C-USA Fearless Predictions, Oct. 6

Posted Oct 3, 2007

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

How are the picks so far? SU: 37-9 ... ATS: 23-16-1

C-USA Fearless Predictions, Week 6, Part 2

Conference USA Game of the Week

Tulsa (3-1) at UTEP (3-2)  9:05 PM
Why to watch: Conventional wisdom says that Tulsa and Houston will battle it out this year for the Conference USA West title.  UTEP head coach Mike Price has never been conventional.  His Miners won a pivotal shootout at SMU last week, opening the door for them to join the race with an upset of the Hurricane this Saturday night.  Still adjusting to rampant turnover on both sides of the ball, UTEP is surviving with good special teams play and a power running game that’s been light years better than in recent seasons.  Although Tulsa is piling up points and yards as quickly as any team in the league this season, it’s allowing them at an equally frequent clip.  Good for the fans, bad for the coaching staff.  The Hurricane gets Houston at Skelly Stadium next month, and with a win on Saturday, will take over sole possession of first place in the division.  Tackling is optional at both schools, so buckle up for what should be an high-octane offensive thrill-ride of an evening.
Why Tulsa might win: The up-tempo Hurricane offense is averaging 552 yards and 37 points a game, getting contributions from both Paul Smith and the passing attack, and Tarrion Adams and the running game.  Don’t expect a rebuilt UTEP defense to rain on the Tulsa firework display.  The Miners’ 106th-ranked defense has allowed 11 touchdown passes over the last four weeks, bagging just four sacks all year.  Now in his fifth game in a new system, Smith is going to have a field day against this group, and the time needed to locate his second and third receivers when necessary.
Why UTEP might win: Sure, Tulsa can score, but can it stop anyone?  Four games into the season, it doesn’t appear likely.  Over the last three games, all at home, the Hurricane has allowed a mind-blowing 1,650 yards and 139 points.  It’d be easy to attribute the futility to facing BYU and Oklahoma, but Tulsa couldn’t even stop a bad UAB attack last week.  The Miners will be able to establish the run with Marcus Thomas, mixing in short passes from Trevor Vittatoe, who’s improving every week.  As usual, UTEP will look for ways to get the ball in the hands of WR Lorne Sam, a playmaker that’ll also take snaps behind center.
Who to watch: Slowly but surely, Tulsa has developed a couple of receivers capable of fitting into an offense that’s throwing the ball 30-40 times a game.  While freshman Trae Johnson has been the most productive wideout, catching 14 passes for 291 yards and two scores, junior college transfer Brennan Marion has become the team’s long ball hitter.  Marion has caught just seven passes, but they’ve gone for 318 yards and four scores, so UTEP better know where No. 4 is at all times.
What will happen: If you fancy old-school defensive struggles, cover your eyes.  Both schools will get up and down the field with little resistance; however, when clutch plays are needed late in a close game, the senior Smith will out perform the rising freshman, Vittatoe.
CFN Prediction: Tulsa 41 … UTEP 35 ... Line: Tulsa  -3.5
Must See Rating: (5 Paris on Letterman - 1 Singing Bee) ... 2

