FILE - In this Dec. 26, 2015, file photo, Marshall head coach Doc Holliday celebrates the team's 16-10 win against Connecticut in the St. Petersburg Bowl NCAA college football game in St. Petersburg, Fla. Marshall has never had four consecutive 10-win sea
AP Photo
August 12, 2016

IRVING, Texas (AP) Conference USA goes into a new season with no changes in its lineup of teams for the first time since 2012.

The league has the same 13 teams that competed for the title last season, including defending champion Western Kentucky.

There will be at least one change in 2017 with UAB's return after a two-season hiatus, and who knows what happens if there is another national shift of teams. The Big 12, a Power Five conference headquartered just around the corner from the C-USA office, is considering expansion of its 10-team league.

''We're not blind to the fact that that's kind of what has been a hot topic the last couple of years ... and now it looks like it's going to pick back up,'' WKU coach Jeff Brohm said. ''If we take care of our business and try to be a contender every year in the league, eventually good things will happen, but we like exactly where we're at right now.''

Marshall coach Doc Holliday agrees, adding, ''I'm not sure any of the other Group of Five is a better league than what we have right now.''

C-USA had 12 teams from 2005-12, though some teams changed during that span. There were 14 teams in 2013 with a baker's dozen in 2014, and again last year when FBS newcomer Charlotte came in as UAB temporarily shut down its program.

THE FAVORITES:

East Division: With a 5,000-yard passer last season, WKU averaged 50 points without losing a C-USA game. The Hilltoppers return all five starting offensive linemen, a record-setting receiver and a 1,000-yard rusher, but quarterback Brandon Doughty was a seventh-round NFL pick. WKU's toughest league games are on the road, at the other East favorites - Middle Tennessee with its father-son coach-quarterback combo (Rick Stockstill is dean of C-USA coaches in his 11th season) and Marshall off three consecutive 10-win seasons - and Louisiana Tech.

West Division: Southern Miss, the alma mater of Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, was the most-improved FBS team last season, six wins better at 9-5 while winning the West and going to its first bowl game since 2011. Coach Todd Monken left for the NFL as offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay, but USM's record-setting quarterback is back. Fourth-year Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz (13-3 in C-USA games the last two years) has created the kind of depth that could help the Bulldogs overcome the loss of running back Kenneth Dixon (26 total TDs) and their quarterback.

TOP PLAYERS

- Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens. After 4,476 yards passing and 38 TDs last season, Mullens could emerge as a top NFL prospect as a senior.

- WKU receiver Taywan Taylor. A nice target for the Hilltoppers' new quarterback after 86 catches for 1,467 yards and 17 TDs last season.

- Florida Athletic defensive end Trey Hendrickson. The 6-foot-4, 270-pounder, C-USA's sack leader, had more than one sack in five games.

- Louisiana Tech receiver Trent Taylor. Undersized at 5-8, he is big catching passes: 99 catches for 1,282 yards last year.

- Middle Tennessee quarterback Brent Stockstill. The lefty completed two-thirds of his passes (4,005 yards, 30 TDs, nine interceptions) as a freshman starting for his dad.

NEW FACES

- Marshall linebacker Davon Durant. A top junior college player who first went to Arizona State and got dismissed there, Durant could be a key player for a defense that lost seven starters.

- North Texas coach Seth Littrell. North Carolina's play-caller the past two seasons hopes to have the same kind of spread-out, high-scoring offense in his first head coaching job.

- Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson. Twice a Golden Eagles assistant in the past, Hopson was Alcorn State's coach the past four years.

- UTSA coach Frank Wilson. A first-time college coach after six seasons as LSU's recruiting coordinator.

ON THE HOT SEAT

- Ron Turner, FIU. The Panthers have gone from one to four to five wins under Turner. With a quarterback, running back and receiver among nine returning offensive starters, they need to be even better.

- Charlie Partridge, Florida Atlantic. After consecutive 3-9 seasons, the Owls have 15 returning starters from a team that lost four games by a touchdown or less.

-Brad Lambert, Charlotte. There are 19 fifth-year seniors who came as freshmen for the program's inception in 2012, a year before the first game. Could this be the last season as well for Lambert, 10-22 after a 2-10 FBS debut last year.

PICKS

East: Middle Tennessee. West: Southern Miss. League champion: Middle Tennessee.

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AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org

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