When college football returns this fall, fans can expect some exceptional matchups across the country. There are a number of compelling games on the horizon in Conference USA. When conference play starts to heat up, the Conference USA boasts some pretty incredible games in the 2021 season. There will be games featuring Conference USA championship contenders, ascending programs, and teams trying to prove themselves with big wins.
Adding in the non-conference games and some big time rematches next fall, next year’s schedule already has fans looking forward to this season.
What are the best Conference USA games of 2021? The revenge factor plays into our rankings, plus some intriguing matchups that we missed last year. Take a look below to see the best ones and start making your NCAAF picks.:
5.Marshall Thundering Herd vs. Florida Atlantic Owls
While the previous game has the possibility of deciding the West, an early November contest in Boca Raton features two programs that have represented the East division three out of the last four seasons. A shorthanded Florida Atlantic team traveled to Huntington last season and pushed the No. 22 Thundering Herd for three quarters until Marshall pulled away for an 11-point win.
Marshall quarterback Grant Wells will look to atone for one of his worst performances of an otherwise stellar redshirt freshman season as the Owls’ picked off Wells twice in last year’s game. The thought of another Marshall victory deciding the East division is one that certainly fills FAU fans with angst.
4.Florida International Panthers vs. Florida Atlantic Owls
On paper, 2021’s edition of the Shula Bowl rivalry game between FAU and FIU looks like a game worth writing off. However, the timing and potential circumstances surrounding the contest make it a contest to keep an eye on. The conference opener for both programs, the Panthers are looking for their first victory over their rivals to the north in four seasons.
A fifth consecutive loss for FIU would further the divide between both programs — while a victory would be a much-needed boost for the Blue and Gold faithful. From the Owls’ side of things, Willie Taggart’s club may have been a year ahead of schedule, especially on the defensive side of the football. Now, with the addition of former Miami quarterback N’Kosi Perry — expectations are rightfully high in Boca. A loss to FIU could shake some of the confidence in Boca Raton.
3.Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
100 Miles of Hate always provides its share of fanfare regardless of the year. However, with both programs coming off subpar seasons, this year’s late-season contest could decide either team’s bowl-game hopes. Tyson Helton has reshaped the Hilltopper offense around former FCS Houston Baptist signal-caller Bailey Zappe in hopes of jumpstarting a passing offense that was mediocre, at best, in 2020.
The Blue Raiders’ offense will also look drastically different following the departure of two-year starting quarterback Asher O’Hara and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. By the time this game rolls around, we’ll have enough of a sample size to see how those changes fare for both clubs.
2.North Texas Mean Green vs. Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Similar to MTSU at WKU, North Texas’ trip to Hattiesburg on November 6th may very well decide if either of these teams will qualify for postseason play. The Golden Eagles look forward to a return to normalcy after a 2020 that saw their starting quarterback enter the transfer portal in November and their head coach resign the first game of the season.
Last year’s 3-7 record is a bit of a misnomer as three of those losses were by a field goal or less and there’s reason for optimism under new head coach Will Hall. Seth Littrell turns to his third defensive coordinator in as many years, with former SMU head coach Phil Bennett taking over for Clint Bowen. Mean Green fans hope that by the time this game rolls around, their team’s defense will allow less than 30 points per game — something they haven’t done since 2018.
1.Rice Owls vs. UTEP Miners
The penultimate game of the 2021 season for both clubs may play a role in deciding the future of both programs. UTEP’s Dana Dimel and Rice’s Mike Bloomgren are both entering year four of their respective rebuilding jobs — and it’s not a stretch to say that 2021 is very much a make or break year for both men.
While Rice has shown flashes of being further ahead in the rebuilding process, most notably last year’s upset of No. 21 Marshall — both programs have a combined 12-50 record since 2018. Anything less than a .500 record could spell the end of Dimel or Bloomgren’s tenure in C-US. Now that you have the tools, it’s up to you to put in the work and find the best college football odds.