2013 C-USA Preview - East Team Breakdown
East Carolina QB Shane Carden
East Carolina QB Shane Carden
Posted Aug 2, 2013

Preview 2013 - CFN Conference USA East Team By Team Quick Looks and Predicted Finish

Preview 2013

C-USA East Team By Team


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Note: Predictions based on team talent and schedules.


- 2013 East Carolina Preview
- 2013 Florida Atlantic Preview
- 2013 FIU Preview
- 2013 Marshall Preview
- 2013 Middle Tennessee Preview
- 2013 Southern Miss Preview
- 2013 UAB Preview

- 2013 Louisiana Tech Preview
- 2013 North Texas Preview
- 2013 Rice Preview
- 2013 Tulane Preview
- 2013 Tulsa Preview
- 2013 UTEP Preview
- 2013 UTSA Preview

- 2013 C-USA Preview
- 2013 C-USA Unit Rankings
- 2013 CFN C-USA Schedules & Picks
- 2013 CFN All-C-USA Team & Top 30 Players
- 2013 C-USA East Team Looks & Predicted Finish  
- 2013 C-USA West Team Looks & Predicted Finish  
T1. East Carolina
2013 CFN Prediction: 8-4
2013 C-USA Prediction: 7-1

Offense: The Air Raid switched quarterbacks in 2012, yet remained high-powered, very good news going forward for coordinator Lincoln Riley’s offense. The Pirates were just 56th nationally in total offense, but averaged 42 points over the final seven games. Much of the credit for the late flurry belongs to junior QB Shane Carden, who came off the bench in September to rescue the quarterback position. He returns, as does leading receiver Justin Hardy and all but one starter from the offensive line. The fate of 1,000-yard rusher Vintavious Cooper, though, will remain a judgment call for the coaching staff. The senior was suspended in March, and the specifics about his return are uncertain. In order to be a complete production in Greenville, East Carolina needs Cooper around to keep defenses honest on the ground. With No. 21 on the field, the Pirates boast one of the most balanced and explosive attacks in Conference USA.

Defense: Eight starters return to an East Carolina defense that hasn't truly had teeth since Skip Holtz was the head coach. The Pirates got slapped around routinely in 2012, including down the stretch to finish 87th nationally in total D and 88th in scoring defense. First-year coordinator Rick Smith will continue to employ a 3-4 approach, mixing in multiple looks. He inherits a veteran team littered with upperclassmen throughout the two-deep. The Pirates will be above average in the front seven, with ends Lee Pegues and Terrell Stanley, and linebackers Jeremy Grove and Derrell Johnson bolstering a surprisingly good run defense. Where the unit needs to grow the most is in the defensive backfield. ECU allowed 28 touchdown passes in 2012, picked off only 10 balls and is devoid of a true lockdown pass defender. Unless the pass rush is among the nastiest in Conference USA, the secondary will again be ripe for the picking.

T1. Marshall
2013 CFN Prediction: 9-3
2013 C-USA Prediction: 7-1

Offense: If Marshall misses its mark as a team in 2013, blame will not fall at the feet of the offense. Bill Legg’s system found its groove last fall, finishing sixth nationally in total offense, seventh in scoring and first in passing. With Rakeem Cato at the controls, the Herd thundered to more than 500 yards and 40 points a game, displaying balance and potency. Cato is the clear-cut triggerman, a deft distributor in the wide-open attack, but Marshall also features a trio of playmaking backs, Kevin Grooms, Steward Butler and Remi Watson. The opposition will struggle to defend all of the weapons that will be spread out around the field. If Cato has a wish list for his junior year, it would surely include better protection and a few more reliable targets now that Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson are on NFL rosters. WR Tommy Shuler and TE Gator Hoskins are dynamite, but it’d help if sophomore Davonte Allen and Penn State transfer Devon Smith can absorb some heat from the go-to guys.

Defense: All eyes will be on well-traveled coordinator Chuck Heater, who was hired by longtime friend Doc Holliday to fix the defense. The West Virginia native inherits a D that gave up more points per game in 2012 than all but one school, Colorado. The encouraging thing about the Herd is that it’s not without talent, despite the porous results. Holliday has recruited well, plucking a number of players from junior colleges and name-brand FBS programs. Heater plans to mix up his looks, using man coverage to stop the run on early downs and zone-blitzes if he can force the other guys into third-and-long. Marshall pretty much needs help everywhere, but it was especially feeble against the pass last fall. Reversing trends must be a collaborative effort that involves more pressure up front from ends Jeremiah Taylor and Alex Bazzie, and a few more tipped passes out of corners Derrick Thomas and Darryl Roberts. The Herd can win shootouts. It just prefers not to have to every weekend.

