C-USA Fearless Predictions, Sept. 8

Posted Sep 6, 2007

Previews and Predictions for the Week 2 C-USA Games.

Conference USA

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

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

How are the picks so far? SU: 9-3 ... ATS: 7-4

Conference USA Fearless Predictions, Week Two, Part 2

Conference USA Game of the Week

West Virginia (1-0) at Marshall (0-1) 11:10 AM ESPN
Why to watch: For the first time in almost a century, West Virginia travels to Huntington to face Marshall in the second annual Coal Bowl.  A genuine feeling of hatred exists between these two schools, but until the Herd can close the widening gap on the Mountaineers, the game will only have regional appeal.  West Virginia got off to a fast start in the opener, torching a better Western Michigan team than the 62-24 score would indicate.  As has been the case for the past two seasons, the catalysts were QB Patrick White and RB Steve Slaton, who had their hands in seven touchdowns and enough highlight reel plays to get the Heisman talk rolling.  The Mountaineers remain No. 3 in the country, waiting for either USC or LSU to create an opening in the top two, but they’ll need to keep winning impressively.  If Marshall is about to inch closer to its glory days, you wouldn’t know it from the opener, a listless, mistake-filled loss at Miami.  With Ahmad Bradshaw in the NFL and Albert McClellan injured, last year’s offensive and defensive stars, respectively, are no longer in Huntington.  If the Herd wants to get back on the map for something other than a Hollywood flick, shocking a heavily-favored rival would be a great place to start.
Why West Virginia might win: As long as White and Slaton are healthy, no one is stopping this offense, so the way to beat the Mountaineers is to outrace them in a track meet.  Unfortunately for Marshall, it just doesn’t have the pieces on offense to stay close in a high scoring game.  The Herd managed just 234 yards and three points in the Orange Bowl, and QB Bernard Morris showed no signs of snapping out of his career-long funk. However …
Why Marshall might win: Western Michigan actually shutdown the WVU ground game for a quarter. The plan actually worked, to a point, until White showed off his passing accuracy. If you’re going to pick your poison, you’ll take White throwing the ball over running it. The main Achilles ’ heel remains a defense that allows a lot of big plays and is susceptible through the air.  Morris needs to have the game of his life, using his scrambling ability to avoid the rush and his big arm to find TE Cody Slate and an improving cast of young receivers.  The Herd should be able to move the ball, but none of that will matter if they can’t protect it.  Don’t discount the impact of a juiced home crowd that’s been waiting years for a visit from West Virginia.
Who to watch: Is anyone in the state of West Virginia happier these days than Mountaineer S Ryan Mundy?  Now a key member of the Mountie secondary, he transferred from 0-1 Michigan during the off-season.  The interior war between Marshall C Doug Legursky and West Virginia NG Keilen Dykes, two future pros, is an entertaining change-of-pace from all the burners that’ll be in Edwards Stadium.
What will happen: Spurred on by a geeked student section, Marshall will hang around for 15 or 20 minutes.  And then White, Slaton or WR Darius Reynaud will snap off a 60-yard run that quiets the crowd.  While emotion will carry the Herd for a while, its offense will be unable to get it to the finish line.
CFN Prediction:
West Virginia 41 ... Marshall 14 ... Line:  West Virginia -21
Must See Rating: (5 Mad Men - 1 Chelsea Lately) ... 2.5
Final Score: 

