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C-USA Fearless Predictions, Sept. 15
Posted Sep 13, 2007

Previews and Predictions for the Week 3 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. 8 | Sept. 22 | Sept. 29 
Oct. 6Oct. 13 | Oct. 20Oct. 27 | Nov. 3Nov. 10 | Nov. 17Nov. 24Dec. 1   

How are the picks so far? SU: 16-4 ... ATS: 12-7

C-USA Fearless Predictions, Week Three, Part 2

Conference USA Game of the Week

Southern Miss (1-1) at East Carolina (1-1)  6:00 PM
Why to watch: By Conference USA standards, this week’s game in Greenville is a really big deal. Two of the heavyweights in the Eastern Division will be squaring off with a chance to get a nice jump on the league competition, and if nothing else, the loser will be in a deep hole and will likely have to chase the rest of the year.  East Carolina has impressed in its two games versus ACC teams, making Virginia Tech sweat in the opener, and beating North Carolina a week ago in a key interstate match up.  Against the Tar Heels, the Pirates may have also found a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle.  Slated to be buried on the depth chart before the season began, QB Patrick Pinkney responded to his first career start by going 31-of-41 for 406 yards and three touchdowns.  To prove he’s no one-hit wonder, Pinkney will have to get it done again this week against the stingy Southern Miss D.  Although the Golden Eagles were humbled by Tennessee in Week 2, that doesn’t change their status as the favorite to win the East and play for a league championship.  With another rugged road trip on the horizon, USM needs to have a short memory as it prepares for East Carolina.    
Why Southern Miss might win: Weaknesses in the East Carolina pass defense got exposed last weekend by a freshman, North Carolina’s T.J. Yates.  Despite feeling pressure, the rookie stood tall in the pocket and delivered 344 yards and three touchdowns through the air.  Ironically, Southern Miss QB Jeremy Young is off to a strong start, making plays with his legs and showing more poise as a passer.  The Pirates’ troubles in the running game are going to continue this week against a very tough Eagle front seven.     
Why East Carolina might win: If Southern Miss can’t run the ball, its bread-and-butter on offense, it rarely wins.  The Pirates have a terrific veteran defensive line that’s going to dominate an Eagle front wall in transition, and bottle up the running tandem of Damion Fletcher and Tory Harrison.  In two games that included a trip to Blacksburg, ECU has given up just 112 yards on the ground and no rushing touchdowns.  When Fletcher has no room, the Southern Miss just doesn’t function up to its potential.   
Who to watch: East Carolina DE Zack Slate has got to continue creating pocket pressure in order to help a secondary that’s clearly vulnerable.  A rangy, 6-5 player with good quickness around the edge, he’s had a sack in each game and leads the Pirates in tackles for loss.
What will happen: Like most important league games, this one will be physical, heated, and tight until late in the fourth quarter.  East Carolina will win the battle on the interior, and get another solid effort out of Pinkney, proving he’s ready to make plays for the next two months.
CFN Prediction: East Carolina 23 … Southern Miss 21 ... Line: Pick
Must See Rating: (5 Britney at the VMAs - 1 Big Shots) ... 3

