Conference USA Power Rankings 2023: Liberty Flames Roar to the top of CUSA

    After an undefeated and exciting start to life in their new conference, the Liberty Flames roar to the top of our Conference USA Power Rankings.

    With just nine teams including two FBS newcomers, a lot of people slept on the Conference USA ahead of the season. However, there’s been some incredible football and some even more significant storylines to come out of CUSA early in the year.

    Who’s solidified their status amongst the best in the conference? Who’s shocked, both positively and not quite so positively? Our Conference USA Power Rankings attempt to order the nine teams from worst to first.

    Conference USA Power Rankings 2023

    Our Conference USA Power Rankings for the 2023 college football season takes into account several factors. Overall record is a consideration, but roster talent and depth, coaching staff, strength of schedule, plus offensive and defensive efficiency are taken into consideration in our latest update.

    9) Sam Houston Bearkats

    Preseason Ranking: 6th

    It’s been an extremely tough introduction to the FBS for conference newcomer Sam Houston. The Bearkats have had a torrid schedule to open their debut season, facing two Power Five opponents in BYU and Houston, sandwiching a clash with an Air Force team that has a legitimate shot at being Mountain West champions this fall.

    MORE: Welcome to the FBS, Sam Houston

    After scoring just one touchdown through those opening games, their first action in CUSA at least provided some reason for optimism despite defeat to Jacksonville State and dropping to 0-4 on the year. The Bearkats ripped through a stellar Gamecocks defense early on before succumbing in the second half.

    8) UTEP Miners

    Preseason Ranking: 5th

    Boasting an impressive line and the return of wide receiver Tyrin Smith following a flirtation with the transfer portal, there was a sense of expectation over the UTEP Miners ahead of the 2023 college football season, hence their fifth overall position in our preseason Conference USA Power Rankings. It has, however, been a disappointing campaign so far for Dana Dimel’s team.

    Having lost their opening CUSA clash to Jacksonville State in Week 0, the Miners have had to fight through two Power Five programs on their non-conference schedule, getting swept aside by Northwestern and Arizona. A loss to UNLV preceded a second CUSA defeat. They’re 0-2 in the conference with a 1-5 overall record through Week 5, with issues on both sides of the ball.

    7) New Mexico State Aggies

    Preseason Ranking: 7th

    New Mexico State has been a roller coaster ride since entering CUSA at the start of the 2023 college football season. Jerry Kill’s team was expected to beat UMass in Week 0 but came out an 11-point loser in a high-scoring fistfight. They were also put to the sword by Liberty, while a last-gasp defeat to Hawaii sees them enter Week 6 with a 2-3 record.

    The Aggies have been one of the most successful teams in CUSA offensively, ranking third in the conference with 29.8 points per game and second with an average of 435.8 yards of offense every time they take to the field behind QB Diego Pavia. That success is counterweighted by some defensive difficulties, resulting in them holding positions in our Conference USA Power Rankings.

    6) FIU Panthers

    Preseason Ranking: 9th

    The next three positions in our Conference USA Power Rankings were close-fought where each team could be easily interchangeable. The FIU Panthers have a better overall record than the team directly above them, having won three of their five games so far this season. They only need one more win to match their tally from the whole of the 2022 college campaign.

    MORE: Keyone Jenkins Shines, Earns Team of the Week Honor

    However, Mike MacIntyre’s team has one of the easiest strengths of schedules in the conference. Furthermore, they have lost both their opening two conference games, including a comprehensive defeat in Week 4 to Liberty. That game showcased the importance of offensive linemen Jacob Peace and John Bock to any offensive success they may achieve this year.

    5) Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

    Preseason Ranking: 4th

    High hopes for the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders in the 2023 college football season have rather quickly dissipated early on as Rick Stockstill’s team has gone 1-4 so far this year. They can, however, take solace in the most difficult strength of schedule faced by anyone in the conference. They also played undefeated SEC outfit Missouri close in Week 2.

    The Blue Raiders have had struggles on both sides of the ball. Through four games they’ve allowed 31 points per game, somewhat inflated by a Week 1 clash with Alabama but Colorado State hit that mark in their latest defeat. Meanwhile, the offense led by QB Nicholas Vattiato is yet to put up more than 23 points on any FBS opponent. Their only win was over FCS Murray State.

    4) Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

    Preseason Ranking: 2nd

    It might not be the “worst to first” turnaround that there was a clear pathway to in the preseason, but Louisiana Tech already has the same number of total wins as they tallied in the whole of the 2022 campaign. They’re also 2-0 in the conference after beating FIU in Week 0 and UTEP in Week 5.

    The offseason excitement centered around the offensive possibilities with returning receiver Smoke Harris and transfer QB Hank Bachmeier. At times, t§he offense has lived up to that promise and they feature near the top of multiple offensive metrics. But, there’s been a lack of consistency, and the defense hasn’t always totaled the sum of some very talented parts.

    3) Jacksonville State Gamecocks

    Preseason Ranking: 8th

    Through Week 5 of the college football season, the Jacksonville State Gamecocks have proven our preseason assessment straight up wrong. Of the two FBS newcomers, we thought they’d be the ones to struggle early on, but Rich Rodriguez’s team has had an extremely successful start to their life in CUSA. Their only defeat so far is to perennial Sun Belt contender Coastal Carolina.

    MORE: Conference USA Standings

    Bagging the opening day win over UTEP helps boost their ascent up our Conference USA Power Rankings. However, posting a shutout on MAC outfit Eastern Michigan cemented their status as one of the best in the conference. An early shock against Sam Houston showcased a steely resolve as they moved to 4-1 entering Week 6 and their toughest test to date.

    2) Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

    Preseason Ranking: 1st

    Western Kentucky opened their CUSA slate in expected dominant style, securing a 31-10 over Middle Tennessee State. Keeping the Blue Raiders to a low score was a boost for a defense that has had their share of struggles early on — allowing a CUSA-high 6.34 yards per play and the second most points of any team in the conference.

    On the plus side for Tyson Helton’s team, their hardest games of the season — Ohio State and Troy — are behind them. Additionally, their toughest conference game — Liberty — is at home. The best player in the conference resides on the Hilltoppers roster, and as long as Malachi Corley stays healthy they can compete with anyone on their schedule.

    1) Liberty Flames

    Preseason Ranking: 3rd

    There were questions facing the Liberty Flames when we put together our preseason Conference USA Power Rankings. Did the program have the talent to implement Jamey Chadwell’s innovative offense? Who would quarterback said offense? After losing some key pieces, would they be defensively effective enough to be dominant in their new home?

    More: Kaidon Salter Earns QB of the Week Honors

    Consider all the questions answered ahead of college football Week 6. Kaidon Salter has made this offense his own, possessing the dual-threat capability needed to run Chadwell’s scheme. A plethora of transfer running backs have helped shoulder the load, especially in the win over FIU last time out. Only Jacksonville State has a more successful defense in the conference.

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