Conference USA Saturday, September 8

North Carolina (1-0) at East Carolina (0-1)   6:00 PM CSTV
Why to watch: The Butch Davis era in Chapel Hill got off to a nice start with a shipshape 37-14 defeat of James Madison.  That’s called progress for a program that labored to beat I-AA Furman and William & Mary in recent years, and hasn’t had a winning season since 2001.  With Davis has come a new energy and a slew of talented underclassmen that dot the Tar Heel two-deep.  Chief among those fresh faces is redshirt freshman QB T.J. Yates, who debuted by going 13-of-18 for 218 yards, three touchdowns and a pick.  If North Carolina can keep rolling against East Carolina, enthusiasm for the football team will reach its highest point since Mack Brown was on the sidelines a decade ago.  The Pirates stepped into an impossible situation in Blacksburg last Saturday, and handled themselves rather well.  Faced with being the other team as Virginia Tech, and much of the nation, honored its slain students, ECU came close to pulling off a Herculean upset.  Once the non-conference portion of the schedule ends, the Pirates are good enough to win Conference USA and represent the league in the Liberty Bowl.  
Why North Carolina might win: East Carolina lacks the playmakers on offense to take advantage of a Tar Heel defense that’s very green in the secondary and about to replace one its few veterans, injured LB Chase Rice, with true freshman Bruce Carter.  The fact that the Pirates managed only 261 yards and one score last week was not just because the Hokies were the opponent.  QB Patrick Pinkney wouldn’t be getting his first career start if Rob Kass hadn’t been arrested for a DUI, and the Pirate receivers are a pedestrian bunch.   
Why East Carolina might win: The Pirate defensive line vs. the Tar Heel offensive line shapes up as a potential mismatch that’ll force Yates into mistakes in the first road game of his career.  While ECU was clamping down on a very good Hokie running game last weekend, North Carolina was struggling at the point of attack to create space against James Madison.  Things don’t get any easier for the Tar Heel blockers in this week’s trip to Greenville.       
Who to watch: Lightly recruited out of high school, LB Quentin Cotton has emerged in two seasons as a real find for Skip Holtz’s defense.  A sure tackler from the weakside, he was everywhere in the loss to Tech, making 14 tackles and two tackles for loss, and forcing a fumble.  With the Tar Heels likely to play it conservative Saturday, No. 50 will be around the ball a lot again this week.   
What will happen: While North Carolina is clearly heading north, it’ll struggle to move the chains this week against a physical, well-coached East Carolina defense.  The Pirates will get a couple of big plays on offense from mercurial RB Chris Johnson to make it close, but there won't be enough offense to win.            

CFN Prediction:
North Carolina 20 ... East Carolina 13... Line: East Carolina -7
Must See Rating: (5 Mad Men - 1 Chelsea Lately) ... 2.5
Final Score: 

Memphis (0-1) at Arkansas State (0-1) 7:00 EST
Why to watch: Arkansas State nearly became the second “ASU” of the opening weekend to engineer a cataclysmic upset of a top-shelf program, losing to Texas 21-13 in Austin.  Are the Longhorns overrated or are the Indians being overlooked out of the Sun Belt Conference?  It’s worth monitoring Arkansas State over the next few weeks to help answer that question.  The Indians actually out gained the nation’s No. 4 team, 397-340, with a good mix of Corey Leonard’s passing and the running of Reggie Arnold.  Memphis began its 2007 season with a disappointing, error-prone loss at Ole Miss.  The Tigers showed determination by pulling within two points in the final minute, but fell short when Martin Hankins’ pass for a two-point conversion went incomplete.  Hankins is a Memphis enigma, who’ll throw for a ton yards, yet always seems to connect with the opposition a couple times a game.  Last year’s game between these two schools was decided on a 47-yard desperation heave from Leonard that gave a Arkansas State a memorable win.  
Why Memphis might win: Arkansas State gained a lot of yards last week, but sputtered when it reached the red zone, a recurring theme from last season.  The Indians will again struggle to finish drives against an improving Memphis defense that kept BenJarvus Green-Ellis in check, and only allowed two offensive touchdowns to the Rebels.
Why Arkansas State might win: The Tigers’ strength, their passing game, will be neutralized by an Indian secondary that boasts five returning fifth-year seniors, including Tyrell Johnson, one of the Sun Belt’s best defensive players.  Arkansas State will contain Duke Calhoun and the Memphis receivers, while capitalizing on a couple of Hankins’ errant throws.  This is the same secondary that made Colt McCoy look ordinary less than seven days ago.   
Who to watch: With steady Joseph Doss on the shelf for the next couple of weeks, it’ll be up to unproven sophomores T.J. Pitts and Miguel Barnes to spark an anemic Memphis running game.  The Tigers need some hint of a running game this week in order to prevent Arkansas State from sitting back and concentrating solely on the pass.   
What will happen: While it won’t be as dramatic as last October, Arkansas State will build on last week’s close call at Texas, and grind out a momentum-building win over Memphis. 