Conference USA Saturday, Sept. 15

Houston (0-1) at Tulane (0-1)  7:00 PM
Why to watch: After resting last weekend, Houston returns to action anxious for a win and a little wiser about its personnel following an opening day loss at Oregon.  While quicksilver RB Anthony Alridge is the undisputed star of the Cougar offense, who’ll be handing him the ball Saturday night remains a mystery.  Sophomore Blake Joseph got the start in Eugene, but redshirt freshman Case Keenum wound up getting more reps, so a second straight game-time decision from head coach Art Briles is likely.  Tulane kicked off the Bob Toledo era by getting kicked around for four quarters by Mississippi State in a 38-17 loss.  Consistent with Toledo’s ideology, the Green Wave showed signs of life in the passing game, but starting QB Scott Elliott could be hobbled by a sprained foot this week.
Why Houston might win: The same Tulane defense that made Mississippi State look downright prolific a week ago will have no answers for the speed and complexity of the Houston offense.  The Green Wave tackled poorly and gave up 489 yards and 27 first downs to an offense that entered the game with a ton of question marks.  Alridge had 155 yards rushing on five carries in this game last year and 325 total yards two weeks ago against Oregon.  On turf and against a sub par defense, he’ll steal the show once again.
Why Tulane might win: The Houston defense didn’t exactly look stellar in Eugene, getting gutted for 473 yards, most of which came on the ground.  Elliott was sharp in the first half last week, hooking up often with Jeremy Williams, and as good as is Alridge is as a dual-threat, Tulane RB Matt Forte isn’t far behind.  When Forte is healthy, which he is at this time, he can pound away between the tackles and do damage on screens and swing passes.
Who to watch: Alridge deservedly gets all of the pub on offense, but Houston also boasts a pair of terrific receivers in Jeron Harvey and Donnie Avery that are going to be a handful for a very vulnerable Tulane secondary.  It’s going to be up to the two seniors to help elevate the play of Joseph and Keenum during the first half of the season.
What will happen: On at least two occasions in Saturday night’s game, Alridge is going to find a crease and sprint his way right on to You Tube.  He’ll get lots of help from the passing attack, as Houston makes a quantum leap on offense from the Week 1 loss at Oregon.
CFN Prediction: Houston 37 … Tulane 20... Line: Houston -14.5
Must See Rating: (5 Britney at the VMAs - 1 Big Shots) ...  2

New Hampshire (0-1) at Marshall (0-2)
  4:30 PM
Why to watch: After opening with Miami and West Virginia, a home date with I-AA New Hampshire is an ideal remedy for Marshall’s 0-2 start.  The Herd lost to the Mountaineers 48-23 on Saturday, but played far better than the score indicated and flirted with the upset for three quarters.  If Marshall can use the close call as a springboard for the rest of the season, Mark Snyder has recruited well enough in recent years for this program to compete for a Conference USA crown.  Highly-ranked and fueled by record-setting QB Ricky Santos, New Hampshire began the year with a 41-24 upset loss at the hands of James Madison.  Winners over Northwestern last year, the Wildcats will be looking for a victory over a I-A opponent for a second straight year.
Why New Hampshire might win: While the Marshall offense has been known to sputter, New Hampshire can flat out light up a scoreboard.  Behind Santos, the reigning Walter Payton Award winner, the Wildcats feature a potent passing attack that can score points in bunches.  Like Appalachian State, New Hampshire has played in plenty of playoff games the last few seasons, and will not be flustered by playing at a larger venue.
Why Marshall might win: New Hampshire can score, but will it stop anyone this fall?  The early indications are not encouraging.  The Wildcats allowed 526 yards and 23 first downs to the Dukes last weekend, a warning sign as they head south to Huntington.  If his turf toe doesn’t shelve him, Marshall QB Bernard Morris has the athletic ability to hurt that New Hampshire defense in a multitude of ways.  When he drops back to pass, he’ll have no trouble locating WR Darius Passmore and TE Cody Slate for long gainers.
Who to watch: Although Chubb Small has been listed as Marshall’s starting back, the future at the position belongs to true freshman Darius Marshall.  Against West Virginia, the electrifying rookie made his pitch for more playing time, leading the Herd with 80 yards on 11 carries, and opening the game with a 77-yard kickoff return.
What will happen: New Hampshire will score its points on Saturday, but not nearly enough as Marshall seizes the opportunity to pick up its first win of 2007.  
CFN Prediction: Marshall 47 … New Hampshire 23 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (5 Britney at the VMAs - 1 Big Shots) ... 1.5

