C-USA Football Preview

UNDATED (AP) -- Case Keenum and his talented trio of receivers will give Houston a strong chance at proving offense, every now and then, really can win championships.

Conference USA's most valuable player is back for his senior year coming off a season in which he threw for 5,671 yards -- the third-highest total in Football Bowl Subdivision history. He threw for 44 touchdowns with only 15 interceptions in 2009.

James Cleveland, Tyron Carrier and Patrick Edwards all are back as his targets after each had more than 1,000 yards receiving for the nation's top scoring offense last season. The Cougars averaged 42.2 points a game in 2009, a figure that shouldn't dip much this year.

Houston lost the C-USA championship to East Carolina last year on the road in a 38-32 shootout. But Keenum is among nine offensive starters back, and Sumlin has a new defensive coordinator in Brian Stewart.

Conference USA is a league where the West is dominated by offense and the East filled with bruising defenses. That is why UCF, which has led C-USA in total defense each of the past two seasons, is the favorite in the East. UCF has the league's 2009 defensive player of the year back in end Bruce Miller for his senior season.

Two-time defending champ East Carolina is in rebuilding mode with Ruffin McNeill, one of three new coaches in the league -- along with Larry Porter at Memphis and Doc Holliday at Marshall.

C-USA might have the toughest non-conference schedule in the FBS with 24 games against bowl teams, including Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Rutgers, South Carolina, Virginia Tech and West Virginia. That could make it challenging to fill the league's now seven bowl tie-ins after going 2-4 in bowls last season.

A look at the teams in predicted order of finish:

UCF -- Key players: DE Bruce Miller, CB Josh Robinson, RB Brynn Harvey, WR Kamar Aiken, QB Rob Calabrese. Returning starters: offense 8, defense 7.
Notes: The Knights have one of the easier nonconference slates with a visit from N.C. State and trip to Kansas State. UCF also hosts East Carolina and Southern Miss, which could balance their visit Nov. 5 to Houston. ... Miller ranked fifth nationally with 13 sacks but will face more double-teams without tackles Torell Troup and Travis Timmons.

SOUTHERN MISS -- Key players: WR DeAndre Brown, QBs Martevious Young and Austin Davis, and LBs Ronnnie Thornton, Korey Williams and Martez Smith. Returning starters: offense 4, defense 9.
Notes: After tearing a ligament in his left foot last season, Davis now has to fight off Young, who threw for 1,861 yards and 16 TDs. Coach Larry Fedora also has Brown, who is expected to return to his 2008 form when he set the single-season record with 67 catches. ... Schedule tough starting Sept. 2 at South Carolina, but Houston visits Nov. 20.

MARSHALL -- Key players: LB Mario Harvey, WR Antavious Wilson, RB Martin Ward. Returning starters: offense 7, defense. 7
Notes: Tough nonconference schedule starting at Ohio State and includes a visit from West Virginia and trip to Bowling Green. The Thundering Herd hosts UCF and won't play Houston... Harvey had 117 tackles and seven sacks. ... Ward, a sophomore, replaces Darius Marshall, who ran for 1,131 yards and 11 TDs.

EAST CAROLINA -- Key players: WR Dwayne Harris, FS Emmanuel Davis, CB Travis Simmons. Returning starters: offense 5, defense 2.
Notes: McNeill at least has three offensive line starters back, and Harris, who had 83 catches for 978 yards last season. But QB Patrick Pinkney is gone.

UAB -- Key players: WR Frantrell Forrest, FS Hiram Atwater, LB Lamanski Ware. Returning starters: offense 8, defense 9.
Notes: Replacing QB Joe Webb is the biggest challenge after he provided 73 percent of the offense, though David Isabelle likely has the edge. He ran 32 times for 288 yards last year. ... UAB has 11 of its top 12 tacklers back.

MEMPHIS -- Key players: RG Dominik Riley, DE Winston Bowens, LB Jamon Hughes. Returning starters: six offense, six defense.
Notes: Porter must find offense after losing Curtis Steele and receivers Duke Calhoun and Carlos Singleton, who scored 24 of 33 TDs last season. All five offensive line starters return. ... Tyler Bass is the only QB who has taken a snap for Memphis and may be moved to receiver.

