Conference USA Week One Predictions, Part 2
Posted Aug 31, 2006

Preview and predictions for the week one Conference USA games, part 2

Conference USA

East  UAB | UCF | East Carolina | Marshall | Memphis | Southern Miss
West  Houston | Rice | SMU | Tulane | Tulsa | UTEP

Conference USA Week One Fearless Predictions

Villanova at UCF  6 pm  September, 2, 2006
Why to watch: UCF authored a fairytale turnaround in 2005 earning eight wins and a school-first bowl bid, but the best may still be on the horizon.  Those Knights that shocked the rest of the league last fall were mere babes at many key positions.  With momentum in George O’Leary’s third season in Orlando and a whopping 18 starters back, the program believes its building something special led by QB Steven Moffett and RB Kevin Smith.  Villanova isn’t your garden variety I-AA pushover coming off a 4-7 season, but they’re perennial contenders for Atlantic 10 bragging rights and always have at least one kid that winds up in an NFL camp.  This year figures to be no different.  Four ‘Cats are already being eyed by NFL scouts led by versatile QB Marvin Burroughs, who accounted for 25 touchdowns in 2004 before breaking his non-throwing arm in last year’s opener.
 Why Villanova might win: The Cats have beaten I-A teams in head coach Andy Talley’s tenure, so don’t expect them to be wide-eyed when they get to the Citrus Bowl.  The offensive line is an all-senior group that returns five starters and will create holes against a UCF D-line that’s short on experience and consistency. 
Why UCF might win: As stable as Villanova is on the offensive line, it has a mess on the defensive line, and front seven, in general.  The veteran UCF line, led by Cedric Gagne-Marcoux, will give Moffett all day to locate mercurial WR Mike Walker and give Smith enough daylight to rip off huge chunks of real estate on the ground.
Who to watch: Just a sophomore, CB Joe Burnett is a defensive playmaker, who can also bring a crowd to its feet returning punts.  Until the Knights locate a pass rush, he and his secondary mates will have to be extra special in September.
What will happen: ‘Nova’s a different team with Burroughs in the lineup.  He’s a difference-maker, who’s capable of making this game interesting for a half.  However, UCF will dominate at the point attack allowing Smith to carry the Knights to a double-digit win.
CFN Prediction: Villanova 38 ... Villanova 17 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating:
(5 skip the birth of your first born - 1 Pants Off, Dance Off) ... 1
Final Score: 

UAB at Oklahoma  7 pm  September 2, 2006  TBS
Why to watch: If nothing else, Saturday’s game gives OU fans a reason to talk about something other than Rhett Bomar.  The deposed Sooner dominated headlines in August, but he’s no longer the team’s starting quarterback meaning it’s back to 2005 with Paul Thompson, who was moved to receiver early on, at the helm.  OU is championship-caliber just about everywhere else, so Thompson’s development will have a profound impact on the Big 12 and national title races.  If he’s got butterflies just before kickoff, imagine how Chris Williams will feel.  He’s got the unenviable task of succeeding Darrell Hackney, the face of the UAB program, in a rebuilding year for the Blazers.  All he has to do is face one of the nation’s best defenses in his first start out of the gate.
Why UAB might win: When Oklahoma lacked balance in 2005, it was susceptible to even the biggest underdogs with everyone throwing everything at the line to stop Adrian Peterson and daring Bomar to come up with plays.  The great unknown is whether or not Thompson can provide a diversion to defenses hell bent on shutting down Peterson.  If not, the Blazers have a trio of senior linebackers—Orlandus King, Marcus Mark and Mastaki Smith—that all pursue the ball well and will fixate on Peterson as if he was Miss Alabama.            
Why Oklahoma might win: You can’t win if you can’t score.  A UAB offense that’s breaking in a green starting quarterback is going to have a devil of a time putting up points on a Sooner D that was No. 13 in total defense a year ago, and might be even stingier in 2006.  It shouldn’t take too many points to put this away.        
Who to watch: Because of the circumstances surrounding his promotion, Thompson is the obvious choice.  Too obvious.  The strength of UAB is at offensive tackle, where future pros Julius Wilson and Cornelius Rogers will lock horns with OU pass-rushers C.J. Ah You, Calvin Thibodeux and Larry Birdine for an entertaining game within a game.  The longer the Blazer front five can keep Williams upright, the longer this will be interesting.  
What will happen: Yeah, yeah Oklahoma lost last year’s opener to a BCS outsider, but this is one of those apples and oranges deals.  UAB is not TCU, and with Peterson rolling for 175 yards and Bob Stoops looking to make a statement that there is life after Bomar, the Sooners will pull away before halftime. 
CFN Prediction
Oklahoma 44 ... UAB 10 ... Line: Oklahoma -21
Must See Rating:
(5 skip the birth of your first born - 1 Pants Off, Dance Off) ... 2.5 
Final Score: 

