2007 Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Posted Dec 31, 2007

2007 Southern Miss Golden Eagles Season, Game Recaps, Scores and Reviews

2007 Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Recap: The past year marked an end of an era in Hattiesburg, as head coach Jeff Bower was forced from the sidelines after 17 mostly successful seasons.  Southern Miss' recent inability to extend beyond mediocrity peaked in 2007, a disappointing 7-6 campaign that began with lofty goals and expectations for a Conference USA title.  The Golden Eagles were never able to deliver as the league favorite, playing poorly at home and lacking the punch on defense that used to be the bedrock of the program's identity.        

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Damion Fletcher

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Gerald McRath

Biggest Surprise: In a pivotal game for both schools, Southern Miss erupted for 42 second-half points to blow past UTEP at the Sun Bowl and remain alive for bowl eligibility.  Led by the running of Fletcher, it was a highly uncharacteristic performance by the Eagle offense, which registered its biggest outburst in almost six years.   

Biggest Disappointment: Southern Miss gave an early indication of what kind of a season it was going to be when it inexplicably lost at home to winless Rice, a three-touchdown underdog.  The Eagles rallied for 22 fourth-quarter points in front of a stunned crowd, but fell two points short in a sobering and ominous outcome.

Looking Ahead: The job of bringing Southern Miss into the 21st century belongs to Larry Fedora, an energetic offensive innovator that'll try to do in Hattiesburg what Brian Kelly is doing at Cincinnati.  Fedora's one-back, no-huddle offense will be slow out of the gate in 2008 unless a reliable passer can be developed in the offseason.

- 2007 USM Preview
2006 USM Season

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2007 Record: 7-6

Sept. 1 UT Martin W 35-13
Sept. 8 at Tennessee L 39-19
Sept. 15 at E Carolina W 28-21
Sept. 22 at Boise State L 38-16
Oct. 3
Rice L 31-29
Oct. 13 SMU W 28-7
Oct. 21 at Marshall W 33-24
Oct. 28 UCF L 34-17
Nov. 3 at UAB W 37-7
Nov. 10 Memphis L 29-25
Nov. 17 at UTEP W 56-30
Nov. 24 Arkansas St W 16-10
PapaJohns.com Bowl
Dec. 22 Cincinnati L 31-21

Dec. 22
2007 PapaJohns.com Bowl
Cincinnati 31 ... Southern Miss 21

Cincinnati QB Ben Mauk overcame a rough start to throw four touchdown passes including two to Dominick Goodman in the second quarter, and put the game away late in the third quarter with a ten-yard scoring pass to Antwuan Giddens. Bearcat corner DeAngelo Smith came up with three interceptions, including one to stop the final USM drive, but the Golden Eagles had their moments with Jeremy Young throwing two short touchdown passes and running for a one-yard score. The two teams combined for seven sacks, 17 penalties and seven turnovers.
Offensive Player of the Game: Cincinnati QB Ben Mauk completed 30 of 52 passes for 334 yards, and four touchdowns with three interceptions
Defensive Player of the Game: Cincinnati CB DeAngelo Smith made five tackles, broke up a pass and picked off three passes
Stat Leaders: Cincinnati - Passing: Ben Mauk, 30-52, 334 yds, 4 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Ben Mauk, 12-41. Receiving: Dominick Goodman, 7-95, 2 TD
Southern Miss - Passing: Jeremy Young, 18-32, 122 yds, 2 TD, 3 INT
Damion Fletcher, 29-155. Receiving: Damion Fletcher, 7-50
Thoughts and Notes ... Southern Miss played hard in head coach Jeff Bower's final game. The defense was flying around against the run, and QB Jeremy Young tried to do his best to keep the team in the game, but Cincinnati was simply the better team. QB Ben Mauk overcame his rough patches, settled down, and showed why he took the team from good to great this year. ... A ten-win season in Brian Kelly's first season has set the bar high. Now Cincinnati has to use a win like this, a relatively easy one over an overmatched team, to go into next year with even more of an attitude. This team should win games. This program should be able to beat average ones when it's not playing its sharpest or its best. ... Southern Miss RB Damion Fletcher will be overshadowed next year if UCF RB Kevin Smith returns as expected, but he's every bit as good. He got a bit banged up early against the Bearcats, but he was able to still carry the offense as both a runner and a receiver. He gained 155 rushing yards, and led the Eagles with seven catches for 50 yards, while UC only gained 71 net yards rushing.

