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2007 CFN Conference USA Team Capsules

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 26, 2007


2007 CFN Conference USA Predictions and Team-by-Team Thumbnail Views

2007 CFN C-USA Preview

Predictions & Quick Team Previews

Team Previews, Offenses, Defenses & Depth Charts
East
East Carolina | Marshall | UAB | UCF | Memphis | Southern Miss
West Houston | Rice | SMU | Tulane | Tulsa | UTEP

- 2007 CFN Conference USA Preview
- CFN All-Conference USA Team & Top 30 Players

-
Conference USA Unit Rankings

- Conference USA Schedules & Predictions


Conference USA Championship Prediction: Southern Miss over Tulsa

Conference USA East

1. Southern Miss
Predicted record: 9-3  Conf. record: 7-1
Best Offensive Player:
RB Damion Fletcher, Soph.
Best Defensive Player:
LB Gerald McRath, Soph.
Offense: While it’s become fashionable for programs across the country to switch to some fancy derivative of the spread offense, Southern Miss is content to pound the ball on the ground, control the clock and let its defense win games.  Sure, the Eagles prefer balance, but in Hattiesburg, the run continues to set up the pass.  Last year’s league-leading rusher, sophomore Damion Fletcher, is back for an encore, and this time, he brought friends.  Southern Miss is deep in the backfield, which will take pressure off versatile, yet erratic, senior quarterback Jeremy Young.  His favorite target will again be tight end Shawn Nelson, a future pro with All-America potential.  For a change, there are restless moments about an offensive line that’s replacing three starters, two of which were First Team All-Conference USA in 2006.
Defense: The “Nasty Bunch” defense that’s become the trademark of Southern Miss football under Jeff Bower should be one of the nation’s top ranked units in 2007.  It’s fast and experienced, and if Bower gets his way, about to become as physical as his vintage teams of the late 1990s.  The Eagles return nine starters, including the entire front seven and five players that earned all-Conference USA recognition in 2006.  Good luck moving the ball on this veteran group.  If there’s a weak link on defense it’s in the secondary, where two new starting corners will be broken in.  One way to help rookies Eddie Willingham and Michael McGee will be to get more pressure on the quarterback than last year, when USM was No. 81 in the country in sacks.

2. East Carolina
Predicted record: 6-6  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Offensive Player:
OT Josh Coffman, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
DE Marcus Hands, Jr.
Offense: Skip Holtz likes to spread the field out and turn his quarterback loose, but with the battery of James Pinkney and Aundrae Allison gone, the Pirates will put more emphasis on the ground game.  That means extra carries this year for versatile senior Chris Johnson and his young understudies, Dominique Lindsay and Norman Whitley.  While strong-armed sophomore Rob Kass will replace Pinkney behind center, an adequate replacement for Allison will be much tougher to find.  Look for the quarterback to utilize a group of tight ends that has the potential to be as good as any in Conference USA.  For ECU to improve on last season’s weak offensive output, the veteran line needs to give Kass an extra second or two in the pocket and create more daylight for the backs.        
Defense: If the Pirate defensive line doesn’t outright dominate at times this season, heads will roll at the end of the year.  There’s way too much talent and depth on this unit for it not to make a quantum leap from 2006.  Junior end Marcus Hands, in particular, has the size and quickness to be special after underachieving last fall.  Penetration up front figures to help a secondary that’s easily the weak link of this defense.  Three starters, including both corners, need to be replaced from a group that was one of the underrated team strengths for the past two seasons.

