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2011 C-USA Preview - West Team Breakdowns
Rice RB Sam McGuffie
Rice RB Sam McGuffie
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 27, 2011


Preview 2011 - CFN Conference USA West Team By Team Quick Looks and Predicted Finishes


C-USA West Predicted Finish

EAST
- 2011 East Carolina Preview | 2011 Marshall Preview 
- 2011 Memphis Preview | 2011 Southern Miss Preview 
- 2011 UAB Preview | 2011 UCF Preview

WEST
- 2011 Houston Preview | 2011 Rice Preview 
- 2011 SMU Preview | 2011 Tulane Preview
- 2011 Tulsa Preview | 2011 UTEP Preview 

- 2011 C-USA Preview | 2011 C-USA Unit Rankings
- 2011 CFN C-USA Schedules & Picks | 2011 C-USA Thoughts
- 2011 CFN All-C-USA Team & Top 30 Players
- 2011 C-USA East Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish
- 2011 C-USA West Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish 
- 2011 C-USA Big Questions | 2010 C-USA Preview 
- Suggestions or something we missed? Let us know

1. Tulsa
Predicted Overall Record: 8-4
Predicted Conference Record: 7-1

Offense: Since it isn't broken, no one will be looking to tinker with the Tulsa offense. Even with a new staff on hand in the aftermath of Todd Graham’s departure, the Hurricane will continue to be fast-paced, diverse, and unpredictable. If there’s a way to get one of the playmakers in space, the coaches will consider it. Ten starters return from an attack that ranked fifth nationally in total offense and sixth in scoring. Most notable are all-conference QB G.J. Kinne, All-American WR Damaris Johnson, and the entire offensive line. Kinne and Johnson were also No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on the team in rushing, but don’t read those numbers as an indictment of the backfield. The Hurricane has options in the running game, including fullback-sized Alex Singleton and elusive playmaker Ja’Terian Douglas. Tulsa likes to spread the wealth around so, Kinne aside, one player rarely dominates the headlines.

Defense: Like the foreman of a manufacturing plant, new coordinator Brent Guy is staring at a bunch of shiny new parts. His job description? Put them in the right place and transform them into a finished product. Guy inherits a lot of talent and athleticism, including eight starters and a slew of possible all-stars. However, the unit is still somewhat raw and prone to getting burned, especially through the air. Guy’s first move was to shift from the old 3-3-5 alignment to a more traditional 4-3, putting pressure on the team to develop more run-stopping tackles. The Hurricane will continue to fly around the field, creating turnovers and making plays behind the line. There are playmakers at every level, from DE Tyrunn Walker and linebackers Curnelius Arnick and Shawn Jackson on the front seven to safeties Marco Nelson and Dexter McCoil out in centerfield.

2. Houston
Predicted Overall Record: 10-2
Predicted Conference Record: 7-1

Offense: Record-setting QB Case Keenum is back, and so is Houston’s swagger. The Cougars weren’t the same without their Heisman-contending passer after he was injured in September, lacking their customary potency and efficiency. The sixth-year senior will reunite with a number of familiar weapons, like RB Bryce Beall and electrifying receivers Patrick Edwards and Tyron Carrier. Throw in multi-dimensional backs Michael Hayes and Charles Sims, who’s expected back from academic suspension, and the attack will be flush with its usual artillery. The biggest roadblock to another season of fireworks will be an offensive line in transition. Three starters have exhausted their eligibility, leaving behind a collection of underclassmen hoping to take their place. If C Chris Thompson and LT Jacolby Ashworth are left to fend for themselves, Houston’s rocket-boosted attack could fizzle versus attacking defenses.

Defense: Attack. That’s the mantra of the Houston defense, which lives by it, yet also dies by it more than the coaching staff can tolerate. The Cougars made a successful switch to the 3-4 last year, employing more of their athletic linebackers. While the move worked on some levels, as the team racked up plays for minus yards, it remained vulnerable to both the pass and the run. Houston got plowed for more than 200 yards a game on the ground and was spotty when the ball was in the air. Now, it must attempt to rebuild with a defensive backfield that could have four new starters and three players with no reps at this level. The foundation will be erected on a corps of underrated linebackers that could produce three all-stars, Marcus McGraw, Sammy Brown, and Phillip Steward.

3. SMU
Predicted Overall Record: 6-6
Predicted Conference Record: 5-3

Offense: The run-and-shoot will continue to be SMU’s preferred mode of transportation, though the program is hoping to operate it more efficiently this fall. The 2010 squad had no problem moving the ball, but putting up points on a consistent basis was another story. The Mustangs were 33rd nationally in total offense, but just 74th in scoring, a divide that could be explained by turnovers. The offense had way too many of them. Hope for a revival, however, comes from the return of all but one starter. SMU retains the services of prolific QB Kyle Padron, league-leading rusher Zach Line, and all of its linemen. If the attack can simply fine-tune some of the details and iron out a few wrinkles, it has the firepower and experience to finally reach head coach and architect June Jones’ expectations.

Defense: Without any attention outside—or even inside—Dallas, coordinator Tom Mason continues to do a fantastic job with the Mustang defense. A switch to a 3-4 alignment in 2009 put another quality athlete on the field, allowing the team to attack with more speed and frequency. While SMU didn’t produce nearly as many takeaways as two years ago, it did rank second only to UCF in the conference in total defense and scoring D. Mason retains most of that group, including six of the eight Mustangs who earned at least All-Conference USA honorable mention. Ends Taylor Thompson and Margus Hunt, linebackers Ja’Gared Davis and Taylor Reed, and FS Chris Banjo all believe their careers won’t stop on the Hilltop. More than anything else, Mason wants more big plays, like turnovers and sacks, than his kids produced in 2010. If that happens, SMU will have a fighting chance of improving its lackluster efficiency on third downs and in the red zone.

