Conference USA Predictions, Week 2, Part 2
Posted Sep 7, 2006

Preview and predictions for the week two Conference USA games.

Conference USA
East  UAB | UCF | East Carolina | Marshall | Memphis | Southern Miss
West  Houston | Rice | SMU | Tulane | Tulsa | UTEP
Past C-USA Picks:
Week One

Conference USA Week Two Fearless Predictions

Tulane (0-0) at Houston (1-0), 7:00 EST, Saturday, September 9th
Why to watch: Tulane is one of the few programs yet to play a game, and for that and other reasons, is one of this year’s bigger mysteries.  Unlike last year, when Hurricane Katrina made athletics an afterthought, Chris Scelfo and the Green Wave have been able to concentrate on the upcoming season, sans any major distractions.  If not for the heroics and senior leadership of Kevin Kolb, Houston would be 0-1, and wondering how they could have lost to a Rice program in transition.  The Cougars survived 31-30, and with a second conference win, can force the rest of the West division to play catch up for a while.            
Why Tulane might win: The Green Wave has the playmakers on offense to keep pace with a potent Houston attack.  QB Lester Ricard is coming off a horrible season, but he had a bounce back off-season and has an NFL arm.  Preston Brown is a big-play receiver, and if Ricard gets time from his untested offensive line, he’ll make the Cougars play from behind for a second straight week.              
Why Houston might win: Tulane couldn’t stop anyone last year, and with six new starters in the back seven, slowing down Houston isn’t likely.  Unless the veteran Green Wave line can get penetration, Kolb will give fat numbers to receivers Vincent Marshall, Donnie Avery and Biren Ealy, and RB Jackie Battle will plow his way to a 100-yard day.                  
Who to watch: As Kolb goes, so go the Cougars.  He’s a fourth-year starter, who knows the offense nearly as well as head coach Art Briles and is the emotional soul of the program.  He’ll take an inexperienced Tulane secondary to school for the evening, while connecting with Marshall on a couple of deep balls that break open the game.     
What will happen: It’s going to be a while before the Tulane D gels, and until that time, teams like Houston will be more than happy to pad its numbers and pick up much-needed wins.  
CFN Prediction: Houston 44 ... Tulane 21 ... Line: Houston -14
Must See Rating:
(5 skip the birth of your first born - 1 Fashion House) ... 2

SMU (0-1) at North Texas (0-1)   7pm EST Saturday, September 9th
Why to watch: SMU has the type of team that could make some noise in the Conference USA race, but it could use a shot of confidence after getting bombed on for 363 yards in a 35-3 loss to Texas Tech. With North Texas this week and Sam Houston State and Arkansas State coming up, the Mustangs have the potential to tune everything up and be ready to hit the Conference USA ground running against Tulane at the end of September. North Texas was led to the slaughter last week in a 56-7 loss to Texas, but the SMU game will be a better indication of where the program is at following a disastrous 2005.
Why SMU might win: North Texas is trying to find its groove on offense. The Mean Green has Jamario Thomas running the ball, and Jamario Thomas running the ball. This isn't a high-octane UNT attack with little to no passing game to worry about. The Mustang linebackers should be able to cheat up all game long and focus just on stopping Thomas. While it didn't show much against Texas Tech, the SMU secondary is good enough to pick off a few passes and keel UNT under 200 passing yards.
Why North Texas might win:  SMU's offense was hardly sharp against Texas Tech having major problems with the running game and failing to convert third down tries on a consistent basis. If UNT can somehow control the clock and keep SMU's offense off the field, it'll have a great shot at keeping this close late. With a back like Thomas, hanging on to the ball for 35 minutes is possible. Texas Tech had it for 34 and had few problems getting the win.              
Who to watch: SMU QB Justin Willis is the present and the future of SMU football. The star recruit is far from a finished product, but he was able to show off a little of his mobility and all-around skills against the Red Raiders last week. He has the speed to tear off yards in chunks, but the real test will be to see if he can get the passing game going. This has to be the game that things start to click, or SMU's resurgence will be delayed that much further.
What will happen: SMU's defense will have a strong game while Willis will come close to 100 yards rushing.                          
CFN Prediction
: SMU 26 ... North Texas 13
... Line: SMU -6
Must See Rating:
(5 skip the birth of your first born - 1 Fashion House) ... 1 

Southeastern Louisiana (0-1) at Southern Miss (0-1), 7:00 EST, Saturday, September 9th
Why to watch: Southern Miss held its own in the Swamp Saturday in a 34-7 loss to Florida, but don’t expect to hear any calls for moral victories out of head coach Jeff Bower’s mouth.  Over the years, he’s built the Golden Eagles to pull upsets, regardless of the setting.  If they can learn from the experience and correct early-season mistakes, especially in the passing game, there’s no doubt USM will be a factor in the East division race.  New Mexico State already has more wins than it had in 2005 because Southeastern Louisiana was last week’s opponent.  The Lions probably won’t win a game until the Southland Conference schedule begins, but those pay checks from I-A teams sure are appreciated by the school’s other athletic programs.         
Why Southeastern Louisiana might win: The Lion offense leaves a lot to be desired, but that defense sure is fast.  The unit had 10 tackles for loss in the New Mexico State game, more than half of which came from athletic linebackers Michael Johnson and Demoris Hardiman, a senior that’s caught the attention of NFL scouts that like his size-speed combination.          
Why Southern Miss might win: This isn’t a vintage snot-knocking Eagles D, but they’re still well coached, will fly to the ball and are more than capable of shutting out a Southeastern Louisiana team that could only muster 218 yards of offense last Thursday night.                
Who to watch: If you look hard enough, there’s a silver lining in every loss.  Southern Miss’ was the play of RB Damion Fletcher, which even caught the coaching staff by surprise.  Against a stout Florida defense, the true freshman ran for 89 yards on 18 carries and caught a pair of passes for another 38 yards, which was good enough to earn the improbable start for this weekend’s home opener.        
What will happen: With games against NC State, Tulsa and UCF on deck, this is the perfect place for QB Jeremy Young to hone his game and the Eagles to pitch their first shutout in five years.     
CFN Prediction: Southern Miss 41 ... SE Louisiana 0 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating:
(5 skip the birth of your first born - 1 Fashion House) ... 1

