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2011 Spring Preview - The Conference USA Buzz
East Carolina QB Dominique Davis
East Carolina QB Dominique Davis
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Mar 11, 2011


With several phenomenal statistical quarterbacks like East Carolina's Dominique Davis, Tulsa's G.J. Kinne, SMU's Kyle Padron, and with the return of Houston's Case Keenum from a knee injury, Conference USA is loaded with high-flying offenses in what should be a wild season. Check out the early buzz around each team going into spring practices.


2011 C-USA Spring Preview

The Spring Buzz

Click for each team's spring preview
East  UAB | UCF | East Carolina | Marshall | Memphis | Southern Miss
West  Houston | Rice | SMU | Tulane | Tulsa | UTEP

2011 Conference USA Spring Preview
- 2011 C-USA Schedules & Game-By-Game Picks
- 2011 C-USA Spring Buzz   
- 2011 C-USA Spring Attitudes 
- 2011 C-USA Big Spring Questions  
- 2011 C-USA Positions To Watch  
- C-USA Spring Rankings 

East 

UAB

Bryan Ellis left no doubt a year ago that he gave the Blazers their best chance for success. The downside of his success? It scared off a couple of the school’s reserves, David Isabelle and Emmanuel Taylor, who’ve decided to pursue transfers in order to get more playing time. Those moves leave UAB with only two other scholarship quarterbacks, Jonathan Perry and Joe Bento, who combined to throw just two passes a year ago. If Ellis misses any time this fall, the passing game will grind to a halt.

UCF

George O’Leary has a good problem in the backfield heading into 2011—how does he keep everyone involved and engaged in the offense? Think of a poor man’s version of Virginia Tech a year ago. Not only are last year’s top two rushers, Ronnie Weaver and Latavius Murray, back, but Brynn Harvey is expected to return to full strength this spring after missing all of last season to injury. That’s the same Harvey who went for more than 1,000 yards in 2009 and looked like one of Conference USA’s budding young offensive stars.

East Carolina

The initial appeal of defensive back Dekota Marshall for a sixth season of eligibility has been denied by the NCAA. He missed all of last season with a broken tibia suffered in 2009, and plans to appeal the decision. A versatile and physical defender, his three letters of experience and nearly two seasons as a starter would provide a lift to the flimsy East Carolina secondary. If denied a second time, he’ll try to impress NFL scouts and continue his playing career in the pros.

Marshall

This latest recruiting cycle shed light on one of the reasons why the Herd took a chance on head coach Doc Holliday more than a year ago—the guy can land talent. Depending on the evaluator, Marshall had one of the best classes among Conference USA teams, if not all non-BCS programs. Holliday went up and down the Eastern Seaboard and into states, like Indiana, in order to improve the overall skill level in Huntington. He’s even taking a chance on DB Dwayne Hunter, a former University of Tennessee prospect who ran into trouble with legal issues.

Memphis

When the Tigers open spring drills, there’ll be one less quarterback in the mix. Cannon Smith, the one-time Miami transfer and son of FedEx CEO Fred Smith, is switching sides of the ball. The starter behind center when 2010 began, he’s moving to safety in an effort to get more playing time. Second-year hurler Ryan Williams is the frontrunner atop the depth chart after starting 10 games as a true freshman, which might pit young Will Gilchrist and former JUCO transfer Andy Summerlin in a battle for the No. 2 job.

Southern Miss

While the sad reality is that LB Martez Smith remains paralyzed after being shot last November, the program is excited about the returns of Deddrick Jones and Tim Green. The pair was shot in the same incident, but is expected to return this season, providing a physical and emotional boost to the defense. Jones will rejoin a defensive line that’ll welcome his veteran leadership and pass rushing skills, and Green, ironically, will be vying to succeed Smith at strongside linebacker. If both can return to the field in 2011, it would go a long way to furthering the healing process in Hattiesburg.

West 

Houston

The big news that reverberated throughout the campus in January was that record-breaking QB Case Keenum had been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. A knee injury last September ended what was supposed to be his final season as an amateur, putting the high-octane offense in the hands of a rookie, David Piland. These days, the Cougars have one of the deepest collections of quarterbacks around, a group that also includes 2010 casualty Cotton Turner. Keenum won’t see much action this month, ceding first team reps to Piland and Turner.

Rice

Now that Taylor McHargue is pretty much cemented as the Owl starting quarterback, the staff feels comfortable moving Taylor Cook out from behind center to tight end. At 6-7, he has the size and athletic ability to be a natural fit in the team’s “Giraffe” package, which puts receivers in a position to sky above defenders, especially in the red zone. Rice is also moving Vance McDonald from tight end to wide receiver, creating more reps for Luke Willson and giving the offense a set of pass-catchers capable of bullying opposing linebackers and defensive backs.

SMU

Head coach June Jones is changing the culture on the Hilltop in more ways than just the record and the postseason. While it’s evident that the Mustangs have won more games the last two seasons, less obvious has been their ability to attract a higher caliber of athlete. With plenty of help from his assistants, such as recruiting coordinator Adrian Klemm, SMU has put together back-to-back solid recruiting classes. The latest haul, led by four-star LB Davon Moreland, was chock full of quality athletes who’ll help ensure that the program remains a Conference USA threat for years to come.

Tulane

The season is almost six months from the opener, yet the Green Wave depth on offense has already taken a hit. WR D.J. Banks and RB Payton Jason opted to transfer at the end of last season. Banks caught 47 passes as a sophomore, and would have been the program’s leading receiver, but felt as if his talents were not being fully employed in New Orleans. Not long ago, there were whispers that Jason could be the next big thing out of the backfield for Tulane. That, however, was before Orleans Darkwa nearly rushed for 1,000 yards in a breakout debut for the program.

Tulsa

While the head coach is new and both coordinators are imports, there’s still a feeling of familiarity around the Tulsa program. Rookie coach Bill Blankenship was on staff the past few seasons, 18 starters return, and the vaunted offense will generally be left alone. After leading Conference USA in total offense and scoring, the Hurricane will wisely leave well enough alone. Sure, there’ll be some tinkering on the part of the staff, but not so much that it impedes the progress of the team’s top playmakers.

UTEP

A swath of seniors were largely responsible for saving Mike Price’s job in 2010. Now the beleaguered coach is going to put his fate on the shoulders of a handful of junior college transfers. The staff scoured Texas and California for ready-made talent, signing 20-somethings capable of filling holes on both sides of the ball. The month of April will be an ideal time to get a good look at the likes of LB A.J. Ropati and WR Mike Edwards to see if they’re truly poised to climb the depth chart and win a starting job.

Click for each team's spring preview
East  UAB | UCF | East Carolina | Marshall | Memphis | Southern Miss
West  Houston | Rice | SMU | Tulane | Tulsa | UTEP

2011 Conference USA Spring Preview
- 2011 C-USA Schedules & Game-By-Game Picks
- 2011 C-USA Spring Buzz   
- 2011 C-USA Spring Attitudes 
- 2011 C-USA Big Spring Questions  
- 2011 C-USA Positions To Watch  
- C-USA Spring Rankings