2011 C-USA Preview - C-USA Big Questions
UTEP RB Joe Banyard
UTEP RB Joe Banyard
Posted Jul 27, 2011

2011 Preview - The big Conference USA questions going into the season

Preview 2011

C-USA Key Questions

- 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

By Richard Cirminiello

East Carolina

Is one offseason enough time to right the wrongs on defense? Arguably the country's worst unit of 2010, East Carolina will look to regroup after yielding at least 42 points in 10 of 13 games.

Can the offensive line adjust to the loss of three starters? In order to be successful, the Pirates must give prolific QB Dominique Davis the time he needs to check down and locate his receivers downfield.

Besides Lance Lewis, which of the receivers will help offset the graduation of Dwayne Harris? The pair combined for 190 receptions and 24 touchdown catches last fall, but now that Harris is a Dallas Cowboy, Lewis could become a target for double-teams.


Will record-breaking QB Case Keenum suffer any lingering effects from last September's ACL injury? Within range of Timmy Chang's career passing record of 17,072 yards, Keenum hopes to pick up where he left off prior to getting hurt. Fortunately, his arm is well-rested and tuned-up for another big year.

Can a playmaking quartet of Cougars linebackers be enough to initiate some improvement on defense? The staff has no qualms with the likes of Marcus McGraw, Sammy Brown, and Phillip Steward, but they'll do only so much for a squad that ranked 103rd nationally a year ago.

What can be expected from versatile RB Charles Sims, who's returning from academic suspension? Barring any hiccups, he's another exciting weapon in the Houston artillery. As a rookie in 2009, he accounted for 1,457 yards and 10 touchdowns.


Who'll be under center on opening day, A.J. Graham or Eddie Sullivan? Neither sophomore was able to put this debate to rest in the spring, a concern for a program that's gone too many years without a consistent hurler.

Can Tron Martinez –or any other Herd back—ignite a ground game that ranked 114th nationally a year ago? While Martinez held the lead following spring drills, he'll need to fend off a deep collection of competitors, including former Florida commit Travon Van.

Is next-level DE Vinny Curry capable of leading Marshall to the top of the defensive standings in Conference USA? Led by Curry, who has a chance to be the school's defensive draft prospect of all-time, the Herd is brimming with returning starters.


What can the staff expect from QB Andy Summerlin, the former JUCO recruit who missed 2010 with a shoulder injury? Pegged as the No. 2 before spring camp opened, he's been thrust into a starring role since starter Ryan Williams transferred to Miami on May 6.

Will the installation of a new spread attack produce improved results for a team that averaged slightly over 14 points a game in 2010? It's hard to imagine the situation getting any worse for a squad that failed to produce more than 19 points in any of the final nine games.

After losing three seniors from a secondary that yielded 38 touchdown passes, will the pass defense get worse before getting better? Precocious sophomore CB Mohammed Seisay must hold down the fort in a defensive backfield that was clueless throughout 2010.


Is athletic QB Taylor McHargue set to become one of Conference USA's budding offensive stars? For good reason, the coaching staff is excited about its multi-dimensional sophomore. The starter before injuring his shoulder on Sept. 11, he returned in November to lead the Owls to defeats of East Carolina and UAB.

How much of an impact will the return of top-notch DE Scott Solomon have on one of the country's feeblest defenses? An irreplaceable pass rusher, who missed all of 2010 with a broken foot, he's a welcome addition for a unit that ranked last nationally in tackles for loss.

Can the Owls carry the momentum of last season's respectable 3-3 finish into 2011? Rice played like a bowl-eligible team during the second half of the year, sweeping its three home games.


After sputtering too many times in 2010, will QB Kyle Padron and the rest of the run-and-shoot click in 2011? The junior threw for plenty of yards, but was light on big plays as the pilot of an attack that ranked 74th nationally in scoring.

Who'll pick up the slack in the passing game now that Aldrick Robinson is with the Washington Redskins? The Mustangs have lost a top-flight wide receiver to the NFL in consecutive years, sending Emmanuel Sanders to the Pittsburgh Steelers following the 2010 season.

