C-USA Fearless Predictions, Sept. 1, Part 2

Posted Aug 27, 2007

Previews and Predictions for the Week 1 Conference USA Games, Part 2

Conference USA

East  UAB | UCF | East Carolina | Marshall | Memphis | Southern Miss
West  Houston | Rice | SMU | Tulane | Tulsa | UTEP

Conference USA Week One Fearless Predictions

Conference USA Saturday, September 1

Ole Miss at Memphis  3:30 PM
Why to Watch: While you wouldn't ever think of Ole Miss vs. Memphis as being a scintillating showdown, these two have arguably come up with the most competitive series of early games in college football over the last few years. Ole Miss has won the last two by a total of seven points, while Memphis came up with good wins in the previous two games. With Missouri, at Vanderbilt, Florida and at Georgia to follow, the Rebels can't afford to slip, while Memphis, coming off an awful 2-10 season, can get off to a huge start with a relatively easy next seven games.
Why Ole Miss Might Win: The Rebel defensive line could dominate. While the production wasn't there last year, the talent has slowly gotten into place with several very good recruiting classes bringing size on the inside and talent on the outside. The Memphis offensive line should be an issue for the first few games, so if the Rebels have a strong defensive gameplan, this could be a low scoring game like it'll need it to be.
Why Memphis Might Win: Will the Rebels have a passing game? The Tigers' biggest weakness in last year's disaster was the porous pass defense, but the nation's 116th rated pass efficiency defense likely won't be tested by an Ole Miss air attack that doesn't have any real weapons and is still trying to establish the starting quarterback. The defensive front seven should be able to load up everyone and their sister against the run to stop BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Who to Watch: And the starting Ole Miss quarterback will be ... ? Brent Schaeffer, Seth Adams and Michael Herrick are all in the hunt to get the nod, with Adams likely to be the number one. Herrick, a redshirt freshman, was in the race for the number two job until a late summer practice, when the coaching staff made him the number three. Schaeffer, the starter throughout last year, has had major problems with his accuracy, but he improved this off-season, especially late, and is back in the running.
What Will Happen: Don't expect much in the way of offensive fireworks. Like it's been for the last few years, it'll be a close game with the team that comes up with the big break getting the victory. The Rebel lines will end up being the difference, but Memphis will have its chances to pull off the win.
CFN Prediction: Ole Miss 19 ... Memphis 14
... Line: Ole Miss -2.5
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 2.5
Final Score: 

UCF at North Carolina State 6:00 PM
Why to Watch:  These two teams are quickly looking to bounce back after subpar 2006 seasons. Every team is looking to make a statement in week one, but this game might speak more to how the respective seasons will go considering how close each program appears to be to coming up with a big year.  The Wolfpack leaves the Chuck Amato era behind as taskmaster Tom O’Brien takes over a program in bad need of discipline, organization and consistent wins. A loss to a Conference USA team would potentially be devastating with the road trip to Boston College coming up next week.  UCF’s George O’Leary has plenty of talent at his doorstep to make the Wolfpack nervous, and a win here could jump-start the program. It might sound cliché, but the confidence from a great performance really could show the Golden Knights could be a player in the C-USA race. 
Why UCF Might Win:  State will face its share of big time running backs this year, but it gets a huge test in the opener against Kevin Smith.  The Knights will be physical at the point of attack and give the Wolfpack defensive front, minus former star DeMarcus “Tank” Tyler, a headache.  If UCF dominates the ball for 35 minutes, and gets consistent play on third downs from the passing game, State could be in serious trouble. The offense isn’t explosive enough to take away the momentum if it’s lost, but …
Why North Carolina State Might Win:  … State’s running game may be the best unit that UCF faces this year and should control the game.  Toney Baker and Andre Brown form a punishing 1-2 combination and will pound out drives against the mediocre UCF defensive front seven.  As long as they don’t turn the ball over, State should pile up 200+ yards rushing and keep Smith out of the game.
Who to Watch: UCF receiver Rocky Ross returns after a solid sophomore season and is quarterback Kyle Israel’s go-to guy.  If Smith picks up chunks of yards in the running game, then Ross is going to get single coverage downfield.  Advantage Ross. More than anything else, he has to make plays on third downs. UCF has to control the clock from the start, and there will be plenty of third and fives.
What Will Happen: The State defense will keep eight in the box to halt Smith and hope that Ross doesn’t do any damage deep downfield.  If the Wolfpack defense keeps the UCF passing game in check, Baker and Brown will run for 275+ and give O’Brien a win in his first game. At BC, O’Brien would never lose a game like this.
CFN Prediction: NC State 24 … UCF 16  Line: NC State -10
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 2.5
Final Score: 