Conference USA Tuesday, October 2nd

Marshall (0-4) at Memphis (1-3)  8:00 PM ESPN2
Why to watch: All of a sudden, a Tuesday night special between two of Conference USA’s worst programs takes on a different feel after Tiger defensive lineman Taylor Bradford was murdered on Monday, causing the school to cancel classes for a day. However, the game will go on.  Neither Marshall nor Memphis has had much to howl about this year, so a meeting between them will be an opportunity to temporarily stop the bleeding, while pocketing some rare national exposure.  The Tigers somehow blew a 31-6 halftime lead to Arkansas State in last Thursday’s make-up game, making this week’s contest their third in only 11 days.  Memphis has won just three of its last 16 games, which has left head coach Tommy West with very little job security.  While Marshall has upside thanks to a couple of solid recruiting classes from Mark Snyder, you hardly can tell from September’s results.  The Herd lost its first four games, including a head-scratcher to New Hampshire, and has allowed at least 40 points in the last three games.  Expect to see a ton of first-year players, such as RB Darrius Marshall and WR Darius Passmore, as Snyder searches for combinations that give his program the best opportunity to win.
Why Marshall might win: The Herd is well-rested.  The Tigers, on the other hand, are gassed because of a condensed schedule that has them playing a third game in under two weeks.  Save for its defeat of I-AA Jacksonville State, Memphis has been awful defensively, allowing 91 points and nearly 1,000 yards to UCF and Arkansas State the last two weeks.  A healthy Marshall QB Bernard Morris is playing up to his potential this fall, throwing seven touchdown passes and just one pick over the last three games.  He’ll hook up often with Passmore and TE Cody Slate, who have the edge over the Tiger secondary.  The Tigers have the nation’s worst net punting unit, so Morris & Co. could be working on a short field all night.
Why Memphis might win: The Tiger defense has been bad, but the Herd may actually be worse.  Sure, it has played a tougher schedule, but Marshall is allowing almost 42 points a game and is a dreadful 112th nationally in pass efficiency defense.  That’ll present a big problem versus a Memphis passing game that has senior slinger Martin Hankins and an underrated corps of playmaking receivers.  The Herd pass rush has been virtually non-existent this year without star DE Albert McClellan, which means Hankins will have time to locate second and third receivers, if necessary.
Who to watch: The best player in the Liberty Bowl Tuesday night will be Slate, a sophomore with rare field-stretching ability for a tight end.  The Herd will try to isolate him all night on a group of Memphis linebackers that lack the size and speed to contain him.  Slate already has 25 receptions for 321 yards and two scores in what’s shaping up as a second straight all-conference season.
What will happen: Neither defense is capable of making stops these days, so both Hankins and Morris will have success through the air and approach 300 yards passing.  While Marshall has played a much tougher schedule, Memphis has simply played too much recently, and the Bradford tragedy will only make it that much tougher.  It’ll show by the second half of a close Herd victory.
CFN Prediction: Marshall 33 … Memphis 30 ... Line: Memphis -2.5 
Must See Rating: (5 Paris on Letterman - 1 Singing Bee) ... 1.5

Conference USA Wednesday, October 3rd

Rice (0-4) at Southern Miss (2-2)  8:00 PM ESPN2
Why to watch: Southern Miss took a journey out to Boise last Thursday determined to prove it was the nation’s premier mid-major program of 2007.  It returned back to Hattiesburg with an extra serving of humble pie after enduring a 38-16 wake-up call at the hands of the Broncos.  The non-conference portion of the schedule now done until the finale, the Golden Eagles can turn their attention to more attainable goals, such as winning the East Division of Conference USA.  They’ll begin that quest without starting QB Jeremy Young, who suffered a high ankle sprain in the loss, and could be out 2-5 weeks.  In his place steps Stephen Reaves, a senior with a fair amount of experience, but just a fraction of Young’s playmaking ability.  Rice exits its only bye week of the year emotionally and physically battered, especially on the defensive side of the ball.  Although three of the Owls’ four losses did come against Big 12 opponents, they weren’t competitive in any one game, and failed to deliver in the opener with Nicholls State.  Last year’s team rallied from an 0-4 start to land a bowl berth, but this year’s edition doesn’t appear to have the same magic.
Why Rice might win: A trip to Hattiesburg could remedy an Owl passing attack that has potential, but has sputtered through the first one-third of the year.  Southern Miss isn’t getting much of a push up front, which is causing problems for a questionable secondary.  In three games with FBS opponents, the Eagles have allowed six touchdown passes and 63% of passes to be completed.  Rice QB Chase Clement will exploit that weakness by hooking up with Jarett Dillard and Toren Dixon, a rising star in Conference USA.
Why Southern Miss might win: Particularly with a new quarterback behind center, the Eagles will revert to their old bread-and-butter, the running game.  Damion Fletcher and Tory Harrison will get no resistance from a Rice front that’s undersized and overmatched.  The Owls have allowed 159 points over the last three games, and are loaded with inexperienced underclassmen throughout the two-deep.  When Reaves does throw, it’ll be easy pickings against a defense that’s given up 16 touchdown passes and picked off one pass in four games.
Who to watch: Looking for more consistency and muscle along the offensive line, Jeff Bower is turning left tackle over to Calvin Wilson, a 6-6, 352-pound transfer from Mississippi State.  A local kid that was granted an NCAA exemption to play right away, he should dominate the Rice interior, while creating daylight for Fletcher to make long gains.  Only a sophomore, Wilson could become the cornerstone of the Eagle line for the next couple of years.
What will happen: Hungry for a win after getting embarrassed on national TV last week, Southern Miss will toy with the Rice defense, getting 150 yards on the ground from Fletcher and touchdown hook-ups from Reaves to Chris Johnson and Shawn Nelson.
CFN Prediction: Southern Miss 41 ... Rice 16... Line: Southern Miss -20
Must See Rating: (5 Paris on Letterman - 1 Singing Bee) ... 1.5

