Conference USA Spring Football - West
SMU RB Zach Line
SMU RB Zach Line
Posted Mar 22, 2012

As spring ball kicks in, what's happening for each Confeence USA West team?

2012 Spring Preview   

Conference USA West

East UAB | UCF | East Carolina | Marshall | Memphis | Southern Miss
West  Houston | Rice | SMU | Tulane | Tulsa | UTEP

2012 Conference USA Pre-Spring Preview
- C-USA East Pre-Spring Rankings
- C-USA West Pre-Spring Rankings
- Why Every C-USA Team Should Be Excited
- Why Every Team Should Be Grouchy
- What Every Team Needs To Work On 
2012 Recruiting Rankings C-USA East | C-USA West

By Richard Cirminiello 
Follow Us ... #ColFootballNews 
- 2012 C-USA Spring Preview - East 


Although the Cougars are about to embark on a completely new era, rookie head coach Tony Levine will do whatever is necessary this offseason to ensure that his team doesn't stray too far from recent results. His objective will not be a simple one. Not only has the staff been remade, but so has the vaunted passing game, which was the catalyst for last season's school-record 13 wins and nation's-best 49 points a game. Oh, and the changes at Houston aren't relegated to what takes place on the field. The upcoming season also marks the end of its 17-year affiliation with Conference USA, a fond farewell before beginning life as a member of the Big East in 2013. Levine refuses to admit that the Cougars are rebuilding, but permits will still be needed for renovations taking place on both sides of the ball. Ideally, the new regime wants to be in a position to hit the ground running by the time it joins a new league next fall.

- Welcome back to the spotlight, David Piland. The sophomore is in the driver's seat to be the replacement for QB Case Keenum. For those who forgot, he's no beginner, having thrown 24 touchdown passes as a rookie in 2010 after Keenum was lost to a season-ending injury.

- Few rookies in the country are better suited for instant success than WR Deontay Greenberry. The mega-recruit, who de-committed from Notre Dame, is joining a receiving corps looking to replace last year's top three pass-catchers. Can you say Freshman All-American?

- The offense will feature one familiar face in RB Charles Sims. The versatile weapon is about to bloom into a household name, at least in Conference USA circles.

- Major change will be taking place on the D as well. Losing linebackers Sammy Brown and Marcus McGraw, in particular, will be just slightly less painful than saying goodbye to Keenum.

- The Cougars can take solace in a veteran offensive line that's bringing back all but one starter. A new center is needed, but Jacolby Ashworth is a terrific left tackle, and Kevin Forsch has a great future at guard.


David Bailiff is operating on borrowed time these days. If he's unable to guide the Owls to the .500 mark and a bowl game, it'll be tough to justify a seventh year as the head coach. Over the last three seasons, Rice has won just 10 games, making the 10-3 breakout campaign of 2008 seem as if it happened a decade ago. Bailiff and his reconfigured staff need results now, or else there might not be a tomorrow. Although the offense has always shown hints of pop in Houston, the defense has long been the weak link of the Owls. The 2011 version allowed 33 points a game, while ranking 111th nationally. Enter Chris Thurmond, who was promoted from cornerbacks coach to light the fuse of his defenders. What the new coordinator lacks in top-flight talent, he'll try to make up for with speed, different looks and an attacking style of play.

- Junior Taylor McHargue has the edge in experience, but don't count out freshman Driphus Jackson in the race at quarterback. McHargue seems incapable of staying healthy, while Jackson brings a dynamic dose of athleticism to the offense.

- Is this the season Sam McGuffie puts it all together? When the back transferred from Michigan two years ago, it looked as if he might dominate in Conference USA. However, injuries limited him to 38 carries in 2011, making this fall the make-or-break finale of a career that's yet to peak.

- With the graduation of six seniors, the Owls are going to be very young on the offensive line. The staff likes the group athleticism, but that might also be code for needing more time in the weight room.

- One thing is certain about the quarterbacks—they'll spend a lot of time in the pocket looking for one the team's big tight ends, Luke Willson or Vance McDonald. McDonald might be listed as a wide receiver, but at 6-5 and 260 pounds, he's a tight end.

- Besides DE Scott Solomon, the biggest loss to the defense will be booming P Kyle Martens. He bailed out the D countless times, even if it rarely was able to take advantage of the gift given to it.


Now that the Mustangs have been to three straight bowl games for the first time in more than a quarter-century, the team is looking for new achievements. The price of success is always a higher bar. June Jones has done a miraculous job over the course of four years, breathing life into a squad that was being fitted for a toe tag years ago. Now that SMU has reached a point that postseason games are the norm, and that quality recruits are no longer off limits, it can start shooting for goals that would have been off limits not long ago. From the first week of December to the first week of January, it was particularly evident that this was a different Mustangs program. In the span of just five weeks, they held on to Jones, joined the Big East Conference and whipped Pitt, 28-6, in the bowl game.

- Kyle Padron is transferring to Eastern Washington. J.J. McDermott has graduated. It's Garrett Gilbert's time on the Hilltop, and the Texas transfer is in the perfect setting to resurrect a career once filled with so much promise.

- Assertive RB Zach Line is not just a product of his competition. The two-time 1,000-yard rusher is a possible feature back at the next level, but he is going to be challenged running behind a completely revamped offensive line.

- To get a read on SMU's potential this fall, just follow the bouncing ball. The Ponies are at their best when they're creating havoc and dominating turnover margin. Last year, however, they had just 16 takeaways, or half as many times as they turned the ball over.