Nov. 24
Southern Miss 16 ... Arkansas State 10
Southern Miss got three Justin Estes field goals in the second half and a one-yard Damion Fletcher scoring run in the second to get by Arkansas State and get a bid to the Papajohns.com Bowl. Arkansas State managed a 24-yard Josh Arauco field goal and a three-yard Brandon Thompkins scoring run in the third, but got a fourth quarter field goal blocked and stalled on a final drive deep in USM territory.
Player of the game: Southern Miss LB Gerald McRath made 17 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss
Stat Leaders: Arkansas State - Passing: Corey Leonard, 9-23, 118 yds, 1 INT
Rushing: Reggie Arnold, 13-87. Receiving: Brandon Thompkins, 3-37
Southern Miss - Passing: Jeremy Young, 13-24, 123 yds, 1 INT
Damion Fletcher, 27-133, 1 TD. Receiving: Torris McGee, 3-22

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... A week after the offense was so explosive and effective against UTEP two weeks ago, it didn't do nearly enough against Arkansas State and had to rely on the defense to pull out the win. Jeremy Young was decent throwing the ball and Damion Fletcher did a great job of pounding away, but to get to eight wins with a victory in the Papjohns.com Bowl, the offense will have to be more effective.

Nov. 17
Southern Miss 56 ... UTEP 30
Damion Fletcher ran for 211 yards and three touchdowns including scores from three and 13 yards out as part of a 42-point second half run. Tory Harrison ran for two short scores and Jeremy Young connected on two big pass plays hitting Gerald Baptiste for a 53-yard touchdown on the first play of the second half, and Torris Magee for a 55-yard score later in the third quarter. UTEP got two Marcus Thomas touchdown runs and a 77-yard Joe West catch in a 20-point second half. USM finishes with 363 rushing yards and 568 yards of total offense, and the two teams combined for 23 penalties for 204 yards.
Player of the game: Southern Miss RB Damion Fletcher ran 34 times for 211 yards and three touchdowns
Stat Leaders: Southern Miss - Passing: Jeremy Young, 10-22, 205 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Damion Fletcher, 34-211, 3 TD. Receiving: Gerald Baptiste, 4-74, 1 TD
UTEP - Passing: Trevor Vittatoe, 19-42, 290 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Marcus Thomas, 22-106, 2 TD. Receiving: Joe West, 7-153, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The Southern Miss offense obliterated UTEP in the second half with a brilliant performance from the offensive line paving the way for big gain after big gain. Jeremy Young wasn't accurate, but he connected on the two big pass plays to blow the game wide open. Cutting down on the penalties, with 12 for 114 yards, will be a must to close out. The run defense needs to stuff Arkansas State next week to close out with a streak of three wins in the final four games, but if the offense plays like it did this week, a win won't be a problem.

Nov. 10
Memphis 29 ... Southern Miss 26
Martin Hankins connected with Carlos Singleton on a 52-yard touchdown pass with 1:04 to play, after getting the Tigers close with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Earnest Williams with 4:21 to play, to pull off the shocker. Southern Miss got two Justin Estes field goals and an 82-yard Brandon Sumrall interception return for a touchdown in the second half, but couldn't hold on late with the Tigers holding on to the ball for 12:32 in the fourth. Hankins finished with four touchdown passes, but Memphis only ran for 26 yards.
Player of the game: Memphis QB Martin Hankins completed 35 of 48 passes for 396 yards and four touchdowns and two interceptions
Stat Leaders: Memphis - Passing: Martin Hankins, 35-48, 396 yds, 4 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Joseph Doss, 13-13. Receiving: Duke Calhoun, 8-124, 1 TD
Southern Miss - Passing: Jeremy Young, 11-17, 123 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Damion Fletcher, 21-97, 1 TD. Receiving: Torris Magee, 4-76, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Forget about any dreams of winning the Conference USA title, thanks to losses to UCF and Memphis in the last three weeks, USM needed to fight for a bowl game. It'll get eligible with UTEP and Arkansas State up next, but the defense has to be more consistent, and the offense has to find Damion Fletcher again. Fletcher has been fine, but he hasn't been the special back who dominated throughout the first part of the season. Jeremy Young was effective throwing the ball, but he didn't get any of the big plays needed to put the game away.

