2012 CFN Conference USA Preview
UCF DB Kemal Ishmael
UCF DB Kemal Ishmael
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 13, 2012


2012 CFN Conference USA Preview - It's a big moment for the league in a transition season.


Preview 2012

CUSA Preview

 
East
- 2012 East Carolina Preview | 2012 Marshall Preview
- 2012 Memphis Preview | 2012 Southern Miss Preview 
- 2012 UAB Preview | 2012 UCF Preview

West

- 2012 Houston Preview | 2012 Rice Preview
- 2012 SMU Preview | 2012 Tulane Preview 
- 2012 Tulsa Preview | 2012 UTEP Preview

- 2012 C-USA Preview
- 2012 C-USA Unit Rankings
- 2012 C-USA Schedules & Picks 
- 2012 CFN All-C-USA Team & Top 30 Players
- 2012 C-USA East Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish  
- 2012 C-USA West Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish  

By Richard Cirminiello

Sometimes, success comes with a hefty price tag.

Conference-USA made national waves in 2011 behind the memorable campaigns of Houston and Southern Miss. The Cougars were on the verge of becoming the league’s first-ever representative in a BCS bowl before the Golden Eagles stunned them in the title game. The pair combined to go 25-3, with both schools finishing the year ranked. However, like a rising young coach at an off-the-radar program, keeping talent from wandering can be a daunting challenge.

Swept up in realignment, an already disparate C-USA is about to be turned upside down. When the Big East needed members late last year, it looked west, plucking Houston, SMU, UCF and Memphis, four big-market schools, away from a powerless non-AQ conference. In their place, the conference will add Florida International, Louisiana Tech, North Texas and Texas-San Antonio in time for the 2013 season. Old Dominion and UNC-Charlotte are expected to join the mix in 2015. All in all, not a positive trade for C-USA.

The upcoming season will be status quo in C-USA for one final year. No one is leaving. No one is coming. Just football for three months. Since last year’s powerbrokers, Houston and Southern Miss, lost star quarterbacks and prominent head coaches, the chase for a league crown has never been more wide open. In the East, the Golden Eagles hope to remain formidable behind the play of the defense and the running game. New head coach Ellis Johnson will spend the summer deciding on his quarterback, with prized recruit Anthony Alford set to enter the mix.

Schizophrenic UCF is determined to rebound from last season’s improbable 5-7 flop. Like the Golden Eagles, defense and the running game will fuel the Knights, even if they’re not eligible for the Conference USA title.

It’s Year 3 for Ruffin McNeill at East Carolina, and this could be his turning point. The D shows potential, but a quarterback needs to rise up and supplant Dominique Davis.

Marshall returns a lot of starters, especially on offense. In Rakeem Cato, does the Herd finally have an answer at quarterback?

Memphis and UAB will continue long rebuilding plans with new head coaches, Justin Fuente and Garrick McGee, respectively.

Not unlike last year, the West Division is split down the middle—three contenders for a title, and three also-rans holding out hope for bowl-eligibility. Houston may be the defending champ, but back-to-back titles will be challenging.

The Cougars were gutted of their star players, leaving new head coach Tony Levine with a long to-do list this offseason.

SMU is trendy because of the arrival of Texas transfer QB Garrett Gilbert and returns of RB Zach Line and WR Darius Johnson. However, holes on both lines must be patched up.

Tulsa is about to lean on a former Big 12 quarterback of its own, one-time Nebraska recruit Cody Green. As is often the case, the Golden Hurricane has no shortage of outstanding athletes on both sides of the ball. Rice, UTEP and especially Tulane do not appear to be threats to the division’s top three teams.

After basking in the glow of such a smashing year in 2011, C-USA is bracing for a big letdown in 2012. Oh, the league races will be competitive, and the points will come in flurries. However, none of the current dozen members looks capable of making national headlines this fall. And hanging over the league’s head is the stark reality that three of its more prominent football members are jumping ship once the regular season ends.

Team That'll Surprise
East Carolina – After feeling his way through the roster, head coach Ruffin McNeill might finally be ready to turn his Pirates into a winning product on the field. His kids have fully digested the Air raid offense and 3-4 D, and were playing their best football toward the end of the 2011 season. Both sides of the ball are flush with returning starters, particularly close to the line of scrimmage. Yeah, East Carolina needs to develop a successor for QB Dominique Davis, but wasn’t he the same guy who threw 35 interceptions over the last two seasons? If the offense needs to exercise a little more balance than usual, it’ll have access to a deep and talented backfield that includes up-and-coming Reggie Bullock, Torrance Hunt and speedy North Carolina transfer Hunter Furr.

