2023 Conference USA Win Totals: Which FBS newcomer can hit ground running?

Discussing Jacksonville State's upside in 2023 while Middle Tennessee may struggle.

Jacksonville State's Zion Webb takes off with the ball around Austin Peay's defense in the first
Jacksonville State's Zion Webb takes off with the ball around Austin Peay's defense in the first / George Robinson / The Leaf-Chronicle /

Conference USA welcomes newcomers to the FBS ranks in Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State, but one presents a far higher ceiling.

We will discuss Jacksonville State in a bit, but there are plenty of questions for how certain teams will adjust to the transition of new teams, including Middle Tennessee, who has questions at quarterback after signal quarterback Chase Cunningham graduated.

Here are two win totals I'm eyeing in CUSA in 2023:

Jacksonville State OVER 4.5 Wins (+112)

Rich Rodriguez is back in the FBS ranks with seventh year quarterback Zion Webb that will run a spread offense that will outpace several of Conference USA's leaky defenses.

Webb ran for nearly six yards per carry and 13 touchdowns while tossing 10 TD's and has plenty of options to work with in 2023 as the team adds Louisiana-Monroe transfer Malik Johnson and Anwar Lewish, who rused for more than seven yards per carry.

This offense will focus on offense, and if you aren't able to take advantage of that you will fall behind, but I feel confident Rich Rod and Webb can get this team going early.

On defense, the unit will have some questions, but the team has havoc drivers that can flip games in its favor. Jaylen Swain had five sacks last season and is joined by defensive end Chris Hardie, who posted 10 tackles for loss. The team also has former Auburn product Kolbi Fuqua.

We saw James Madison shine quickly, making the jump from FCS to FBS, winning eight games in the Dukes' first year, and I believe Jacksonville State could be a factor in CUSA quickly.

The team is a small favorite against conference foe UTEP in the opening game in Week 0 and has several toss up games on the schedule including Eastern Michigan, Liberty, Western Kentucky Louisiana Tech at home. The team will be considerable underdogs at Coastal Carolina, but will be small spread dogs at Sam Houston State, at Middle Tennessee, at Florida International and at New Mexico State.

This team will have a better offense in a handful of games, and have too many toss ups not to count on getting to five wins.

Middle Tennessee Under 6.5 Wins (+116)

Middle Tennessee has arguably the toughest schedule in the conference, mainly due to its non conference schedule.

The Blue Raiders will break in a new quarterback behind an unproven offensive line against two SEC foes in Alabama and Missouri before playing six straight games without a bye. Those eight games in a row may be a brutal blow to a team that has to find an identity and develop new players for a team that is 88th in returning production, per ESPN.com.

I believe that the team's opening two SEC games will alter the team's trajectory of the season. While the team is set to be favorites in potentially eight games this season, I don't believe the context of facing two elite opponents is being factored in yet. By the time we arrive at the games MTSU is favored in, the team may be banged up or proven to be worse than expected.

Last season, MTSU beat Miami as three touchdown underdogs and benefitted from posting the fourth highest turnover margin en route to a seven win season. I believe that the transition from Cunningham, who had a big play quarterback, to Nick Vattiato, a sophomore with limited experience, leads to too many questions heading into the year.

Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.