HOUSTON -- Key players: QB Keenum; WRs Cleveland, Carrier and Edwards; RB Bryce Beall, LB Marcus McGraw. Returning starters: offense nine, defense seven.
Notes: The Cougars are switching to a 3-4 defense with new coordinator Stewart, trying to trim the 33 minutes opponents held the ball per game in 2009. ... Mississippi State visits on Oct. 9, and Houston wraps up the regular season with a trip to Texas Tech on Nov. 27.

SMU -- Key players: QB Kyle Padron, DT Margus Hunt, WRs Aldrick Robinson and Cole Beasley. Returning starters: offense 6, defense 7.
Notes: SMU had the biggest win improvement in FBS with seven more victories in 2009. ... Padron completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,922 yards and had a school-record 460 yards in beating Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl. ... The Mustangs open at Texas Tech on Sept. 5 and host Washington State on Sept. 18 while dodging both UCF and Southern Miss in league play.

UTEP -- Key players: RB Donald Buckram, QB Trevor Vittatoe, WR Kris Adams, LB Royzell Smith. Returning starters: offense 7, defense 4.
Notes: Buckram averaged 132.8 8 yards per game last season. ... Vittatoe is second among returning players to Keenum in career yards passing with 9,683 and career TD passes with 75.

TULSA -- Key players: WR/KR Damaris Johnson, QB G.J. Kinne, DE Odrick Ray, DE Cory Dorris. Returning starters: offense 9, defense, 5.
Notes: Johnson totaled 2,693 yards catching passes, running and returning punts and kicks. ... Schedule isn't easy with trips to Oklahoma State and Notre Dame in nonconference play.

RICE -- Key players: RB Sam McGuffie; QB Nick Fanuzzi; DE Cheta Ozougwu; DT Scott Solomon. Returning starters: offense 9, defense 9.
Notes: The Owls are a year older after matching Louisiana Tech in 2009 with the youngest starting lineup in the nation. ... McGuffie sat out 2009 following his transfer from Michigan. ... Schedule is brutal starting with Texas at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

TULANE -- Key players: QB Ryan Griffin, WR Casey Robottam, CB Phillip Davis. Returning starters: offense 7, defense 4.
Notes: Coach Bob Toledo must replace RB Andre Anderson and WR Jeremy Williams, who combined for 56 percent of offense. ... Schedule features seven home games.

