C-USA Fearless Predictions, Sept. 22

Posted Sep 20, 2007

Previews and Predictions for the Week 4 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. 15 | Sept. 29 
Oct. 6Oct. 13 | Oct. 20Oct. 27 | Nov. 3Nov. 10 | Nov. 17Nov. 24Dec. 1   

How are the picks so far? SU: 23-7 ... ATS: 16-10

Conference USA Week Four Predictions, Part 2

Conference USA Game of the Week

Conference USA Friday, September 21

Oklahoma (3-0) at Tulsa (2-0)  8:00 PM ESPN2
Why to watch: Along with Hawaii and Air Force, Tulsa is one of just three remaining unbeaten non-BCS teams, so a visit from Oklahoma represents a unique and enormous opportunity to become the “it” team among smaller programs.  In two games, the Hurricane has quickly adapted to its new no-huddle, hurry-up offense, scoring points in bunches and proving to be a very entertaining draw for fans of wide-open attacks.  Many current Tulsa players, including QB Paul Smith, were on the 2005 team that nearly shocked Oklahoma in Norman, so intimidation shouldn’t be a factor this week.  Three lopsided wins and the overnight development of freshman QB Sam Bradford have the fourth-ranked Sooners on the doorstep of national championship contention and ahead of Texas as the favorite in the Big 12.  The way both teams are putting up points these days, the scoreboard at Skelly Stadium could look like a pinball machine Friday night.
Why Oklahoma might win: Sure, Tulsa can move the ball, but can they stop anyone?  More important, can they even slow down a Sooner offense that leads the nation in scoring, and laid 51 on a pretty good Miami defense two weeks ago? The Hurricane allowed almost 700 yards to Max Hall and BYU last weekend, a very troubling sign with Oklahoma in town.  With a significant advantage along the line, the Sooners will move the ball on the ground with Allen Patrick and DeMarco Murray, and give Bradford enough time to line up Malcolm Kelly and Juaquin Iglesias.  The under/over on Sooner punts is two.  Take the under.
Why Tulsa might win: Although Oklahoma is going to get its points, the Hurricane is capable of going stride-for-stride with an offense that’s scored 76 points over the last six quarters.  Smith has been crisp over that time, spreading the ball around to a number of different receivers and limiting his mistakes.  That BYU defense that Tulsa carved up for 595 yards and 55 points last Saturday is the same one that allowed just 34 points in its first two games against teams from the Pac-10.       
Who to watch: While Kelly was good last year, he’s been out of this world so far in 2007, helping flatten the learning curve for Bradford.  Despite sitting out the end of blowouts, the junior already has 14 catches for 301 yards and seven touchdowns, numbers he’s going to pad against a very questionable Hurricane secondary.
What will happen: Tulsa will make some plays in the passing game, but in order to beat Oklahoma these days, you’ve got to be prepared to get it done on both sides of the ball.  The Hurricane will have no answers for a Sooner offense that’s beating opponents with power, speed, and crisp execution.
CFN Prediction
: Oklahoma 51 … Tulsa 23 ... Line: Oklahoma -23.5
Must See Rating: (5 Curb Your Enthusiasm - 1 Kid Nation) ...

Conference USA Saturday, Sept. 22

East Carolina (1-2) at West Virginia (3-0)  12:00 PM ESPN
Why to watch: Now that Louisville has suffered its first loss, West Virginia is left to carry the Big East banner in terms of a national championship run.  Sure, Rutgers and South Florida are ranked and unbeaten, but the Mountaineers are now the only team in the league with a realistic shot at making it to New Orleans if they can keep dominating like they have over the first few games.  In last Thursday’s win at Maryland, Rich Rodriguez learned a couple of important things about his program: True freshman RB Noel Devine has the jets to contribute to the offense right now.  And the defense, a question mark throughout the off-season, is showing signs of making progress, particularly on third down.  East Carolina is coming down from a damaging 28-21 loss to Southern Miss that already has it in a hole in the Eastern Division of Conference USA.  Still searching for that breakthrough win under Skip Holtz, this week’s trip to Morgantown presents an opportunity to make a bold statement while averting a 1-3 start with a tough trip to Houston in the on-deck circle.
Why East Carolina might win: If you’re going to have a prayer of upsetting West Virginia in Morgantown, you’d better be good at stopping the run, something the Pirates are excelling at this season.  Behind a sturdy defensive line, and despite opening without any cupcakes on the schedule, East Carolina leads Conference USA in rush defense, allowing just 86 yards a game.  While it won’t stop the West Virginia attack, it’ll slow it down enough to keep the game competitive and get the ball back over to Patrick Pinkney, ECU’s rapidly improving quarterback.
Why West Virginia might win: One way to keep the ball out of the hands of West Virginia’s myriad of offensive playmakers is to establish a time-consuming ground game, but that’s just not going to happen with East Carolina.  The Pirates are 96th nationally on the ground, averaging less than three yards a carry, and things aren’t going to get any easier against a Mountaineer front that’s really attacking the ball this month.  Short ECU drives mean more touches for Patrick White, Steve Slaton, Owen Schmitt, and Devine.
Who to watch: West Virginia’s Mortty Ivy and Marc Magro weren’t even guaranteed starting jobs when camp started in August, but the two outside linebackers have been instrumental in the recent success of the Mountaineer defense.  Through three games, the pair has combined for seven tackles for loss and six sacks, creating pocket pressure that hasn’t always been there from the defensive line.
What will happen: With so much attention being given to the Mountaineer running attack, this is one of those games that White will show off his underrated arm, flipping a couple of touchdown passes against a porous pass defense.  Unlike last year’s game, West Virginia will jump out early and never be challenged by East Carolina.