Can a feisty, aggressive D recapture its 2009 form, when it ranked third in the league with 28 takeaways? The Mustangs created only 15 turnovers in 2010, not nearly enough for a unit that strives to get the ball back to the offense as quickly as possible.

Southern Miss

Can the staff figure out how to best harness the complimentary skill sets of running backs Kendrick Hardy and Desmond Johnson? Both players warrant maximum touches, putting pressure on the coaches to keep them happy and involved in the high-powered Eagles offense.

How will the Golden Eagles tighten the screws on a defense that fell apart late last year, especially when the ball was in the air? The "Nasty Bunch" was anything but last fall, especially when the opposing quarterback dropped back to throw.

Will a rebuilding O-line prevent the offense from reaching its full potential in 2011? While Southern Miss is in great shape at quarterback and the skill positions, a new center and right side of the line could be its most annoying spoke in the offensive wheel this September.


In Ryan Griffin, does head coach Bob Toledo finally have a quarterback who'll allow him to open up the entire playbook? The junior threw 14 touchdown passes last year, lending hope to the Green Wave passing game.

After rushing for almost 1,000 yards in his debut, what can precocious RB Orleans Darkwa do for an encore? A part-timer until the midway point of his true freshman season, No. 26 has the program eager to see what he can do with 20-25 carries a week over the course of a 12-game season.

Is there any hope for a defense that gave up at least 38 points in seven of the final 10 games a year ago? The D has been a perennial problem for the Green Wave, a team that gave up more than 37 points a game last season.


Will the beat go on now that Todd Graham is at Pitt and Bill Blankenship is a college head coach for the first time? Graham was instrumental in last year's turnaround, guiding the Hurricane to a season-ending, seven-game winning streak. Just six years removed from a high school gig, Blankenship has a tough act to follow.

Who'll step up for a young secondary that made a bunch of big plays in 2010, yet permitted just as many to opposing passers? There's a lot of talent in the defensive backfield, like safeties Dexter McCoil and Marco Nelson, but now it has to put it all together by making more stops in pass defense.

Can someone other than QB G.J. Kinne or WR Damaris Johnson lead the team in rushing? Tulsa has no aversion to the ground game, but needs more support from a backfield that's been overshadowed by other positions in recent years.


How does an experienced UAB squad learn how to win the close ones after dropping four games by no more than five points last fall? The Blazers need to find a way to harness some confidence from last year's near-misses, which included narrow defeats versus Tennessee and Mississippi State.

Can new coordinator Tommy West have an immediate impact on a Blazer D that desperately needs it? A long-time veteran of Conference USA, West inherits a slew of experienced players from the 2010 team.

What can the surprising backfield duo of QB Bryan Ellis and RB Pat Shed do for an encore in their UAB climax? The pair was a revelation last fall, coming out of nowhere to throw 25 touchdown passes and rack up more than 1,300 all-purpose yards, respectively.


Can the Knights adjust to losing their two best linemen, OT Jah Reid and DE Bruce Miller? While there's certainly leftover talent in the trenches, it's never easy replacing the heart and soul of both sides of the line.

Now that QB Jeff Godfrey is the face of the offense, who'll emerge as his primary targets? The sophomore can run the ball, but wants to become a more complete player in his second year. To do so, he'll need more help from a receiving corps that's without last season's top three pass-catchers.

How will the coaching staff divvy up the carries among a deep and talented ensemble of running backs? It's a problem every coach would like to have. The Knights boast three potential feature runners, Latavius Murray, Brynn Harvey and Ronnie Weaver.


Can the brass get a swath of junior college transfers ready in time for the opener? In order to fill the numerous holes on offense, Mike Price and his assistants loaded up on JUCO athletes, many of whom will be expected to contribute immediately.

What can the Miners expect from Nick Lamaison, the early favorite to supplant Trevor Vittatoe at quarterback? The confident, well-traveled passer actually had a cup of coffee in Knoxville before bolting when Lane Kiffin took the USC job.

Is there enough practice time for the offensive line to recover from the loss of all five of last season's starters? Whoever gets the ball for the opener with Stony Brook better wear track shoes because he'll be making plenty of throws on the move.

- 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