2013 Conference USA Spring Preview - West
UTSA QB Eric Soza
UTSA QB Eric Soza
Posted Mar 6, 2013

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

2013 Pre-Spring Preview   

C-USA West

2013 Conference USA Spring Preview 
- 2013 CFN C-USA Spring Preview - East  
- 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
Louisiana Tech
Start: March 15, Spring Game: April 13

Why To Get Excited … no one in Conference USA will feature a better pair of backs than the Bulldogs. New head coach Skip Holtz favors balance, which doesn't figure to be a problem in his first year in Ruston. Tevin King was running wild when he was lost in Week 3 to a season-ending injury. His replacement? True freshman Kenneth Dixon took over and rushed for 1,194 yards and 27 touchdowns.

Why To Be Grouchy … Tech was built for 2012, yet didn't even participate in a bowl game. Galvanizing head coach Sonny Dykes is now at Cal, and many of last season's top performers have exhausted their eligibility. Most notable is the departure of QB Colby Cameron, who threw 31 touchdown passes and only five picks in his finale.

The Number One Thing To Work On Is … shoring up the defense. The Bulldogs won't have Dykes' attack—or Cameron—to bail them out this fall. Tech was horrid on D a year ago, yielding a nation's-high 526 yards per game. While the line has a chance to be sneaky-good, it'll have to be otherworldly to compensate for the team's leaky secondary.

North Texas
Start: March 20, Spring Game: April 13

Why To Get Excited … third-year head coach Dan McCarney has the Mean Green moving in the right direction ever so gradually. No, it's not always evident in the standings, but North Texas is a better and deeper team than it was before McCarney got to Denton. It's a long process, but the needle is pointing in the direction.

Why To Be Grouchy … the program's postseason drought has now reached eight years. The Mean Green hasn't bowled since 2004, leaving the fan base a little tired of moral victories. The program would benefit from the addition of a few more playmakers, especially after scoring more than 24 points just once in 11 games with FBS opponents.

The Number One Thing To Work On Is … improving the overall efficiency of the offense. North Texas would move the ball at times last season, but too often stalled at the least opportune moments in a game. The Mean Green was a dismal 103rd nationally in red zone touchdowns, and 116th when attempting to convert on third downs.

Start: March 6, Spring Game: April 5

Why To Get Excited … not only will the Owls begin the season with one of the country's longest winning streaks, five games, but it surged without the help of many seniors. Rice was one of college football's youngest teams in 2012, yet still capped a wicked stretch run with a blowout of Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. As long as he remains healthy, Taylor McHargue is an underrated quarterback who'll frustrate defenses with his arm and feet.

Why To Be Grouchy … even after taking a big step forward on defense, the Owls still wound up being ranked 81st in the country. The more physical opponents on the schedule are prone to showing around Rice, which gave up almost five yards a carry last season. This team will scrap and claw and play to the whistle, but in the state of Texas, it's never going to win any battles for the region's most coveted high school defenders.

The Number One Thing To Work On Is … protecting the pocket. No Owl this season is more important than McHargue, who's had a history of injuries attributable to his frenetic style of play. If the program is going to keep him off the DL, the offensive line will have to do a much better job of protecting the pocket than it did in 2012. Rice was No. 94 in the nation in sacks, which if repeated will routinely force backup Driphus Jackson off the sidelines.

Start: February 13, Spring Game: March 9

Why To Get Excited … the Green Wave believes it's sowing the seeds of hope, even if the juiciest fruit isn't ripe until 2014. A year from now, Tulane will be a member of the Big East, and will be playing in a new 30,000-seat, on-campus stadium. Both are important steps forward for second-year head coach Curtis Johnson, who has inked a notable transfer for each side of the ball, QB Nick Montana from Washington and DT Chris Davenport from LSU.

Why To Be Grouchy … ten consecutive losing seasons have a way of crushing a brand and dispersing a fan base. The Green Wave has won just two games in each of the last two years, and now is being forced to replace QB Ryan Griffin, one of the team's top offensive producers. Maybe Montana is the answer. But even if he fills the void behind center, Tulane is so needy in so many spots that it's highly doubtful it'll snap the postseason drought.