SMU at Texas Tech  7 pm  September 2, 2006 
Why to watch: It’s been two decades since the NCAA leveled SMU with the death penalty, and the program still hasn’t fully recovered.  That doesn’t, however, mean there hasn’t been progress under fifth-year coach Phil Bennett, and now finally things appear to be on the way to being respectable again. The Mustangs won five of six to close 2005 and boast a defensive front that’s good enough to battle some Big 12 teams. Some. The uncertainty is at quarterback, but six wins and a bowl game remains a realistic goal, which would instantly make the Mustangs the feel-good story of 2006.  Texas Tech has been consistent under Mike Leach, but a mid-level bowl game and third-place Big 12 South finish is no longer the target.  With Texas and Oklahoma a tad more vulnerable than in recent years, the Red Raiders feel this is their time to reach the next level, and they have the team in place to do it. For the first time since 2000, Leach will break in a young starting quarterback, but that won’t slow down his offensive machineSophomore Graham Harrell is Lubbock’s next triggerman getting an embarrassment of riches to work with.
Why SMU might win:  The best way to contain a high-octane passing attack is to pressure the quarterback, especially one that’s never started a game at this level.  SMU has the horses up front, namely Adrian Haywood and Justin Rogers, to make Harrell antsy in the pocket and prone to making ill-advised throws.  The Mustangs gave up an average of just 19 points over the final seven games of 2005 and should be decent at forcing turnovers. If they can capitalize on any and all mistakes, they have an outside shot at pulling off the shocker. 
Why Texas Tech might win: SMU will compete all year in low-scoring defensive battles, but they’ll struggle to keep pace in any sort of track meet.  While the Mustangs were 94th nationally in scoring offense last year, Tech was fourth, and even if with an entirely new backfield the explosiveness will be there as the game goes on.
Who to watch
: Texas Tech isn’t the only team starting a new quarterback. SMU redshirt freshman Justin Willis will be making his debut as well, and his development will go a long to determining whether the s will go bowling for the first time since 1984.  Willis is one of the program’s top recruits in years and has a pretty good supporting cast, including WR Bobby Chase and bulked-up RB DeMyron Martin, to ease him into the gig.
What will happen: Tech will start slowly, but you can only hold the attack down for only so long.  SMU doesn’t have the defensive backs to stop all those big Red Raider receivers. Once the passing game begins to purr, the Mustangs will sputter in a comeback mode. 
CFN Prediction: Texas Tech 45 ... SMU 13 ... Line: Texas Tech -26.5
Must See Rating:
(5 skip the birth of your first born - 1 Pants Off, Dance Off) ... 2.5 
Final Score: 

Houston at Rice  9 pm  September, 2, 2006  CSTV
Why to watch: In a rare week one rivalry game, Houston and Rice meet for the 30th time in the battle for the Bayou Bucket.  Houston won 35-18 last November and is expected to roll again on Saturday, but strange things tend to happen in games like this.  The pieces are in place for Houston to contend for a Conference USA title led by the dynamic pitch-and-combo of Kevin Kolb to Vincent Marshall and a much-improved defense.  The Owls will be popping the cork on the Todd Graham era, which is cause for celebration…and concern.  After four straight losing seasons, Rice needed a change at the top, but the transition from Ken Hatfield’s triple-option to Graham’s spread attack will be fraught with plenty of early-season growing pains.
Why Houston might win: Rice is young, thin everywhere and trying to retrofit some personnel to the new offense.  Houston is seasoned, explosive and deep enough to take its first title in a decade.  Yeah, it has an arsenal on offense, but it’s the defense, which returns ten starters, that makes the Cougs a complete squad.

