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2013 Conference USA Spring Preview
Middle Tennessee QB Logan Kilgore
Middle Tennessee QB Logan Kilgore
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Mar 6, 2013


Conference USA Spring Preview - East Division. Why to be excited, grouchy and what needs working on.

2013 Spring Preview   

C-USA East

 
2013 Conference USA Spring Preview  
- 2013 CFN C-USA Spring Preview - West 
- 2013 CFN Pre-Preseason C-USA East Rankings
- 2013 CFN Pre-Preseason C-USA West Rankings
- 2013 C-USA Composite Schedule & Weekly Rankings 
- 2013 C-USA East Schedule Analysis 
- 2013 C-USA West Schedule Analysis
    
East Carolina
Start: March 25, Spring Game: April 20

Why To Get Excited … the quarterback, all-league running back and top receiver are joining forces for another year together in Greenville. The Pirates produced at least 34 points in five of the final seven games, peppering Conference USA defenses with balance. The returns of QB Shane Carden, RB Vintavious Cooper and WR Justin Hardy will give ECU a shot of being even more prolific in 2013.

Why To Be Grouchy … the program’s ceiling will have a hard cap as long as the defense remains a purple sieve. East Carolina was powerless against the better offenses on the schedule, yielding 102 points in the final two games alone. The Pirates are athletic and experienced, particularly at linebacker, but lack the size and fundamentals to make critical stops on a consistent basis.

The Number One Thing To Work On Is … pass defense. While not a lot went right on defense in 2012, East Carolina was especially porous when the ball was in the air. The team gave up 28 touchdown passes, picking off just 10, and rarely shut the door on third downs. FS Damon Magazu can be an enforcer out of the secondary, but the Pirates are banking on someone, like CB Adonis Armstrong, evolving into the type of player who shuts down the other guy’s best receiver.

Florida Atlantic
Start: March 18, Spring Game: April 20

Why To Get Excited … of the nine players to catch at least 10 passes last year, just one was a senior. The Owls are loaded with good hands and fleet feet, led by Second Team All-Sun Belt pick William Dukes, who caught 63 balls for 979 yards and four touchdowns as a budding sophomore.

Why To Be Grouchy … who’ll get the ball to all of those experienced wideouts? With the graduation of underrated QB Graham Wilbert, second-year head coach Carl Pelini is staring at a five-man battle to become the new starter. None of those contenders has ever thrown a touchdown pass at this level.

The Number One Thing To Work On Is … improving the efficiency of the running game. Pelini wants the identity of his offense to hinge on a power running game that can control the clock and the tempo of the game. However, a year ago, Florida Atlantic ranked 107th nationally on the ground, while averaging only 3.3 yards per carry.

Florida International
Start: March 19, Spring Game: April 20

Why To Get Excited … the trio of QB Jake Medlock, RB Kedrick Rhodes and WR Willis Wright has the potential to be as dynamic as any in Conference USA. All three veterans have all-star ceilings, provided they can stay healthy. Rhodes battled through ankle problems in 2012, but was a 1,000-yard rusher as a sophomore in 2011.

Why To Be Grouchy … the Golden Panthers became an offseason laughingstock, dumping popular and largely successful head coach Mario Cristobal, and needing a month to announce the unexpected hiring of Ron Turner. Turner inherits a depleted roster, especially on defense, where all of last year’s top performers have graduated.

The Number One Thing To Work On Is … building back the offensive line. As if the situation couldn’t get any tougher for Turner, he’ll spend the offseason attempting to find five new starters along the O-line. Keeping Medlock and Rhodes is of the utmost importance in Miami. But doing so will be no small achievement considering all of the turnover up front.

Marshall
Start: March 26, Spring Game: April 27

Why To Get Excited … last year’s team featured just eight seniors, meaning this year’s edition will be loaded with veterans up and down the roster. The offense will once again lead the charge behind QB Rakeem Cato, who threw for 4,201 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2012. The junior will get plenty of support from last season’s top three rushers, sure-handed receivers Tommy Shuler and Gator Hoskins and six offensive linemen with starting experience on the resume.

Why To Be Grouchy … Chuck Heater was lured away from Temple to fix the Marshall D, but can anyone realistically turn this group around? Not much thunder emanated from the Herd, which allowed at least 40 points in seven of last year’s 12 contests. Marshall is undersized in the front seven, and too often overmatched in pass defense. Track meets can be fun for viewers, but are a poor model for long-term prosperity.

