C-USA Fearless Predictions, Sept. 1

Posted Aug 27, 2007

Previews and Predictions for the Week 1 C-USA Games.

Conference USA

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

Conference USA Week One Fearless Predictions, Part 2

CUSA Fearless Predictions Sept. 8 | Sept. 15Sept. 22 | Sept. 29 
Oct. 6Oct. 13 | Oct. 20Oct. 27 | Nov. 3Nov. 10 | Nov. 17Nov. 24Dec. 1   

Conference USA Game of the Week

Houston at Oregon 3:30 PM
Why to watch: Okay, Oregon, which one is it?  Are you the program that started last season 4-0 or the one that careened to an embarrassing 0-4 finish? Losers of at least five games in four of the last five seasons, the Ducks are no longer the darlings of the Pac-10.  They’ve got plenty to prove in 2007, and enough playmakers on offense to answer their growing numbers of critics.  The key this fall will be the development of QB Dennis Dixon, who regressed badly in 2006, but has the athletic ability to be the point man in a potent offense.  Expect more touches for Jonathan Stewart, a beast of a back with All-America potential that was underutilized last season.  If you think Houston will be rebuilding because Kevin Kolb has graduated, think again.  While the road to a Conference USA title will be much harder without the franchise quarterback, the Cougars return 15 starters from a team that won ten games last year, including a dizzying array of skill position talent.  Beating Oregon on the road will send a clear signal that Houston’s ready for the next chapter in its evolution under Art Briles.
Why Houston might win: Led by senior linemen Jeff Akeroyd and Dustin Dickinson, the Cougars will create running lanes for burners Anthony Alridge and Randall Antoine against a Duck defense that’s noticeably soft up front.  Alridge, in particular, has the 4.2 jets to quiet the crowd at Autzen Stadium in a flash.  If Oregon can’t do a better job of protecting the ball in 2007, it’ll be ripe for the picking, especially against an opportunistic and experienced program, such as Houston. This Cougar team has the overall speed to run with the Ducks.
Why Oregon might win: In the first start of his college career, it’s asking way too much of either redshirt freshman Case Keenum or sophomore Blake Joseph to go on the road and engineer an upset at Oregon.  The starter will have great weapons in Jeron Harvey and Donnie Avery, but both receivers will have trouble finding space against a tough Duck secondary that features rising corners Jairus Byrd and Walter Thurmond, and hard-hitting rover Patrick Chung.  The Cougar defense is good by Conference USA standards, but doesn’t have the size or the speed to shut down Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson on the ground, or 6-5, 240-pound pass-catchers Jaison Williams and Ed Dickson.
Who to watch: All eyes will be on the play of Dixon, whose radical inconsistency was a microcosm of the Oregon program last season.  A fast start in the opener will silence his critics for the time being, while doing wonders for his self-confidence.  The opposite could set the tone for a really rough season.
What will happen: Count on lots of offense and plenty of big plays from the special teams.  With Kolb still on campus, this would be a huge landmine for the Ducks.  Without him around, Oregon will survive behind a monster game from Stewart and in a departure from last year, a victory in the turnover battle.
CFN Prediction: Oregon 35 … Houston 23 ... Line: Oregon -14.5
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 3

