C-USA Fearless Predictions, Sept. 29

Posted Sep 27, 2007

Previews and Predictions for the Week 5 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. 15Sept. 22
Oct. 6Oct. 13 | Oct. 20Oct. 27 | Nov. 3Nov. 10 | Nov. 17Nov. 24Dec. 1   

How are the picks so far? SU: 32-7 ... ATS: 22-11

Conference USA Week Five Predictions, Part 2

Conference USA Game of the Week

Conference USA Thursday, September 27

Southern Miss (2-1) at Boise State (2-1)  7:30 PM ESPN
Why to watch: One month ago, this game looked as if it might have BCS bowl ramifications at stake.  After Southern Miss lost to Tennessee and Boise State got dumped by Washington on Sept. 8, however, it was downgraded to just a really interesting match up between two of the nation’s premier mid-majors.  The Golden Eagles defeated East Carolina in Greenville two weeks ago, solidifying their position as the favorite to the Eastern Division of Conference USA.  For Boise State, this will be its final tune-up before diving into the WAC portion of the schedule.  Since 1998, the Broncos are 53-2 at home, including a perfect mark versus non-BCS programs, a streak the Eagles believe they can end.  In Boise State’s Ian Johnson and Southern Miss’ Damion Fletcher, this nationally televised game will spotlight two of the game’s best backs that not enough people get to watch.
Why Southern Miss might win: The Golden Eagles want to put this game in the hands of QB Taylor Tharp, which it can do by slowing down Johnson with an outstanding front seven.  LB Gerald McRath and DE Robert Henderson are all-star candidates that have helped hold two of three opponents below 100 yards on the ground this season.  Southern Miss is physical, quick to the ball, and rarely misses tackles.  Its quarterback, Jeremy Young, is playing well again after being saddled with turf toe in 2006, and gives the Eagles a much-needed element of balance that’ll Boise from stacking the line to stop Fletcher and Tory Harrison.
Why Boise State might win: When the Eagles run with success, they almost always win.  They won’t have much success running the ball on Thursday night.  The Broncos have been stout against the run in 2007, allowing less than three yards a carry, and have generally been outstanding on the defensive side of the ball.  The opposition is completing less than 50% of its passes this year, and scoring just 15 points a game on an underrated and fundamentally sound unit.  Southern Miss has shown cracks in pass defense the last two games that Tharp will be able to exploit with mid-range passes.
Who to watch: It’s not often that the best player on the field is an offensive lineman, but Boise State LT Ryan Clady is a unique athlete and certain high draft choice in either 2008 or 2009.  At 6-6 and 315 pounds, he moves like a tight end, and will be responsible for keeping Henderson out of the Bronco backfield and creating space for Johnson to run.
What will happen: Although these two programs mirror each other in many ways, Boise State just doesn’t lose very often at Bronco Stadium.  It’ll get another strong effort from the generic defense and Johnson’s first touchdown since the opener to eliminate Southern Miss from contention in the race to be this year’s top non-BCS league program.
CFN Prediction: Boise State 28 … Southern Miss 20 ... Line: Boise State -10 
Must See Rating: (5 Ken Burns' The War - 1 The Big Bang Theory) ... 3

Memphis (1-2) at Arkansas State (1-2)  7:00 PM
Why to watch
: Don’t be fooled by Arkansas State’s 1-2 start to the 2007 season.  This is a quality Sun Belt Conference team that destroyed SMU two weeks ago and held up well in losses to Texas and Tennessee.  The Indians boast a balanced offense featuring shifty QB Corey Leonard and big-play RB Reggie Arnold, and a veteran defense that’ll improve its numbers now that the toughest part of the schedule is in the rear view mirror.  It’s gut-check time for Memphis and Tommy West following a 56-20 whooping administered by UCF last weekend.  The Tigers appeared to be turning the corner after nearly upsetting Ole Miss and beating Jacksonville State, but last week’s debacle may have set the program back to 2006 when little went right.  The two schools will have a hard time topping last year’s meeting, which was decided on a 47-yard desperation heave from Leonard that gave Arkansas State a memorable win.
Why Memphis might win: Although Arkansas State is loaded with top starters in the secondary, it hasn’t made much of a difference during the first month of the season.  The Indians have allowed four touchdown passes in each of the last two games, pushing their pass defense ranking to No. 98 in the country.  This week more than ever, the Tigers will rely on gunslinging QB Martin Hankins to make the most of his big, athletic corps of receivers.  There’s a chance Memphis’ top pass-catcher, Duke Calhoun, will return from a knee injury, which will put even more pressure on the slumping Arkansas State secondary.
Why Arkansas State might win: Faced with an offense that can run or pass last week, the Memphis defense simply came apart at the seams, allowing 601 yards and 28 first downs to UCF.  The Tigers will face a similar attack this Thursday night and potentially similar results.  Arkansas State actually outgained Texas by 67 yards in the opener and moved the ball well on Tennessee last week, so its No. 3 ranking in Sun Belt total offense is hardly a product of a weak early schedule.
Who to watch: Arkansas State needs senior S Tyrell Johnson to supercharge a secondary that has underachieved in the early going.  The preseason Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year is a thumper that leads the Indians in tackles and has two interceptions, one that went for a 54-yard touchdown against the Vols last week.  The NFL scouts are taking note.
What will happen: Two teams headed in opposite directions will continue down those paths this week.  A broken Memphis defense won’t be able to stop an Arkansas State attack that’s better than advertised.
CFN Prediction: Arkansas State 37 … Memphis 24 ... Line: Arkansas State -4 
Must See Rating: (5 Ken Burns' The War - 1 The Big Bang Theory) ... 2