Nov. 5
Southern Miss 37 ... UAB 7
Jeremy Young returned from injury and threw two second quarter touchdown passes to Ed Morgan to go along with three Justin Estes field goals and four-yard scoring runs from Tory Harrison and Damion Fletcher on the way to a 37-0 lead midway through the third quarter. UAB finally got on the board with a 32-yard scoring run from Sylvester Mencer, but only ended up with 244 yards of total offense.
Player of the game: Southern Miss QB Jeremy Young completed seven of 16 passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns, and ran seven times for 58 yards.
Stat Leaders: Southern Miss - Passing: Jeremy Young, 7-16, 95 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: Antwain Easterling, 16-85. Receiving: Ed Morgan, 3-47, 2 TD
UAB - Passing: Sam Hunt, 11-26, 125 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Joseph Webb, 6-26. Receiving: Sylvester Mencer, 4-65, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... It's not like Jeremy Young had the passing game humming against UAB, but moving the ball with his legs as well as his arm, with two early touchdown passes, helped put the game away, and it showed how well he leads the offense. Now the hope has to be that he's back in time to lead the way to three more wins to have a shot of winning the East. Help is needed against UCF, but USM has the head-to-head tie breaker with East Carolina. There's no reason the Golden Eagles should lose to Memphis or UTEP if Young and RB Damion Fletcher are on.

Oct. 28
UCF 34 ... Southern Miss 17
Kevin Smith set the UCF rushing record, but he got his work in with 43 carries and two short touchdown runs. Southern Miss scored first on the first of two short Tory Harrison scoring runs, but four turnovers proved costly with UCF capitalizing on all of them. Michael Torres hit two field goals and Kyle Israel threw two eight-yard touchdown passes with the second helping the Golden Knights pull away in the second half. UCF held on to the ball for 36:33.
Player of the game: UCF RB Kevin Smith ran 43 times for 175 yards and two touchdowns
Stat Leaders: UCF - Passing: Kyle Israel, 12-16, 162 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: Kevin Smith, 43-175, 2 TD. Receiving: Rocky Ross, 4-40
Southern Miss - Passing: Stephen Reaves, 20-29, 144 yds, 3 INT
Damion Fletcher, 19-134. Receiving: Torris Magee, 6-40

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Southern Miss can't turn the ball over. The Rice game proved that, and now this week's loss to UCF shows just how fragile the team is when it makes mistakes. The defense is almost never able to pick up the slack when the offense makes mistakes, and while the offense is partially to blame for the loss, the defense was the bigger problem. UCF's Kevin Smith rumbled for yard after yard, and the USM D failed to come up with the necessary stop. Now there's no margin left for error in the Conference USA race needing to win out and get some help.

Oct. 21
Southern Miss 33 ... Marshall 24
Damion Fletcher ran for two first quarter touchdowns and Torris McGee caught an 85-yard touchdown pass as USM jumped out to a 21-0 lead. But Marshall fought back, despite turning it over four times, the Herd pulled within two in the fourth quarter on a 47-yard Darius Passmore catch. But the USM offense went back to work, going 91 yards in 13 plays with Fletcher scoring from two yards out to put it away.
Player of the game: Southern Miss RB Damion Fletcher ran 30 times for 152 yards and three touchdowns, and caught four passes for 34 yards
Stat Leaders: Marshall - Passing: Bernard Morris, 20-38, 309 yds, 2 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Darius Marshall, 14-62, 1 TD. Receiving: Darius Passmore, 5-105, 1 TD
Southern Miss - Passing: Stephen Reaves, 23-30, 310 yds, 1 TD
Damion Fletcher, 30-152, 3 TD. Receiving: Torris Magee, 7-156, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The coaching staff can't be happy with the way Marshall got back in the game and had its chances to pull off the stunner, but when the offense absolutely needed a key drive at the end, it got it. Damion Fletcher might be the best back no one's heard of, and he deserves to be the front-runner for Conference USA Player of the Year. If he outduels UCF's Kevin Smith next week, he might be.