Why Rice might win
:  If it comes down to a kicking contest, give the edge to the Owls.  Marshall’s returns aside, Houston is atrocious on special teams, the one area Coach Graham won’t be losing any sleep about this fall.  Rice’s two best defensive players, Chad Price and Andray Downs, reside in the secondary, which is a comfort when Kolb and company are making a visit. 
Who to watch: Marshall hasn’t had a lot of protection the last few years, but that changes in 2006 with the emergence of Donnie Avery, who had 44 catches a year ago, and the arrival of Biren Ealy from Arizona.  Ealy’s got upside and one year of eligibility remaining to impress NFL scouts.
What will happen: There’ll be lots of optimism at Rice Stadium Saturday night.  Unfortunately, it’ll last about as long as it takes Kolb to locate one of his receivers streaking past the Owl secondary.  Houston knows this is a big year for the program, and won’t stumble against an opponent that’ll spend the entire season searching for an identity.  
CFN Prediction: Houston 36 ... Rice 16 ... Line: Houston -13
Must See Rating:
(5 skip the birth of your first born - 1 Pants Off, Dance Off) ... 2
Final Score: 

Memphis at Ole Miss  4:30 pm EST ESPN  Sunday, September 3rd 
Why to watch: It’s out with the old and in with the new for a pair of programs ushering in new eras in 2006.  Memphis begins life without signature star back DeAngelo Williams, but the coaches are fired up about his successor, Joseph Doss, and the quarterback situation is certain to be more stable than 2005, when injuries forced the Tigers to play most of the year with WR Maurice Avery at the helm.  Ole Miss feels it’s about to turn the corner in Ed Orgeron’s second season.  The coach has upgraded his staff and brought in former Tennessee quarterback Brent Schaeffer from the JUCO ranks to ignite his offense and get the Rebs out of their two-year funk.  All-America LB Patrick Willis leads an underrated defense that was 27th in the nation a year ago.
Why Memphis might win: Even without Williams, Memphis is going to have success on the ground with the speedy Doss to be a lesser verion of Williams. The Tigers have all-conference caliber linemen in Blake Butler and Willie Henderson to pave the way against a young Rebel D-line that has four new starters. Expect Doss to roll for his first career 100-yard day.   
Why Ole Miss might win: Aside from safety Wes Smith, the Memphis defense is an uncertain bunch that’s untested up front and vulnerable through the air.  That’s great news for an Ole Miss offense that’s installing a new pro-style attack with a major upgrade with its new quarterback, running back and offensive coordinator. Expect the Rebels to be able to match anything the Tiger offense can produce.
Who to watch
: Schaeffer is getting all the ink, but especially in the early going, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis will be the MVP of an offense that was sickly in 2005.  The Indiana transfer has had a terrific off-season and is being counted on to get the tough yards and spark a unit that averaged just 2.4 yards a carry last fall. The mobility and running ability of Schaeffer won't hurt the overall rushing total, but how rusty will he be?
What will happen
: In front of the home crowd, this will be a coronation of sorts for a Rebel program that’s on the rise and eager to put some of its new bells and whistles on display.  The Ole Miss offense won’t purr right away, but it'll be noticeably more creative than last season.
CFN Prediction:
Ole Miss 23 ... Memphis 17 ... Line: Ole Miss -3
Must See Rating:
(5 skip the birth of your first born - 1 Pants Off, Dance Off) ... 3
Final Score: 

Conference USA Week One Fearless Predictions