2007 UCF Knights

Posted Dec 31, 2007

2007 Central Florida Golden Knights Season, Game Recaps, Scores and Reviews

2007 UCF Knights

Recap: After going 4-8 a year ago, the Knights enjoyed resurgence in 2007, winning 10 games and a league championship for the first time in program history.  UCF hit a fork in the road in October with back-to-back blowout losses to East Carolina and South Florida, but recovered to win seven straight games before bowing to Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl.  RB Kevin Smith led the country in rushing, nearly eclipsing Barry Sanders' single-season record, while approaching Daunte Culpepper as the most famous player to ever wear the black and gold in Orlando.     

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Kevin Smith

Defensive Player of the Year: S Sha'reff Rashad

Biggest Surprise: The defense.  In those two mid-season losses, UCF allowed 116 points and was passed on with ease.  From that point forward, however, the defense did an about-face, pressuring the quarterback and picking off 21 passes in the final eight games.  Without any warning, the Knight defense became a key component in the program's run toward the Conference USA championship.     

Biggest Disappointment: The Knights played too well against Texas in Week 2 to be content with a moral victory.  With the crowd rocking in new Bright House Networks Stadium, UCF fell three points shy of authoring the type of upset that can define a young program.       

Looking Ahead: Smith's reversal of an earlier decision to return for his senior year leaves UCF with a gaping hole on offense.  Until a few new playmakers can be mined, the Knights might rely on a fast defense that'll welcome back a handful of familiar faces.

- 2007 UCF Preview
- 2006 UCF Season

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2007 Results: 10-

Sept. 1 at NC State W 25-23
Sept. 15 Texas L 35-32
Sept. 22
Memphis W 56-20
Sept. 29 UL Lafayette W 37-19
Oct. 6 at E Carolina L 52-38
Oct. 13 at So. Florida L 64-12
Oct. 20
Tulsa W 44-23
Oct. 28 at So Miss W 34-17
Nov. 3 Marshall W 47-13
Nov. 10
at UAB W 45-31
Nov. 17 at SMU W 49-20
Nov. 24
UTEP W 36-20
Conference USA Championship
Dec. 1 Tulsa W 44-25
Liberty Bowl
Dec. 29 Miss State L 10-3

Dec. 29
2007 Liberty Bowl
Mississippi State 10 ... UCF 3

Mississippi State came up with its fourth turnover of the day on a Keith Fitzhugh interception in the fourth quarter, and then the offense went on its best drive of the game going 59 yards in ten plays culminating in a one-yard Anthony Dixon touchdown run. The only other scoring came in the second quarter on a 45-yard Michael Torres field goal giving UCF a 3-0 lead, but MSU answered with a 22-yard Adam Carlson field goal off a Knight turnover. UCF RB Kevin Smith didn't break Barry Sanders' single-season rushing record coming up 62 yards short, but he ran for 119 yards. The rest of the Knight attack gained a mere 88 finishing with only 219 yards, but MSU didn't do much better gaining 199. 
Offensive Player of the Game: UCF RB Kevin Smith ran 35 times for 119 yards, and led the Knights with three catches for 12 yards
Defensive Player of the Game:
Mississippi State CB Derek Pegues made four tackles, a tackle for loss and picked off two passes
Stat Leaders: Mississippi State - Passing: Wesley Carroll, 8-18, 39 yds, 1 INT
Rushing: Anthony Dixon, 24-86, 1 TD. Receiving: Christian Ducre, 3-10
UCF - Passing: Kyle Israel, 10-24, 88 yds, 3 INT
Kevin Smith, 35-119. Receiving: Kevin Smith, 3-12
Thoughts & Notes ... Yes, the defenses played great, but the 2007 Liberty Bowl will be remembered for the completely inept offenses. Check that; the completely inept passing games. UCF RB Kevin Smith and MSU RB Antony Dixon were fine, but the two quarterbacks, UCF's Kyle Israel and MSU's Wesley Carroll, were miserable. How bad were the passing attacks? The two quarterbacks combined to complete 18 of 44 passes for 127 yards (with MSU getting just 39) and four interceptions. Credit the defenses for generating plenty of pressure, but the quarterbacks, at this point in the year, needed to be better. ... The storyline around Smith will be about how he didn't set the single-season rushing record, but his 119 yards on the ground should be viewed as the glass being half full. MSU threw everyone at him and he still cranked out 100 yards. ... The offensive numbers: 23 combined first downs. Six of 30 on third downs. 3.1 yards per play for UCF, 3.3 yards per play for MSU.

Dec. 1
Conference USA Championship
UCF 44 ... Tulsa 25

UCF RB Kevin Smith ran wild with 284 yards and scores from three, 46, four and 74 yards out, Michael Torres hit three field goals and Joe Burnett returned a punt 83 yards for a score in the wild shootout. Tulsa kept pace with three Paul Smith touchdown passes, with a 27-yard play to Trae Johnson and a 22 yarder to Charley Clay, but the offense didn't get on the board in the second half with the only points coming on a safety. Tanks to Smith, the Knights outgained the Golden Hurricane 308 yards to 32 on the ground, but Tulsa threw for 438 yards.
Player of the game: UCF RB Kevin Smith ran 39 times for 284 yards and four touchdowns
Stat Leaders: Tulsa - Passing: Paul Smith, 28-55, 426 yds, 3 TD, 3 INT
Tarrion Adams, 18-41. Receiving: Brennan Marion, 7-96
UCF - Passing: Kyle Israel, 6-13, 128 yds
Kevin Smith, 39-284, 4 TD. Receiving: Rocky Ross, 3-63
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Just how great is Kevin Smith? He took over the Conference USA championship and put the team on his back, but also give credit to the defense that shut down and shut out the high-powered Golden Hurricane offense in the second half. The secondary was incredible while the defensive front was in the backfield all game long. George O'Leary has finally put a cap on the masterful job done in turning around the program, and now things only look brighter going into the bowl game and to 2008.

Nov. 24
UCF 36 ... UTEP 20
UCF won the East title and will go play Tulsa for the Conference USA title as Kevin Smith, who took over as the nation's leading rusher with 2,164 yards, ran for 219 yards with a two-yard touchdown run, and Kyle Israel threw three touchdown passes. The Knights took a 16-0 lead in the second quarter highlighted by a 39-yard A.J. Guyton touchdown grab, but UTE went on a run with 17 straight points helped by a 19-yard Fred Rouse catch and a 100-yard Quintin Demps interception return for a score. And then the UCF offense took over as Smith controlled the tempo and the clock the rest of the way. Michael Torres finished with three field goals for UCF.
Player of the game: UCF RB Kevin Smith ran 46 times for 219 yards and a touchdown, and caught three passes for 30 yards.
Stat Leaders: UTEP - Passing: Trevor Vittatoe, 20-37, 292 yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Terrell Jackson, 5-25. Receiving: Jeff Moturi, 10-116
UCF - Passing: Kyle Israel, 18-26, 261 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Kevin Smith, 46-219, 1 TD. Receiving: Rocky Ross, 7-68, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... UCF's bounceback season is complete with an all-timer of a game against UTEP. Kevin Smith gets 2,000 yards, the team wins the East outright, and now the season goes from being something special into a program-changer if it can beat Tulsa for the title. With Smith controlling the offense, Kyle Israel is taking advantage of the one-on-one matchups and is limiting his mistakes. To beat the Golden Hurricane, Israel will have to be flawless.

Nov. 17
UCF 49 ... SMU 20
UCF clinched at least a tie for the East title as Khymest Williams took the opening kickoff for a touchdown, and then Kevin Smith did the rest with 177 yards with scoring runs from 22 and 80 yards out. SMU pulled within eight on a 33-yard Thomas Morstead field goal, and then the Knights ended it with a 28-point run highlighted by a 72-yard Johnell Neal interception return for a score. SMU turned it over four times.
Player of the game: UCF RB Kevin Smith ran 20 times for 177 yards and two touchdowns
Stat Leaders: UCF - Passing: Kyle Israel, 11-16, 173 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Kevin Smith, 20-177, 2 TD. Receiving: Rocky Ross, 4-92
SMU - Passing: Justin Willis, 11-24, 112 yds, 2 INT
Cedrick Dorsey, 13-62. Receiving: Columbus Givens, 5-53, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Kevin Smith keeps on running as he's now just 55 yards away from hitting the 2,000-yard mark. He should have that in the first half against UTEP, but more importantly, a win should mean an East title and a chance to finally win the Conference USA championship. Kyle Israel has to stay sharp throwing the ball with the defenses struggling a bit giving up yards. However, the D did a nice job of getting to the quarterback and screwing up the Mustang passing game. At the very least, the win sealed a bowl bid.

Nov. 10
UCF 45 ... UAB 31
UCF ran for 402 yards, led by 320 from Kevin Smith who scored from two, three, eight and 41 yards out. The final scoring dash finally put the game away in the final minutes as UAB pulled within seven on a four-yard pass from Joe Webb. Webb threw three touchdown passes, but the defense couldn't handle Smith, and it couldn't stop Curtis Francis on a 51-yard touchdown run, and Rocky Ross on a four-yard catch, to help the Knights pull ahead enough to hold off the late UAB rally.
Player of the game: UCF RB Kevin Smith ran 41 times for 320 yards and four touchdowns
Stat Leaders: UCF - Passing: Kyle Israel, 11-18, 91 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Kevin Smith, 41-320, 4 TD. Receiving: Rocky Ross, 3-21, 1 TD
UAB - Passing: Joseph Webb, 15-25, 156 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Sam Hunt, 7-79, 1 TD. Receiving: Frantrell Forrest, 6-71, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... How amazing is Kevin Smith? He was unstoppable against UAB with 320 yards averaging 7.8 yards per carry, but he got a ton of help from an offensive line that helped break open a 51-yard touchdown run for Curtis Francis and kept Kyle Israel upright for most of the game. The Knights have control of the East as long as they don't choke against SMU, the league's worst team, and plays better defense than they did against the Blazers. UAB shouldn't have had as much success as it did throwing the ball.

Nov. 3
UCF 47 ... Marshall 13
UCF took advantage of three Marshall interceptions and Kevin Smith first half rushing scores from two and 87 yards out to win in a walk. Marshall wasn't able to get into the end zone until the fourth quarter on a 45-yard Chubb Small run, but by then, UCF was up 33-13 helped by two Brian Watters touchdown grabs from 23 and 30 yards out. The Knight defense got in the act late with Darin Baldwin talking an interception 37 yards for a score.
Player of the game: UCF RB Kevin Smith ran 29 times for 188 yards and two touchdowns, and caught four passes for 48 yards.
Stat Leaders: Marshall - Passing: Bernard Morris, 18-31, 239 yds, 2 INT
Rushing: Chubb Small, 2-45, 1 TD. Receiving: Cody Slate, 9-91
UCF - Passing: Kyle Israel, 14-21, 203 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Kevin Smith, 29-188, 2 TD. Receiving: Brian Watters, 6-88, 2 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The big season keeps on rolling with a yawner of an easy win over Marshall. The Herd screwed up, UCF didn't UCF had Kevin Smith, Marshall didn't. The Knights are extremely efficient on offense at the moment, while the defense has been fantastic. Marshall didn't have a prayer of stopping Leger Douzable and the Knight defensive front allowing seven sacks and no being able to keep the chains moving. There's no excuse to not win at UAB and SMU before getting UTEP. At this point, a 9-3 regular season is demanded.

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? ... UCF still needs some help, and has work to do, to get past East Carolina in the East, but coming up with a big win at Southern Miss is a great start. Kevin Smith once again showed why he belongs in  the discussion with Tulane's Matt Forte for the Conference USA Player of the Year honors
by carrying the offense, but it was the defense and its ability to take the ball away that put UCF in control in the first place. Smith kept the things rolling.

Oct. 20
UCF 44 ... Tulsa 23
Kevin Smith ran for scores from 13, 15, four and 44 yards out as UCF cruised comfortably to the win after the second quarter. Tulsa took a 14-10 lead early on thanks to two of Paul Smith's three touchdown passes, but the Golden Knight defense took over just as Kevin Smith started to heat up. The Golden Hurricane only gained 379 yards of total offense and got down 41-17 before getting back on the board with a nine-yard Cameron Clemons catch.
Player of the game: UCF RB Kevin Smith ran 33 times for 170 yards and three touchdowns
Stat Leaders: UCF - Passing: Kyle Israel, 21-29, 224 yds,1 TD
Rushing: Kevin Smith, 33-170, 3 TD. Receiving: Sergio Joachim, 9-98
Tulsa - Passing: Paul Smith, 34-56, 316 yds, 3 TD, 4 INT
Tarrion Adams, 10-47. Receiving: Dion Toliver, 8-56

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... There was some question whether or not UCF was a bit overhyped after playing well in a loss to Texas so early in the year and beating NC State. Stopping the Tulsa offense, and getting yet another All-America day from Kevin Smith, but the Golden Knights back in the East title hunt, even with the loss to East Carolina  few weeks ago. Now that the pressure is on, a win at Southern Miss becomes a must. Win that, and the championship hopes can really start to grow with an easy finishing kick. If Kyle Israel throws like he did this week, there won't be many problems.

Oct. 13
South Florida 64 ... UCF 12
UCF hung around for the first 27 minutes, helped by a two-yard Kyle Israel touchdown run, and then USF closed strong with a 33-yard field goal and a nine-yard Taurus Johnson scoring grab in the final 1:30 of the first half. Those ten points sparked a 31-point run as Johnson caught another touchdown pass from nine yards out, and Matt Grothe ran foe a score and threw for another. The blowout got out of hand late as Carlton Mitchell scored on a 75-yard touchdown and Jessie Hester scored on a 28-yard touchdown catch. USC outgained UCF 543 yards to 145.
Player of the game: South Florida QB Matt Grothe completed 15 of 28 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns, and ran 16 times for 100 yards and two scores
Stat Leaders: South Florida - Passing: Matt Grothe, 15-28, 212 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: Matt Grothe, 16-100, 2 TD. Receiving: Taurus Johnson, 6-83, 2 TD
UCF - Passing: Michael Greco, 6-616, 71 yds
Kevin Smith, 18-55. Receiving: Kevin Smith, 3-45

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Back to the drawing board. After a nice start, UCF has gone bye-bye on defense, and while losing to South Florida isn't anything to be ashamed of at the moment, giving up 116 points in the last two games is not a plus when going into the date with Tulsa. The offense might have to keep up the pace for a while until the defense comes around, and that might mean someone other than Kevin Smith will have to step up. South Florida spent all its energy on stopping Smith, and no one else produced.

Oct. 6
East Carolina 52 ... UCF 38
East Carolina cranked out a 28-point second half run with two of Rob Kass's three touchdown passes, Chris Johnson's fourth touchdown of the day, and a six-yard Kass run. UCF appeared to be on its way to a big day when Curtis Francis took the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, and the offense rolled, outgaining ECU 495 yards to 370, but it turned the ball over five times to keep the Pirates rolling. The Pirate returned the favor, with Johnson taking the opening kickoff of the second half for a score as part of a 38-3 run that was finally halted with a three-yard Kyle Israel touchdown run.
Player of the game: East Carolina RB Chris Johnson ran for 89 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, caught five passes for 89 yards and another score, and handled four kickoffs for 194 yards and a touchdown.
Stat Leaders: UCF - Passing: Kyle Israel, 28-45, 308 yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
Rushing: Kevin Smith, 29-147, 1 TD. Receiving: Kamar Aiken, 8-117, 1 TD
East Carolina - Passing: Rob Kass, 12-23, 201 yds, 3 TDs
Chris Johnson, 23-89, 2 TDs. Receiving: Chris Johnson, 5-89, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... UCF all but gave away the loss to East Carolina, losing five turnovers, not getting any takeaways, and not coming up with a stop in the second half when things began to fall apart. Kevin Smith was Kevin Smith, and Kyle Israel had a good day throwing the ball, but the mistakes on offense, and the struggles to stop the big plays on defense, made it a laugher the other way. Can the offense be sharper and more productive for 60 minutes against the ball-hawking South Florida defense next week? Focusing on the Conference USA showdowns against Tulsa and Southern Miss ahead will be more important.

Sept. 29
UCF 37 ... UL Lafayette 19
Kevin Smith ran for a career-high 223 yards with two one-yard touchdown runs along with a 56-yard dash on the way to a 30-6 halftime lead. A blocked punt return for a touchdown with nine seconds left in the second quarter all but ended the game, but the Ragin' Cajuns fourth back to make it interesting with a three-yard Marlin Miller touchdown run and a 28-yard Derrick Smith scoring grab. Two final ULL drives stalled.
Player of the game: UCF RB Kevin Smith ran for 223 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries, adding a 22-yard reception.
Stat Leaders: UL Lafayette - Passing: Michael Desormeaux, 14-29, 154 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: Michael Desormeaux, 19-92. Receiving: Derrick Smith, 3-88, 1 TD
UCF - Passing: Kyle Israel, 11-20, 153 yds, 1 TDs
Kevin Smith, 33-223, 3 TDs. Receiving: Rocky Ross, 6-83
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... UL Lafayette is a more dangerous team than it might seem, but UCF ran right through it for 300 yards, with Kevin Smith once again showing why he's worthy of All-America consideration. Kyle Israel was effective, but he didn't have to push the ball too much and wasn't under too much pressure. Next week against East Carolina, he's going to have to make quick decisions and hit on at least on deep throw early on.

Sept. 22
UCF 56 ... Memphis 20
UCF got up 49-0 by early in the third quarter helped by three Kevin Smith touchdown runs and a 72-yard Kyle Israel pass to Kamar Aikin, and then everyone took the rest of the game off. Memphis scored some cosmetic points with three touchdown passes from three different quarterbacks, but the damage had already been done. UCF cranked out 313 rushing yards for the game, and was able to make it a laugher in the second quarter helped by the special teams and Memphis penalties setting up short touchdown drives.
Player of the game: UCF RB Kevin Smith ran 22 times for 124 yards and three touchdowns.
Stat Leaders: Memphis - Passing: Will Hudgens, 5-9, 88 yds, 1 TD
Joseph Doss, 9-48. Receiving: Maurice Jones, 3-50
UCF - Passing: Michael Greco, 11-12, 151 yds
Kevin Smith, 22-124, 3 TD. Receiving: Kamar Aiken, 4-131, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... UCF certainly established itself as a player in the Conference USA race with a dominant win over Memphis. The offensive line has been fantastic, doing what it needs to for Kevin Smith to crank out big yards and power his way around the goal line. It didn't matter who was at quarterback; the offense produced. Michael Greco was excellent in a rotation completing 11 of 12 passes, but Kyle Israel will still be the main man. Now the key will be to stay sharp against UL Lafayette with a huge date at East Carolina to follow.

Sept. 15
Texas 35 ... UCF 32
Texas needed a 46-yard touchdown run from Jamaal Charles to take a seemingly comfortable 35-24 lead with 3:37 to play, but UCF got a seven-yard Kamar Aiken touchdown catch with :35 and caught a pass for a two-point conversion to get within three. Texas got the onside kick and survived. Texas appeared to have control of the game after a 33-yard Brandon Foster interception return for a score and two of Ryan Bailey's five field goals, but UCF came back to take a one-point lead on short touchdown runs from Kevin Smith and Kyle Israel. Two more Bailey field goals, and the Charles touchdown run, got the lead back for the Longhorns.
Player of the game: Texas RB Jamaal Charles ran for 153 yards and a score on 22 carries, and had a reception for seven yards..
Stat Leaders: Texas - Passing: Colt McCoy, 32-47, 259 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Jamaal Charles, 22-153, 1 TD. Receiving: Quan Cosby, 10-67
UCF - Passing: Kyle Israel, 9-26, 134 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Kevin Smith, 27-149, 2 TDs. Receiving: Kamar Aiken, 4-49, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... While beating Texas would've obviously been a program-defining win, and it would've been an epic way to christen a new stadium, the three-point loss might do just as much for George O'Leary's club. UCF knows it can play with the big boys, it knows Kevin Smith and the running game can rumble on anyone, and it now has to truly know that it's going to be a major player in the Conference USA race. It would've been nice to have cranked out longer drives, and the three turnovers were costly, but this was still an important game.

Sept. 1
UCF 25 ... NC State 23
Kevin Smith tore off an 80-yard touchdown run on UCF's first play from scrimmage, and ran for an eight-yard touchdown on the way to a stunning 25-3 halftime lead. Michael Torres added three field goals, with his 19-yarder at the end of the half being the team's last points. And then the Golden Knights had to hold on as NC State scored the final 20 points of the game with Harrison Beck throwing two fourth quarter touchdown passes to make it close. He misfired on the two-point conversion attempt with 8:33 to play, and NC State failed to get close again, only getting to the UCF 41 in the final seconds before Joe Burnett ended things with an interception.
Player of the game ... UCF RB Kevin Smith ran for 217 yards and two scores on 35 carries, adding a pair of receptions for 11 yards.
Stat Leaders: UCF - Passing: Kyle Israel, 12-24, 93 yds
Rushing: Kevin Smith, 35-217, 2 TDs  Receiving: A.J. Guyton, 5-21
NC State - Passing: Harrison Beck, 17-28, 207 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Andre Brown, 14-73, 1 TD  Receiving: John Dunlap, 6-65
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Beating a team like NC State is the type of win that can jump-start a big season for UCF. After the way last year went, the Knights needed to hang on with two weeks off before the almost-certain loss to Texas, and 0-2 would make the Conference USA showdown against Memphis a pressure-packed game. Kyle Israel needs to do more to get the passing game going, and Kevin Smith needs more help. He's not going to last the season if he has to carry the ball 35 times a game, and UCF will be dead in the water without him.

Sept. 1 – at NC State
Offense: This won't be a bombs away attack under Dana Bible, but it could be with a big, fast, experienced receiving corps that should be able to spread the field. The trio of running backs, Toney Baker, Andre Brown and Jamelle Eugene, should be a major plus, but the line has to be far better and needs to replace the starting tackles. It'll be a three-man race for the starting quarterback job between Daniel Evans, Nebraska transfer Harrison Beck, and Justin Burke, with the one of them needing to be able to move the offense consistently, something that wasn't done this spring. This will be a running offense that will eventually grow into a 50/50 balance.
Defense: This will be a solid defense, but it won't be spectacular. It could be fantastic in 2008 when all the promising young prospects are ready to shine, but for now, this will be a good, sound D that should be far more consistent than last year. Demario Pressley and Martrel Brown lead a strong line that should be the strength, while three senior linebackers will keep the mistakes to a minimum. The secondary has to come up with more big plays after helping the Pack pick off just seven passes.

Sept. 8 - Texas
Offense: This might be the best offense yet under head coach Mack Brown, with one bump in the road: the line. The starting five will be fine, but there's absolutely no depth at tackle. While that's the concern, the skill players will be fantastic with a deep, talented receiving corps that welcomes back the top four targets, Jamaal Charles and a speedy backfield, and Colt McCoy to lead the show. Now a seasoned veteran, McCoy will run more than last year while making more plays on the move. Expect plenty of scoring, plenty of explosiveness, and a top five finish in total offense ... as long as the line holds up.
Defense: Duane Akina goes from co-defensive coordinator to the head man in charge, and there will be changes. Last year's defense was all about stopping the run, and the talented secondary got torched. This year's D will focus on doing everything, with an eye towards being more aggressive and generating more pressure. The strength is at tackle and in the linebacking corps, with NFL caliber talent that should keep the Longhorns among the nation's leaders against the run. The ends will be fine, in time, and they'll get to pin their ears back and go to the quarterback. All the pressure should help out a secondary in transition, with only one starter returning from a group that loses Thorpe Award winner Aaron Ross and All-American Michael Griffin.

Sept. 22 - 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.

Sept. 29 - UL Lafayette
Offense: The nation's seventh best rushing team two years ago, and 11th best last year, ULL will run more than ever with the return of two-time 1,000-yard back Tyrell Fenroy, speedy Deon Wallace, and running quarterback Michael Desormeaux. The receivers aren't used much, but they're experienced enough to make plays when they get the chance. The offensive line isn't deep, but the starting five will end up fine. The team will hope for around 2,500 rushing yards, and around 60% completion percentage throwing it.
Defense: New defensive coordinator Kevin Fouqueir won't change too much from one of the Sun Belt's better defenses. Five starters return, along with a few others with starting experience, to form a solid run defense that needs to be tighter against the pass. The secondary will give up completions, but it's not going to get beaten too often. The front seven should be great with a nice blend of talents and depth to form a good rotation almost everywhere. If ULL doesn't lead the league in run defense, it'll finish second.

Oct. 6 – 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.

Oct. 13 - at South Florida
Offense: This is Matt Grothe's offense, but unlike last season, he shouldn't have to do everything short of crafting the weekly gameplan in order to make the unit hum.  Although he led the offense in passing, rushing and scoring, the program realizes it needs to protect its most important commodity and give him more support.  Can freshman Mike Ford live up to the hype?  Plenty is expected from a back that should ignite a rushing attack that did little in 2006 when Grothe wasn't slithering through opposing defenses.  Originally headed to Tuscaloosa, he's the highest-profile recruit to ever sign with USF.  The Bull receivers are a dynamic bunch that's loaded with size, speed and underachievers that need to get their act together.
Defense: Like all teams from Florida, the USF defense pursues well and is built on speed.  Wally Burnham's unit is well-coached, prevents the big play and is vastly underappreciated and unnoticed on a national level.  That could change if the Bulls crack the top 10 in total defense in 2007, a distinct possibility.  Next level corners Trae Williams and Mike Jenkins allow the defense to sell out on occasion, and the front four, led by sophomore rush end George Selvie, returns seven linemen that started games in 2006.  Importing defensive line coach Dan McCarney and linebacker Tyrone McKenzie from Iowa State were coups that'll pay immediate dividends.

Oct. 20 - Tulsa
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 Tood 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.

Oct. 28 – at Southern Miss
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.

Nov. 3 - 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.

Nov. 10 – 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. 17 – at 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.

Nov. 24 - 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.



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