-Der'rikk Thompson is about to explode in the passing game now that veteran receivers Terrance Wilkerson and Terrance Wilkerson have graduated. The Mustangs are looking for a complement to go-to guy Darius Johnson, and Thompson has the tools to excel in the role.

- Line is the face of the offense, without argument. However, doesn't the staff need to get backup Rishaad Wimbley on the field sometimes? Anywhere? At 6-0 and 280 pounds, he possesses the strength and light feet that just scream out for more playing time.


Tulane is college football's hot potato, which now rests firmly in the hands of first-year head coach Curtis Johnson. Nine straight losing seasons provide ample proof that this is an extremely difficult place to win. The facilities are second-rate, the fan base is dwindling and the competition for in-state recruits is insurmountable. Still, Johnson has embraced his new endeavor in his New Orleans hometown, bringing a fresh energy and a positive attitude to the Green Wave. The program can use the new vibe. Last year's squad was rife with problems, beating just one FBS opponent, and losing the final ten games. Success in these parts will be measured differently than at most schools. Johnson and his assistants will need to sharpen the little things, such as execution, fundamentals and building depth, before even worrying about wins and losses.

- Johnson will lean heavily on his linebackers, which is easily the best group on defense. Seniors Trent Mackey and Darryl Farley bring much-needed leadership and consistency to the second level of the D.

- There's hope on offense, especially in the backfield. Ryan Griffin is about to begin his fourth season as the starting quarterback, and RB Orleans Darkwa is the type of workhorse who'll have a chance to play on Sundays two years from now.

- Johnson has long been a teacher of wide receivers. He inherits a set of young pupils with high ceilings. Justyn Shackelford and Xavier Rush, in particular, not only played as true freshmen, but flashed hints of being future all-stars.

- Tulane will need to retool an already shabby offensive line in a hurry. Three starters are gone, headed by the team's most versatile blocker, Harris Howard. Heck, the D-line is in no better shape, also needing to groom three newcomers into starting linemen.

- The season is more than five months from starting, yet the defense is already on its heels. The secondary, which could not afford any defections, has dismissed starting CB Jordan Sullen for disciplinary reasons. Ryan Travis will handle one spot, but the other side of the field will be wide-open.


The Golden Hurricane has been on a very nice run over the past seven years, even if much of the country hasn't been paying attention. Since leaving the WAC for Conference USA in 2005, Tulsa has ever so quietly won at least eight games all but one time. While the coaches have changed, from Steve Kragthorpe to Todd Graham to Bill Blankenship, the results have not. The program has evolved into a steady producer of wins and points, crafting a culture of success that transcends above any one individual player or coach. So, even though the Hurricane is losing all-conference QB G.J. Kinne to graduation, there's a steely confidence around campus that the team will keep the train from sliding off the tracks. When faced with changes in recent seasons, Tulsa has always seemed to locate the right formula for success.

- One reason Tulsa isn't freaking out about replacing Kinne is the availability of Cody Green, the former four-star transfer from Nebraska. Although Blankenship is quick to point out that the job is wide-open, the 6-4, 247-pounder with the light feet will be tough to keep off the pedestal.

- The new signal-caller will get a major lift from his supporting cast. The Hurricane brings back a pair of 800-yard rushers, Trey Watts and Ja'Terian Douglas, its top receiver of 2011, Bryan Burnham, and a dynamite H-back in Willie Carter.

- For the offense to truly click, it's incumbent upon the line to rebuild on the fly. Three starters must be replaced, namely reliable LT Tyler Holmes and First Team All-Conference USA LG Clint Anderson.

- Tulsa has the parts on defense to be very disruptive and opportunistic this fall. From Cory Dorris up front and Shawn Jackson at linebacker to safeties Marco Nelson and Dexter McCoil, this group will fly to the ball with a sense of purpose.

- The staff is keeping its fingers crossed that it'll finally get the 2009 version of DeAundre Brown. The linebacker, with the range of a safety, had a team-high 102 tackles as a sophomore, but missed 2010 because of academic problems, and played sparingly last fall.


Mike Price is living a charmed life in El Paso. Apparently, only at UTEP can a coach guide his team to six consecutive losing seasons, yet still remain on the payroll. Price, though, might finally be running out of good fortune. Although he was brought back for another season, 2012 represents the final year of his contract. In athletic director speak, that's code for win now or else. Do the Miners boast enough overall talent to get over the hump and back to the postseason in order to salvage the jobs of the current staff? On paper, it doesn't appear so. While seven players earned honorable mention All-Conference USA or better in 2011, just two are back in West Texas, P Ian Campbell and C Eloy Atkinson. UTEP is sorely lacking in star power on both sides of the line, pressuring the JUCO and high school newcomers to get out of the blocks quickly.

- A lot of the Miners' success in 2012 will hinge on the health of QB Nick Lamaison. His live arm and moxie were offset a year ago by nagging injuries.

- The graduations of three seniors, Joe Banyard, Vernon Frazier and Leilyon Myers, have left the program in a bit of a quandary at running back. Sophomores Nathan Jeffrey, Josh Bell and LaQuintus Dowell have battled all spring, a precursor of what's to come in August.

- Although it might not impact the final score of too many games this fall, UTEP will be more competitive because of the play of its special teams. Campbell and Dakota Warren form what might be the best kicking duo in the conference.

- Seven starters have departed from a Miners D that's perennially leaky. Ouch. Lamaison might need to be downright prolific through the air just to keep his team within striking distance in shootouts.

- 2012 C-USA Spring Preview - East 


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