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2007 CONFERENCE USA FOOTBALL PREVIEW

EAST

Southern Miss - Southern Miss is in off a year that saw them go 9-5 and advance to the Conference USA title game, only to come up short against Houston, 34-20. The Golden Eagles have the potential to make another run at the title game this year, as they return several key players including 8 on the defensive side of the ball where they had the top scoring defense in the conference. On offense they return the leagues 2nd leading rusher, Damion Fletcher, who helped the Golden Eagles become the number one rushing team in the conference a year ago. So there's plenty to work with here, and the schedule looks to be favorable as well. Their toughest tests will be in non conference games against Tennessee and Boise State. Every other game on the schedule is a winnable one, so no reason the Golden Eagles can't make some noise once again this year.

Marshall - Any time a team, any team, in any conference, can start out the season with a string of victories, it makes for a great foundation with which to build on as the rest of the season progresses. Winning breeds winning. Well, the schedule is certainly not doing Marshall any favors this year. They open up at Miami and then come home the following week to take on West Virginia. An 0-2 start for sure, which only adds more pressure the rest of the way. You can pencil in a mixed bag of wins and losses the rest of the way and it looks like maybe a 6 win season for the Thundering Herd. They lost Ahmad Bradshaw, one of the nations leading rushers a year ago to the NFL. The goal here should be to win 6 and hopefully pull an upset along the way to help spring the Herd into a Bowl game this December.

East Carolina - In 2003, East Carolina was won only one game. So they brought in Skip Holtz to help rebuild this program and so far the results have been right on target with each season bringing more wins than the season before. In 2004 they won 2 games. In 2005 they won 5 games, and last year they won 7 games. A classic rebuilding job. But those results set up some high expectations from here forward and we're not so sure Holtz can deliver. The bright spot last year was a defense that was vastly improved and ranked toward the top of the league. That unit returns 7 starters and should once again shine. But the early season schedule, similar to Marshals, isn't kind to the Pirates. They take on Va Tech, Southern Miss, West Virginia and Houston before they even get out of September with all but one of those games on the road. So, for East Carolina to have any shot at equaling or bettering their 7 win mark from a year ago, they'll have to pull a big upset early on. With an offense that returns just 5 and lost A QB and running back, that looks to be a tall task.

Central Florida - How do you make predictions for a team that lost ALL of their games in 2004 and then went to the conference title game in 2005? 2006 was another down year winning only 4 games, so where does that leave the Golden Knights for 2007? They return 8 starters on offense and 8 on defense. But the defense was among the worst in the nation a year ago so can't expect much on that side of the ball, although they can only get better. This team was competitive for the most part a year ago. In spite of the defense, they held their own against some decent teams. A TD loss to South Florida. A 5 point loss to Southern Miss. So the potential is there. This is not a bad team and certainly is a team capable of improving on last years 4 win mark. The goal here should be to win 6 and get a minor bowl.

Memphis - In 2003 Memphis won 9 games. It's been down hill ever since, winning 8  in 2004, 7 in 2005 and a pathetic 2 last year. But there are some bright spots here and some nice building blocks. For starters, although they won just 2 games last year, there were 5 losses that could have gone either way. They lost 4 of those by a field goal or less and one of those by 6. They took eventual league Champ Houston to overtime towards the end of last season and they return 7 starters on offense and 7 on defense. So no reason not to be optimistic heading into 2007. Several new faces on the coaching staff could be a plus or a minus. No way to tell so we'll just have to wait and see. But this team should be a .500 team at worst, so a break here and there and who knows.

UAB - UAB's bright spot came in 2004 with a 7 win season and a bowl game. Otherwise this is a team that is always below .500. Tough to predict what to expect from here forward as UAB will basically be a bunch of new faces across the board with a new coaching staff and new starters at just about all of the key positions on both sides of the ball. We'll take a wait and see approach with UAB, but don't expect much.

WEST

Houston - The Houston Cougars played 14 games last season, winning 10 of them, including the conference title game, and losing just 4. It should also be noted that the games they did lose, were all close games. But the offense on this team took a hit, bringing back only 5 from last year and losing QB Kevin Kolb. The defense returns 7 starters but it's a defense that was really nothing to write home about to begin with, so the Cougars figure to have their work cut out for them in 2007. Winning a title automatically puts a bulls eye on your back for the following year, combined with the loss of talent, and I think you may be looking at a Houston team that may be down a notch this year. Let's call it an 8 win team.

Tulsa - Really tough to guess how Tulsa might fair this year. Tulsa has had only one down year in the past 4 years, a 4 win season in 2004. The other three years the team won 8 or 9 games. But this year they'll have a new coach, and many new faces starting on both sides of the ball. But most of these players are the recruiting handy work of former coach Steve Kragthorpe, so the talent figures to be there. They do return senior QB Paul Smith and 6 familiar faces on defense and there are certainly plenty of winnable games on the schedule. There a minimum of 6 wins on the schedule, what they do beyond that is tough to say. But we'll figure on this team being competitive, and then who knows......

SMU - The goal for SMU is simple. Get to a Bowl game. This program hasn't been to a Bowl game since the early 80's. SMU was handed the "death penalty" in the 80's for recruiting violations which resulted in canceled seasons, and the future inability to get players. It's had an affect on the program ever since. But there may be a light at the end of the tunnel as SMU is knocking on the door. They won 5 games in 2005 and a bowl eligible 6 last year, however 6 wasn't enough as it turned out. They return the QB and running back from last years squad but have some holes to fill on defense. But after starting last year 0-2, this team was in every game the rest of the way so we'll look for more of the same this year. There's at least 6 wins on the table, it's just a question of whether they'll get over that hump and grab number 7. We figure SMU breaks the Bowl drought this year and will be playing in a December Bowl game.

