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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Football

Cougars, Midshipmen and Tigers will battle over West


Memphis won the West Division last season with a 7-1 conference and defeated second place Houston 42-38 at TDECU Stadium. | Thomas Dwyer / The Cougar

The fight for West supremacy is shaping up to be a grueling, three-team race with the Memphis Tigers, Navy Midshipmen and Houston Cougars in contention.

There is no true way to predict exactly how a team’s season will shape up but there are exercises that can give you a good idea for how a team may do.

One of those is to look at a team’s strength of schedule and determine where a team might lose. Every team in the West plays at least one team currently ranked in the Top 25, except for Houston.

The toughest in-conference tests for Houston are its away games against the Navy and Memphis as well as a date in Lubbock against Texas Tech and a home contest against Arizona and Heisman candidate Khalil Tate.

Memphis faces No. 21 ranked UCF and go on the road against Navy, while Navy squares off against No. 12 ranked Notre Dame and travels to Orlando to battle UCF.

SMU faces three teams ranked in the Top 25, Tulane will travel to Columbus to face No. 5 Ohio State and Tulsa hits the road to face No. 23 Texas, Navy, Memphis and Houston.

While Houston’s schedule will not garner it any national respect, it does provide a path for the team to go undefeated which makes them the division favorite.

Wild horse

If much of the season plays out as expected, the biggest trap game for the west’s top teams will be SMU.

The Mustangs have virtually no chance of going undefeated with its scheduled games against No. 16 TCU, No. 14 Michigan, and No. 21 UCF, but it is a dark horse for the West title.

SMU does play its toughest west opponents, Houston, Navy and Memphis, in Dallas where it was 6-1 last season, so in conference it has a good chance to upset some teams.

If SMU is able to defeat any or all of those three teams, it can throw a wrench into the race to the top of the West

New blood

Looking at the schedule is just one way to determine potential season success, but another is how many players are returning from the previous year.

In college, there is a constant turnover in players since 99 percent of the time a team can only have a player on its roster for five seasons. Looking through that lens, the outlook in the west becomes a little clearer.

Memphis has to replace star quarterback Riley Ferguson who was third in the nation in passing yards last season. The Tigers have chosen Brady White, a graduate transfer who has not played since the beginning of the 2016 season.

Navy will remain virtually unchanged at key positions this season, which could be a concern as they fell by double digits to Houston last season.

The Cougars meanwhile, added some real talent in the off season to pair with returning star players, which should improve the team on both sides of the ball.

The winner of the West will likely be decided in the final week of the season when Houston plays Memphis and there is no sure way of telling which of the top three will take the crown.

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