Oct. 13
Southern Miss 28 ... SMU 7
Southern Miss blew up in the second quarter with 21 points on a 28-yard Shawn Nelson catch, a 19-yard Chris Johnson run, and a three-yard Damion Fletcher score win with ease. Stephen Reaves added a seven-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter. SMU didn't get on the board until late with a 16-yard DeMyron Martin catch. 
Player of the game: Southern Miss RB Damion Fletcher ran 19 times for 108 yards and a touchdown
Stat Leaders: SMU - Passing: Justin Willis, 19-31, 191 yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Justin Willis, 20-85. Receiving: Emmanuel Sanders, 4-47
Southern Miss - Passing: Stephen Reaves, 18-26, 206 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Damion Fletcher, 19-108, 1 TD. Receiving: Shawn Nelson, 5-81, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Southern Miss overcame the ugly loss to Rice with a fantastic defensive performance against SMU, keeping the offense off the board until the outcome had already been decided. Stephen Reaves was efficient and effective, doing what he had to do to take some of the focus off the running game. While the UCF game should be tough, and going to UTEP won't be a walk in the park, there's no reason the Golden Eagles shouldn't win the rest of its games.

Oct. 3
Rice 31 ... Southern Miss 29
Rice forced seven Southern Miss turnovers was up 31-7 in the fourth quarter, but needed to bat down a late two-point conversion attempt to preserve the win. Jarrett Dillard caught two seven yard touchdown passes, and Justin Hill ran for a 54-yard score on the way to the big lead, but the Owls were held to just 236 yards of total offense and couldn't stop USM late. The Golden Eagles scored 22 points in the fourth quarter, getting two, two point conversions after short touchdown runs, but they couldn't convert on a third after an eight-yard Shawn Nelson scoring grab. They got the ball one more time with 1:21 to play, but lost a fumble.
Player of the game: Rice S Andrew Sandejo made 5.5 tackles, forced a fumble, broke up a pass, and picked off two others.
Stat Leaders: Rice - Passing: Chase Clement, 9-20, 67 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: Justin Hill 12-100, 1 TD.  Receiving: James Casey, 2-16
Southern Miss - Passing: Stephen Reaves, 24-33, 231 yds, 1 TD, 4 INT
Damion Fletcher, 23-142, 2 TD. Receiving: Chris Johnson, 7-51

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Could the loss of Jeremy Young to a sprained ankle really mean that much? It's not fair to pin the Rice disaster on Stephen Reaves, but he couldn't stop turning the ball over, and the Owls took advantage of almost all of them. Needless to say, this is the ultimate disaster for USM. In a tight race, it couldn't afford to come out sloppy, and while it showed it was obviously the more talented team, it didn't matter. The hole was dug too deep. Now come two other league lightweights, SMU and Marshall. Focus shouldn't be a problem.

Sept. 27
Boise State 38 ... Southern Miss 16
It was the Ian Johnson show, as the Bronco running back ripped off touchdown runs from 12, 22 and two yards out, and Southern Miss didn't have an answer. Down 28-3 late in the first half, the Eagles appeared to take the momentum with a one-yard Damion Fletcher touchdown run in the final minute, and then marched on a 75-yard drive to open the second half, with a 23-yard touchdown catch from Shawn Nelson. But the extra point hit the upright, and nothing else went right from there. The Broncos started off the scoring with two Taylor Tharp touchdown passes in the first quarter.
Player of the game: Boise State RB Ian Johnson ran 22 times for 111 yards and three touchdowns and caught three passes for 80 yards
Stat Leaders: Boise State - Passing: Taylor Tharp, 19-27, 307 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Ian Johnson, 22-111, 3 TD. Receiving: Ian Johnson, 3-80
Southern Miss - Passing: Jeremy Young 13-23, 190 yds, 1 TD
Damion Fletcher, 21-83, 1 TD. Receiving: Chris Johnson, 5-71

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The Southern Miss defense was hardly the Southern Miss defense against Boise State. The defensive line got pushed around, the tackling was poor, and just when it seemed like there was a chance to turn things around for good early in the second half, it got marched on. The offense was decent, but it had to press after it became obvious the defense wasn't going to be able to get the job done. Now comes the easy part against Rice, SMU and Marshall. This has to be when the Eagles go on a big run.