CFN Prediction:
Arkansas State 24 ... Memphis 22 ... Line:  Memphis -3
Must See Rating: (5 Mad Men - 1 Chelsea Lately) ... 2
Final Score:

Rice (0-1) at Baylor (0-1) 7:00 PM
Why to watch: In a matchup of former Southwest Conference rivals, the first team to ten points might be declared the winner.  In last week’s openers, while Baylor was being blanked by TCU, Rice was taking it on the chin from I-AA Nicholls State.  Although neither program is likely to be playing past November, the Bears have an opportunity to get on a mini-roll with games against Texas State and Buffalo coming up in the next two weeks.  The Owls looked like a shell of the program that miraculously bowled in 2006, even failing to get a touchdown reception for WR Jarett Dillard for the first time in 15 games.  If nothing else, Saturday’s winner gets a valuable talking point when the two Texas schools inevitably cross paths along the recruiting trail later in the year.
Why Rice might win
: You can’t win if you don’t score, and Baylor’s disjointed offense is in a serious state of confusion.  QB Blake Szymanski is clinging to his job after getting picked three times in Fort Worth, the running game is AWOL, and an already depleted offensive line just lost its best blocker, LT Jason Smith.  Even the kickers were erratic in Week One, raising legitimate questions about how the Bears are going to get on the board this season.              
Why Baylor might win: Lost in the Bears’ forgettable first game was the play of a scrappy defense that held the ranked Horned Frogs to just 27 points, 14 through the first three quarters.  The linebackers, led by Joe Pawelek, are underrated, and senior CB Josh Bell is savvy enough to keep Dillard out of the end zone for a second straight game.  After performing like a bumbling mess last Saturday, Rice QB Chase Clement will face a far tougher defense than the one he saw from Nicholls State.   
Who to watch: Unable to count on its offense to crank out big plays or long drives, Baylor needs the defense to create turnovers and short fields.  At 6-6 and 270 pounds, DE Jason Lamb is the type of imposing figure up front that can pressure Clement into poor decisions and game-changing mistakes.                       
What will happen: In one of the most unappealing matchups of Week Two, the bad team from the Big 12 will squeak out a close win over the bad team from Conference USA.
CFN Prediction: Baylor 28 ... Rice 14 ... Line: Baylor -6
Must See Rating: (5 Mad Men - 1 Chelsea Lately) ... 2
Final Score: 

North Texas (0-1) at SMU (0-1)  8:00 pm
Why to watch: Talk about disappointing starts to a season.  In the debut of Dodge Ball at North Texas, new head coach Todd Dodge and his Mean Green were dismantled 79-10 by Oklahoma in a game that was every bit as one-sided as the score indicated.  Two days later, SMU began what many thought would be a breakthrough season by dropping a 49-9 game to Texas Tech.  Dodge has big plans in Denton, including the installation of a pass-happy spread offense, but it could take a few years before he begins seeing results that even approach his success at the high school level.  While the Mustangs weren’t supposed to beat Texas Tech earlier in the week, a 40-point home loss to a team in transition was a crushing blow.  If the Mustangs have any hope of a post-season game or of keeping Phil Bennett employed, they’ve got to rebound quickly against an inferior opponent.
Why North Texas might win: North Texas sure isn’t Texas Tech, but it’ll throw the ball as much, which is harrowing news for the SMU defensive backs.  The Mustangs were smoked by Graham Harrell and a new set of receivers for 419 yards and four touchdowns on Monday.  SMU tackled poorly and covered worse, which presents an opportunity for the Mean Green to make a significant stride in its new offense.
Why SMU might win: At one point Saturday night, Bob Stoops was discouraging his Sooners from scoring any more points.  The North Texas defense was really that bad in the opener.  With Justin Willis at the controls, Emmanuel Sanders running patterns, and DeMyron Martin running like his freshman year, the Mustang offense will have few problems capitalizing on a young and vulnerable Mean Green defense.
Who to watch: Now the face of the SMU program, it’s up to Willis to rally the Mustangs and bounce back from the worst game of his young career.  He was harassed constantly by a rebuilt Tech defense and made too many mistakes, but will get significantly less resistance this Saturday night in Dallas.
What will happen: After playing one of the worst games in Bennett’s tenure at SMU, the Mustangs get an ideal opponent for a feel-good game.  Dodge, who’s used to being around high school defenses, is going to feel as if he’s coaching one in 2007.

CFN Prediction
SMU 35 ... North Texas 16
... Line: SMU -17
Must See Rating: (5 Mad Men - 1 Chelsea Lately) ... 1.5
Final Score: 

Conference USA Fearless Predictions, Week Two, Part 2


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