Tuesday, August 05, 2008

2008 College Football Preview: Conference USA

Conference USA could be on course to achieve what the WAC has already done by sending a team to a BCS bowl game. June Jones, who guided Hawaii to the Sugar Bowl, is now a coach in this conference while teams like Tulsa, Central Florida, East Carolina and Houston look to remain at the top of the conference. With the emergence of quality teams in the conference if a team could run the table they’d find themselves playing the role of BCS spoiler in the same manner as Boise State and Hawaii from the last two years.

West Division Predictions

Tulsa – The biggest questions for the Golden Hurricanes is at the quarterback position and the defense. Tulsa only returns 5 players on defense and must improve from their 452 yards allowed per game last year. They are stacked at running back and receiver as well as having one of the best offensive lines in the conference.

UTEP – Like Tulsa the Miners are slated to be very good on offense in 2008 but must improve on defense. The October 18th game against Tulsa should determine who wins the West.

Houston – The Cougars biggest loss from 2007 could be head coach Art Briles who bolted to Baylor to try to resurrect the Big 12’s perennial doormat. Enter Kevin Sumlin who has veteran leadership at the quarterback position and 7 returning starters on defense.

Rice – It won’t be the offense that loses games for the Owls in 2008. It’ll be the defense. Quarterback Chase Clement is the key to an offense that averaged 31.4 points per game last season but their defense allowed opponents to score a whopping 42.9 points per game.

SMU – June Jones has 13 returning starters including the starting quarterback, leading rusher and receiver from 2007. That in itself is enough for him to work with. Look for the Mustangs to improve on a 0-8 conference record from last season.

Tulane – The Green Wave do return 15 starters which is second most to Rice in the division but they’ll suffer greatly from the graduation of running back Matt Forte who rushed for 2,200 yards last season.

East Division Predictions

Central Florida – Knights should have the strongest defense in the conference in `08 and despite losing 2,500 yard rusher Kevin Smith the offense shouldn’t have to keep pace with the team’s 35.9 points per game because their 9 returning starters on defense should improve on the 26.6 points per game they allowed last season.

East Carolina – The Pirates have 16 returning starters and a conference schedule that sets them up with all of their difficult games at home. East Carolina will be in contention to play for the conference championship.

Memphis – The Tigers are very solid in the offensive line as well as with their receiving corps a defense. The key question I have is how much of an immediate impact can new quarterback Arkelon Hall make? If he is able to give them a true run/pass threat then the rest of the conference should beware.

Marshall – With 17 returning starters Mark Snyder should have his best team yet as the head coach of the Thundering Herd. Six wins and a trip to a bowl game shouldn’t be out of the question.

Southern Mississippi – New Head Coach Larry Fedora is an offensive guru who resurrected the Oklahoma State offense. He should be able to do the same in Hattiesburg but will need to recruit first. The Eagles return only 10 starters from last season which is a conference low.

UAB – The Blazers only have 73 scholarship football players and while that is up from 60 last year they still have a way to go to make up the 188 yards they were out gained on average in `07.

My Pre-Season All Conference Team

QB – Chase Clement, Rice
RB – Darius Marshall, Marshall
RB – Tarrion Adams, Tulsa
WR – Brennan Marion, Tulsa
WR – Jamar Bryant, East Carolina
WR – Darius Passmore, Marshall
TE – Cody Slate, Marshall
C – Robby Felix, UTEP
G – Josh Evans, Marshall
G – Justin Morsey, Tulsa
T – Patrick Brown, Central Florida
T – SirVincent Rogers, Houston

DE – Marcus Hands, East Carolina
DT – Linvall Joseph, East Carolina
DT – Ell Ash, Houston
DE – Moton Hopkins, Tulsa
LB – Maurice Kitchens, Marshall
LB – Pierre Bell, East Carolina
LB – Evan Lee, Tulane
LB – Chance Henderson, Central Florida
CB – Johnell Neal, Central Florida
CB – Joe Burnett, Central Florida
SS – Sha’Reff Rashad, Central Florida
FS – CJ Spillman, Marshall

Special Teams

K – Jose Martinez, UTEP
P – Thomas Morstead, SMU
KR – Darius Marshall, Marshall
PR – Joe Burnett, Central Florida

Sound Off: Make your own Conference USA predictions in the forum.