3. Middle Tennessee
2013 CFN Prediction: 6-6
2013 C-USA Prediction: 5-3

Offense: Coordinator Buster Faulkner took over the Middle Tennessee offense in 2012, ushering in unmistakable improvement. The Blue Raiders committed to the run, hung up more points and were less predictable than they were in 2011. The goal now will be to build on those results. The offense brings back most of last season’s starters, save for a couple of key all-starters, WR Anthony Amos and C Micah James. Back at the controls will be veteran distributor Logan Kilgore, a reliable quarterback being asked to do a little more running in 2013. However, no Blue Raider will carry the ball more than sophomore Jordan Parker, the emerging star out of the backfield. James is the only departing offensive lineman from a unit that quietly ranked No. 2 in the county in sacks allowed. While the pieces are in place for Middle Tennessee to take another step forward on offense, it’ll instead regress unless it can produce more touchdowns when reaching the red zone.

Defense: Middle Tennessee was a raider in name only on D last year. Murfreesboro was home to one of the country’s worst defenses of 2012, a unit that was toothless despite participating in the Sun Belt Conference. Co-coordinators Tyrone Nix and Steve Ellis are staring at a to-do list as long as their arms. First and foremost, the Blue Raiders must find a way to generate a more consistent push in order to address an anemic pass rush and a feeble run defense. It’s a tall order for a team that got shoved around last fall to finish 84th nationally against the run and 109th in sacks. And as is often the case, front seven issues can become the defensive backfield’s problems as well; MTSU allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 67% of their passes. Hope comes by way of sophomore SS Kevin Byard who authored an auspicious, all-conference debut.

T4. Southern Miss
2013 CFN Prediction: 5-7
2013 C-USA Prediction: 4-4

Offense: Southern Miss is starting from scratch … again. The Golden Eagles are learning a new system for a second straight year. With head coach Todd Monken and coordinator Marcus Arroyo on campus, USM promises to be inventive and aggressive in its offensive approach. Monken, in particular, is an innovator who likes to attack, a philosophy on display most recently at Oklahoma State. Of course, he’ll face a totally different challenge in Hattiesburg than he did in Stillwater. The Eagles sported one of the country’s worst offenses of 2012, averaging just 19.6 points per game, and not a single All-Conference USA player returns. Faint hope comes from the signing of Cal transfer QB Allan Bridgford, the presence of veteran skill players, such as RB Kendrick Hardy and WR Dominique Sullivan, and … Monken. The administration has put its faith in a young and energetic head man who’ll have a world of teaching and preaching that needs to be done throughout the balance of 2013.

Defense: Southern Miss was bad everywhere a year ago, but it was the defense that really left the locals shaking their heads. The Golden Eagles, tabbed the Nasty Bunch during good times, were a different kind of nasty last fall. The upcoming season marks the return of coordinator David Duggan, who coached in Hattiesburg from 2008-2011, and recruited some of the personnel still on the roster. As the co-defensive coordinator two years ago, his attacking unit set an NCAA record for most pick-sixes in a season. Duggan will have to break some bad habits the players picked up from the last staff, but the talent is not as shabby as the prior year’s numbers indicate. There will be veterans at each level of the D to help usher in a new attitude and a return to the standards to which this program is accustomed. While true star power comes at a premium now that Bandit Jamie Collins is a New England Patriot, USM houses a stable foundation of defenders.

2013 CFN Prediction: 5-7
2013 C-USA Prediction: 4-4

Offense: So far, so good. In his first year as the head coach, Garrick McGee’s impact on the offense was evident. Running a balanced, pro-style attack, the Blazers went from 364 yards and 20 points a game in 2011 to 419 points and 28 points a game a year ago. That’s undeniable progress, especially since UAB broke in a rookie quarterback, a new feature back and a handful of new regulars in the trenches. With most of last year’s starters still in Birmingham, further progress is expected in 2013. QB Austin Brown provided a spark in his debut, throwing 15 touchdown passes, but he’ll need to take the next step. RB Darrin Reaves came out of nowhere to rush for more than 1,000 yards, the first Blazers back to do so in well over a decade. And the receivers are a big-play crew, with a wild card in underrated TE Kennard Backman. However, this system might need to once again overcome a flimsy O-line that lacks size and sure-fire maulers.

