2012 C-USA Preview - East Team Breakdowns
Marshall QB Rakeem Cato
Marshall QB Rakeem Cato
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 13, 2012


Preview 2012 - CFN Conference USA East Team By Team Quick Looks and Predicted Finish


Preview 2012

C-USA East Team By Team
 

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  

T1. UCF
2012 CFN Prediction: 8-4
2012 C-USA Prediction: 7-1

Offense: While the UCF offense is clearly built around the running game, the team would like to get more from the passing attack than the 11 touchdown passes it produced in 2011. George O’Leary’s latest triggerman appears to be sophomore Blake Bortles, though heralded Mizzou transfer Tyler Gabbert arrives in time for summer camp. Bortles’ objectives will be elementary—get the ball in the hands of the skill position players so that this puttering offense can show a little more pop. Oh, and he’ll need to limit his mistakes as well, a positive trend for this team in recent years. The encouraging news is that the Knights have plenty of options at running back and wide receiver. Latavius Murray, Miami transfer Storm Johnson and leading returning rusher Brynn Harvey all have workhorse potential. And receivers Quincy McDuffie, Josh Reese and rookie Breshad Perriman will create matchup problems with their speed.

Defense: UCF recruits good athletes, transforms them into feisty defenders and, voila, the D often ranks among the best in Conference USA. The upcoming season figures to be no different. Yeah, next level CB Josh Robinson is among the three starters no longer around, but there is a healthy number of holdovers returning to pick up the slack. Back from a squad that allowed just 303 yards a game, fewest by the school since 1990, are all-star contending players at each level. Troy Davis and Victor Gray bolter the front four. The Jonathan Davis-led linebackers are fast and ferocious. And the secondary is missing just Robinson, leaving safeties Kemal Ishmael and Clayton Geathers to assume bigger roles. The staff is surrounded by playmakers once again, a blend of vets and underclassmen that get to the ball quickly, and will swarm tackle until the whistle blows.

T1. Southern Miss
2012 CFN Prediction: 8-4
2012 C-USA Prediction: 7-1

Offense: New coaching staff. New quarterback. New era for the Southern Miss offense. While first-year offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle won’t drag the Golden Eagles back to the stone age, he will usher in a little more of a hard-nosed, risk-averse attack than the one that was so successful under former head coach Larry Fedora. If USM was ever going to tap the brakes a little, now would be a good time to do it. The program is about to begin life after QB Austin Davis, the four-year starter in Hattiesburg. Worse yet, USM might need the entire summer to determine his successor from a mediocre bunch. The Eagles could just be content to lean a little heavier on one of the best set of backs in Conference USA, a talented trio consisting of Desmond Johnson, Kendrick Hardy and Jeremy Hester. They’re versatile, dangerous in the passing game and fortunate to be running behind a veteran, Jason Weaver-led offensive line.

Defense: Despite the arrival of a new coaching staff, Southern Miss plans to maintain the same 4-2-5 alignment that was so successful a year ago. The new overseer of the D will be coordinator Tommy West, a longtime veteran of the coaching ranks, specifically in Conference USA. He returns just five starters, but they should form the nucleus of one of the league’s more capable defenses. Setting the tone will be Bandit Jamie Collins, who has the explosive qualities to vie for conference Defensive Player of the Year honors. His teammates along the defensive line, such as tackles Khyri Thornton and Rakeem Nunez-Roches, are prepared to step out of their predecessors’ shadows. And they’ll need to, considering the state of the linebacker corps. There are two potential stars from the five-man secondary, hard-hitting safety Jacorius Cotton and CB Deron Wilson, who could spend the next two seasons auditioning for a shot at the NFL.