4. Rice
Predicted Overall Record: 3-9
Predicted Conference Record: 3-5

Offense: If Rice can stay healthy, an issue a year ago, the program has a chance to turn the corner in a big way on offense. The Owls showed hints of breaking through down the stretch, averaging more than 40 points over the final four games of 2010. Not coincidentally, the turnaround occurred around the same time that young QB Taylor McHargue returned in November from a shoulder injury. Viewed as the future at the position, the multi-dimensional sophomore outplayed senior Nick Fanuzzi in the spring to take control of the job. He’ll be supported by a deep backfield led by versatile RB Sam McGuffie and a receiving corps that’s heavy on tight ends and light on quality wideouts. The line is experienced enough to handle average opponents, but lacks the depth and first-rate talent to silence some of the league’s better defensive lines.

Defense: The Rice defense has been so bad for so long, it’s hard to remember the last time it was formidable. A try-hard, veteran group, the Owls simply lack the talent and depth to survive Conference USA, allowing 449 yards and 38 points last season. Momentum-changing plays, such as sacks or takeaways, were virtually non-existent. A hint of good news comes from the return of all-star DE Scott Solomon, who was granted a medical hardship after missing all of 2010 with a foot injury. He’s an infectious playmaker, but the Owls need a few more like him to offset its glaring issues against the run and the pass. Above all else, Rice has to generate more pressure to support a secondary that has gamers, but not enough quality pass defenders.

5. Tulane
Predicted Overall Record: 3-10
Predicted Conference Record: 2-6

Offense: If Bob Toledo is going to get the offensive balance he’s after, this is the year to do it. Tulane returns its starting backfield, QB Ryan Griffin and RB Orleans Darkwa, both of whom can vie for all-star recognition. Griffin is set to come into his own after battling through injuries to play well in 2010. Darkwa was one of the league’s biggest surprises, nearly rushing for 1,000 yards as a rookie. The pair forms the building block in New Orleans, but won’t be able to go it alone. The offensive line can be spotty and last season’s top three pass-catchers are no longer on campus. Opportunities abound for WR Ryan Grant and a host of tight ends looking to supplant Cody Sparks.

Defense: Even with improvement, the Green Wave labored badly on the defensive side of the ball in 2010. While it gave up fewer yards and big plays than in the past, it still gave out when it mattered most, yielding 37 points a game and imploding down the stretch. Tulane has good athletes at every level, yet is especially vulnerable against the run, getting gashed by more physical opponents. In fact, the team’s numbers against the pass don’t appear so bad largely because other teams were often content to keep it on the ground. The situation could have been far worse if not for the play of first-year transfers Trent Mackey and Dezman Moses, who shined at linebacker and defensive end, respectively. Both return, looking to once again be the cornerstones of a fragile unit.

6. UTEP
Predicted Overall Record: 2-10
Predicted Conference Record: 0-8

Offense: The Miner offense is in big trouble heading into 2011, and everyone around El Paso knows it. UTEP wasn’t exactly clicking when it was flush with veterans, and now it must replace 10 starters, including the entire line, star WR Kris Adams, and the all-time leading passer Trevor Vittatoe. Co-coordinators Bob Connelly and Aaron Price are going to earn every penny of their paychecks this fall. This offseason will take on particular importance, with the program looking for answers everywhere. Exiting spring, transfer Nick Lamaison, who had a cup of coffee at Tennessee, was in the lead at quarterback. His veteran support staff will include a pair of cagey veterans, senior RB Joe Banyard and WR Donavon Kemp. However, no one will reach his potential if the line can’t somehow pull together on the fly.

Defense: Nine starters return on defense. In El Paso, though, that only means that there’ll be no need for introductions in the summer. The play of the defense has plagued Mike Price ever since he arrived eight years ago, struggling to generate much pressure or many takeaways. The staff hopes that all of those familiar faces, a second year for coordinator Andre Patterson, and a strong offseason will lead to fewer breakdowns this fall. It’s not as if the Miners are void of talent, such as last year’s entire corps of linebackers and all-star S Travaun Nixon, but the unit will have problems as long as it fails to mount a pass rush. UTEP managed to get to the quarterback just 14 times in 13 games, putting far too much pressure on the back seven. It’s imperative that the D-line does a better job of getting a push and moving the other team off the line.

EAST
- 2011 East Carolina Preview | 2011 Marshall Preview 
- 2011 Memphis Preview | 2011 Southern Miss Preview 
- 2011 UAB Preview | 2011 UCF Preview

WEST
- 2011 Houston Preview | 2011 Rice Preview 
- 2011 SMU Preview | 2011 Tulane Preview
- 2011 Tulsa Preview | 2011 UTEP Preview 

- 2011 C-USA Preview | 2011 C-USA Unit Rankings
- 2011 CFN C-USA Schedules & Picks | 2011 C-USA Thoughts
- 2011 CFN All-C-USA Team & Top 30 Players
- 2011 C-USA East Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish
- 2011 C-USA West Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish 
- 2011 C-USA Big Questions | 2010 C-USA Preview 
- Suggestions or something we missed? Let us know