Conference USA Saturday, October 6th

UCF (3-1) at East Carolina (2-3)  7:30 PM CSTV
Why to watch: Three teams are in the hunt this year for the Conference USA East crown.  These are two of them.  While UCF has some margin for error, East Carolina does not thanks to a loss earlier in the year to Southern Miss, the third team in the mix.  The Pirates delivered a gut-check win last weekend, going on the road to outlast Houston, 37-35, with a little help from the offense and Cougar kicker T.J. Lawrence.  Battle-tested from a hellacious September schedule, they’ll be right where they need to be at the mid-point of the season with another upset win.  UCF has been the surprise of the conference through the first month, sporting the league’s best offense and going toe-to-toe with Texas three weeks ago in a defining performance.  The Knights’ fast start has been fueled by junior RB Kevin Smith, who leads the nation in rushing and has already scored 10 times.  A UCF win Saturday night could set up a winner-take-all scenario in the East when the Knights travel to Hattiesburg on Oct. 28.
Why UCF might win: Smith has been playing at a different level this season, carrying the Knight offense and wearing out opposing defenses for 178 yards rushing a game.  A physical back, he’ll continue to control the clock and move the chains against a banged up East Carolina front seven.  UCF sports not only the league’s top-ranked offense, but its highest-rated defense as well.  The Knights have been especially frugal in pass defense, which will present a big challenge to a 104th-ranked Pirate offense that’s still bouncing between Patrick Pinkney and Rob Kass at quarterback.
Why East Carolina might win: Numbers lie, especially in September.  Yeah, the Pirates are 72nd nationally in run defense, but that includes a beat-down at the hands of West Virginia, which runs circles on most of its opponents.  Sans that Mountaineer game, East Carolina has given up just 100 yards a game on the ground, a figure that would easily rank it atop Conference USA.  There are still enough healthy bodies in Greenville to contain Smith, forcing ineffective QB Kyle Israel to do more than just hand the ball off.  The Knights lack of balance or a scary passing game will allow the Pirates to overcommit to stopping the run without paying the consequences.
Who to watch: Israel holds the key to whether UCF is going to be a pretender or a bona fide threat to win a conference championship in 2007.  He has to start giving opposing defenses a reason not to stack the line order to gang up on Smith, the Knights’ catalyst on offense.  If the Knights continue to wallow at the bottom of the league in passing, George O’Leary won’t hesitate to give the ball to Michael Greco, a good all-around athlete with intriguing upside potential.
What will happen: No stranger to games decided by a touchdown or less, East Carolina will get caught in another tight one that isn’t decided until the final quarter.  UCF will get a late pick from its seasoned secondary to seal a second critical win of the year in the Tar Heel State.
CFN Prediction: UCF 28 … East Carolina 24 ... Line: UCF -3.5
Must See Rating: (5 Paris on Letterman - 1 Singing Bee) ... 2.5

C-USA Fearless Predictions, Week 6, Part 2


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