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2009 Conference USA Football Preview
East Carolina vs Tulsa is our Pick for the Title Game
Conference USA sure had it's share of surprises last season. How about the mighty Rice Owls with a 10-3 record! Of course the Tulsa Golden Hurricane and the Southern Miss Golden Eagles are always going to be a threat as well. We don't feel much will change this year. East Carolina, the title game winner, is poised to make another run. Skip Holts has finally made the team his own and they are loaded with returning starters. It should come down to the Pirates and Southern Miss in the East Division and once again Tulsa in the West.
Here's a look at the 2009 Conference USA.
Houston Cougars - Kevin Sumlin did a great job in his first year as coach. Houston had one of the most explosive offenses in the entire NCAA. QB Case Keenum returns along with 8 other offensive starters. Keenum passed for over 5,000 yards and 44 TDs last year. He had a very high completion percentage and kept interceptions to a minimum. His best weapon will be WR Tyron Carrier, who has lightning quick speed. The defense brings back 5 players from last year’s team that ranked 100th in total defense. Marcus McGraw will shine at LB. The Cougars have tough games at Oklahoma State, and at home against Texas Tech. Look for them to be near the top of the standings at the end of the year.
Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles - After finishing 7-6 with a win over Troy in the New Orleans Bowl, the Golden Eagles will seek to move forward. They return 8 starters on each side of the ball. Damion Fletcher will do a hell of a job running the ball and could compete for CUSA Offensive Player of the Year. DeAndre Brown will make noise at WR. The defense has to improve for the Golden Eagles to be successful. Road games against Houston, Kansas, and East Carolina will be pivotal and will determine their fate.
East Carolina Pirates - The defending league champs return 8 starters on each side of the ball. They got off to a great start last year, knocking off Big East favorite West Virginia and ACC giant Virginia Tech. Patrick Pinkney returns for his sixth year of eligibility as the Pirates QB. He will have WR’s Reyn Willis and Alex Taylor to catch his passes. The defense looks improved. DE C.J. Wilson will anchor the line. I see no reason why the ECU Pirates cannot repeat as C-USA Champs. Getting Southern Miss at home is huge. Look for them in the Conference USA Title game.
Tulsa Golden Hurricanes - After losing to ECU in the C-USA Championship Game, The ‘Canes recovered to stomp Ball State in the GMAC Bowl. They return 13 starters from that 11-3 season and will mostly likely regress. They have a new QB in Jacob Bower. Their offense ranked #1 in the entire nation last year, but key players have been lost. The defense must step up. The secondary has to come up with more turnovers. The Hurricanes will play Houston and East Carolina at home this year; those are must win games if they want to take down CUSA.
Memphis Tigers -Tommy West’s team got off to a slow start in 2008, but rallied to finish 6-7 with a loss in the St. Petersburg Bowl. The Tigers return a total of 11 starters for this season. Curtis Steele will start at RB. The senior rushed for 1,223 last year in his first season as a starter. It won’t be easy for Memphis to gain on the top teams in CUSA.
Marshall Thundering Herd - This team returns 15 starters after going 4-8 last year. Coach Mark Snyder will have his first full scholarship load. The Thundering Herd are a young team and could make some noise. As they continue to mature, it is only a matter of time before they are good enough to knock heads with the best that CUSA has to offer.
UTEP Miners - The closest the Miners came to a big win last year was a 42-37 road loss to conference favorite Houston. They concluded the year with a record of 5-7. Things will be looking up at UTEP if the defense can go from terrible to OK. QB Trevor Vittatoe should help the Miners put up big points. If things go their way UTEP could be looking at a .500 season.
Tulane Green Wave - Although Tulane finished 2008 with a pitiful record of 2-10, they gave Alabama and East Carolina all they wanted in their first two games of the year. Things probably won’t change much in 2009. Freshman will play key roles, which tells me that this team has a lot of growing to do.
UCF Knights - This team is very up and down. One year they are in a Bowl game, the next they are finishing 4-8. Expect a downer this year. The defense is weak, and the secondary needs major improvement.
UAB Blazers - After a mediocre 4-8 finish last year, fans will be expecting more from Coach Neil Callaway. He has 85 scholarship players on the team this year. The offense will have no problems scoring on anyone in CUSA. Unfortunately the defense will probably not hold up. QB Joe Webb is a talented player, but can’t carry the team by himself.
SMU Mustangs - This team returns plenty of starters from a squad that went 1-11 last year. They have to play well early on in the season. The Mustangs have 3 of their first 4 games on the road. Coach June Jones put together a good recruiting class, so things could be looking up in the future.
Rice Owls - After a remarkable 10-3 campaign in 2008, the Owls figure to regress heavily after losing many starters. An inexperienced QB will be a big problem for Rice. They must face Vanderbilt and Tulsa in back to back games. Both teams took Rice down in 2008.
Check out all of our 2009 College Football Conference Previews!