3. East Carolina
2012 CFN Prediction:
6-6
2012 C-USA Prediction: 5-3

Offense: If the Air Raid is going to continue producing record-breaking numbers, the Pirates will need to develop a successor to prolific passer Dominique Davis. The staff spent the spring auditioning four contenders, a process that’ll continue deep into the summer. Last year’s backup, junior Rio Johnson, has a razor-thin edge, but young Shane Carden and Cody Keith have not backed down from their elder. The eventual starter will have access to more quantity than quality at the skill positions. East Carolina has amassed a fair amount of talent, but no legitimate stars. RB Reggie Bullock showed flashes in his debut out of junior-college, but was only healthy enough to earn four starts. The wild card in the backfield is North Carolina transfer Hunter Furr, a size-speed type back the likes of which they rarely see in Greenville. The receivers will be a workmanlike group headed by former walk-on Justin Hardy, who set school freshman records a year ago. The Pirates will continue to go four-wide, shunning a tight end and a fullback in favor of speedier targets in the passing game. Massive RG Will Simmons is the clear-cut leader of a seasoned offensive line that has to do a far better job at the point of attack than it did in 2011.

Defense: There’s cautious optimism that the Pirates D will build on last year’s progress now that the team is set to enter its second season in coordinator Brian Mitchell’s 3-4 alignment. The idea was to bolster depth along the D-line, where there was none, while getting more athletic linebackers on the field. On some levels, it worked as the team gave up 106 less yards and 12 points per game less than in 2010. Basically, ECU wants to get to the point where it was in 2008 and 2009, when the front seven was a key component of back-to-back Conference USA titles. The anchor along the line will once again be NT Michael Brooks, a 6-3, 313-pounder who creates a nice push from the inside. At linebacker, the inside-outside combination of Jeremy Grove and Derrell Johnson, respectively, aim to wreak havoc in very different ways. Grove was a rookie sensation in 2011, making a team-high 122 tackles. Johnson is a converted defensive end, with the size and diverse skill set to support the run and the pass. The secondary, which was already going to be a weak spot, will miss the coverage ability of CB Emanuel Davis. While Damon Magazu will lend a hand from free safety, it’ll be up to seniors Leonard Paulk and Jacobi Jenkins, and JUCO transfer Adonis Armstrong to solidify a shaky situation at cornerback.

4. Marshall
2012 CFN Prediction: 5-7
2012 C-USA Prediction: 3-5

Offense: Yes, there are some exciting parts in place on offense, but the Thundering Herd needs to coalesce into a cohesive, consistent unit between now and the opener. The previous season was emblematic of Marshall’s woes, finishing 98th nationally in third down conversions and 81st in red zone touchdown percentage. The kids in the backfield and the new starting linemen need to perform at a much higher level if the attack is going to produce more points in 2012. Hope comes in the form of second-year QB Rakeem Cato, who figures to be more stable following an erratic debut in the lineup. He’ll have few complaints about his targets. Aaron Dobson, Antavious Wilson and Andre Booker are all seniors, with Dobson already attracting serious attention from NFL scouts. The ground game will be a shared responsibility involving last year’s top rushers, Tron Martinez and Travon Van. However, both players underwent surgical procedures earlier in the year, so their recoveries bear a close watch. Marshall is in the process of replacing last year’s starting tackles, Ryan Tillman being the more difficult to supplant. Gage Niemeyer, one of many junior-college transfers expected to contribute immediately, has already taken a lead on the left side, while Garrett Scott is expected to shift outside from guard.

Defense:
The 2011 Herd defense featured two First Team All-Conference USA performers, DE Vinny Curry and FS Omar Brown. Both standouts are now attempting to make NFL rosters, leaving their alma mater on the lookout for new defensive playmakers. Only a few starters are back from last season, which is sure to open the door for newcomers, true freshmen and JUCO transfers, to make quick ascents up the depth chart. LB Devin Arrington is the only senior listed on the team’s post-spring two-deep, an indication of just how green and inexperienced the D will be in the fall. Even with Curry tormenting quarterbacks, Marshall had a particularly tough time defending the pass last year. Darryl Roberts will attempt to do his part as the team’s top corner, but keep an eye on rookie A.J. Leggett, who spurned a handful of top-shelf programs to play in Huntington. The linebackers are nothing special, though the staff seems to like the ceiling of sophomore Jermaine Holmes in the middle. The D-line is a bit of a riddle, and not just because Curry is now a Philadelphia Eagle. Starting NT Delvin Johnson also graduated, and DE James Rouse injured his Achilles in the spring. DT Marques Aiken and DE Jeremiah Taylor will be asked to become leaders after cracking the starting lineup in 2011.

