Charlotte 49ers head to C-USA media day as full-time members

Running back Kalif Phillips and the Charlotte 49ers move up to FBS and Conference USA this season.
Running back Kalif Phillips and the Charlotte 49ers move up to FBS and Conference USA this season.

Conference USA takes its turn with its media football day Wednesday at the Boca Raton Resort And Club in south Florida. The Charlotte 49ers, in just their third season playing football, join the league as football members.

Although Charlotte is picked to finish last in the East Division by most observers, the 49ers will enjoy full status as Football Bowl Subdivision members for the first time.

Coach Brad Lambert, senior offensive tackle Danny Book and senior safety Branden Dozier will represent the 49ers on Tuesday.

Here are six questions about C-USA’s upcoming season:

Q: Where do the 49ers fit in the league?

A: Only fellow C-USA member Texas-San Antonio made a faster jump as a start-up in the Football Championship Subdivision to FBS than Charlotte has. These first few years will be about establishing a foundation for the future for the 49ers in C-USA. The 49ers have experience at most positions, excellent facilities and a relatively stable coaching staff. Getting consistently competitive is the next step, but it will take a while.

Q: Is there a C-USA team that can make it to a New Year’s Day bowl as the “Group of 5” representative?

A: Marshall could have had that distinction last season, but the Thundering Herd lost to Western Kentucky 67-66 to ruin a perfect regular season and be relegated to the Boca Raton Bowl, even after winning the league title. There’s no team in the league that seems like it can make that kind of run again, but Western Kentucky – or perhaps Louisiana Tech or Texas-El Paso – might have the potential.

Q: Any familiar faces?

A: Look no further than Louisiana Tech, where former East Carolina coach Skip Holtz is at the reins of the Bulldogs. Louisiana Tech’s quarterback figures to be Jeff Driskel, who will play as a fifth-year senior after transferring from Florida.

Q: Who has the biggest shoes to fill?

A: Marshall made its run last season behind dynamic senior quarterback Rakeem Cato, who threw touchdown passes in an NCAA-record 46 consecutive games. Cato’s successor probably will be James Madison transfer Michael Birdsong. 49ers fans will remember Birdsong from the 2013 season, when he led the Dukes to a 34-7 victory over Charlotte.

Q: Who will play in the league championship game Dec. 5?

A: Watch for the East Division to come down to Marshall’s game at Western Kentucky on Nov. 27, with the Hilltoppers winning again. The West will go to Texas-El Paso, which will get fellow contenders Rice and Louisiana Tech in the Sun Bowl, one of the more scenic stadiums in the country. Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech are the media’s picks to win divisions.

Q: Replacing Alabama-Birmingham?

A: Charlotte essentially is taking the Blazers’ spot in the East after the school disbanded its football program after last season. But the sport will come back in 2017, UAB announced Tuesday. It’s unclear whether the Blazers will be back to playing in C-USA that soon.