3. Marshall
Predicted record: 6-6  Conf. record: 5-3
Best Offensive Player:
C Doug Legursky, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
DE Albert McClellan, Jr.
Offense: Not since Byron Leftwich graduated has Marshall been Marshall on offense.  That should begin to change this fall provided erratic senior quarterback Bernard Morris can make the most of a receiving corps that’s brimming with young game-breakers.  All-conference back Ahmad Bradshaw, a 1,500-yard rusher in 2006, left early for the NFL, leaving Chubb Small to shoulder the load.  If he can’t handle the promotion, look for one of three blue-chip freshmen to rise up and accept an expanded role.  While the offensive line has pending issues at tackle, Doug Legursky is a beast at center that could parlay big efforts early versus Miami and West Virginia into post-season awards.
Defense: Disgusted with the play of last year’s defense, head coach Mark Snyder changed course, hiring veteran Steve Dunlap as the coordinator.  While last year’s team sat back, and often paid for the conservative approach, the 2007 edition will attack wherever and whenever it makes sense.  The chief attacker will be junior end Albert McClellan, a sack machine that’ll be in the mix for just about every individual award given to defensive players.  At linebacker, junior Josh Johnson is good enough to consider early entry into the 2008 NFL Draft once the season concludes.  Dunlap’s biggest concerns in his first season on the job surround a pedestrian group of tackles and a beatable secondary that allowed way too many long gainers last season.

4. UCF
Predicted record: 5-7  Conf. record: 4-4
Best Offensive Player:
RB Kevin Smith, Jr.
Best Defensive Player:
DE Leger Douzable, Sr.
Offense: Quarterback Steven Moffett and premier receiver Mike Walker have graduated, so logic dictates the Knights will lean on junior Kevin Smith for a while.  He’s as good as any back in the league when he’s healthy, and has the luxury of four starting linemen returning.  Don’t expect any drop-off from Moffett to senior Kyle Israel.  In fact, the veteran of 16 games and five starts was so sharp down the stretch in 2006, some around the program feel he could be even better running the pro-style offense if a couple of the young receivers emerge.
Defense: Nothing typified UCF’s collapse in 2006 more than the shoddy play of the defense, which finished 106th nationally and allowed almost 30 points a game.  The secondary was a particular mess, prompting George O’Leary to open up the competition at every spot, despite the return of four starters.  The coach had a chance to take the wrappers off some of his young kids late last year, which will benefit players, such as tackles Torrell Johnson and Travis Timmons and end Jared Kirksey, this season.  More than anything else, the Knights are looking to improve their team speed after looking a step slow throughout the 2006 season.  

5. Memphis
Predicted record: 6-6  Conf. record: 3-5
Best Offensive Player:
RB Joseph Doss, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
LB Greg Jackson, Jr.
Offense: The offense had its moments, but it was consistently mediocre and not nearly explosive enough. The ground game struggled behind a bad offensive line, and now the hope fill be for Joseph Doss to get more room behind a more experienced front five. The passing attack should shine, led by veteran quarterback Martin Hankins and the usual array of tall, athletic Tiger receivers. Duke Calhoun is a rising star touchdown maker, while Earnest Williams is a solid target to keep the chains moving.
Defense: A disaster last year, especially against the pass and at getting into the backfield, the defense is undergoing an almost complete overhaul with several newcomers taking over for established veterans. The 4-3 needs to start making more big plays behind the line, and the hope will be for a steady rotation of players to keep everyone fresh and be more productive. The key will be the play of corners LaKeitharun Ford and Michael Grandberry, who need to beef up a secondary that allowed 231 yards per game and finished 116th in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

6. UAB
Predicted record: 2-10  Conf. record: 1-7
Best Offensive Player:
RB Rashad Slaughter, Soph.
Best Defensive Player:
FS Will Dunbar, Sr.
Offense: From the staff and the system to the personnel, the offense will be getting a complete facelift in 2007.  Nothing will look the same which isn’t such a bad thing considering how poorly the unit executed last season.  New coordinator Kim Helton is installing a pro-style attack that sprinkles in some no-huddle and option calls, but realizes he’ll have to tailor the first-year playbook to the talent he inherits.  All eyes in August will be on the continuing quarterback battle between senior Sam Hunt and sophomore Joseph Webb, a potential savior once he gets up to speed.  Whether or not the offense climbs out of the Conference USA cellar will depend heavily on the maturation of a rebuilt line that’s replacing four senior starters. 
Defense: While the back seven of the defense figures to be a strength in 2007, you might not know it unless the defensive line can effectively replace three key starters from last year.  Senior end Brandon Jeffries will be productive, but after him, UAB is feverishly searching for answers to prevent opposing passers from having all day to throw.  Junior college transfer Antonio Forbes is being counted on to deliver right out of the gate at tackle.  The linebackers have a budding star in junior Joe Henderson and senior free safety Will Dunbar is one of just a handful of Blazer defenders with all-league potential.