The Number One Thing To Work On Is … unleashing the running backs. What better way to support a new quarterback than by giving him a quality ground game? RB Orleans Darkwa is in great shape, and is getting healthy, looking as if he plans to make a salary drive in his final year. Juniors Rob Kelley and Dante Butler will serve as powerful complements. Tulane, though, must improve at the point of attack, meaning the four returning starting linemen have to perform markedly better than they did in 2012.

Start: March 5, Spring Game: April 6

Why To Get Excited … the Golden Hurricane is the defending league champ, winning not only the Conference USA title, but also wearing the Liberty Bowl crown. Tulsa in on the right track under third-year head coach Bill Blankenship, a trend that a senior-led backfield is determined to further. QB Cody Green is looking to improve in his second season since transferring from Nebraska, and the stellar running duo of Trey Watts and Ja'Terian Douglas combined for more than 2,000 yards in 2012.

Why To Be Grouchy … a whopping 18 seniors are gone from last year's title team; many of them were terrific players. How do you adequately replace seven All-Conference USA performers in a few months? Usually, you don't. The Golden Hurricane is being especially hard hit at the line of scrimmage, where three all-league blockers and all four starting D-linemen have exhausted their eligibility. The staff better be prepared to do a lot of teaching this offseason.

The Number One Thing To Work On Is … building depth and retooling the offensive line. The offense will have a very different look now that C Trent Dupy and both tackles, Jared Grigg and Brian DeShane, have graduated. Three new starters are needed to join Jake Alexander and Stetson Burnett. Tulsa isn't Tulsa unless Watts and Douglas are able navigate opposing defenses on the ground and as receivers. And neither will enjoy his usual space if the front wall isn't properly patched up.

Start: March 4, Spring Game: April 10

Why To Get Excited … the program has parted ways with Mike Price … finally. It took seven losing seasons for UTEP to move in a new direction, dipping into the alumni base to hire former assistant and offensive lineman Sean Kugler. Kugler brings much-needed youth and enthusiasm to El Paso, as well as a reputation for elevating the performance of his players. The Miners need plenty of elevation to become a factor again in Conference USA.

Why To Be Grouchy … Kugler and the new staff inherit a very weak roster, one sorely lacking in star power. The lone Miner to earn more than honorable mention All-C-USA, P Ian Campbell, has graduated, and a new quarterback has to be developed. The perennially soft defense yielded at least 31 points in five of the final six games of 2012, and eight starters from that unit have since exhausted their eligibility.

The Number One Thing To Work On Is … somehow ratcheting up the pass rush. If the Miners have a prayer of compensating for a secondary being rebuilt from the ground up, it'll have to create more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. UTEP typically houses small and fast athletes that Kugler will want to employ on well-timed blitzes. The onus will be on linemen, such as Horace Miller, Germard Reed and James Davidson, to make life just a little easier on the neophyte back seven.

Start: March 19, Spring Game: April 14

Why To Get Excited … the Roadrunners have a veteran quarterback and a veteran coach to help guide them into a new conference. Eric Soza was the catalyst for last year's 8-4 debut in the FBS, while Larry Coker has a long and impressive resume that will continue to serve UTSA well. The program is taking a three-game winning streak into the 2013 campaign.

Why To Be Grouchy … the D had all kinds of problems when facing WAC and Conference USA teams a year ago. And will likely continue experiencing many of those same issues again this fall. Still in the embryonic stages of even participating in college football, it's going to take a while before the Roadrunners have the depth and talent to compete on a week-in, week-out basis.

The Number One Thing To Work On Is … ramping up the maturity of the defensive backs. Everyone is back in San Antonio, and CB Erik Brown and safeties Nic Johnston and Triston Wade flashed potential last season. However, they were also part of a defensive backfield that allowed 26 touchdown passes and picked off half that number of throws. This unit has to take a step forward in 2013.

2013 Conference USA Spring Preview 
- 2013 CFN C-USA Spring Preview - East  
- 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