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  • by The Pirate Lady Location: Grimesland on Sep 4, 2010 at 04:10 PM
    UNC alum, that was very nice of you. Makes me feel bad that I've bashed UNC fans. Well, not completely. Some of them are jerks, just like I know some ECU fans are jerks. Every school has jerk fans, but every once in a while you meet some decent fans from rival schools. I don't mind smack talk, but on this board with the anti-ECU fans, it gets downright nasty at times.
  • by Bud Location: Washington on Aug 13, 2010 at 12:46 PM
    Sorry, that Anonymous at 10:08 was me. I don't like to go unsigned.
  • by Anonymous on Aug 13, 2010 at 07:08 AM
    Doesitmatter is grabbing at straws and I'm laughing at his pathetic attempts to put ECU down. Truly, a sad display by an individual with zero sportsmanship or class. I think we've been civil in return, but Doesitmatter evidently can't handle the truth. He throws out slander and lies, then is rebuffed with actual sources and documentation proving his statements false, and he does as a 6 year old does and says "whatever I'm leaving!" (Shakes my head and sighs) If you're going to go to verbal war with ECU fans you better actually know what you're talking about. You can't just make it up as you go. I'll give some credit to JDLadd, at least he's consistent in his classless negativity towards ECU and not a runaway crybaby when we prove him wrong. I'm sure he/Dave/deadfish bashed ECU for hiring Skip Holtz too, how'd that work out?
  • by Sam Location: Kitty Hawk on Aug 13, 2010 at 05:57 AM
    Doesitmatter, first of all, nobody up here needs counseling. Second, there are no rednecks up here, that's N.C. State that's got those type of people. Third, it sounds like your family got so tired of your drama you instigate. Fourth, if it's just a game, why do you keep posting up rediculous nonsense and trashtalk? Fifth, if you can't post other stuff up here, then you don't even have any business up here to begin with. JD, After Ruff takes the pirates to a BCS bowl in 10 years, then Michigan will want him after Rich-Rod gets fired for his messing up, and Ruff would much rather be in a great place such as Greenville (2.5 hours from Lumberton-his hometown) than to go to that dump of a state.
  • by JDLadd Location: my pad on Aug 12, 2010 at 05:16 PM
    At least ECU will not have to worry about Ruffin leaving because nobody is going to want him. I guess he could always go back to Texas Tech as a tight ends coach.
  • by doesitmatter on Aug 12, 2010 at 04:08 PM
    I am out of here you people have issues believe whatever you want about skip holtzs job offers or whatever but did you see him get the offer? NO now I completely understand the image of the ECU fan I am sure some of the necks on this list resemble fire engine red! lighten up its just a game if its more important than a simple game you need counseling go spend time with your families that is if they have not left already bye bye for good!
  • by Sam Location: Kitty Hawk on Aug 12, 2010 at 01:58 PM
    To Big Orange Army, thanks for the respect and love toward ECU. I think this doesitmatter dude is part of the Florida bandwagon. Best of luck to the Tennessee Volunteers as well! To get real, who do you like in pro football? Pro football can be just as bad at times, especially with Steelers and Cowboys fans.
  • by get real on Aug 12, 2010 at 12:57 PM
    I am reading this stuff and its sad truly sad! An excellent example of why I am personally tired of college sports. The fans of 100s of schools every year believe they can win it all!Are there really student athletes anymore? Nick Saban recently attacked pro scouts for ruining the college game. The NFL commissioner could have easily let the colleges have it for all the college kids that come into the NFL and have to be suspended in the first 2 seasons for behavior that started in high school and college. These guys are cottled and get special treatment some from the eighth grade on.I also could go on and on about the fans rivalries with each other. I am seriously expecting some wouldbe college fan rivalry to get out of hand because of all the eighth grade stupidness. I have 2 degrees from ECU but I stopped going to the games a few years ago when the ticket prices went way up for a mediocre product sure I root for ECU but I much prefer pro ball and I am realistic about ECU athletics.
  • by Big Orange Army Location: TN on Aug 12, 2010 at 12:18 PM
    I'll try reposting since the last didn't make it. Doesitmatter: Why do and so many others bash ECU? They are a good team and aren't afraid of playing the big boys. They played UT many years ago and played the Vols well. Traditionally, the Pirates have played well against the SEC. In 2001 they took Alabama into over-time at Bama before lossing by 1pt and Bama has not asked the Pirates to come back since. More over, ECU has beaten SC several times. The Pirates have always played well against the SEC, so for you or anyone else to say otherwise is foolish and yes they played well against ARK & KY in the Liberty Bowl. ECU has a fan in Knoxville...GO VOLS! Good luck to ECU this season!
  • by UNC Alum Class of 2003 Location: Rocky Mount on Aug 12, 2010 at 12:06 PM
    Dave and doesitmatter, I must say you must be wrong. As a UNC alum and diehard fan and will pull for them over ECU, I'll stand up for ECU. You can't deny the great accomplishments that ECU has done in football and baseball. They have beaten us in football a few years back and last year gave us one great football game. I would not overlook ECU one bit. They have proven themselves year after year after year and should have been in the ACC 20 years ago with the rest of us. ECU did barely beat App State last season, but App State has come very close to beating N.C. State for 3 years in a row, and they beat Wake Forest not long ago. I think it was about 6-7 years ago. The pirates have held their own, and have been fantastic for a non-BCS school. East Carolina is definately not like half of what Conference USA is. They run that conference in football and baseball, even though they had a bad baseball season. Just bashing them like that shows that you 2 are lacking class and acting childish.
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