Conference USA Saturday, Sept. 29

LSU (4-0) at Tulane (1-2)   12:00 PM ESPN2
Why to watch: After beating ranked opponents in two of the last three weeks, LSU gets a chance to exhale at the expense of Tulane, a familiar face from just a short trip down I-10.  The Tigers remained firmly in the national championship hunt with last week’s defeat of South Carolina, giving future opponents something to think about with a little special teams trickery and a complimentary role for backup QB Ryan Perrilloux.  The sophomore should get plenty of reps in this weekend’s probable blowout, providing LSU fans with another good look at their likely starting quarterback for 2008 and 2009.  The Tigers will enjoy their tour of the Superdome on Saturday, in the hopes of making a return engagement on Jan. 7.  For Tulane, this week’s game is a lottery ticket, a one-in-a-million shot of beating one of the game’s superpowers.  The Green Wave’s feature attraction is RB Matt Forte, a future pro who ran for a school-record 303 yards and five scores in last week’s win over Southeastern Louisiana.
Why LSU might win: Anthony Scelfo’s task in his first game as the Tulane starting quarterback? Go out and move the ball on a top-ranked Tiger D that’s allowing 161 yards and five points a game.  If the Green Wave had any semblance of a passing attack to keep LSU from focusing on Forte, it would have a considerably better chance of reaching double digits on Saturday.  However, Tulane has been abysmal through the air, forcing Toledo to bench Scott Elliott in favor of the inexperienced Scelfo.      
Why Tulane might win: In an otherwise frightening situation, Scelfo can take solace in the fact that his offensive line has permitted just a single sack in three games.  If given time to throw, he has a live arm and a couple of quality pass-catchers in Jeremy Williams and Casey Robottom.  As good as LSU has been so far this season, its offense hasn’t been otherworldly, which could spare the Green Wave the indignity of getting lit up for a few strokes under par.
Who to watch
: It’ll be interesting to see how Les Miles and Gary Crowton use Perrilloux now that the sophomore has proved he can be a valuable change-of-pace to Matt Flynn and a reliable starter in a pinch.  With Flynn still nursing a sore ankle and the game likely to be out of hand by intermission, Perrilloux should get two useful quarters of work to hone his skills and get more comfortable running the LSU offense.
 What will happen: Miles’ agenda for this weekend will be simple: Jump out to an early lead, avoid injuries, and start preparing for next week’s mega tilt with Florida.
CFN Prediction: LSU 49 … Tulane 0 .. Line: LSU -40
Must See Rating: (5 Ken Burns' The War - 1 The Big Bang Theory) ... 1.5

UTEP (2-2) at SMU (1-3)
  4:30 PM CSTV
Why to watch
: A couple of West Division rivals meet with the same goals, finished September strong and get a fast start in conference play.  Neither program has been particularly impressive through the first leg of the season, failing on defense and misfiring too often in enemy territory.  UTEP got a confidence boost at the expense of Texas Southern last Saturday, but is still adjusting to wholesale changes on both sides of the ball.  A first road win of 2007 would be huge for a young Miner team that figures to be better in November than September.  So far, SMU’s plan of making this season its breakthrough year isn’t going as expected.  If not for having lowly North Texas on the schedule, the Mustangs might be winless.  They’ve been a major disappointment through four games, making this week’s game with UTEP an absolute must-win for the program and its head coach, Phil Bennett.
Why UTEP might win: Any discussions involving the worst defenses in America must include SMU.  The Mustangs have been slow to adapt to a rebuilt front wall, and are allowing 483 yards and almost 37 points a game.  On third down, the opposition has been successful more than 50% of the time, which ranks 109th in the country.  Miner QB Trevor Vittatoe, who’s gotten gradually better each week, won’t feel much heat and is capable of having a career day versus the SMU defense.
Why SMU might win: UTEP has issues of its own on defense.  As if replacing seven starters from 2006 wasn’t challenging enough, the Miners will be missing five of this year’s starters due to various injuries.  The most pressing need is at cornerback, where the defense is facing a serious shortage of capable bodies.  This is an ideal time for the Mustangs’ most valuable player, QB Justin Willis, to rebound from an off week against TCU.  He’ll light up the 111th-ranked UTEP pass defense on Saturday, feeding Emmanuel Sanders, Devin Lowery, and Zack Sledge all afternoon.
Who to watch: Not all of the Mustang defenders are missing tackles this season.  It just seems that way.  Sophomore S Bryce Hudman has been one of the few bright spots so far, racking up a team-high 44 tackles, including 26 two weeks ago.  He’ll have his targets fixed on Miner WRs Fred Rouse and Lorne Sam, a couple of playmakers returning from injury.
What will happen: The game will be decided by the quarterbacks, which gives a slight advantage to SMU.  The Mustangs will play with a noticeable sense of urgency, pulling away against a banged up and thin UTEP defense.
CFN Prediction: SMU 31 … UTEP 27 ... Line: SMU -1.5 
Must See Rating: (5 Ken Burns' The War - 1 The Big Bang Theory) ... 2

Conference USA Week Five Predictions, Part 2


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