CFN Prediction
: West Virginia 44 ... East Carolina 16 ... Line: West Virginia -24
Must See Rating: (5 Curb Your Enthusiasm - 1 Kid Nation) ... 2

Marshall (0-3) at Cincinnati (3-0)  7:30 PM GamePlan
Why to watch: After three lopsided wins, including last weekend’s over Miami (OH), just how good is this Cincinnati team?  The Bearcats have taken six consecutive games dating back to last season, their longest streak since 1954, winning with defense, offense, special teams, and with or without their starting quarterback.  Even without Ben Mauk on Saturday, Cincy slammed the RedHawks 47-10 to inch a little closer to the Top 25.  So just how good is Brian Kelly’s squad?  With upcoming games versus Marshall and San Diego State, we may not really know until Oct. 6 when Kelly’s ‘Cats travel to Rutgers.  The Herd was supposed to lose to Miami and West Virginia in the first two weeks, and even earned praise for staying with the Mountaineers for three quarters.  Losing last week by 13 to I-AA New Hampshire, however, was a sign that the bottom could be about to fall out in Huntington.  Although injuries have certainly been a factor, Marshall needs to start overcoming as it begins a three-game road trip.
Why Marshall might win: Even with a badly injured turf toe, Herd quarterback Bernard Morris showed last week that Marshall is never out of game as long as he has time to throw.  In just over two quarters of work against New Hampshire, the senior went 31-of-42 for 417 yards and three touchdown passes, nearly rallying his team back from a huge deficit.  Without help from the defense, Cincinnati’s offense hasn’t been so otherworldly that it isn’t susceptible to another big game from Morris.
Why Cincinnati might win: The Bearcat defense has been sensational so far in 2007, allowing just 13 points the last two weeks to Oregon State and Miami University, and leading the nation in turnover margin.  The Mike Mickens-led pass defense has picked off 11 passes while surrendering just a single touchdown pass all year.  If Marshall’s 102nd-ranked running game can’t keep Cincy honest, the pressure for Morris to make things happen against this unit will be insurmountable.  The Herd defense has allowed 48 points in each of the last two games, which Kelly will target whether Mauk or Dustin Grutza is taking snaps.
Who to watch: Marshall would be well-advised to know where No. 1, Marshwan Gilyard, is at all times on Saturday night.  The sophomore wide receiver/special teams ace has 11 catches for a team-high 158 yards and two touchdowns, and has blocked a punt in each of the last two games.
What will happen: Physically and emotionally, Marshall is really hurting these days after losing to New Hampshire and losing a bunch of starters to injury.  Cincinnati will take advantage with a balanced offense and a stifling defense to pick up win No. 4 in a walk. 

