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2011 Spring Preview -Conference USA Questions
Houston QB Case Keenum
Houston QB Case Keenum
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Mar 11, 2011


The big questions surrounding each Conference USA team going into spring practices.


2011 C-USA Spring Preview

The Spring Questions


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

Can new coordinator Tommy West have an instant impact on a Blazer D that needs it? West is a familiar face in these parts and a coach who’s had considerable success throughout his career. When last employed, he was the head coach at Memphis, where he went to five bowl games in nine seasons. He’ll preach sound fundamentals to a group that boasts four players with all-star potential, DT Elliott Henigan, LB Marvin Burdette, S Jamie Bender, and CB T.J. Ballou.

UCF

Can the Knights take the appropriate steps toward replacing their best linemen? The program loses an all-conference first teamer on both sides of the ball, Jah Reid on offense and Bruce Miller on defense. Both leave gaping voids that’ll impact those around them if they’re not properly filled. Justin McCray is first in line to supplant Reid after landing on the Conference USA All-Freshman team in his debut. Toby Jackson is the kind of mega-recruit from the JUCO ranks who’s capable of picking up the slack opposite Darius Nall on the D-line.

East Carolina

Can the defense get any better? The natural instinct would be to suggest that it can’t get any worse after the Pirates allowed 478 yards and 44 points a game. An about-face is improbable, but the program can take comfort in the fact that most of the team’s starters return and the staff has had a full season together in Greenville. Plus, the defensive front is expected to get a big lift from the return of linemen Michael Brooks, Marke Powell, and Justin Dixon, who missed most of 2010 with injuries.

Marshall

Who succeeds journeyman Brian Anderson behind center? Unless rookie Rakeem Cato blossoms into a wild card, this is going to be a close duel between sophomores A.J. Graham and Eddie Sullivan over the next five months. Graham has the size, mobility, and arm strength to be a great fit after missing most of 2010 with a bum ankle. His injury opened the door for Sullivan to be the primary backup as a true freshman last fall, completing 6-of-24 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown in seven appearances.

Memphis

Can the spread offense be installed over the span of 15 practices and one spring game? Disappointed by last season’s productivity in more of a pro-style formation, second-year head coach Larry Porter is shifting gears and changing his attack mode. Memphis will look to spread the field as much as possible and get the ball out of the quarterback’s hand quickly. Porter wants to put his playmakers in a position to, well, make plays, and take some heat off an offensive line that yielded more sacks than any other Conference USA team in 2011.

Southern Miss

Can the Golden Eagles tighten up a defense that fell apart late last year? The once vaunted Nasty Bunch was nasty for all the wrong reasons in 2010, allowing 40 or more points on five separate occasions. There was simply too much talent on hand for those types of results, resulting in some changes within the coaching staff. Southern Miss has the right ingredients for success, like DE Cordarro Law and LB Korey Williams, but has to improve in pass defense and start forcing more field goals deep in its own territory.

West 

Houston

Is one spring session enough time to solve the defense’s problems? Unlikely, but after ranking 103rd nationally in total D and 96th in scoring D, the Cougars better make the most of every session they have together. The returns of Marcus McGraw, Sammy Brown, and Phillip Steward ensure that the linebackers will be just fine. On the first and last lines of defense, however, Houston is shorthanded. It needs to get more pressure without blitzing in order to support the run and assist a secondary that can be vulnerable.

Rice

Is there any reason for hope on defense? A perennial stumbling block in Houston, Rice is coming off a season in which it allowed 38 points a game and was 119th nationally against the pass. A shred of hope comes in the form of new defensive coordinator Derrick Jackson and returning DE Scott Solomon. Solomon was forced to sit out all of 2010 with a broken foot, denying the Owls their best pass rusher. He has nine career sacks and next-level potential, providing some much-needed cover for that vulnerable Rice secondary.

SMU

Can the offense recapture its scoring punch? By this time in Jones’ tenure, the Run-and-Shoot ought to be getting more efficient, not less. In 2010, SMU slid from 45th in the country in scoring to 74th, sputtering worse in the red zone. The odd part of the equation was that so many key components, like QB Kyle Padron, RB Zach Line, and the offensive line, returned intact. While the Mustangs will continue to move the ball in a balanced fashion, turning those drives into touchdowns will be an essential goal during the offseason.

Tulane

Is there any hope for a defense that allowed at least 38 points in seven of the final 10 games? You’ll have to look real hard for silver linings, especially since three of the unit’s top performers, CB Phillip Davis, DT Justin Adams, and S Alex Wacha, have departed. Tulane will have to cling to an athletic front seven that’s capable of generating pressure and making plays from sideline-to-sideline. A couple of transfers, in particular, LB Trent Mackey and DE Dezman Moses, were solid contributors in their first year on campus.

Tulsa

Can Blankenship maintain—even further—the success that Todd Graham had before leaving for Pitt? The coach is entering an ideal situation for continuity. He’s familiar with his surroundings and inherits a veteran team that finished 2010 on a seven-game winning streak. There won’t be many excuses for failure. Best of all, QB G.J. Kinne is a third-year starter and one of the league’s premier playmakers at the position. It all adds up to a solid debut for Bill Blankenship in his first year as a head coach at this level.

UTEP

Who replaces Trevor Vittatoe at quarterback? Although he lacked consistency, he was a four-year starter and a leader who won’t easily be replaced. Adding to the intrigue is the fact that his backup, James Thomas, has also graduated. If there’s a slight favorite, it’s sophomore Carson Meger, but he’s a former walk-on and hardly a lock to be under center in September. He’ll need to keep improving in order to fend off the challenges of veteran Tate Smith and redshirt freshman Javia Hall.

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