Our 2021 college football preview series begins in Conference USA. The East division struggled in 2020, fielding plenty of decent units but, aside from early-season Marshall, not really featuring any teams that had their acts together on both sides of the ball.
With the Thundering Herd changing head coaches, and with most teams returning large portions of last year's depth charts, it's possible that what the division lacks in upside it makes up for in experience and competitiveness. SP+ projects all seven teams to win between three and five conference games on average, though last year's champion starts out atop the pack.
Every week through the summer, Bill Connelly will preview another division from the Group of 5 and Power 5 exclusively for ESPN+, ultimately including all 130 FBS teams. They will include 2020 breakdowns, 2021 previews and a brief history of each team in one handy chart.
Ricky Rahne's first season finally gets underway after the Monarchs became one of three schools to cancel their 2020 fall slate thanks to COVID-19 concerns.
Projected SP+ rank: 120
Projected record: 5-7 (3-5)
Likely wins* (1): Hampton (SP+ win probability: 95%)
Relative toss-ups (7): UTEP (64%), Louisiana Tech (55%), Charlotte (54%), at FIU (40%), at MTSU (40%), WKU (38%), FAU (38%)
Likely losses (4): Buffalo (25%), at Marshall (19%), at Wake Forest (11%), at Liberty (6%)
* Likely wins are games in which SP+ projects the scoring margin to be greater than seven points, or above about 65% win probability. Likely losses are the opposite, and relative toss-ups are all the games in between.