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Conference USA Football Preview


EAST DIVISION:

EAST CAROLINA -- Key players: QB Patrick Pinkney, DE C.J. Wilson, WR Dwayne Harris, FS Van Eskridge. Returning starters: offense 8,
defense 8.
Notes: Tough nonconference schedule includes West Virginia,
North Carolina and Virginia Tech. ... A shoulder injury and
multiple surgeries two seasons ago qualified Pinkney for a sixth
season. He started 13 games last year, passing for 2,675 yards and
13 touchdowns. ... Wilson had 10.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss
last year.

SOUTHERN MISS -- Key players: RB Damion Fletcher, WR DeAndre Brown, QB Austin Davis, LB Korey Williams. Returning starters:
offense 8, defense 8.
Notes: Fletcher tries to become ninth RB to rush for 1,000 yards
in each of his four seasons after troubled offseason. ... Golden
Eagles aiming for 16th straight winning season. Only Florida State,
Florida and Virginia Tech have more. ... Davis set a school record
with at least 200 yards passing in nine games.

MEMPHIS -- Key players: QB Arkelon Hall, RB Curtis Steele, DB Alton Starr, LB Jamon Hughes. Returning starers: offense 4, defense 7.
Notes: Several transfers from programs such as Miami, Auburn and
Wisconsin could have significant playing time. ... Conference
newcomer of the year Steele rushed for 1,223 yards and running game
should be bolstered by addition of transfer Lance Smith. ...
6-foot-8 Carlos Singleton needs 1 more TD catch to set school
career record with 20.

CENTRAL FLORIDA -- Key players: QBs Rob Calabrese and Joe
Weatherford, LB Lawrence Young, DT Bruce Miller. Returning
starters: offense 10, defense 6.
Notes: Good news-bad news -- UCF returns 10 players on an offense that was last in the nation. ... Calabrese completed 39 percent of passes for 664 yards, seven TDs as freshmen last year. ... Four
starters lost to injury during last season -- LBs Cory Hogue and
Jordan Richards and WRs A.J. Guyton and Rocky Ross -- return.

MARSHALL -- Key players: TE Cody Slate, DE Albert McClellan, LB
Mario Harvey. Returning starters: offense 8, defense 8.
Notes: QB Brian Anderson appears to be starter going into season. ... Marshall expects a dominant defense with seven of top 10 tacklers back. ... Slate has 2,012 career yards receiving and 19 TDs. ... Herd is 115-17 -- an FBS-leading .871 winning percentage -- at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM -- Key players: QB Joe Webb, DE Bryant Turner, RB Rashaud Slaughter. Returning starters: offense 11, defense 7.
Notes: Blazers have won total of six games last two seasons. ...
Webb one of three QBs to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000
last season. Accounted for 21 of 29 UAB scores.

WEST DIVISION:

HOUSTON -- Key players: QB Case Keenum, RB Bryce Beall, WR Tyron
Carrier, LB Marcus McGraw, CB Brandon Brinkley. Returning starters:
offense 8, defense 6.
Notes: Conference offensive player of the year Keenum threw for
more than 300 yards 12 times last season. ... Cougars must replace
conference defensive player of the year, OLB Phillip Hunt... Beall ran for 1,247 yards.

TULSA -- Key players: QB G.J. Kinne, WR Damaris Johnson, LB Mike
Bryant, S James Lockett. Returning starters: offense 6, defense 8.
Notes: Tulsa has played for the championship in three of its
four years as a league member. ... Hurricane led the nation with
569.9 yards per game and was second with 47.2 points per game. ...
Tulsa set school record with 11 wins, second straight 10-win season.

UTEP -- Key players: QB Trevor Vittatoe, WRs Jeff Moturi and Kris
Adams, DB Braxton Amy. Returning starters: offense 8, defense 7.
Notes: Vittatoe has thrown for more than 6,300 yards and 58 TDs
in two seasons with just 16 INTs. ... The 23 combined TDs of Moturi
and Adams are the most of any returning receiving duo. ... Mike Price has been right for the Miners, who have scored more than 40 points in 17 games and more than 30 in 38 games in the 60 they've played since he became coach.

RICE -- Key players: S Andrew Sendejo, WR Toren Dixon, QB John
Thomas Shepherd. Returning starters: offense 4, defense 8.
Notes: Rice won 10 games last season and won first bowl game
since 1954, but must replace 97 percent of its passing yards and 94
percent of its rushing yards. ... Also in the mix at QB are Alabama
transfer Nick Fanuzzi and Ryan Lewis.

SMU-- Key players: QB Bo Levi Mitchell, WRs Aldrick Robinson and Emmanuel Sanders, LB Pete Fleps. Returning starters: offense 8, defense 8.
Notes: The Mustangs are coming off second straight 1-11 season.
... Mitchell was one of 13 freshmen on two-deep depth chart last
season. ... SMU had 29 TD passes, 3,275 yards passing -- both school
records.

TULANE -- Key players: RB Andre Anderson, WR Jeremy Williams, DE
Reggie Scott, QB Kevin Moore. Returning starters: offense 8, defense 6.
Notes: Anderson returns from knee injury, one of 17 players to
suffer season-ending injury. He rushed for 864 yards in seven games
last season. ... Coach Bob Toledo adds new defensive coordinator
Steve Stanard after 10-loss season.


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