Defense: FCS talent facing an FBS schedule. Even by the Conference USA measuring stick, UAB is well behind the competition on defense … again. Last year’s lone all-star, LB Marvin Burdette, has used up his remaining eligibility, and none of the holdovers left in Birmingham are obvious preseason all-league candidates. Among coordinators, Reggie Johnson has one of the toughest jobs in America. The coach will rely on his team’s speed and athleticism, turning loose his kids in the hopes that they can create more havoc than in recent years. Candidates to become playmakers include DE Chris Rabb, LB Patrick Bastien and safeties Calvin Jones and Jake Ganus, all of whom have the right mix of measurables to contribute over a wide area of the field. The Blazers are hurting at all levels, but an improved pass rush might help the back seven, a cry for help that needs to be answered by veteran ends Connor Boyett and Diaheem Watkins.

6. Florida Atlantic
2013 CFN Prediction: 2-10
2013 C-USA Prediction: 1-7

Offense: Second-year coordinator Brian Wright is just itching to unleash the totality of his spread option offense, which could happen this fall. A year ago, his quarterback, Graham Wilbert, was steady, but lacked the athleticism the coach needs to operate his aggressive attack. This fall, though, Wright will have access to two former JUCO dual-threats, Melvin German and Jaquez Johnson, who are better fits for his playbook. Florida Atlantic wants to keep defenses on their heels, forcing them to respect myriad different players and looks. The quarterback will, naturally, be the key. If German or Johnson delivers, it’s going to accentuate the budding talents of RB Jonathan Wallace, TE Nexon Dorvilus and the William Dukes-led corps of wide receivers. Wright must also contend with a rebuilding offensive line that should stand among the least effective in the FBS. The group got schooled routinely in 2012, and now must replace three of its starters.

Defense: There were growing pains on defense in 2012 for the personnel and the coaching staff at Florida Atlantic. Year 2 will be all about building on last season’s lessons. Coordinator Pete Rekstis has no shortage of priorities, but generating more money plays has to be at the top of his list. The Owls are far too athletic to repeat last year’s feeble numbers, ranking 99th nationally in takeaways and 118th in sacks. Rekstis and his staff are pleased to be bringing back many of last season’s starters, the foundation on which the program hopes to build. Linebackers Andrae Kirk, Adarius Glanton and Randell Johnson could form one of the top units in Conference USA. And seven players with starting experience return to the secondary. But Florida Atlantic will only make strides if the line doesn’t get manhandled the way it did last fall. The onus is particularly on senior ends Cory Henry and Martin Wright to get up-field and to disrupt the flow of plays at the line of scrimmage.

7. Florida International
2013 CFN Prediction: 1-11
2013 C-USA Prediction: 0-8

Offense: Buh-bye, spread. Hello, more conventional offense. New head coach Ron Turner will employ multiple looks, but achieving balance will be his ultimate goal in 2013. He and the staff want to keep defenses guessing, setting up the pass with the run, and even showcasing some two-tight end looks. Turner is going to play to his personnel, which is sound in the backfield, fast on the outside and frighteningly unsettled in the trenches. FIU is set at quarterback with Jake Medlock and E.J. Hilliard, though the former must find a way to absorb less contact than in the past. Unfortunately, RB Kedrick Rhodes, an all-star candidate, was dismissed from the team on July 15 for a violation of team rules. Medlock’s right arm might be sore by November as he attempts to reach fleet-footed senior receivers Willis Wright and Glenn Coleman. Wright was on a tear as last season came to a close. The O-line might be the weakest unit on either side of the ball. It returns just eight career starts, and both tackles will undergo a crash course on keeping the pocket clean.

Defense: The Florida International defense was a big disappointment in 2012. Coordinator Josh Conklin and the new staff of assistants are on board to make sure that a new trend is started in 2013. The coaches do not have an easy job, inheriting a unit moving forward without its two best players, NFL Draft picks Johnathan Cyprien and Tourek Williams. The Panthers are athletic and speedy, which is code for raw. They’ve got potential up front, with the likes of DE Giovani Francois and DT Greg Hickman, but the linebackers are undeniably green. Above all else, Conklin wants to transform his team’s speed into more money plays and fewer red-zone touchdowns allowed. FIU was toothless with its back to the end zone last fall, and were tied for 91st nationally in takeaways. A program with so many feisty athletes must do a better job of picking off throws and stripping balls for fumbles.