Conference USA Friday, August 30

Tulsa at UL Monroe  7:00 PM  
Why to watch: Although no one outside these two regions will pay much attention to this game, it figures to be a surprisingly good showcase of offensive talent.  Tulsa gets back quarterback Paul Smith, Conference USA’s most accomplished quarterback, to run coordinator Gus Malzahn’s fancy hurry-up, no-huddle attack.  Can the system work at this level?  We never found out in Malzahn’s one turbulent season at Arkansas, but he’ll be rolling it out without limitations beginning Thursday night.  The Hurricane also has a quality back in Tarrion Adams, but the offense must rebuild and re-educate the offensive line and receiving corps in a hurry.  Louisiana-Monroe has momentum from a very strong November, and 11 starters back from the Sun Belt’s most potent offense.  Calvin Dawson is a 1,200-yard rusher, and Zeek Zacharie and LaGregory Sapp are quality targets, meaning the Warhawks will be downright dynamic if versatile QB Kinsmon Lancaster builds on a shaky sophomore season.
Why Tulsa might win: The Hurricane has a mature and talented front seven that can slow down Dawson, forcing Lancaster to have to do too much.  Terrel Nemons is a 345-pound beast at the nose, while Nelson Coleman is one of the most underrated middle linebackers in the nation.  When Tulsa has the ball, it’ll get little resistance from a Warhawk defense that’s especially weak in the front seven.  The balance of Smith’s passes and Adams’ versatility will be a very tall order for a unit that’s painfully short on quality stoppers.
Why UL Monroe might win: In a game that could become a track meet, ULM has the offensive artillery to keep pace with Tulsa.  Even if Dawson is held in check, Lancaster will get enough protection to make plays with his legs and put a dent in a Tulsa secondary that’s thin at corner after Roy Roberts.  The Warhawks played Kansas and Kentucky to two-point losses in 2006, and know they can go stride-for-stride with this Tulsa team.
Who to watch: For the new passer-friendly offense to work in Tulsa, developing more receivers is a must, especially after last year’s top three pass-catchers graduated.  Since spring, junior college transfer Dion Toliver has played as if he’ll fill one of the voids, grabbing everything within reach and picking up plenty of yards after the catch.
What will happen: Tulsa had better bring its “A” game to Monroe because the Warhawks are primed for an upset and a catapult victory for Charlie Weatherbie.  In a rerun of 2006, ULM will lose a close game, failing to stop the late-game precision passes of Smith.

CFN Prediction:
Tulsa 34 ... UL Monroe 27 ... Line: Tulsa -5
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 2
Final Score: 

Conference USA Saturday, September 1

East Carolina at Virginia Tech  12:00 PM ESPN
Why to Watch:  The Virginia Tech tragedy that engulfed the nation last April won’t dissipate in the memories of those who were in Blacksburg, or anywhere for that matter, and this will certainly be more than just a regular football game.  With everything surrounding the importance of the event for the community, there’s still an actual game to be played, and it’s a big for a Tech team that needs to tune up before the showdown with LSU.  East Carolina was a bowl team last year and isn’t just going to show up and let the Hokies have a special day. There’s good athleticism on both sides of the ball, and a nice defensive front that could make things interesting for longer than Tech fans might like.
Why East Carolina Might Win:  A team with skill players might be fun to watch, but a team with strength on both lines can usually hang around against anyone.  The Pirates have experience on both sides of the ball, in particular, on the defensive side of the ball, led by defensive end Marcus Hands, and should get ample pressure on Hokie quarterback Sean Glennon. While Glennon appears to be better than last year, he still has to prove he can make better decisions than last year when he struggled in the face of good pass rushers. But even though ECU should have its big moments from the front …
Why Virginia Tech Might Win:  … the Hokie offense is primed to be one of the program’s most explosive units in recent memory.  Running back Branden Ore ultimately drives this offense, but the key against the Pirates is the ability of the receiving corps to stretch ECU’s secondary deep downfield.  Glennon has had a tremendous fall camp and should be able to strike deep against the Pirate secondary as long as he gets time.
Who to Watch: The linebackers.  Both offenses will look to establish the ground game early, so the linebackers will get plenty of attention. Virginia Tech’s Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi are among the best duos in the nation, while East Carolina’s Quentin Cotton is a tackling machine.  He’s missed some time during fall camp, but is expected to be back and ready to potentially be the most effective defender on the field. 
What Will Happen: Although the emotion of the opener should have the Hokies on fire from the start, if the Pirates don’t run and hide in the first quarter, they’ll stay competitive.  However, 20 to 25 carries by Ore and a couple of big deep balls from Glennon will have Hokie nation taking a huge sigh of relief after halftime, when everything will start to click. The Tech defense will come out roaring.
CFN Prediction: Virginia Tech 38 … East Carolina 10
Line: Virginia Tech -24.5
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 2.5
Final Score: 

