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2010 Conference USA Preview
East Division Predictions
Conference USA East division has been very strong in recent years. Last year saw Skip Holtz's East Carolina Pirates take top honors and earn a trip to the C-USA title game. They won that game over East champ Houston. With Skip Holtz gone, ECU will have plenty of competition. They barely held off UCF last year, and UCF will be tough yet again. Let's take a look at the top teams in C-USA East.
UCF Knights - This school of 53,000+ students is ready to make some noise with 15 starters back from an 8-5 2009 team. RB Brynn Harvey rushed for 1,000+ yards last season, but he suffered a knee injury in the spring and is expected to miss at least four games. In his absence sophomore Jonathan Davis is expected to get the majority of the carries. There is a four way battle for the starting QB job between Rob Calabrese, Andy Slowik, Jeffrey Godfrey, and LD Crow. It looks like Calabrese is the most likely candidate to win the job, but Auburn transfer Crow and the others will make him work for it.
The offensive line is very experienced thanks to the return of 1st Team All-CUSA member Jah Reid. The DBs and LBs look to be stronger. The defensive line looks a bit thin and has little depth. If any of the starters get hurt they could find themselves in trouble. Special teams looks like a bright spot. The schedule Is soft for the Knights. They season may come down to a game against Southern Miss and then a subsequent game against what is most likely to be Houston. Look for UCF to put in a valiant effort all year long.
Southern Miss Golden Eagles - Last year could've ended on a strong note, but Southern Miss failed to down Middle Tennessee in the New Orleans Bowl. Their final record for 2009 was 7-6 and every game they played was close. They bring back just 3 offensive starters, but 9 members of last years defense are back. The Golden Eagles own the best 1-2 QB combination in Conference USA. Both Austin Davis and Martevious Young are capable of doing big things. The offensive line and running backs both have very little experience. Freshman Kendrick Hardy could be an impact player at RB.
Linebackers and Defensive Backs both look like bright spots for the Golden Eagles. They return 1-2 top tacklers Korey Williams and Ronnie Thornton. The defensive line is arguably the best in C-USA. Nose Tackle Anthony Gray is a force on the line. Arkansas transfer John Henderson will be an impact player on the defense. The Golden Eagles must travel to play UCF, but get Houston, and ECU at home. Thanks to a strong defense Southern Miss will compete with UCF for top honors in Conference USA East.
UAB Blazers - It looks like this team will be improved thanks to the return of 7 offensive starters and 9 defense starters. They finished a lackluster 5-7 in 2009. David Isabelle takes over at QB. The lanky sophomore has a strong arm, but is likely to suffer some growing pains in his first year as the starter. Losing star RB Joe Webb will hurt the Blazers. The offense will be aided by a strong offensive line and great WRs. The defense is very solid, particularly on the defensive line and at LB. The DBs will move way up. Touhg games on the road against SMU, Tennessee, UCF, and Southern Miss will define the season. Look for the Blazers to win 7-8 games.
Marshall Thundering Herd - With a name like Doc Holliday, but could this coach not right the ship at Marshall? After all, he gets back 14 combined starters from a 7-6 team that won the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl over Ohio under the guidance of interim coach Rick Minter. The offense gets back WR Antavious Wilson who picked up 724 yards on 60 recs, but loses big time running back Darius Marshall. The Thundering Herd may have problems putting up points this year. The defense looks strong thanks to a great LB group and a strong defensive line. A favorable schedule in Conference USA means they could compete for top honors. They are the wildcard of this conference.
East Carolina Pirates - This team did great to finish 9-5 and take top honors in Conference USA last year. They did so well that Coach Skip Holtz was lured to South Florida. New HC Ruffin McNeil inherits 6 starters on offense and just 2 on defense. The three-peat will be very hard to pull off under these circumstances. They lost 28 Seniors overall and some defensive starters that will be playing in the NFL this season. They must replace QB Patrick Pinkney and top rusher Dominque Lindsay. On the bright side, they do retain their top two WRs. While things don't look great, it's important to remember that East Carolina had been making strides each year under Skip Holtz which was a big boost to recruiting efforts. This team doesn't lack talent, so don't write them off just yet.
Memphis Tigers - Well, you can't be good at basketball, AND football, right? That's true for most schools and Memphis is one of them. They bring back 13 starters form a 2-10 team in 2009. The Tigers will play 4 of their first 6 games on the road and they will be the underdog in almost every game this year. They will continue to rebuild in 2010 under new 38 year old head coach Larry Porter. It wouldn't be much to ask for this team to improve upon last seasons 2-10 mark. A .500 record would be a fantastic goal to shoot for and certainly possible.
The Conference USA East division looks like a competitive race in 2010. The UCF Knights are the front runners, but even the Knights have chinks in their armor. Look for Southern Miss, and even UAB to make a run for the top spot. The winner of the East is likely to face Houston in the C-USA Championship game. We will go with UCF to breakthrough and win the East after finishing second last year.
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