CFN Prediction
: Cincinnati 38 ... Marshall 16 ... Line: Cincinnati -23
Must See Rating: (5 Curb Your Enthusiasm - 1 Kid Nation) ... 2

Memphis (2-1) at UCF (2-1)
  3:30 PM
Why to watch
: After upsetting NC State and nearly delivering a stunner against Texas last week, UCF needs to go out and prove it can also get pumped up to fry smaller fish, such as this week against Memphis.  The Knights have been an early season surprise, shaking off a 4-8 season to play as if they plan to contend all year for a Conference USA title.  To get there, UCF is going to need more consistency from QB Kyle Israel, who hasn’t been able to recapture the momentum he had last November.  Memphis has also showed signs of snapping out of its 2006 funk, losing by two points to Ole Miss in the opener and dumping Jacksonville State last Saturday.  It’s going to be a long climb back to contention for the Tigers, but after going 1-7 in the league last year, a road win to begin conference play would be an ideal place to start.
Why Memphis might win: With RB Joseph Doss expected back from a knee sprain and QB Martin Hankins averaging over 300 yards a game, the Tigers have the ingredients to achieve offensive balance.  UCF, on the contrary, does not.  Israel is completing 40% of his passes, and the Knights are 117th nationally in passing offense.  Memphis will also mix things up with redshirt freshman QB Matt Malouf, a scrambling threat who’s gone for 54 yards and two touchdowns on three carries when running out of the offense’s option package.
Why UCF might win: The way Kevin Smith is running the ball this year, the Knights may not have to get much from the passing game to be successful.  The junior leads the country in rushing after two games, averaging 183 yards and scoring four times against a pair of BCS defenses.  The same Memphis defense that gave up more than five yards a carry to Jacksonville State last Saturday won’t be able to corral one of the best kept secrets in Conference USA.
Who to watch: CB Joe Burnett is one of the true playmakers on the UCF defense.  A third-year starter that’ll take risks in the secondary, he has two picks this year and eight in just 26 career games in Orlando.  While Burnett won’t have to contend with Memphis’ best receiver, injured Duke Calhoun, he’ll still get tested downfield by Carlos Singleton and Maurice Jones, who are both very big and very physical in traffic.
What will happen: It might take a while for UCF to get motivated after coming down from the electricity of opening a new stadium and almost authoring a landmark win last weekend.  Smith will be the spark, rushing for 150 yards, and cashing in on the inevitable picks that Hankins will throw.
CFN Prediction: UCF 31 … Memphis 23... Line: UCF -7
Must See Rating: (5 Curb Your Enthusiasm - 1 Kid Nation) ...

Rice (0-3) at Texas (3-0)  7:00 PM
Why to watch
: No. 6 Texas has either trailed or been ahead by only one score in the second half of wins over Arkansas State, TCU, and UCF.  Are the ‘Horns bored by their competition or just grossly overrated?  Whatever the case, it needs to be addressed this week against old Southwest Conference rival Rice because the start of the Big 12 schedule is right around the corner.  Of greatest concern has been the sporadic play of QB Colt McCoy and a leaky run defense that was moved off the ball in the opener and last weekend in Orlando.  The Owls should be so lucky to have Texas’ problems.  Since landing a bowl invite last December, nothing, from the departure of head coach Todd Graham to the 0-3 start, has gone right for the program.  Even worse than being winless, Rice hasn’t even been competitive, and is saddled with an unacceptable loss to Nicholls State.  While the school began 2006 0-4, a rally to the post-season this fall doesn’t appear likely.
Why Rice might win: Texas just hasn’t looked like Texas this month, misfiring too often on offense, and allowing too many yards to opposing backs and quarterbacks.  Heck, if Arkansas State and UCF can keep the ‘Horns from emptying the bench, so can Rice.  The Owl passing game appears to be getting back on track, putting up 451 yards and a couple of touchdown passes in its last two games with Big 12 teams.  WR Jarett Dillard has begun to heat up, and should have his best game of the year versus an unproven Texas secondary. 
Why Texas might win: As bad as the Rice defense is playing, this is a perfect chance for McCoy to get right, and for Texas to work on its depth for a change.  The Owls are 110th nationally against the pass, allowing six touchdown passes and over 400 yards in each of the last two games with Texas Tech and Baylor.  While McCoy recaptures his freshman form against this hapless bunch, RB Jamaal Charles will go for at least 100 yards and at least one score for the fourth consecutive week.
Who to watch: Having served three-game suspensions, WR Billy Pittman, LB Sergio Kindle, and DE Henry Melton will make their 2007 debuts Saturday night.  Each will play a role in Texas’ success the rest of the way, so Mack Brown will do whatever he can on Saturday to get them in game shape before Kansas State visits next weekend. 
What will happen: Alright, Texas, enough is enough.  With the tough part of the schedule almost about to begin, the Longhorns will finally dispose of an inferior opponent behind an offensive barrage that’s been missing this month.

CFN Prediction
: Texas 52 … Rice 13... Line: Texas 38.5
Must See Rating: (5 Curb Your Enthusiasm - 1 Kid Nation) ...
Conference USA Week Four Predictions, Part 2


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