NWADG College Football


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38 NWA COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW | 8.28.2022 BY STEPHEN HAWKINS AP SPORTS WRITER ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Western Kentucky football coach Tyson Helton was part of Conference USA's inaugural season in 1996, as a freshman quarterback on his father's team at Houston that shared the first title. He was also previously an assistant coach for two other teams in the league that is now in a state of transition. The Hilltoppers have twice won nine games and been to bowl games in each of Helton's three seasons. They were league runner-ups last season, and are among the only five of C-USA's current 11 schools that will still be part of the league a year from now. "I've seen this conference recreate itself many times over, and every time it's become stronger," Helton said Wednesday at the league's media day. "It's always been an exciting conference to play in. … I'm focused on 2022. We've got some great Conference USA teams that are still in the conference, so it ought to be really, really competitive." Defending champion and preseason favorite UTSA is leaving for the American Athletic Conference next summer, along with Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB and Charlotte. UTSA quarterback Frank Harris, the league's preseason offensive player of the year, said the Roadrunners have to prepare the same way they did last season, and have the same chip on their shoulder they did when winning as school-record 12 games and becoming a Top 25 team for the first time. He said being their last C-USA season doesn't change anything. "We've just got to go out there and compete," said Harris, who threw for 3,177 yards and 27 touchdowns last season, and ran for another 566 yards and six scores. "Game by game, go out and execute and do what we've been doing, and try to have another great season." There were 14 C-USA schools before Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Mississippi left this summer for the Sun Belt. Southern Miss, the last of C-USA's original six teams to depart, shared that 1996 title with Houston, which left the league after the 2012 season for the American. Commissioner Judy MacLeod said it was hard to predict where things would settle and, without being specific, that there were "multiple people" that would like to join C-USA. For now, she said the league was thrilled with the group of schools in place for the 2022-23 academic year. "The schools that will be moving on, Conference USA has been great to those schools, and those great schools have been great for us," MacLeod said. "So we expect a tremendous year across the board and I'm really excited for our future following." Liberty, New Mexico State, Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State are already set to join C-USA for the 2023 season. "My personal opinion is I don't think it's done yet. I think there'll be more teams coming," said Middle Tennessee State coach Rick Stockstill, the league's most- tenured coach going into his 17th season. "I think if you look at it geographically throughout the country, I think there's going to be a lot of movement still within the conferences. But I think we're in a great position." The first C-USA job for Helton was as a Memphis assistant from 2004-06 when the Tigers were still in the league, before going to UAB and then Cincinnati after the Bearcats had already departed. Cincinnati, Houston and UCF — former C-USA teams now in the American — jump up to a Power Five league when they go to the Big 12 next year. Helton anticipates C-USA will "keep growing and evolving, and you're going to look back in a couple of years and say, 'Man, that they did a great job of reestablishing themselves again'." The league's two first-year coaches are Mike MacIntyre at FIU and Sonny Cumbie at Louisiana Tech — both schools that will remain. Bryant Vincent is the interim coach at UAB after the offensive coordinator was promoted in late June when Bill Clark retired to address chronic back issues. After finishing last season as interim head coach at Texas Tech, his alma mater, Cumbie said he had no hesitation jumping into a changing C-USA. MacIntyre described himself as excited about the league. "It's always reinvented itself over the years and it's always flourished," MacIntyre said. "And it'll do that again." C-USA'S STATE OF TRANSITION: 6 OF 11 SCHOOLS IN FINAL YEAR ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The Big 12 championship game will remain at the home of the Dallas Cowboys through at least 2025, the season after Texas and Oklahoma are set to leave for the Southeastern Conference. The contract extension announced Wednesday means the first nine games since the return of the Big 12 title game in 2017 will be at 80,000-seat AT&T Stadium. The announcement came during Commissioner Brett Yormark's first official week on the job. The Big 12 didn't have a championship game from 2011-16 after realignment reduced the league to 10 teams. The conference brought the title game back despite its round-robin regular-season schedule, believing the extra game would help get the league champion into the College Football Playoff. If Texas and Oklahoma don't leave early for the SEC, the Big 12 is set to include 14 teams for two seasons in 2023-24 with the additions of Cincinnati, Houston, BYU and UCF. The Big 12 could expand again before then with uncertainty surrounding the Pac-12 following the defections of Southern California and UCLA to the Big Ten. Those schools are set to make the switch in 2024. After the Big 12 launched in 1996, the first 13 championship games rotated among the home stadiums of the Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans and St. Louis Rams along with the former home of the Cowboys in the Dallas suburb of Irving. AT&T Stadium has been the only site for the title game since 2009, an arrangement similar to the Big 12 basketball tournament and its Kansas City, Missouri, home. The men's and women's tournaments have been in Kansas City since 2010 and will stay at least through 2027. BIG 12 TITLE GAME STAYING AT HOME OF COWBOYS THROUGH 2025

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