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2011 C-USA Preview - CFN Thoughts on C-USA
UAB LB Marvin Burdette
UAB LB Marvin Burdette
Posted Jul 27, 2011

Preview 2011 - Thoughts from the CFNers on the 2011 Conference USA season

Preview 2011

Thoughts on C-USA

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

- 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

E-mail Pete Fiutak
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- Back when Timmy Chang was doing his thing at Hawaii, I wrote a piece saying that no way, no how could anyone ever surpass his NCAA record 17,072 career yards, mainly because the circumstances were so crazy. Chang not only got a sixth year of eligibility, but he also played at Hawaii, who always got an extra regular season game, and was a regular on the bowl circuit. Houston's Case Keenum got the sixth year, and he has had the fun of bowl games, and he has had the benefit of two extra games on the résumé, playing in Conference USA championships. Now he's just 3,487 yards away from surpassing Chang, and he needs 28 touchdown passes to pass former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell for the most scoring passes thrown. (By the way, Chang threw 117, Harrell 134.) For his career so far, and this includes partially played games, Keenum has averaged 316 yards and 2.48 touchdown passes every time out. That's a lot of big stats, I don't care what type of offense he has been in or what kind of circumstances led to them.

- And he might not be the best quarterback in the conference.

- And it's not even close, this year, there isn't another conference in America with more great quarterbacks than Conference USA. Keenum is going to be the NCAA all-time record holder for passing yards and touchdowns; East Carolina's Dominique Davis might throw for 4,000 yards; SMU's Kyle Patron is a lock for 30 touchdown passes; Tulsa's G.J. Kinne is an all-around playmaking star; UAB's Bryan Ellis is a nice passer who'll keep the Blazer offense moving; and Southern Miss senior Austin Davis will hang up 3,000 yards. Throw in UCF's Jeff Godfrey, who has a Conference USA title under his belt, and Tulane veteran Ryan Griffin, and the passing numbers are going to be flying.

- Considering all the returning quarterback talent, and with six of the nation's top 33 offenses returning, get your popcorn ready.

- Is it great offense or miserable defense, or a mix of the two. If also helps Conference USA's offensive cause that no one could play any defense, with seven teams ranking in the bottom 30 in America in total D, and with Eat Carolina finishing dead last, Memphis 115th, Tulsa 111th, Rice 107th, and Houston 103rd.

- Conference USA finished last year with four of the eight worst scoring defenses in America and six of the worst 25 scoring defenses.

- UCF finished 15th in the nation in total defense and eighth in scoring D. And the current Conference USA champion resides in Orlando.

- Conference USA, just get it over with. There's no reason to not take on Louisiana Tech and Troy. They're natural rivals for Tulane and UAB, respectively, and they'd add even more pop to an already entertaining league. It's also a good preemptive strike before someday losing UCF and East Carolina to the Big East and Houston and SMU to the Big 12.

- And if nothing else, you'd ease Louisiana Tech's geographic pain after having to play in the WAC.

- September 3rd: Houston at UCLA; East Carolina vs. South Carolina (in Charlotte); Marshall at West Virginia; Tulsa at Oklahoma; SMU at Texas A&M. Conference USA has a reasonable chance to make a big statement right out of the gate.

- No, I'm not including Rice at Texas or Mississippi State at Memphis.

- Here's the good and the bad for Conference USA. It's a good league with several strong teams, and while that makes for an entertaining year, it'll be next to impossible for one team to emerge from the pack and finally take the conference to another level like Boise State did for the WAC and TCU did for the Mountain West.

By Richard Cirminiello

While it’s highly unlikely it happens, this is as close as Conference USA has ever been to earning a BCS bowl bid. UCF, Houston, Tulsa, SMU and Southern Miss all have Top 25 aspirations this season.

This is an enormous season for UCF. Last year’s league champ—and Liberty Bowl winner over Georgia—has the right program and the right market to use 2011 as an audition for future inclusion in the Big East.

By the time he’s done in Orlando, UCF’s Jeff Godfrey could go down as one of the best quarterbacks in Conference USA history. Forget the fact that the sophomore is built more like a cornerback than a quarterback. He has those special ingredients, inherent to all winning athletes, which cannot be taught.