UAB at Michigan State  12 pm EST ESPN2
Why to Watch: It's the debut for two new coaching staffs with Mark Dantonio looking to provide some more toughness and stability to a Michigan State team that's been dying for some semblance of consistency, while Neil Callaway takes over a struggling UAB program that's all but starting from scratch. After closing out last year losing eight of the final nine games, and needing an all-timer of a comeback against Northwestern for the one win, MSU could use a big opening day performance just to build up a little confidence. UAB has to do everything possible to hold up and avoid getting run over before facing Florida State.
Why UAB Might Win: It's not like the Michigan State defense is going to throw a lot of bells and whistles at the UAB offense, which is a good thing considering the Blazers will need time to figure out what it's doing. In the opener, look for the Spartans to try to win with a pounding running game and solid defense, which in the end should work, but could also be a recipe to keep UAB in the game longer than Spartan fans might like. On the flip side ...
Why Michigan State Might Win:  ... the Spartans shouldn't need to get too fancy to pull this out. UAB is starting from scratch on offense, scrapping last year's offense for a pro-style attack despite not quite having the pieces in place. If the Spartan defensive line was ever going to have a big game, this would be it against a Blazer offensive line that might be the worst in Conference USA.
Who to Watch: UAB's question mark all season long surrounded the starting quarterback situation. Would it be the big, promising sophomore Joseph Webb, or the big, athletic senior Sam Hunt? After a summer to try to figure it out, the answer appears to be both. Each passer will get time under center, but Webb will be more in the mix, staying on the field as a wide receiver when Hunt is in. This game could go a long way to finally deciding on a main man. For MSU, Brian Hoyer is the unquestioned number one, and while he doesn't have to carry the offense, with a loaded backfield and running game to to work with, he needs to inspire confidence right away with a solid performance. He might not be as talented as Drew Stanton, but the Spartans would take more consistency over NFL potential.
What Will Happen: It'll be a stunner if the Spartans don't dominate the time of possession, or at least the tempo of the game, with a strong ground attack that wears down the Blazer defensive front. Javon Ringer and Jenuu Caulcrick should have few problems cranking out big yards.
CFN Prediction: Michigan State 42 ... UAB 17
... Line: Michigan State -19.5
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 2.5
Final Score: 

Marshall at Miami  12:00 PM ESPNU
Why to Watch:  The much anticipated head coaching debut of Randy Shannon has Coral Gables buzzing about the possibility of returning to old school Miami, and nothing less than domination right off the bat might do after the lousy end to the Larry Coker era. Will the Miami offense start to play like the Miami offense? Can Shannon keep the defense at a championship caliber level and will all the great athletes play up to their talent? With the trip to Oklahoma coming up next week, the Canes need to tune up against Marshall, and not just try to get by. The Herd could quickly reverse the recent struggles of its own with a shocking performance over a big-name team. Head coach Mark Snyder is still trying to give his program an identity, and this is a huge chance to make one.
Why Marshall Might Win:  Although Herd quarterback Bernie Morris hasn’t set the world on fire the past two years, he has starting experience and won’t simply buckle under the pressure of playing against a defense like Miami’s. It’ll help that he’ll have relatively good protection from center Doug Legursky and a stout offensive line that should be able to hold its own for extended stretches. On the other side of the ball, Miami’s offense has to show that things have changed, and that might take a game or three to happen. You don’t go from stagnant to explosive overnight.
Why Miami Might Win:  Shannon won’t let this team lose.  Not in the opener.  Not an alum of the U.  He just won’t let it happen and it won’t happen, mainly due to the running of Javarris James and hotshot freshman Graig Cooper.  That combination should combine for 35 to 40 carries in the opener and should establish the Canes as a physical team that wins by running the ball and playing tough defense. It’s not like Chad Pennington and Randy Moss are out there for the Herd; this won’t be an explosive attack. A few early Cane scores should end it.
Who to Watch: Kirby Freeman. Kyle Wright was supposed to be the next great Miami quarterback, but he hasn't progressed and has allowed Freeman to be in the hunt for the starting job. While Wright is still in the starting mix, Freeman will get the call despite not being accurate or effective during his previous playing time. Basically, the job is still open. On the other side of the ball, at 6’8” and 282 pounds and with decent quickness off the ball, Miami’s Calais Campbell already has the eyes of the NFL types, and now he could use a big first game to generate the type of buzz that makes freakish players like him number one draft picks.  His explosion off the edge is not that of a 245 pound type, but his size and length make it extremely difficult to block him effectively on a consistent basis. How Morris handles himself under the pressure, and how he’s able to limit mistakes, will likely be the key to the game.
What Will Happen: The Hurricanes won’t be pretty early on, especially with a new offensive coordinator (Patrick Nix) and a former defensive coordinator as head coach.  So, don’t be surprised when James and Cooper combine for over 200 yards and keep the ball away from Morris and his offense throughout the day.
CFN Prediction: Miami 34 … Marshall 10
Line: Miami -21
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 2
Final Score: 

Conference USA Week One Fearless Predictions, Part 2


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