost a top running back as Chris Johnson was drafted by the Tennessee Titans. East Carolina was 6-2 ATS in league play and a stellar +17 in takeaways.
USM (5-6, 5-6): The Golden Eagles rarely have a sub-500 season, much less two. As bad as last year was, Southern Miss did beat UCF by 21. A home game with Boise State should be a beauty.
Marshall (3-9, 4-7): The Thundering Herd produced Randy Moss and Chad Pennington, so the spirit is there for improvement. Marshall is still getting adjusted to C-USA after spending a few years in the MAC. What must improve: 0-3 ATS nonleague and -11 in takeaways.
Memphis (7-6, 7-5): The Tigers could be the sleeper with a very favorable schedule. Memphis plays Rice, Marshall, Nicholls St, Arkansas St and UAB in its first six games. The opener with Ole Miss is always a tussle. Memphis also hosts Louisville, Central Florida and Southern Miss.
Next week: Mountain West.