5. UAB
2012 CFN Prediction: 2-10
2012 C-USA Prediction: 1-7

Offense:
Fresh off successful stints coordinating the offenses at Northwestern and Arkansas, first-year head coach Garrick McGee is looking to fashion a balanced, pro-style attack in Birmingham. While running the ball might be an epic challenge for the new staff, there is an interesting mix of ingredients for the passing game to click. QB Jonathan Perry has experience to go along with a diverse skill set. McGee’s offseason objective will be to get his junior accustomed to being a little more stationary in the pocket than he had been in the past. If successful, Perry will revel in the opportunity to play catch with an ensemble of receivers that includes last year’s top seven pass-catchers. The ground game, on the other hand, might be, well, grounded. It’s not so much that RB Greg Franklin or his cadre of backups don’t have the ability to navigate running lanes, but just how much space are the backs going to get this season? Four starters have departed from a unit that was far better in recent seasons at protecting the pocket than opening holes. The new leader—and lone returning regular—is senior Chris Hubbard, who’s making the move from right tackle to left tackle to fill the sizable shoes of perennial all-star Matt McCants.

Defense: How in the world does UAB plan to stop opposing quarterbacks this season? The Blazers will be easy fodder through the air in the fall, the byproduct of a mealy pass rush and a rebuilt secondary. A year after finishing last in the country in sacks and 117th in pass efficiency defense, improvement will come in very small steps. The front line is a sea of young unknowns, like DE Diaheem Watkins, who showed hints of potential in his first year on campus. In an attempt to bring a little more speed and quickness to the D-line, former DE Connor Boyett was shifted inside to tackle. Experience in the secondary will come at a premium. Former S Caleb Lester has been moved to corner in order help plug a hole, while JUCO transfer Cortez Webb has already shown enough to lock up the spot at free safety. The majority of UAB’s defensive talent will be housed at linebacker in the form of seniors Greg Irvin and Marvin Burdette. Burdette has been a particular rock in the middle over the last two seasons, and should be good for at least 100 tackles on a defense that allows a lot of plays to extend beyond the first level.

6. Memphis
2012 CFN Prediction: 1-11
2012 C-USA Prediction: 0-8

Offense: From the moment he arrived from TCU, head coach Justin Fuente made his offensively philosophy crystal clear—he wants to run the ball to win, and throw the ball to score. Neither pursuit will be especially easy in his first year at Memphis. A parallel for the entire program, the Tigers have a dearth of sure-things on this side of the ball, returning zero all-stars from a unit that ranked 116th in total offense and 115th in scoring in 2011. The coach’s first quarterback appears to be Jacob Karam, the heady transfer from Texas Tech who won a war of attrition during the spring. The junior will have complements, such as RB Jerrell Rhodes and receivers Kevin Wright and Marcus Rucker, but his contingency of blockers is questionable. If Memphis can begin moving the line with more success, the points will follow. If not, the Tigers will again be one of Conference USA’s most impotent attacks.

Defense: After taking a step in the right direction in 2011, Memphis will look to keep the momentum going on defense this fall. Hey, the D is still going to be among the worst in the conference, if not the country, but the Tigers will still try to point to their reduction in big plays allowed and spike in takeaways. The biggest challenge will be to retool a defensive line that’s lost top pass rusher Frank Trotter and high NFL draft choice Dontari Poe. The staff is counting on the emergence of NT Terry Redden and DE Zach Gholson to help offset the losses. It would also help immensely if DT Johnnie Farms can make a return following a suspension. The Akeem Davis-led linebackers will be unit’s strength, roaming the field like a bunch of safeties. Opponents will revel at the opportunity to throw on a youthful Memphis secondary that’s been a sieve for years. 

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