2011 NCAA Football Mid-Major Conference Preview
Over the past several college football seasons teams from some of the Mid-Major conferences have been able to make a significant impact on the BCS rankings. While no Mid-Major team has made it all the way to a national title game, programs such as TCU, Boise State, and Nevada have continued to gain national recognition as legitimate football powers.
There are five primary conferences that draw the most interest from the ranks of the Mid-Majors starting with Conference USA. The odds-on-favorite to win this conference this season is Houston at +170 followed by Southern Mississippi and Central Florida at +240. The Cougars went just 5-7 overall last season but return 14 starters from last year’s squad including RB Bryce Beall and WR Patrick Edwards, who were both All-Conference selections. The Golden Eagles will have QB Austin Davis back under center along with 15 other starters from 2010. The defending champion UCF Knights will have five All-Conference selections back from last year.
The Mid-American Conference title should come down to a battle between Northern Illinois at +200 out the West and the winner of the Miami, Ohio (+285) at Temple (+240) game on November 9 in the East. The Huskies went a perfect 8-0 in the 2010 MAC regular season and remain loaded on offense with nine starters back from a team that averaged 38 points a game. The RedHawks are in even better shape with 17 starters back from last season’s squad that knocked off N.Illinois 26-21 in the MAC Championship Game. The Owls finished 5-3 in conference play and 8-4 overall, but are poised to compete for the title this season as a result of a couple of strong recruiting classes.
Utah defected from the Mountain West after last season to join the expanded PAC-12, but the addition of Boise State should form a new rivalry with TCU in the conference. The Broncos have been instilled as the odds-on-favorite to win the MWC and while there are no formal conference odds posted, they have been opened by Bodog.com at +1000 to win a national title. Boise State QB Kellen Moore is back for one more season as is RB Doug Martin, which should make this offense as potent as ever. The defense is bolstered by four All-Conference players and returns seven starters from last year. The Horned Frogs are listed in the top 20 of most preseason rankings and have been opened at +3000 to win a national title. QB Andy Dalton is off to the NFL, but sophomore Casey Pachall is poised to step up and take his place. TCU will rely heavily on RB Ed Wesley, who led the team in rushing last season with 1,078 yards. A couple of other teams to watch in the MWC are Air Force and San Diego State, which are both coming off 9-4 seasons.
The Sun Belt Conference could be wide open this season with as many as four teams having a legitimate shot at winning the title. Defending champion Florida International has to be considered the slight favorite as this program continues to evolve under the guidance of Head Coach Mario Cristobal. It also helps that senior QB Wesley Carroll and WR T.Y. Hilton are back on an offense that averaged close to 30 points a game. The other three teams that should factor into the mix are Troy, Arkansas State, and Louisiana-Monroe. The Trojans have the inside track of the three to best challenge the Panthers for the title with the return of QB Corey Robinson, who threw for 3,726 yards and 28 TD’s in 2010.
The Western Athletic Conference is facing a major crossroads this season with the loss of Boise State and the planned defection of Nevada, Fresno State, and Hawaii to the MWC in 2012. As this conference ponders its future, ironically enough it appears that these three schools will battle it out this season for the conference title. The Wolf Pack return 13 starters from last year’s team that went 13-1 but will have to find a way to replace QB Colin Kaepernick, who was a huge part of the offense in 2010. The Bulldogs will be tested early and often by an aggressive non-conference schedule that includes Nebraska and Mississippi, which could take its toll once conference play begins. The Warriors could have a hard time duplicating their 10-4 record of last year with just three starters returning on offense and six on defense.
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