The UCF staff hasn’t stopped raving about the development of DE Troy Davis. The junior has the explosive first step and athleticism to be a worthy successor on the outside to all-time sack leader Bruce Miller.

With a little tinker here and a tweak there, June Jones’ run-and-shoot should be clicking with a higher degree of efficiency this fall. SMU mysteriously regressed in 2010 despite harboring talented QB Kyle Padron and league-leading rusher Zach Line.

The return of QB Case Keenum for a sixth year is big news, but Houston’s potential remains capped unless the defense can start making plays. Even when Keenum was ringing up more than 5,000 yards through the year, the Cougars seemed to hit a wall late in 2008 and 2009.

Sure, QB G.J. Kinne, WR Damaris Johnson and the rest of the Tulsa attack get most of the pub, but don’t sleep on this year’s defense. S Marco Nelson, LB Shawn Jackson and LB Curnelius Arnick lead an attacking unit getting way too little attention in the offseason.

East Carolina QB Dominique Davis is a fantasy owners’ dream. Not only did he account for 46 touchdowns in 2010, but the mealy Pirate D forces the offense to be aggressive at all times.

Once this season is over, DE Vinny Curry will go down as the best defensive NFL prospect in school history. A late bloomer, he brandishes the elite pass rushing skills to toy with league tackles.

It’ll be worth paying very close attention to Rice QB Taylor McHargue, one of the budding stars of the league. Beyond his dual-threat ability, the sophomore leader has already shown a knack for bringing out the best in the players around him.

How does Mike Price do it? He’s guided UTEP to five consecutive losing seasons, yet is still cashing paychecks for an eighth year in El Paso.

UAB is the league’s sleeper in 2011, a strong candidate to end a seven-year bowl drought. Fifth-year coach Neil Callaway has a strong base, led by QB Bryan Ellis and RB Pat Shed, returning from a team that darn near knocked off Tennessee and Mississippi State a year ago.

By Matt Zemek

Weird but real: Southern Methodist produced the most successful seven-loss college football season in history last year. Think about it for 15 seconds. Think about it for 15 more seconds. Think about it for 15 more seconds. Then think about it for 15 more seconds. Really – in one minute of careful thought, were you able to offer a legitimate counter? If so, be sure to let me know. For a program just beginning to put the 1987 death penalty in the rearview mirror, winning a division championship in Conference USA stands as a very sizeable feat. So what if the Mustangs lost by 25 points at home to a Case Keenum-less Houston team and then gacked away the Armed Forces Bowl to Army in a brutal performance from both quarterback Kyle Padron and coach June Jones? The Ponies still affirmed many of the things they began to establish in 2009. Their defense also showed a lot of backbone. A 7-7 mark never felt so solid.

UAB and Neil Callaway, no more excuses (and no missed field goals in the clutch). Deliver a winning record or find a new chief in Birmingham.

The heart wants Case Keenum to produce a brilliant, injury-free season of first-rate quarterbacking. The head says that his frail body won’t hold up. Here’s hoping the heart prevails (not that it normally does in the sports world).

Southern Mississippi Athletic Director Richard Giannini: Just why did you fire Jeff Bower? Wait a minute, you didn’t really do so. Larry Fedora’s record looks conspicuously like Bower’s so far. GENIUS MOVE!

George O’Leary will win Conference USA again… but that doesn’t mean he should be employed. What O’Leary did (or didn’t do) in the supervision of Ereck Plancher’s workout sessions a few years ago is worse than anything Ohio State, Oregon, North Carolina, and USC did when their programs lost institutional control.

Barrett Sallee
Follow me on Twitter: @BarrettSallee

- Case Keenum returns for his 15th season as the Houston quarterback, and will be in the discussion has a dark horse Heisman Trophy contender all year long. However, unless Kellen Moore and Boise State as a team both suffer epic failures, he won't get invited to New York.

- Some how, some way, Neil Callaway is still the head coach at UAB. That will change by Halloween.

- Southern Miss returns 14 starters and has a schedule that makes them not only the favorite to win Conference USA, but the Golden Eagles have an outside shot at going 12-0. That won't put them in the national title picture, but it will make Brett Favre happy.

- 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