The Number One Thing To Work On Is … the secondary. More than any other unit of the depth chart, the defensive backfield needs to be developed between now and September. The Herd was burned for 30 touchdown passes in 2012, while picking off just nine balls. Plus, a pair of productive safeties, Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha, has graduated. Heater and his staff must develop the young kids, while keeping corners Darryl Roberts and A.J. Leggett healthy.

Middle Tennessee
Start: March 25, Spring Game: April 20

Why To Get Excited … the backfield will keep the Blue Raiders competitive in a lot of games this season. Third-year starting QB Logan Kilgore is now a senior, coming off his tightest season in Murfreesboro. The new star, though, is RB Jordan Parker, who led the team in rushing as a rookie, going for well over 100 yards in three of the final four games.

Why To Be Grouchy … the offense is going to put up points, but the D may give them back just as quickly. Middle Tennessee doesn’t harbor a lot of playmakers on defense after precocious FS Kevin Byard. The Blue Raiders ranked near the bottom of the Sun Belt in far too many key categories, while getting bowled over for more than 4.6 yards per carry.

The Number One Thing To Work On Is … the pass rush. Creating pressure can be the great equalizer for a program light on defensive talent. However, the Blue Raiders managed just 14 sacks a year ago, too few from the D-line. DE Shubert Bastien flashes potential, but someone has to step up and fill the shoes of Omar McLendon on the other side.

Southern Miss
Start: March 19, Spring Game: April 20

Why To Get Excited … Ellis Johnson is gone. The Golden Eagles made the irregular move of canning a rookie head coach, but it was well-deserved. The program slogged through its worst season in school history, failing to win a game. The administration believes it has exorcised its 2012 demons with the hiring of Todd Monken, a young and energetic first-time head coach, with the offensive ingenuity to revive a disgruntled fan base.

Why To Be Grouchy … USM went 0-12 last year for reasons that transcended just the coaching staff; the personnel wasn’t all that impressive either. The Eagles don’t bring back much ready-made talent because, well, there weren’t any stars with which to work a year ago. The situation is particularly concerning at quarterback, where five different players combined to throw nine touchdown passes. And the one with the highest ceiling, true freshman Anthony Alford, has already transferred to Ole Miss.

The Number One Thing To Work On Is … developing a pecking order at quarterback. Naturally, Monken is going to need a capable distributor for his offensive system to have a shot of clicking. In all likelihood, he would have been tutoring Alford this spring, but that plan was revised without much warning. Instead, the staff will attempt to elevate the play of the three remaining scholarship hurlers, senior Chris Campbell, sophomore Ricky Lloyd and redshirt freshman Kyle Sloter.

UAB
Start: March 27, Spring Game: April 27

Why To Get Excited … the backfield returns intact for second-year head coach Garrick McGee. In 2012, the Blazers employed a rookie quarterback, Austin Brown, who responded with a foundation-building 15 touchdown passes and 2,673 yards through the air. RB Darrin Reaves bloomed into an unlikely feature back, rushing for more than 100 yards in three of the final five games to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. He’s working to be even more effective between the tackles than he was last fall.

Why To Be Grouchy … there’s serious cause for concern about both UAB lines. Just how bad was the situation last season? The Blazers stood 82nd nationally in sacks and 116th in sacks allowed. That leaky offensive line, by the way, needs to replace First Team All-Conference USA T Chris Hubbard. While it’s not easy for this second-tier program to attract quality linemen in SEC country, the staff has to uncover new ways to transform two-star recruits into steady blockers.

The Number One Thing To Work On Is … making more plays in pass defense. When you’re UAB, you have to dominate turnover margin in order to compensate for a gap in talent versus most opponents. However, a year ago, the Blazers picked off only six passes, despite being thrown on 356 times. CB Lamarcus Farmer and safeties Calvin Jones and Jake Ganus earned playing time in 2012. This fall, they need to earn the respect of opposing receivers.

2013 Conference USA Spring Preview  
- 2013 CFN C-USA Spring Preview - West 
- 2013 CFN Pre-Preseason C-USA East Rankings
- 2013 CFN Pre-Preseason C-USA West Rankings
- 2013 C-USA Composite Schedule & Weekly Rankings 
- 2013 C-USA East Schedule Analysis 
- 2013 C-USA West Schedule Analysis