In the 2020 shortened college football season, Marshall lost to UAB in the Conference USA Championship Game, and the media who cover the league’s schools believe there will be a rematch in this year’s title matchup. Here’s a look at the two favorites and their odds to win C-USA.
Preview Conference USA Football 2021
- Marshall Thunder Herd (+240 favorite to win C-USA)
The Thundering Herd, who went 7-3 and 4-1 in C-USA play in 2020, welcome back nine starters on offense and four on defense. They do have a new coach in former Alabama assistant Charles Huff. He is regarded as one of the top recruiters in college football, and he also helped develop running backs Saquon Barkley at Penn State and Najee Harris at Alabama. Huff has never been a head coach at the college level.
Huff replaces longtime Thundering Herd coach Doc Holliday, who was let go after 11 seasons with the program. Holliday went 85-54 at Marshall (55-30 in league play) with a Conference USA title in 2014 and three division championships.
QB Grant Wells, who was the C-USA Freshman of the Year last season, returns. Wells threw for 2,091 yards and 18 touchdowns in 10 appearances, helping guide Marshall to the East Division crown. The Herd return six all-conference performers from 2020 in Wells, TE Xavier Gaines, OL Alex Mollette, DB Steven Gilmore, DT Jamare Edwards and DB Nazeeh Johnson.
Gilmore and Edwards are both on numerous watch lists for major awards. Gilmore started all 10 games for Marshall in 2020. He finished the campaign with 39 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, one interception and two forced fumbles. Edwards was a second team All-Conference USA pick last year after amassing 30 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, one pass breakup and a forced fumble. He also started all 10 games at defensive tackle.
Also starting center Alex Salguero was named to the national watch list for the Rimington Trophy, an award that honors the most outstanding center in the Football Bowl Subdivision. He was the only player from C-USA named to that list. In 2020, Salguero stepped into a spot vacated by four-year stalwart Levi Brown and started all 10 games. He helped lead a unit that, heading into bowl season, was regarded as the fourth-best nationally by Pro Football Focus.
The Thundering Herd host UAB and WKU and face FAU on the road in early November. Those three contests are likely to determine whether or not Huff can guide Marshall to another trip to the conference title game.
- UAB Blazers (+325)
UAB captured its second conference crown in the past three seasons, knocking off Marshall 22-13 in Huntington last season. Trea Shropshire had five receptions for 180 yards — including a 71-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter — and Spencer Brown had 30 carries for 149 yards rushing to lead the victory. Tyler Johnston III was 12-of-22 passing for 252 yards and two touchdowns for UAB, which became the first school to reach the championship game for the third straight season, all on the road.
The Blazers return eight offensive starters and nine starters on its dominant defense from a team that finished 6-3 and 3-1 in C-USA play. Johnson is back to lead the offense. He enters his senior year ranking fourth all-time at UAB in career touchdown passes (35) and fifth in career yards (4,429).
Also back is sophomore running back DeWayne McBride. He enters the 2021 season with high expectations after a tremendous rookie campaign in 2020. In only six games, McBride rushed 47 times for 439 yards and four touchdowns. His average of 9.3 yards per carry would have ranked him second nationally if he met the minimum of playing in 75 percent of the team’s games. Jermaine Brown Jr., Lucious Stanley and Larry Wooden will fight for carries and will be challenged by Mississippi State transfer Lee Witherspoon.
The Blazers return four all-conference defensive performers from a year ago in LB-turned-S Kristopher Moll, DT Antonio Moultrie, LB Noah Wilder and DB TD Marshall, as well as three all-conference returners offensively in OL Sidney Wells, OL Colby Ragland and TE Hayden Pittman.
UAB hit the transfer market and will be boosted by edge Justin Thomas (LSU), linebacker Charlie Benton (West Virginia) and safety Troy Young (Arizona), who will play the hybrid Star position.
The Blazers are the three-time defending C-USA West Division Champs, which is a Conference USA record. UAB’s 34 wins since 2017 are the most of any team in C-USA during that span. Due to construction at Protective Stadium, the Blazers play their first four games on the road (Sept. 1 vs. Jacksonville State in Montgomery; Sept. 11 at Georgia; Sept. 18 at North Texas; Sept. 25 at Tulane).
- Marshall beats UAB this time
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