Jacksonville State (1-1) at Memphis (0-1)
  8:00 PM
Why to watch: Memphis doesn’t get many opportunities these days to play the favorite role, so a visit from I-AA Jacksonville State is a welcome site.  The Tigers showed some heart in a two-point loss to Ole Miss, and were rained out last weekend in a game with Arkansas State that’ll be made up Sept. 27.  Since RB Joseph Doss will be on the shelf with a knee injury, Tommy West plans to use this game to, among other things, get a real good look at his backups, T.J. Pitts and Miguel Barnes.  With three games in the next 12 days, Memphis can ill-afford a rash of injuries that strains its depth.  Not your garden variety I-AA team, Jacksonville State is a quality program that cannot be taken lightly this week by Memphis.  The Gamecocks have won two Ohio Valley Conference championships since 2003, and are one of the favorites to win another crown in 2007.
Why Jacksonville State might win: Through two weeks, the Gamecocks lead the nation in turnover margin, a bright red flag for a Memphis team that’s been awful at protecting the ball ever since Martin Hankins became the starting quarterback last season.  Hankins has thrown 17 interceptions, including four versus Ole Miss, over the last 13 games, while Jacksonville State already has five picks and nine takeaways in two games.  Uh-oh.
Why Memphis might win: Although Hankins will put the ball in the defender’s chest at least once or twice, he’ll also click downfield with a underrated receiving corps far more times than that.  Duke Calhoun, Earnest Williams and Steven Black give the Tigers a tall, athletic group of pass-catchers that’ll be a mismatch for the Jacksonville State secondary.  It’s also worth watching the development of West’s defense, which finally looks ready to begin turning the corner after limiting a solid Rebel running game to just 74 yards in Week 1.
Who to watch: Some of the cause for optimism surrounding the Memphis defense can be traced to redshirt freshman Winston Bowens, who looks capable of filling the Tigers’ gaping void at middle linebacker.  A surprise starter in the Ole Miss game, he was constantly in on the action, delivering a game-high nine tackles and a forced fumble.
What will happen: Memphis has been pining for a victory ever since falling short two weeks ago to Ole Miss.  The Tigers will get it behind 300 yards from Hankins and another step in the right direction from the defense.
CFN Prediction: Memphis 38 … Jacksonville State 16... Line: No Line 
Must See Rating: (5 Britney at the VMAs - 1 Big Shots) ... 1

Texas Tech (2-0) at Rice (0-2)  3:00 pm
Why to watch: Despite having to break in a slew of new receivers this year, Mike Leach has the high-powered Red Raider passing attack clicking as if it’s already mid-season.  QB Graham Harrell is second nationally to only Hawaii’s Colt Brennan in total offense, and those receivers, particularly freshman Michael Crabtree, are catching on just fine.  After a slow start versus UTEP last week, it was that aerial assault that fueled a furious second-half comeback and a second win to start the season.  With a win over Rice this week, the Raiders will clinch the Conference USA West.  For the Owls, last year’s magical season that ended with bowl game must feel like a lifetime ago.  With a new coach and the same toothless defense, Rice has begun 2007 with losses to Nicholls State and Baylor.  The program was 0-4 out of the gate last year, so some inspiration can be found in the 2006 squad.
Why Texas Tech might win: Running basically the same offense that’s installed in Lubbock, unheralded Baylor QB Blake Szymanski torched the Owls last Saturday for 412 yards and six touchdown passes without throwing a pick.  Against this Rice secondary, David Klingler’s single-game passing marks might be in jeopardy if Harrell & Co. stick around for more than three quarters.  Making matters worse in Houston, the Owl offense that bailed the team out so often in 2006 has been a no-show through two games.
Why Rice might win: The Red Raiders have new starters everywhere on defense, and it showed last week against UTEP.  Tech allowed 431 balanced yards and had just one sack, indications that the young unit will take time to mesh this fall.  The key for the Owls will be the play of QB Chase Clement, who’s been a shell of himself this month.  If he can tap into last year’s form and hook up regularly with WR Jarett Dillard, the Texas Tech defense can be scored upon.
Who to watch: If opposing defenses start committing too many resources to Crabtree, Danny Amendola will seamlessly pick up the slack.  While not nearly as explosive, he’s a polished pass-catcher from the slot with 22 receptions and two touchdowns already.  If Rice doubles up on Crabtree, Amendola will have at least ten grabs for a third game-in-a-row.
What will happen: Well-rested after playing two games in the first days of the season, Texas Tech will score at will on the Rice defense.  Harrell’s capable of going for 500 yards for the second time in his career if Leach keeps him in long enough.
CFN Prediction: Texas Tech 52 … Rice 17 ... Line: Texas Tech -28.5
Must See Rating: (5 Britney at the VMAs - 1 Big Shots) ... 1.5

Conference USA Fearless Predictions, Week Two, Part 2


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