Conference USA West

1. Tulsa
Predicted record: 9-3  Conf. record: 7-1
Best Offensive Player:
QB Paul Smith, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
LB Nelson Coleman, Sr.
Offense: Can Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense really work at this level … take two.  All the buzz about Malzahn’s fancy playbook fizzled in Fayetteville last year, but unlike at Arkansas, Tulsa coach Todd Graham is on board and prepared to see all of the offense’s bell and whistles.  The system aims to control the tempo, physically and mentally wear out opponents, and sort of run a two-minute offense for four quarters.  Senior quarterback Paul Smith is liable to go berserk running this offense, but a makeshift offensive line and a whole new set of receivers will be two major stumbling blocks.  When the Hurricane runs the ball, it’ll turn to senior Courtney Tennial and junior Tarrion Adams, arguably the best running duo in Conference USA.   
Defense: Head coach Todd Graham brings the 3-3-5 and a very aggressive style back to Tulsa, where he led the defense from 2003-2005.  The fact that he coached and recruited many of this year’s players should make for a smoother-than-expected transition.  Graham will showcase a swarming unit that brings turnovers back to Tulsa.  In his final season as the defensive coordinator, the Hurricane had 36 takeaways.  Without him last year? 14.  The strength is at linebacker, which features three senior starters and Nelson Coleman, one of the nation’s best middle linebackers you’ve never seen play.  With so much over pursuing going on in 2007, a retooled secondary could give up as many big plays this year as it has in the last two combined.

2. Houston
Predicted record: 7-5  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Offensive Player:
RB/KR Anthony Alridge, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
DE Phillip Hunt, Jr.
Offense: The graduation of four-year starting quarterback Kevin Kolb signals a new era in Houston, but it doesn’t mean the Cougars will be inept on offense in 2007.  There’s too much explosiveness and veteran leadership for that to happen.  Last year’s backup, sophomore Blake Joseph, is expected to get the nod at quarterback.  He’s got a huge arm and about as much fear as he does experience.  Surrounding Joseph will be a half-dozen players that earned all-league honors last year, headed by senior running back Anthony Alridge, one of the nation’s fastest players.
Defense: Defensive coordinator Alan Weddell’s goal is to bring pressure from every angle and invent ways to get as much speed as possible on the field.  With that in mind, he’ll be installing some elements of a 4-2-5 package in 2007 to periodically get an athletic rover into the mix.  The personnel is deep and reliable, especially with a front seven that includes dynamic junior end Phillip Hunt and a couple of all-league linebackers in junior Cody Lubojasky and senior Trent Allen.  If senior safety Rocky Schwartz is all the way back from knee surgery and the corners hold up, the pieces are in place for this to be Conference USA’s stingiest defense. 

3. SMU
Predicted record: 7-5  Conf. record: 5-3
Best Offensive Player:
QB Justin Willis, Soph.
Best Defensive Player:
LB Reggie Carrington, Sr.
Offense: In sophomore Justin Willis, SMU has a legitimate franchise quarterback with the physical tools to move an offense and the intangibles to lead a program to victories and eventually bowl games.  He’ll be growing alongside classmate Emmanuel Sanders, who ignited a mediocre receiving corps last year with 46 catches and nine touchdown receptions.  Junior back DeMyron Martin is eyeing the kind of rebound year that’ll refocus his career while giving more balance to the offense.  He’ll have the luxury of running behind a seasoned line that returns four starters.  If, as expected, the Mustangs are playing in shootouts this year, they’ve now got the offensive weapons to keep pace.
Defense: The Mustangs will spend the better part of the year trying to replace three starters from the 2006 defensive line, including standouts Justin Rogers and Adrian Haywood.  If they can solve that complex riddle, look out.  The back seven, led by Butkus Award candidate Reggie Carrington, is very fast and very capable of spurring an improvement from last year’s middling results.  The more likely scenario has the line struggling to create a consistent push and the secondary getting burned by opposing hurlers with way too much time to find their targets.

