C-USA Fearless Predictions, Oct. 20, Part 2

Posted Oct 18, 2007

Previews and Predictions for the Week 8 Conference USA Games, Part 2

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. 6Oct. 13 | Oct. 27 | Nov. 3Nov. 10 | Nov. 17Nov. 24Dec. 1   

How are the picks so far? SU: 45-15 ... ATS: 29-23-1

C-USA Fearless Predictions, Week 8, Part 1

Conference USA Saturday, October 20th

NC State (1-5) at East Carolina (4-3)  4:30 EST, CSTV
Why to watch: Worse than just being 1-5, NC State hasn’t been competitive this season, and didn’t appear to be making strides heading into last week’s bye.  The Wolfpack has lacked basic fundamentals throughout 2007 or an offense capable of sustaining drives or succeeding in enemy territory.  As if things couldn’t get much worse, starting RB Andre Brown has joined Toney Baker on injured reserve, and starting QB Harrison Beck is trying to recover from a separated shoulder.  First-year head coach Tom O’Brien will spend the second half of the year learning more about his young kids, while getting a head start on 2008.  East Carolina could care less that NC State is down.  Having already beaten North Carolina this fall, it knows what it’ll mean around the state, particularly to recruits and fans, to handle the Wolfpack as well in the same season.  The Pirates have parlayed three consecutive wins over Houston, UCF, and UTEP into first place in Conference USA East, getting enough on offense to overcome a leaky defensive unit.
Why NC State might win: The East Carolina defense played real well in the opener at Virginia Tech…and then the bottom fell out.  The Pirates have been routinely shredded by good and bad offenses alike, slipping to 107th nationally in total defense, while yielding 35 or more points in each of the last four games.  Although the Pack has done little right on offense this fall, that could change on this week’s trip east to Greenville.  Promising sophomore Jamelle Eugene takes over at running back two weeks after rushing for more than 100 yards against Florida State.
Why East Carolina might win: A Pirates offense that got real hot in October isn’t going to be cooled by an NC State defense that’s next-to-last in the ACC in both points and yards allowed.  The Wolfpack has been particularly bad against the run, which will open things up for speedster Chris Johnson to make plays in the open field.  QB Rob Kass has ignited the ECU passing attack since returning to the huddle, giving the offense the balance it’s needed to score 134 points over the last three games.  Things probably wouldn’t be so bad for the Pack D if the team wasn’t last in the country in turnover margin, an impossible hurdle for any school to overcome.
Who to watch: In his final year of eligibility, Johnson is making quite a salary run in front of NFL scouts that love his 4.2 speed and multi-dimensional skill set.  The team leader in rushing, scoring, touchdown catches, and kickoff returns is a one-man gang that’ll attract the attention of the entire Wolfpack defense every time the ball is in his hands.
What will happen: East Carolina and its fans really want this game, giving them an emotional edge to go along with the physical advantage.  The Pirates will capitalize on NC State mistakes in a game that they’ll never trail.
CFN Prediction: East Carolina 33 … NC State 21  ... Line: East Carolina -5.5
Must See Rating: (5
Keeping Up with the Kardashians - 1 Ellen's dog plea) ... 2

