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Conference USA Preview 2006 - Top 5s
Posted Aug 9, 2006 The 2006 C-USA Preview Top 5s

1) The five games that will shape the C-USA race (in order)
Sept. 26 (Wed.), Southern Miss at UCF
The winner will still be a long way from clinching the East, but the loser will have a hard time winning the division.
Oct. 3 (Tues.), Southern Miss at Tulsa
If this isn't a preview of the Conference USA title game, it'll at least be a tremendous battle.
Oct. 21, UTEP at Houston
This might be the can't-miss game of the Conference USA season with Houston's Kevin Kolb and UTEP's Jordan Palmer dueling it out.
Oct. 27 (Fri.), UTEP at Tulsa
Considering both West teams have to deal with trips to Houston, this might be an elimination game.
Nov. 4, Tulsa at Houston
The Cougars will have already played UTEP and might be able to clinch the West with a win.

2) Five non-conference games that C-USA opponents had better take very, very seriously
1. Marshall at West Virginia, Sept. 2
Question time. If Herd fans could have one or the other, would they take a Conference USA championship or a national title-dream-crushing win over their hated in-state rival?
North Carolina State at Southern Miss, Sept. 16
Would it even be an upset if the Golden Eagles won?
3. Texas Tech at UTEP, Sept. 9
Jordan Palmer and the UTEP offense might be effective enough to hang punch for punch with the Red Raiders.
4. UCF at Florida, Sept. 9
Trap alert. Florida will be up for Southern Miss in the season opener and will be looking ahead to the showdown at Tennessee the week after. George O'Leary's boys are just good enough to pull off the shocker if the Gators don't play well.
5. SMU at Texas Tech, Sept. 2
The Mustang secondary might not be up-to-snuff to stick around with the great Red Raider receiving corps, but this might be closer than expected.

3) Five best C-USA pro prospects
1. Memphis FS Wesley Smith, Sr. - 82 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 3 broken up passes, 2 forced fumbles
One of the nation's best defensive backs, the 6-3 Smith hits like a linebacker and covers like a corner. He's the unquestioned leader of the defense earning three straight first team All-Conference USA honors with 269 career tackles, nine tackles for loss, two sacks and five interceptions.

2. UAB
DE Larry McSwain, Sr. - 53 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 TFL, 1 interception, 4 quarterback hurries, 3 forced fumbles
McSwain didn't quite grow into the superstar pass rusher he was expected to after a monster 13-sack 2004, but he was still a Conference USA first teamer for the second straight season. The former JUCO transfer will once again have to deal with double teams and all the attention from opposing blocking schemes, and once again, he should be able to handle it.

3. Southern Miss
OG George Batiste, Sr.
The First Team All-Conference USA performer is back on the right side for his fourth season. He's 6-5, 309 pounds, and great in all phases with the power and toughness to be a pounder for the running game and the feet and agility to be a consistent pass blocker. He's the one the team will run behind for the tough yards.

4. Tulane
Lester Ricard, Sr. - 166-323, 51%, 1,932 yds, 16 TD, 12 INT
With all the outside factors and the overall problems with the program last year, it can be forgiven if Ricard was one of the year's biggest disappointments. The 6-5, 222-pound senior has a rocket arm and the skills to potentially be even better than NFL first round draft picks J.P. Losman and Patrick Ramsey, but he pressed way too much last year trying to make things happen and was, at best, inconsistent. He bombed away for a ton of yards over the first half of the season, but the team wasn't winning so he was part of a rotation over the second half of the year. It's his job for the taking, and he needs to come up with steady, huge numbers to turnaround the woeful attack.

5. Tulsa
FS Bobby Blackshire, Sr. - 99 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 interceptions, 6 broken up passes
The 6-3, 205-pound all-star is back for another year after making 176 stops over the last two seasons. While he's not a blow-him-up hitter, he's a sure tackler with fantastic range in pass coverage. He has the ability to be a huge lockdown corner if needed.

4) Five biggest C-USA shoes to fill 
1. Memphis RB Joseph Doss for DeAngelo Williams
He's not Williams, but don't be stunned if the 5-9, 193-pound junior cranks out a 1,000-yard season and becomes one of Conference USA's new stars. He has the quickness and speed to blast through the hole like Williams did, and he has a veteran offensive line to operate behind that'll be sure to give him the room he needs. He wasn't used much as a receiver, but he has decent hands and needs to get the ball in space. How good can he be? He stepped in when Williams was out against Tennessee and ran for 77 yards against one of the nation's best run defenses. He added 56 yards on nine carries in the bowl win over Akron.
Tulsa TE Charles Ramsey for Garrett Mills
Mostly a blocker so far, Ramsey will have to show he can do a little bit more in the passing game. At 254 pounds he's the biggest of the tight end options and will be used mostly like a third tackle.

3. Southern Miss LB Mitch Craft for Kevis Coley
Craft will be in a battle with Marcus Raines all off-season for the right to replace All-American Kevis Coley in the middle. The 224-pound sophomore is the smaller, quicker defender between the two with a little bit of experience, mostly on special teams.
Emeka Okammor for Paul Carrington
Part tackle, part end, the 270-pound junior will be tried out on the left side to provide more beef against the run. He doesn't have proven pass rushing skills, but he can move a little bit.
5. UAB Chris Williams for Darrell Hackney
Williams has seen a little bit of work over the last three seasons backing up Darrell Hackney and finally gets his turn at bat. At 5-11 and 205 pounds, he's not nearly as big as Hackney, but he's far more mobile and certainly knows the system. He got his most work as a freshman in 2003 throwing for 607 yards and three touchdowns and five interceptions when Hackney had a broken thumb.

5) Five C-USA breakout players
1. Memphis RB Joseph Doss, Jr.
2. Marshall WR
Emanuel Spann, Soph.
Spann is a lightning quick receiver who's a perfect slot man, but he has to prove he can come back 100% from a torn ACL that cost him all of last year. He caught
27 passes for 233 yards in 2004. He also has the potential to be a top kick returner.

3. Southern Miss QB
Jeremy Young, Jr. - 5-9, 62 yds
The 6-3, 210-pound junior is a big, strong, athletic passer who has been around the system long enough to know what he's doing. He wasn't able to see too much time last season with Dustin Almond needed from start to finish, but he has a little bit of live game experience over the last two seasons. While he might not be the passer Almond was, he'll bring a rushing element missing from the attack.

4. East Carolina LB
Jeremy Chambliss, RFr.
Speed, speed and more speed on the outside. The 6-0, 205-pound Chambliss is strong and fast on the outside taking over for Richard Koonce. He'll be used as a pass rusher and needs to grow into a steady producer if Pierre Bell can't return from a knee injury.

Houston DE DE Phillip Hunt, Soph. - 23 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 TFL, 3 broken up passes
Even though he's only 6-1 and 250 pounds, Hunt is effective thanks to his tremendous speed. He's a blur off the line with too much quickness for most tackles. His development will be one of the keys to a defense that could use a steady pass rushing force.