4. UTEP
Predicted record: 5-7  Conf. record: 3-5
Best Offensive Player:
RB Marcus Thomas, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
FS Quintin Demps, Sr.
Offense: The offense continued to be one-sided finishing fifth in the nation in passing and 116th in rushing, and now things will make a shift back the other way, although not necessarily for the positive. A battle for the quarterback job will continue until the fall, but the running game should be set with Marcus Thomas ready to break out as one of Conference USA's best backs. However, he needs room to move behind a line that has to be night-and-day better than last year when it struggled to pound away.
Defense:
The Miners melted down over the second half of last season and needs to be far more productive with nine starters returning. Don't expect miracles, but unlike previous years, the D should be better as the season goes on. The defense was miserable last season despite getting a consistent pass rush from the front seven. Now the whole line needs to find replacements while the linebacking corps has to hope for Jeremy Jones to be healthy after a knee injury. The secondary should be a strength after a rough year with safeties Quintin Demps and Braxton Amy potential all-stars, while Josh Ferguson is a solid corner.

5. Rice
Predicted record: 2-10  Conf. record: 1-7
Best Offensive Player:
WR Jarett Dillard, Jr.
Best Defensive Player:
LB Brian Raines, Jr.
Offense: Todd Graham and his staff are gone, but the spread attack is alive and well at Rice, good news for an offense that returns its starting quarterback and All-American wide receiver.  Although Chase Clement to Jarett Dillard will be a familiar phrase this fall, the Owls are also developing a bunch of good-looking, young pass-catchers that are ready to contribute.  The quest for offensive balance, however, won’t be so easy now that underappreciated running back Quinton Smith has exhausted his eligibility.  Last year was a painful transition for the offensive line, but with four starters back and a full year in the system, there are no excuses for not being much better in pass protection.   
Defense: In an attempt to bolster a run defense that allowed more than 300 yards to five straight opponents in 2006, Rice is shifting from the 3-3-5 to the 4-2-5.  The move puts another big body in the box, but also puts an enormous burden on a line that lost three of last year’s best linemen to graduation.  The new scheme encourages constant pressure from a back seven that boasts the young athletes, such as junior linebacker Brian Raines and sophomore safety Andrew Sendejo, to create havoc for opposing quarterbacks.  Lost in last year’s statistically awful season was the fact that the opportunistic Owls paced Conference USA in turnovers and sacks.

6. Tulane
Predicted record: 2-10  Conf. record: 0-8
Best Offensive Player:
RB Matt Forte, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
FS David Skehan, Jr.
Offense: New head coach Bob Toledo would like to get vertical get the passing game moving, but it's not going to happen at the expense of the ground attack. With a good back in Matt Forte to work with, the Green Wave will try to run the ball to create some semblance of balance, but the offensive line might not be in place to do it. Scott Elliott is the odds-on favorite to win the starting quarterback job in a four-man race, and he has some decent young receivers to work with.
Defense: Tulane hasn't played consistent defense in a few years, and it needs to count on experience, especially up front, to change things around. Eight starters return led by senior tackles Frank Morton and Avery Williams. The secondary needs to be far better after allowing over 250 passing yards a game, but that could be a bit of an issue with two new starting corners being broken in. The new coaching staff will use a variety of formations and schemes to try to get more production, and while the overall defense should be better, there will still be times when it'll get bombed on.

 


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