Chattanooga (1-0) at Memphis (0-1), 8:00 EST, Saturday, September 9th
Why to watch: On Sunday afternoon, Tommy West lost a football game 28-25 to Ole Miss, and found a quarterback to run his spread offense for the next two seasons.  In fact, the coach is going to have a pretty potent offense, even without the irreplaceable DeAngelo Williams taking handoffs.  The defense, particularly when the opposition is running the ball, is a completely different story.  The Tigers will be looking to get in the win column before Conference USA play begins a week from Saturday.  Chattanooga, which hasn’t held Memphis under 50 the last two years, opened with an impressive 31-7 win over Tennessee Tech that was even more lopsided than the score indicated, and is considered a darkhorse contender in the deep Southern Conference.             
Why Chattanooga might win: Chattanooga’s star RB Eldra Buckley ripped off 204 yards in the opener, more than any other back in I-A or I-AA last weekend.  He’s talented enough to cause major headaches for a porous Memphis run defense that tackled poorly Sunday and gave up 240 yards on the ground to Ole Miss.            
Why Memphis might win: The offensive trio of Martin Hankins at quarterback, Joseph Doss running the ball and Ryan Scott catching passes makes the Tigers balanced again, and the best is yet to come.  Playing in front of a hostile SEC crowd, Hankins was in control and misfired on just six passes, while Doss ran for 112 yards, giving Memphis too many options for the Mocs’ defense to contain.                
Who to watch: Replacing a legend, quite frankly, is rotten.  Doss, however, has taken the comparisons and expectations in stride, and is good enough to give the Tigers yet another All-Conference USA back.  He’s not all that big, but he fights for all his yards and has earned the respect of every player and coach in that Memphis locker room.           
What will happen: Buckley’s going to get his 100 yards, which will make West fume, but it won’t be nearly enough to offset a Memphis offense that’s going to get crisper the more they play with each other.  

CFN Prediction: Memphis 42 ... Chattanooga 16 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating:
(5 skip the birth of your first born - 1 Fashion House) ... 1

Rice (0-1) at UCLA (1-0)   10 pm EST  Saturday, September 9th 
Why to watch: That UCLA beat Utah last Saturday wasn’t a big shocker.  That the Bruins did it with such ease was one of the weekend’s genuine surprises.  QB Ben Olson’s performance stole headlines, but it was a total effort for UCLA, which had three turnovers and held the usually potent Utes to a single touchdown.  Playing his first meaningful game in five years, Olson clicked on 25-of-33 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns getting the ball to 10 different receivers.  Rice nearly authored a stunner of its own, losing late to heavily-favored Houston, 31-30, after jumping out to a big lead in the third quarter.  For a team with a new coaching staff and new schemes on both sides of the ball, it was an unexpectedly good start for the Owls, but one with a disastrous, disappointing ending. A good showing against the Bruins would go a long way for the program’s confidence.            
Why Rice might win: It’s still a work-in-progress, but the installation of the spread offense has made the Owls more diverse than ever before.  Against Houston, Quinton Smith ran for 108 yards and two touchdowns and QB Chase Clement chipped in with a pair of touchdown passes of his own.  UCLA was stout on defense in the opener, but this is essentially the same group that was ransacked for most of 2005.  If Rice can find any of it’s old rushing magic, it should be able to put up some decent yards.          
Why UCLA might win: No one had the blueprint for what Todd Graham would be doing in his first year at Rice, and to some extent, that explains why Houston looked lost for most of the first three quarters.  With film to watch, Olson will have his way with an Owl pass defense that allowed three touchdown passes and failed to pick off one of Kevin Kolb’s throws. If UCLA could stop Utah’s spread, it should have no problem with the Rice version.
Who to watch: UCLA CB Alterraun Verner has been relegated to nickel and dime packages for now, but he’s clearly the future for the Bruin secondary.  In an auspicious debut, the 17-year old true freshman returned an interception for a touchdown and recovered his own forced fumble. 
What will happen
: Rice caught Houston off guard a week ago, but that won’t happen to a UCLA squad that’s confident and a little more talented than many expected.  Olson’s sterling opener will give way this week to big days for backs Kahlil Bell and Chris Markey. 

CFN Prediction
UCLA 45 ... Rice 17 ... Line: UCLA -27
Must See Rating:
(5 skip the birth of your first born - 1 Fashion House) ...

Conference USA Week Two Fearless Predictions