Sept. 15
Southern Miss 28 ... East Carolina 21
Jeremy Young ran for two touchdowns from one yard out in the fourth quarter, with the second one coming with 32 seconds to play, to give Southern Miss the tough road win. The Golden Eagles jumped out to a 14-0 halftime lead on a 28-yard touchdown catch from Shaun Nelson and a two-yard Damion Fletcher run, but East Carolina adjusted and controlled the third quarter with 21 points. Pat Pinkney threw two touchdown passes and Dominique Lindsay ran for a one-yard score, but the Southern Miss defense stiffened in the fourth quarter.
Player of the game: Southern Miss QB Jeremy Young completed 18 of 28 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown with an interception, and ran 11 times for 20 yards and two scores.
Stat Leaders: East Carolina - Passing: Patrick Pinkney, 20-33, 203 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Chris Johnson, 13-45. Receiving: Dwayne Harris, 4-55, 1 TD
Southern Miss - Passing: Jeremy Young, 18-28, 237 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Damion Fletcher, 27-111, 1 TD. Receiving: Chris Johnson 6-61

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... While the Golden Eagles are still all about the defense and the running game, QB Jeremy Young continues to improve and is starting to do more and more to become a playmaker, and not just a caretaker. Against East Carolina, he did a nice job of coming up with just enough good throws to provide balance, and that'll continue to be the key. As long as defenses can't focus on Damion Fletcher, the offense will move. Defensively, Gerald McRath came up with a huge game against the Pirates and continues to be a tone-setting playmaker.

Sept. 8
Tennessee 39 ... Southern Miss 19
Southern Miss got up 16-10 late in the first half on three field goals and a 69-yard Chris Johnson touchdown catch, but Tennessee got a touchdown in the final minute on a five-yard catch from Josh Briscoe, and then the rout was on. The Volunteers went on a 29-3 run with Arian Foster running for two touchdowns and Daniel Lincoln connecting on field goals from 36 and 47 yards out. The Golden Eagles were held to 90 rushing yards and turned it over three times.
Player of the game: Tennessee RB Arian Foster ran 23 times for 125 yards and two scores
Stat Leaders: Southern Miss
- Passing: Jeremy Young, 19-36, 254 yds, 1 TD, 1 TD
Rushing: Jeremy Young, 9-48. Receiving: Chris Johnson, 8-127, 1 TD
- Passing: Erik Ainge, 23-36, 276 yds, 2 TDs
Rushing: Arian Foster, 23-125, 2 TDs. Receiving: Austin Rogers, 7-112, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Southern Miss can't beat good teams like Tennessee without Damion Fletcher running well. Jeremy Young did a decent job throwing the ball, but after getting the lead, the ground game couldn't get the offense moving, and it couldn't stop the bleeding once the Vols started to roll. There wasn't enough defensive pressure on Erik Ainge, and he was able to pick apart the secondary in the second half. Against a good East Carolina defensive line next week, the Golden Eagles have to get Fletcher going early and have to keep feeding him.

Sept. 1
Southern Miss 35 ... UT Martin 13
UT Martin held a 6-0 lead off two Tom Hansen field goals into the second quarter, and then Southern Miss went on a 35-point run with Chris Johnson scoring from 14 and three yards out and Jeremy Young, Damion Fletcher, and Marcus Raines each scoring from close range. Marcus Dawson got into the end zone for UTM from three yards out with 5:21 to play.
Player of the game: Southern Miss RB Damion Fletcher ran 19 times for 156 yards and a touchdowns
Stat Leaders: UT Martin - Passing: Dexter Anoka, 12-23, 129 yds
Rushing: Jessie Burton, 1-31. Receiving: Josh Chapman, 3-28
Southern Miss - Passing: Jeremy Young, 11-26, 115 yds, 1 TD
Damion Fletcher, 19-156, 1 TD. Receiving: Torris Magee, 5-56
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Southern Miss beat UT Martin by converting third downs. USM was 11 of 19, UTM was three of 13. The defense allowed yards, but it basically stiffened when it had to. While Damion Fletcher ran well and Jeremy Young kept the chains moving, the passing game wasn't nearly crisp enough. If it's going to struggle with UT Martin, it's going to have a nightmare of a time with Tennessee.

Sept. 1 – Tennessee Martin

Sept. 8 – at Tennessee
Offense: The return of David Cutcliffe as offensive coordinator made a night-and-day difference in the passing game. Now he needs to get the running game to do more, and there needs to be even more from QB Erik Ainge after a nice bounceback year. The receiving corps loses the top three targets and the line loses the two best players, so it'll be up to the trio of Arian Foster, LaMarcus Coker and Montario Hardesty to carry the running game and the offense. Ainge has to make everyone around him better until new producers at receiver emerge.
Defense: Is there a defense in America that's produced less with so much promise and potential? The Vols have a who's who of top high school prospects that haven't quite panned out, and now that has to change to have any hope of winning the SEC East. Jerod Mayo will move from the outside to the middle and Jonathan Hefney returns at free safety to give the Vols two All-America caliber defenders to build around. Now there needs to be more of a pass rush after coming up with an inexcusable 17 sacks, and the new starting tackles have to quickly emerge. The secondary has to replace three starters, but should be fine in time, while the linebacking corps, if healthy, will be among the SEC's best.

Sept. 15 – at East Carolina
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.

Sept. 22 – at Boise State
Offense: As the Fiesta Bowl showed, there isn't a more creative offensive coaching staff in the country, but the attack, led by a Heisman caliber back in Ian Johnson working behind a tremendous line, could look positively vanilla (by Boise State standards) early on. Ryan Clady leads a dominant front five with four starters returning, and they'll need to be even stronger in pass protection with the quarterback situation unsettled. Taylor Tharp is a good, accurate passer, while Bush Hamdan is a big-armed runner who'll throw it all over the place. The receiving corps has potential, but the top four pass catchers have to be replaced. Even so, look for several different formations and several different looks from game to game.
Defense: As expected, the defense was the best in the WAC last year and should be fantastic again with seven starters returning. Stopping the run will be goal one, and it can be with a fantastic returning pass defense. The secondary will be great with safety Marty Tadman and the corner tandem of Orlando Scandrick and Kyle Wilson returning, while the linebacking corps, even with the loss of Korey Hall, will be a strength with Derrell Acrey expected to step up and star, with veterans Kyle Gingg and David Shields keeping the run defense strong. Mike Williams and Nick Schlekeway form a good end tandem, but the tackles will be the team's biggest question mark outside of the quarterback situation.

Oct. 3 - Rice
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.

Oct. 13 - SMU
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.

Oct. 21 – at Marshall
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.

Oct. 28 - UCF
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.

Nov. 3 – at UAB
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.

Nov. 10 - Memphis
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.

Nov. 17 – at UTEP
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 on 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.
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.

Nov. 24 – Arkansas State
Offense: Run, run and run some more. At least that's what ASU has done over the last several years, and it has the talent in the backfield to do it again with speedy quarterback Corey Leonard leading a loaded group of runners with several great backs to hand off to. Reggie Arnold is the best of the bunch, but he's one of just four good options to carry the load. Two problems with what ASU likes to do. 1. The line needs major revamping losing three key players and 2) the receiving corps might be the team's second biggest strength behind the running backs. The underutilized corps has speed to burn, but Leonard couldn't get them the ball on a consistent basis last season. That has to quickly change.
Defense: It's all up to the defensive line. The linebacking corps, despite some huge losses, will be surprisingly solid with Koby McKinnon returning with plenty of help around him. The safeties are tremendous with Tyrell Johnson and Khayyam Burns each on the fast track to All-Sun Belt honors. The corners are deep and potentially a major strength of the defense. And then there's the line, which has to figure out how to get to the quarterback at some point. The return of Brian Flagg and Brandon Rollins from injuries will be a huge boost. The 4-3 alignment works, and it should produce the league's best statistical pass defense.

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