C-USA Football Preview: West Division

With C-USA's recent overhaul, it can be difficult to get a gauge for what to expect when teams meet for the first time this fall. Michael Prunka takes a look at the West division.

Conference-USA's West Division has an interesting dynamic this season. The reigning C-USA Champion Tulsa Golden Hurricane remain the favorite to win the division, but the addition of three new teams in the West will make things interesting outside East Carolina's division.

The champs will be tested early on, though. Tulsa opens the season with four consecutive non-conference games. Of those first four, a road game vs. the Oklahoma Sooners in Week 3 looks particularly menacing for the Golden Hurricane.

The West Division won't sit back and let Tulsa take control, though.

One team looking to start anew in C-USA is Louisiana Tech. By no means did the Bulldogs have a poor 2012 season—they finished 9-3 (4-2 Western Athletic Conference).

Louisiana Tech's outstanding record was more than enough to become bowl eligible. However, the Bulldogs waited it out to see if they would receive an invitation other than the Independence Bowl. They didn't and lost the Independence Bowl to Ohio.

On top of that, the Bulldogs will have former ECU head coach Skip Holtz at the helm for the first season. During his time in Greenville, Holtz led the Pirates to two C-USA championships and four straight bowl games between 2006 and 2009.

Holtz and the Bulldogs will not meet the Pirates this season.

North Texas is another team new to C-USA this season. The Mean Green will look to bounce back from the 4-8 record it posted in its final season in the Sun Belt Conference. With the exception of an early-season game against Georgia, North Texas' non-conference schedule makes it somewhat plausible for them to build from last year.

If anything, the conference schedule might pose a problem. The Mean Green will face both Tulsa and Louisiana Tech.

On the other hand, UTEP might end up being challenged more by its non-conference schedule. The Miners only managed three wins last season so they're in need of similar upward momentum.

With road games at Colorado, New Mexico and the mighty Texas A&M, nothing will come easy for the Miners. On top of all that, this season is New Mexico State's turn to host their annual rivalry game.

UTEP will not play ECU this season. The Pirates beat the Miners 28-18 in 2012.

In their first season in C-USA, the University of Texas at San Antonio, it will be very tough for the school's young football program to have success under former Miami (Fla.) head coach Larry Coker.

After knocking out their non-conference schedule in the first five weeks of the season, the Roadrunners will face a series of difficult conference games. They travel to Marshall and Tulsa. As if that isn't challenging enough, they close out the season at home against Louisiana Tech, who dominated them 51-27 last season.

Another team in the West Division that doesn't seem poised to compete for the top spot is Rice. After making their first bowl game in four years, the Owls need to build momentum to become a force in C-USA.

Between them and that goal, though, is a trio of road games against Kansas, Texas A&M and Houston. The Owls also find themselves traveling to Tulsa for their fifth game. With a schedule like that, it will be an uphill battle early in the season for the Owls.

The last team that's on the outside looking in is Tulane. The Green Wave should be able to improve upon its dismal 2-10 record last season, but still isn't likely to make a splash in the West Division.

Three new teams will be looking to establish themselves in their first season in the conference. Only one of those—Louisiana Tech—is in any position to dethrone Tulsa.

Beyond that, it's hard to peg which teams will deliver. With so much changing in C-USA, there's no clear idea of who will thrive on the gridiron.

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