Houston (3-3) at UAB (2-4)   7:00 EST
Why to watch: Houston, we’ve got lift-off.  The Cougars offense reached top gear a week ago against Rice, amassing 748 yards in a pivotal 56-48 comeback victory.  The win kept the team tied with Tulsa and UTEP for the Conference USA West lead, while showcasing an incendiary attack that has as much speed at the skill positions as the name brand programs.  Head coach Art Briles will continue juggling quarterbacks Case Keenum and Blake Joseph, going with the hot hand and using his two hurlers like relief pitchers.  While he won’t get the recognition outside the confines of the UAB campus, rookie head coach Neil Callaway has quietly done a nice job this season.  In an unavoidable rebuilding year, the Blazers have been competitive in each of the last five games, taking leads into the second half against Florida State and Mississippi State, and beating Tulane last week to move out of the East division cellar.  Although UAB won’t be bowling in 2007, it will be a nuisance for opponents during the second half of the year.
Why Houston might win: After taking a couple of weeks to find its rhythm, the Cougars offense has become downright combustible, averaging more than 500 yards and 35 points a game.  While Keenum and Joseph have complemented each other well, RB Anthony Alridge and WR Donnie Avery have just been too fast and too explosive for opposing defenses to contain.  Alridge has twice rushed for more than 200 yards a game, and is No. 7 nationally in all-purpose running.  Avery is coming off a sensational game, catching 13 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns, while smashing numerous school and conference records.  UAB’s 109th-ranked defense simply doesn’t have the depth or speed to slow down this scarlet and white locomotive.
Why UAB might win: There’s a reason why a Houston team with so much firepower nearly slipped to 2-4 last week—the defense is a liability.  The Cougars have been picked apart by everyone but Tulane this year, slipping to 95th nationally in scoring defense and allowing 13 touchdown passes in the first half of the season.  Blazer Sam Hunt is a veteran quarterback, who can exploit that unit with his quickness outside the pocket and by hooking up with WRs Joseph Webb and Frantrell Forrest.  If UAB can take advantage of Houston’s rampant carelessness with the ball on Saturday, it has the potential to deliver an upset.
Who to watch: Although Alridge is the headliner in Houston, Avery has played his way into the national spotlight the last few weeks, consistently breaking off big plays as a receiver and a kick returner.  UAB doesn’t have the defensive backs to contain the senior, which could mean added attention and more space for the Cougars’ other key receiver, 6-5 Jeron Harvey.
What will happen: UAB will follow a familiar script this weekend, keeping the game close in the first half before falling victim to all of Houston’s weapons in the final two quarters.
CFN Prediction: Houston 35 … UAB 23  ... Line: Houston -13.5
Must See Rating: (5
Keeping Up with the Kardashians - 1 Ellen's dog plea) ... 2

Conference USA Sunday, October 21th

Southern Miss (3-3) at Marshall (0-6)  8:00 EST  ESPN
Why to watch: After flopping a week earlier to Rice, Southern Miss regrouped with a tidy win over SMU to remain the slight favorite to win Conference USA East this year.  The Eagles have missed starting QB Jeremy Young, who’s out with a high ankle sprain, and have not played the kind of defense that’s become synonymous with the program.  Still, with a win over winless Marshall on Sunday night, they’ll creep back over .500 and deadlock East Carolina at the top of the division.  While the Herd has come close to breaking through on the road the last two games, that first win of 2007 has escaped the program.  Maybe getting back home and playing on a different day of the week will change Marshall’s fortunes, as the second half of the season kicks off.  Or maybe an empty house on national television will underscore how this once-dominant mid-major has suddenly become the new appendix of Conference USA.
Why Southern Miss might win: While the Eagles favor the running game, the Herd can’t stop it.  Voila, a mismatch is born.  Southern Miss will go right at the nation’s 112th-ranked run defense with Damion Fletcher, one of the league’s premier backs.  Marshall hasn’t been any better defending the pass, yielding 14 touchdowns to go with just one pick, so QB Stephen Reaves will have success going up top to locate WR Chris Johnson and TE Shawn Nelson.
Why Marshall might win: Don’t be fooled by Southern Miss’ standing atop the league rankings in defense.  This is not a vintage group, one that has given up nine touchdown passes over the last five games, and displayed vulnerabilities in run defense.  The Herd will move the chains on USM by shifting QB Bernard Morris around the pocket and by getting the ball in the hands of emerging freshman RB Darius Marshall.  Marshall’s top two receivers, WR Darius Passmore and TE Cody Slate, have combined for eight touchdown receptions and posed match up problems for opposing defenses all season.
Who to watch: Now in his second season in Hattiesburg, Gerald McRath is playing like he plans to be the next big thing in a Southern Miss linebacker.  The sophomore has sharp instincts and fundamentals, leading the league with 73 tackles and constantly disrupting opposing running games.
What will happen: Southern Miss will grind out a win on Sunday night by feeding the ball to Fletcher 30 times, wearing down the Marshall defense and keeping the offense off the field.
CFN Prediction: Southern Miss 31 … Marshall 21 ... Line: Southern Miss -4
Must See Rating: (5
Keeping Up with the Kardashians - 1 Ellen's dog plea) ... 1.5  

C-USA Fearless Predictions, Week 8, Part 1