UTEP - UTEP was 4-2 thru 6 games last season and with 6 games left on the schedule, it looked like it would be another successful year for coach Mike Price after having won 8 in each of his previous 2 season with the Miners. But UTEP fell apart the 2nd half of last season, only managing to win one of the final 6 games making the grand total for last year 5 wins. A disappointment to say the least. Now Price and company find themselves in a situation where there are many holes to fill. The first order of business will be QB. While UTEP had no running game last year, they did field the 5th ranked passing unit in the nation but now must replace QB Jordan Palmer. If they can do that, there's hope as there is still a good nucleus of players remaining on the offensive side of the ball from a year ago. The defense only returns 3, however that's not a negative as the defense was near the bottom of the nation in most categories. It can only get better. So for UTEP, the key will be to find a QB. Coach Price knows how to win and the rest of the talent is there to win 7 or 8 games.

Rice - Rice made major changes on offense last year and it paid immediate dividends as the team won 7 games and earned a trip to the New Orleans Bowl. But the new coach who implemented those changes, is one and done, leaving after just one year. On the bright side, Rice returns 8 on offense and will once again use the same scheme. New Coach Dave Bailiff is a former defensive coordinator and figures to drastically improve a Rice defense that ranked near the bottom nationally. So with an offense that figures to do more of the same this year, and a defense that figures to be improved, no reason to think Rice won't  be right in the thick of things this year if they can get over the hump of working with a new coaching staff.

Tulane - Lots of improving to be done at Tulane on both sides of the ball. What Tulane has going for them is the conference they are in. Conference USA teams fortunes can change drastically from one year to the next. With expectations low and the pressure off, don't be surprised to see Tulane win a few games this year and surprise some people.

To Sum Up - The West division looks to be the more wide open of the two. There's enough talent on any number of teams in the West to make some noise. But Conference USA from a handicapping perspective is one of the more difficult conferences to predict. It's simply not "traditional" football. There's no shortage of offense and high scoring games which lends itself to more turnovers and sloppy play. For this handicapper, the conference is a crap shoot and best avoided for the most part. It sure is fun to watch though!

 

2007 CONFERENCE USA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

Thursday, August 30
Tulsa at UL Monroe

Saturday, September 1
East Carolina at Virginia Tech
Houston at Oregon
Marshall at Miami
Mississippi at Memphis
Nicholls State at Rice
UAB at Michigan State
UCF at North Carolina State
New Mexico at UTEP

Monday, September 3
Texas Tech at SMU

Saturday, September 8
North Carolina at East Carolina
West Virginia at Marshall
Memphis at Arkansas State
Rice at Baylor
North Texas at SMU
Mississippi State at Tulane
UAB at Florida State
Southern Miss at Tennessee
UTEP at Texas Tech

Saturday, September 15
Southern Miss at East Carolina
Houston at Tulane
New Hampshire at Marshall
Nicholls State at Memphis
Texas Tech at Rice
SMU at Arkansas State
BYU at Tulsa
Alcorn State at UAB
Texas at UCF
UTEP at New Mexico State

Saturday, September 22
East Carolina at West Virginia
Colorado State at Houston
Marshall at Cincinnati
Memphis at UCF
Rice at Texas
SMU at TCU
Southern Miss at Boise State
Southeastern Louisiana at Tulane
Oklahoma at Tulsa
Texas Southern at UTEP

Saturday, September 29
East Carolina at Houston
UTEP at SMU
LSU at Tulane
UAB at Tulsa
UL Lafayette at UCF

Tuesday, October 2
Marshall at Memphis

Wednesday, October 3
Rice at Southern Miss

Saturday, October 6
UCF at East Carolina
Houston at Alabama
Tulane at Army
Tulsa at UTEP
UAB at Mississippi State

Saturday, October 13
East Carolina at UTEP
Rice at Houston
Marshall at Tulsa
Middle Tennessee at Memphis
SMU at Southern Miss
Tulane at UAB
UCF at South Florida

Saturday, October 20
North Carolina State at East Carolina
Houston at UAB
Memphis at Rice
Tulane at SMU
Tulsa at UCF

Sunday, October 21
Southern Miss at Marshall

Saturday, October 27
UAB at East Carolina
Houston at UTEP
Rice at Marshall
Memphis at Tulane
SMU at Tulsa

Sunday, October 28
UCF at Southern Miss

Saturday, November 3
East Carolina at Memphis
Marshall at UCF
UTEP at Rice
Southern Miss at UAB
Tulsa at Tulane

Sunday, November 4
SMU at Houston

Saturday, November 10
East Carolina at Marshall
Houston at Tulsa
Memphis at Southern Miss
Rice at SMU
UTEP at Tulane
UCF at UAB

Saturday, November 17
Tulsa at Army
Marshall at Houston
UAB at Memphis
Tulane at Rice
UCF at SMU
Southern Miss at UTEP

Saturday, November 24
Tulane at East Carolina
Texas Southern at Houston
UAB at Marshall
SMU at Memphis
Tulsa at Rice
Arkansas State at Southern Miss
UTEP at UCF

Saturday, December 1
C-USA Championship Game

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