Tennessee-Martin at Southern Miss  7:00 PM
Why to watch: This season’s class of Conference USA begins the new year with a tougher-than-expected tune-up against Tennessee-Martin, the reigning Ohio Valley champs and a pre-season Top 25 squad out of the FCS.  Southern Miss bring its most complete team in years, bolstered by a deep backfield headed by returning Freshman All-American Damion Fletcher, and a speedy defense that’s nasty in the front seven.  If the Golden Eagles are going to be the first pre-season favorite in three years to win the league, they’ve got to get more consistent output from QB Jeremy Young.  Still basking in the glow of last year’s improbable nine-win season, Tennessee-Martin has its sights set on even bigger things in 2007.  While the retooled defense gels, the Skyhawks will be led by the offense, namely All-America candidate Don Chapman.  One of the nation’s top backs, the 5-11, 220-pounder has three straight 1,000-yard seasons and aspirations of playing beyond college.
Why Tennessee-Martin might win: If Southern Miss can’t adequately replace standout offensive linemen George Batiste, Travis Cooley, and Robby D’Angelo, its offense is going to be eminently average regardless of the opposition.  The Eagles need to get a push up front for the running game to percolate, but the line could take weeks to mesh.  In the meantime, the Skyhawks have enough offensive firepower to compete in a low-scoring game.
Why Southern Miss might win: LB Gerald McRath, DT Martavius Prince, and the rest of the Southern Miss defense are capable of shutting out Chapman, and turning the Skyhawks into a one-dimensional offense.  With the game in the hands of an inexperienced and untested quarterback, the Golden Eagles can pin their ears back, and wreak havoc in the UT-Martin backfield.  If the Skyhawks, on the other hand, can’t get penetration on defense, Southern Miss might run for more than 300 yards.
Who to watch: Now that his nagging toe injury has subsided, it’s time for Young to start playing like the physical and emotional leader of the Southern Miss offense.  At 6-3 and 218 pounds, he has the wheels and arm strength to be a genuine playmaker, while making the Eagles exponentially harder to defense.
What will happen: Power running and stingy defense, Southern Miss’ blueprint for success of late, will carry the team to a comfortable win over an inferior opponent.  A sturdier Fletcher will go for 100 yards.  A frustrated Chapman, however, won’t come close to the century mark.

CFN Prediction
: Southern Miss 37 ... UT Martin 9  Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 1
Final Score:

Nicholls State at Rice 8:00 PM
Why to watch
: Rice has heard all of the off-season chatter about the program being a one-hit wonder that’ll come back to Earth now that Todd Graham is coaching Tulsa.  For as long as the Owls can milk it in 2007, they’ll use the doubters as a rallying cry and bulletin board material.  The defense will still be awful and RB Quinton Smith is going to be sorely missed, but as long as the Chase Clement-to-Jarett Dillard hook-up is functional, Rice will be dangerous.  When healthy, Clement played out of his mind for a seven-game stretch last year, accounting for 23 touchdowns to just four picks.  A Biletnikoff finalist in 2006, Dillard begins the season with a streak of 15 consecutive games with a touchdown catch, just three shy of Larry Fitzgerald’s NCAA record.  Nicholls State is a second-tier FCS program out of the Southland Conference that went 4-7 a year ago.  Ironically, the Colonels run the same smash-mouth, triple-option offense that had become synonymous with Rice football for decades before Graham scrapped it in 2006.
Why Nicholls State might win: The way to beat the Rice defense is to run right at it, which the Colonels will do at least 50 times if time permits.  Last year’s nationally-ranked running game returns its top six rushers and a more seasoned trio of quarterbacks, which will test the soft Owl defense and keep the high-powered Owl offense on the sidelines for extended periods of time.
Why Rice might win: With Clement back in the fold, the Owl passing will be in mid-season form Saturday night.  There’s not a player on the Nicholls State roster that can stay with Dillard, and double teams will only highlight sophomore Toren Dixon and Rice’s new-found depth at wide receiver.  Although it’s still raw, the Robby Heos-led offensive line returns four starters, and for a change, will face an opponent it can move off the ball.
Who to watch: The skill position players get all the pub, but Rice does have a couple of quality defenders, particularly LB Brian Raines.  The junior plays much bigger than his modest size, and will be good for at least a dozen tackles and a forced fumble against an offense content to keep the ball on the ground.
What will happen: Nicholls State is going to get its yards on the ground, but when Rice needs to score, it will without much resistance.  Dillard will pick up where he left off last December, posting gaudy numbers and inching one step closer to Fitzgerald’s mark.

CFN Prediction
: Rice 34 ... Nicholls State 17  Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 1
Final Score:

New Mexico at UTEP  10:00 PM
Why to Watch: New Mexico has a lot of respect to regain.  A victory against UTEP won’t exactly do it, but it’ll be a lot better than the start of last season when the Lobos lost to Portland State, and finished up with a loss San Jose State in the New Mexico Bowl, they need to come out with a big win in the border battle before dealing with in-state rival New Mexico State next week. UTEP also knows a little bit about disappointment, becoming a perennial dud under Mike Price despite lofty expectations. This year’s Miner team is flying under the radar, and that’s a good thing. A win would do wonders before facing road games at Texas Tech and New Mexico State over the following two weeks.
Why New Mexico Might Win: The Lobos should be able to pound the ball with a big line and a good stable of backs, led by Rodney Ferguson. UTEP’s biggest weakness, at least to start the season, will be the defensive line that’ll welcome in a slew of new starters to blend in with a still-developing linebacking corps. UTEP will eventually be solid on both sides of the ball, but the team needs seasoning. A lot of seasoning. The Lobos should be able to pound their way to the win.
Why UTEP Might Win:  Will New Mexico play up to its potential? There are loads of athletes on the defensive side of the ball, and the offense has the players in place to eventually pound the ball at will with the running game and be efficient through the air, but it never really came together last season, and it’s unlikely everything will be jelled in the season opener. If the Lobos get up early, UTEP still isn’t out of it thanks to a big passing game. But if New Mexico gets behind, even with a great receiving corps, it might not have the polished air attack to mount a comeback.
Who to Watch: After a long off-season of trying to find the replacement for Jordan Palmer, UTEP’s quarterback will be … by committee. Lorne Sam, the former Florida State Seminole, is a big, athletic talent who’ll see time at receiver here and there when he’s not under center. He’ll split time with redshirt freshman Trevor Vittatoe, who has all the tools and could be the electrifying playmaker the program can build around for the next four years.
What Will Happen: UTEP will eventually be excellent, but it’s going to take half the season before the team starts to shine. New Mexico will pound its way to the win, while getting a few big plays from the passing game along the way.
CFN Prediction: New Mexico 24… UTEP 20
... Line: New Mexico -3
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 2.5

Big 12 Monday, September 3

Texas Tech at SMU  4:00 PM ESPN
Why to watch
: The game of the week in Conference USA has the potential to be an old-fashioned shootout with major ramifications for the Mustangs.  Long-suffering SMU has been building to this point, where a post-season game is a realistic goal for the first time in almost a quarter century, and beating a team like Texas Tech is more than just a hopeful possibility.  The Mustangs finally have a franchise quarterback to rally around in sophomore Justin Willis and 16 returning starters that are itching to make history.  An upset of Texas Tech would be a post-death penalty milestone, while providing a springboard for the rest of the season.  The sky isn’t falling in Lubbock, but for the first time in the Mike Leach era, the Red Raiders will be doing some rebuilding.  Oh, Tech will be Tech in the passing game, especially with QB Graham Harrell back, but with so many holes to plug on both sides of the ball, a winning season is not the lock it’s been the last few years.
Why Texas Tech might win: This is Texas Tech, so prolific passing numbers are the norm regardless of the personnel.  The Red Raiders are going to be especially prolific through the air against a Mustang defense that has three gaping holes on the defensive line and loads of youth in the secondary.  Without any pressure, Harrell will pick apart the SMU D for 400 yards, turning receivers Danny Amendola and Michael Crabtree into two of the opening weekend’s statistical stars.
Why SMU might win: Heading into the season, the biggest concern for Texas Tech is a front seven that was gutted by graduations and is dangerously short on depth and experience.  Led by Ben Poynter and Caleb Peveto, SMU has a veteran line that’ll give Willis time to do damage on underneath routes and open holes for bruising RB DeMyron Martin.  The Red Raiders are going to score, but the Mustangs know they can keep pace on offense as long as all the parts are working. Defensively, they have to hope Harrell has one of his bounce-pass games, like he had at times last year when the offense simply didn’t work.  With a slew of new receivers, it’s possible.
Who to watch: Willis was outstanding as a freshman despite getting no help from the running game.  If Martin can revert back to his 2005 form when he rushed for 854 yards, the Mustang offense will be downright lethal.  At 6-2 and 230 pounds, he’s healthy, focused, and determined to punish that suspect interior of the Red Raider defense. For Tech, top back Shannon Woods finally appears to be out of the doghouse having worked his way back into the good graces of the coaching staff. While he’s not back as the full-time starter quite yet, he’s no longer fourth string like he was coming out of spring ball. Sophomore Kobey Lewis will get plenty of work.
What will happen: If you’re SMU, now is the time to catch a Texas Tech program that’s clearly in transition with new starters everywhere.  In November, the outcome would be different, but in the opener, the Mustangs will get some late-game heroics from Willis and a defining upset win to start the 2007 season.
CFN Prediction: SMU 37 … Texas Tech 35 ... Line: Texas Tech -9.5
Must See Rating: (5 Hef wants you to take his place on The Girls Next Door, but you can’t because you have to watch this game - 1 Cavemen) ... 3
Final Score: 

Conference USA Week One Fearless Predictions


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