Team That'll Disappoint
SMU – It’s all relative. SMU will be in the hunt for the Conference USA title, and will have no problem with all the dregs, but it’s West title or bust and that might not happen. As Houston and Southern Miss adapt to life without star quarterbacks, the Mustangs are being held up as a possible frontrunner for Conference USA supremacy in 2012. But will they have enough proven talent to deliver? Sure, if Garrett Gilbert can deliver at quarterback, the trio of the Texas transfer, RB Zach Line and WR Darius Johnson is fantastic. However, SMU has holes at less visible spots of the two-deep that need to be shored up. The offensive line, for instance, which lost all five starters to graduation. No program returns fewer lettermen or starters than the Mustangs, who are going to need the first few weeks of the season just to adjust to all of the newcomers to the lineup.

Game of the Year
Southern Miss at UCF, Oct. 13 - While East Carolina and Marshall might still have something to say about the East Division race, the Golden Eagles and Knights will begin the season as the favorites. Southern Miss barely survived in last year’s 30-29 thriller in Hattiesburg, thwarting UCF’s two-point attempt with no time left on the clock. The Knights will be out for revenge at BrightHouse Networks Stadium, and a leg up in a race that could go from wire-to-wire. The programs are practically mirror images of one another, strong on defense, deep in the backfield, yet uncertain at the quarterback position.

5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight
1. Bandit Jamie Collins, Sr. Southern Miss
2. WR Aaron Dobson, Sr. Marshall
3. DE Margus Hunt, Sr. SMU
4. LB Jonathan Davis, Sr. UCF
5. S Dexter McCoil, Sr. Tulsa

Coach on the Hot Seat
Mike Price, UTEP – The game has passed by Price, now 66-years-old. Apparently, no one in El Paso is quite ready to accept it. The ninth-year coach—barely— survived after delivering a sixth consecutive losing season, but won’t be so fortunate if the Miners fail to qualify for the postseason. Not only is Price 45-52 overall, but he’s gone 17-31 in Conference USA games since 2006. That’s just not acceptable. There’s a general theme around campus that the program won’t do any better than what’s currently in charge. If that’s the case, why doesn’t UTEP just exit the FBS, and ask for inclusion in the Southland Conference?

5 Non-Conference Games Conference USA Had Better Take Very, Very Seriously
1. Louisiana Tech at Houston, Sept. 8
2. Appalachian State at East Carolina, Sept. 1
3. Southern Miss at Western Kentucky, Sept. 22
4. Louisiana-Monroe at Tulane, Sept. 29
5. Florida International at UCF, Sept. 15

Bold Statements

- The East Carolina D will—mercifully—be much-improved from the last two seasons, helping save the job of Ruffin McNeill for at least one more year.

- Now that Case Keenum is gone, Houston RB Charles Sims is set to become the face of the offense, and one of the league’s dynamic offensive stars.

- Rice RB Sam McGuffie will remain healthy long enough to create enough highlight reel plays to last two seasons.

- SMU QB Garrett Gilbert, a transfer from Texas, will perform better on the Hilltop than any current Longhorn passer does in Austin.

- Desmond Johnson, Kendrick Hardy and Jeremy Hester will afford Southern Miss a stable of backs as deep and as talented as many in the SEC.

- Former Nebraska QB Cody Green will excel as the successor to G.J. Kinne in Tulsa, leaving the Huskers wishing the multi-dimensional athlete had never left Lincoln.

- While thrilled to have former Mizzou QB Tyler Gabbert in Orlando, UCF will stick with Blake Bortles behind center

5 Best Pro Prospects
1. DE Margus Hunt, Sr. SMU
2. LB Jamie Collins, Sr. Southern Miss
3. WR Aaron Dobson, Sr. Marshall
4. S Dexter McCoil, Sr. Tulsa
5. CB D.J. Hayden, Sr. Houston

5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. QB David Piland for Case Keenum, Houston
2. DE Alex Bazzie for Vinny Curry, Marshall
3. QB Chris Campbell for Austin Davis, Southern Miss
4. CB Brandon Alexander for Josh Robinson, UCF
5. QB Cody Green for G.J. Kinne, Tulsa

East
- 2012 East Carolina Preview | 2012 Marshall Preview
- 2012 Memphis Preview | 2012 Southern Miss Preview 
- 2012 UAB Preview | 2012 UCF Preview

West

- 2012 Houston Preview | 2012 Rice Preview
- 2012 SMU Preview | 2012 Tulane Preview 
- 2012 Tulsa Preview | 2012 UTEP Preview

- 2012 C-USA Preview
- 2012 C-USA Unit Rankings
- 2012 C-USA Schedules & Picks 
- 2012 CFN All-C-USA Team & Top 30 Players
- 2012 C-USA East Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish  
- 2012 C-USA West Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish