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Preview 2012 - C-USA Predicted Finishes
The early summer look at where we think each team will finish.
C-USA East Picks
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Preview 2012 - Predicted Conference Finishes
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2011 Record: 5-7, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 9-3
Even with off-the-field drama with the NCAA and with some big losses to the NFL, UCF should be loaded and ready to make a run for the Conference USA title. Last year the young team couldn’t win close games, but the defense was phenomenal finishing ninth in the nation. Eight starters return on D while the offense should be terrific with Brynn Harvey the main man for a terrific ground game that gets four starters back up front. Jeff Godfrey will work as a wide receiver after starting last year at quarterback and then leaving the team for a stretch this offseason. No, the Knights aren’t going to be good enough to beat Ohio State in Columbus, but they should be able to roll through a weakened Conference USA slate. The toughest conference road test will be at Tulsa, while East Carolina, Southern Miss, and SMU have to make the trip to Orlando.
2. Southern Miss
2011 Record: 12-2, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 6-6
Considering how dominant Southern Miss was at times last year on the way to a Conference USA title, this will be a step-back season with so much rebuilding to do. New head coach Ellis Johnson has to rebuild and reload on offense, but the passing game should shine with either Arsenio Favor or Ricky Lloyd bombing away, and the running game should be terrific with Desmond Johnson leading the way behind a decent-looking line. The schedule isn't too awful without two road games in a row and with home games against Boise State and Louisville to make a statement, but it's going to be rough early before easing up late. Road games at UCF and SMU, though, should dash any hopes of repeating.
3. East Carolina
2011 Record: 5-7, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 6-6
Will the Pirates finally have any consistency on defense? With all the key parts returning on the line and with leading tackler Jeremy Grove returning, maybe. However, the secondary that turned out to be a strength has to replace three starters. Gunslinging QB Dominique Davis is gone, but there's enough talent at running back to hope for a more balanced attack. Will the Ruffin McNeill be able to get the team to a bowl? With three September road games and with a date at UCF in the first week of October the record won't look all that hot, but the back half eases up in a big way with winnable games against Memphis, Tulane, and UAB to count on.
2011 Record: 7-6, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 6-6
One of the hottest teams in Conference USA over the last part of 2011, Marshall will have to get past the opening day game at West Virginia to go on a bit of a run to build up the win total early. This might not be a conference-title contending team, but it should be good enough to get through the UABs and Rices of the world - even though those two games are on the road - to get back to a bowl game. Most of the key skill players are back including starting QB Rakeem Cato and the rushing tandem of Tron Martinez and Travon Van. However, the line needs to be reworked and the defense has to try replacing pass rushing terror Vinny Curry. Just enough other key players are gone from the defense to keep the program from regressing, but this will be a building-block year for 2013.
2011 Record: 2-9, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 3-9
The Blazers can breathe a sigh of relief for the moment. New head coach Garrick McGee is such a good prospect that he was considered by many to be the front-runner to take over the open Arkansas job after the Bobby Petrino fiasco. The offensive line has to replace four starters to try keeping solid quarterback Jonathan Perry upright, but the backfield should be terrific with Darrin Reaves and Greg Franklin a good tandem. The defense that was among the worst in college football has to undergo a complete overhaul, and McGee has to find production early on from the front seven. SE Louisiana and a home game against Memphis are two of the winnable ones, but this year will be about trying to build things up for McGee - if he's not coaching the Hogs next year at this time.
2011 Record: 2-10, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 2-10
The hiring of Justin Fuente was a bit of a stunner when it happened, and the first year probably won't justify the call. Memphis needs a whole bunch of retooling and reworking, and it's going to take a long, long time before Fuente gets the offense to roll. He's a good offensive mind and should eventually make the Tigers interesting, helped by a veteran line, but the defense is going to be a nightmare again. Even with Dontari
Poe in the middle the D didn't do anything, but three starters
are back in the secondary. Beating UT-Martin in the season
opener should be a lock, but that might be it unless the Tigers
can win at home against Rice or Tulane.
C-USA West Picks
2011 Record: 8-5, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 8-4
If this isn't the Conference USA favorite, it'll at least be in the running for the title all season long. The Mustangs only have to leave the state of Texas twice, but they have rough September non-conference games against Baylor, Texas A&M, and TCU before diving into league play against UTEP and Tulane on the road. With a road game at UCF and home games against Southern Miss and Tulsa, November will be the make-or-break month, but this team should be good enough to get through alive with RB Zach Line expected to be back to lead a decent offense. The O line needs patching and the defense is thin, but overall this should be the best team yet fielded by June Jones.
2011 Record: 13-1, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 7-5
And here comes the rebuilding job. Fortunately, the Conference USA schedule is just light enough to keep the Cougars from falling off the map and eight games against teams that didn't go bowling. The Cougars don't leave the city of Houston over the first six games and have to leave Texas just twice all year. New head coach Tony Levine knows what he's doing, and David Piland is a good enough quarterback to step in and produce right away in place of Case Keenum. However, all the top targets are gone from the offense and top linebacker Sammy Brown is gone off a defense that never got enough credit. Seven starters are back on D, but being back in the Conference USA title hunt will all depend on whether or not the offense can reload.
2011 Record: 8-5, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 6-6
The Golden Hurricane has to get off to a hot start with home games against Tulane, Nicholls State, and Fresno State up after going to Iowa State. With a nice and soft midsection against UAB, Marshal, UTEP and Rice, there will be reason to get fired up about a possibly great season - and then November hits. At Arkansas, at Houston, UCF, and at SMU will potentially kill any and all momentum, but it should still be a good year with another good-looking passing game and just enough good hitters to hope for a solid year from the defense. There isn't enough in the bag to play for the Conference USA title, but going to a bowl for this team will be a must.
2011 Record: 5-7, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 3-9
The team should be better but the record probably won't be. The defense that couldn't stop the run should get steamrolled early on against Oklahoma, Ole Miss, and Wisconsin, and there aren't many breaks in Conference USA play having to go to East Carolina, Tulsa, Houston, and Southern Miss. The Miners have to hold serve at home as much as possible, but that'll be easier said than done facing two of the league's top contenders, UCF and SMU. Fortunately, getting New Mexico State, Tulane, and Rice at home should keep the year from being a total disaster. Four starters are back on the offensive front that has to come up with a great season.
2011 Record: 4-8, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 4-8
The defense was a disaster last season with a horrible run defense and a leaky secondary. The offense isn't going to explode with four starters gone off the line, but the backfield should be solid led by QB Taylor McHargue. It's going to take a minor miracle to not be 0-5 getting out of September, but there's a little bit of a break with Memphis and UTSA to kick off October. Finding winnable games to get close to a winning season will be tough, needing a few big upsets to have any shot at home against league favorites Southern Miss or SMU.
2011 Record: 2-11, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 2-10
Tulane doesn't have to start from scratch, but it's a long way from being a player in any way in Conference USA. New head coach Curtis Johnson's first job will be to improve a horrendous offense that couldn't score, but his defense should be decent with seven starters returning and a few nice prospects in the secondary. Winning the Sun Belt games against ULM and Louisiana-Lafayette will be a must, and winning home games against UAB and Rice will be needed to have a nice season. However, it'll be a shock if the Green Wave is the favorite against anyone but ULM.