The 2024 season is right around the corner and that means college football analysts around the country are making their preseason predictions.

Phil Steele‘s CUSA order of finish prediction has a few surprises but not so at the top with Liberty being expected to repeat as conference champions.

Here’s the full breakdown of Phil Steele’s projections.

1. Liberty

Find a preseason prediction that doesn’t have the Flames in the #1 spot in the CUSA, there certainly aren’t many. Of course, championships are won on the field and not on paper. Phil Steele predicts Liberty, behind second year head coach Jamey Chadwell and dynamic QB Kaidon Salter to win a second straight conference championship. Liberty has 14 returning starters and Phil Steele calls LU a “legitimate playoff contender.” Liberty also plays host to its two biggest challenges in the league – WKU and Jax State – giving the reigning champs a favorable league schedule to make it back to the conference title game.

2. Western Kentucky

A year ago, the Hilltoppers were the preseason favorite to win CUSA as they were the top remaining team in the league after massive realignment. WKU has 14 returning starters but will be looking for a replacement at quarterback where TJ Finley is the most likely candidate, and, according to Steele, are “a prime contender for the title game.”

3. Jacksonville State

After a very surprising 9-4 season last year in the Gamecocks’ first campaign in CUSA and the FBS, Jacksonville State returns just 9 starters, are less experienced, but still have one of the league’s most talented teams. Behind head coach Rich Rodriguez, don’t count JSU out. Phil Steele has Jax State as the 2nd most talented teams in the league, but with road trips to both WKU and Liberty, he pegs them as third in the league.

4. FIU

Perhaps the biggest surprise in Phil Steele’s CUSA projections is having FIU at 4th. Last year, behind head coach Mike MacIntyre, the Panthers opened the year at 3-1 but finished 4-8 for a second straight season. Phil Steele is calling for significant improvement by the Panthers in MacIntyre’s third season. FIU returns 14 starters and turns to second year starter and now sophomore Keyone Jenkins at QB.

5. Sam Houston

Head coach KC Keeler won national championships in the FCS at both Delaware and Sam Houston. Last year, the Bearkats returned 16 starters but opened the year at 0-8 with 4 close losses. Sam Houston went 3-1 in the last four and have momentum coming into the 2024 campaign.

t-6. Louisiana Tech

Last year, 12 starters were back for second year head coach Sonny Cumbie, but they struggled to a 3-9 campaign. This year, the Bulldogs return only 9 starters. They do avoid Liberty in conference play. If the defense is improved against the run, Phil Steele thinks La Tech could surprise some this season.

t-6. New Mexico State

After an impressive run to the CUSA championship game in their first year in the league, the Aggies will have plenty of new faces in 2024 including at head coach and quarterback. Former UNLV head coach Tony Sanchez takes over, but with only 8 returning starters and having to lean heavily on JUCO transfers, it could be a step back for NMSU.

t-6. UTEP

UTEP has 9 returning starters this year and new head coach Scotty Walden has brought plenty of energy to El Paso and the Miners. “They avoid Jax St in CUSA play and lots of my indicators are pointing up but CUSA looks stronger this year top to bottom and it may be tough to get into the upper half (of the league),” Phil Steele said about UTEP.

9. Middle Tennessee

The Blue Raiders slipped to 4-8 last year and have replaced long term head coach Rick Stockstill with former Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason. Phil Steele predicts a tough first year for Mason and MTSU as they have lost a lot of production.

10. Kennesaw State

The Owls make the transition to the FBS and Conference USA and Phil Steele predicts them to bring up the rear of the league. Head coach Brian Bohannon has seen plenty of success at Kennesaw, and they took a similar approach to that of Sam Houston in their transition year by redshirting many of their key players. QB play is a question mark, if they can get that figured out, the Owls could surprise a few teams this fall.