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2007 Conference USA Lookbacks/Recaps
UCF RB Kevin Smith
UCF RB Kevin Smith
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Feb 15, 2008


Taking a look back at every Conference USA team's 2007 season.

2007 C-USA Lookbacks/Recaps

2008 C-USA Early Lookaheads

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

2007 Pages
2007 Conference USA Season
East  UAB | UCF | East Carolina | Marshall | Memphis | Southern Miss
West  Houston | Rice | SMU | Tulane | Tulsa | UTEP

East

East Carolina
Recap: Even after surprising Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl, East Carolina couldn’t help but wonder what might have been had it not gagged in November.  Winners of five of six games at the time, and seemingly in cruise control in the East Division, the Pirates inexplicably lost to 1-8 Marshall, the death knell in their quest to remain ahead of UCF.  Still, it was a building block season for third-year coach Skip Holtz, who got a monster season from do-everything RB Chris Johnson.           

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Chris Johnson

Defensive Player of the Year: S Van Eskridge

Biggest Surprise: Johnson.  Hey, everyone knew Johnson was a blazer, but in three years in Greenville, he’d never put together a full season.  The same kid that hadn’t rushed for more than 684 yards in a season exploded for 1,423 yards on the ground and a nation’s-best 227 all-purpose yards per game.

Biggest Disappointment: The Nov. 10 loss to Marshall came out of nowhere, and was East Carolina’s ugliest performance of the season.  At the time, the Herd was skidding and the Pirates were soaring, but none of that mattered in a 26-7 defeat that would haunt ECU for the rest of the month.     

Looking Ahead: Although Johnson’s graduation leaves a gaping void on offense, the Pirates return enough letterwinners on both sides of the ball to be considered one of the early favorites to win the East in 2008.  More will be expected of QBs Rob Kass and Patrick Pinkney, who had their moments in 2007, but lacked consistency.

Marshall
Recap: With a third straight losing season, Marshall got even further away from the glory days when bowl games and league titles were annual events.  The Herd finished respectably, winning three of its final five games, but wasn’t able to dig out of an 0-6 hole to start the season.  Although Marshall showed a knack for moving the ball, the defense never recovered from the season-ending injury to its top performer, DE Albert McClellan.    

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Bernard Morris

Defensive Player of the Year: S C.J. Spillman

Biggest Surprise: Marshall was the reason UCF, and not East Carolina, won the Conference USA East Division.  The Herd shocked the front-running Pirates, 26-7, on Nov. 10, getting a terrific all-around game from Morris, and an unexpected effort from the weather-beaten defense.  The win propelled UCF into first place, a position the Knights would never relinquish.   

Biggest Disappointment: Playing New Hampshire in Week 3 was supposed to be the Herd’s get-well game after opening the season against West Virginia and Miami.  Nope.  Marshall got ambushed, 48-35, by QB Ricky Santos and a Wildcat offense that rung up more than 500 yards, freely moving the ball on the ground and through the air.  The Herd was obviously shell-shocked from the loss, needing more than a month before it finally broke into the win column.     

Looking Ahead: It’s make-or-break time in 2008 for Marshall head coach Mark Snyder, who’s been unsuccessful replacing Bob Pruett.  He needs to find a capable quarterback to replace Morris, but does welcome back a slew of returning starters, including McClellan, that’ll help push the program back toward the .500 mark
.

Memphis
Recap: After plummeting to 2-10 a year ago, the Tigers did rather well to finish with seven wins, tie for second place in the Eastern Division, and qualify for a fourth bowl game in the last five years.  Memphis stayed above water behind the nation’s 13th-ranked passing attack and a knack for pulling out close games, winning five by a field goal or less.  The defense, however, was a glaring and incessant liability, collecting just 15 sacks in 13 games, and finishing near the bottom of Conference USA in just about every statistical category.       

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Martin Hankins

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Jake Kasser

Biggest Surprise: In a crucial game for both programs, Memphis stunned Southern Miss in Hattiesburg on Nov. 10, 29-26, climbing one step closer to a berth in the New Orleans Bowl.  The Tigers trailed by 12 late in the game, but got a couple of Hankins touchdown passes in the waning minutes to pull out the victory.

Biggest Disappointment: Memphis was a no-show on Oct. 13 against Middle Tennessee State, losing badly to a mid-level Sun Belt program.  The Tigers managed just a single touchdown, the first time in 14 games that they’d been held below 10 points.               

Looking Ahead: Although head coach Tommy West has his sights set on another bowl invitation in 2008, to get there, he’ll need to completely recharge the defense and find an adequate replacement for Hankins under center.  A name to monitor is Arkelon Hall, a JUCO transfer that was considered one of the nation’s brightest quarterback prospects when he originally signed to play for Washington State in 2005.

Southern Miss
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.

UAB
Recap: Neil Callaway knew he’d be rebuilding when he took this job a year ago, so a two-win season in Birmingham came as no surprise.  The Blazers used their 12-game schedule in 2007 to get reps for a flock of freshmen and sophomores that’ll form the foundation of the program for the next few seasons.  While UAB was a pest in the first half of the season, it eventually ran out of gas from a lack of size and depth, which Callaway will attempt to address in the offseason.          

Offensive Player of the Year: WR Joseph Webb

Defensive Player of the Year: S Will Dunbar

Biggest Surprise: Completely outmanned and playing in Tallahassee on Sept. 8, the Blazers put a genuine scare into Florida State, carrying a lead into the second half before fading to the ‘Noles.  Although it was one of UAB’s 10 losses on the season, it was also an early sign that the inexperienced roster was not going to be intimidated by any obstacles or opponents.   

Biggest Disappointment: Playing its best game in over a month, UAB had a chance to carry some momentum into the offseason, but couldn’t stop Marshall in the regular season finale.  Despite producing  season-highs in points and total offense, the Blazers fell seven points shy on win No. 3 when Herd QB Bernard Morris scored a one-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. 

Looking Ahead: With so many returning regulars back, there’s cause for optimism in Calloway’s second season on the job.  For an immediate jolt of depth and experience, the coach will look to the JUCO ranks this February for help.


UCF
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.

West

Houston
Recap:
After rebounding admirably from the graduation of franchise QB Kevin Kolb, the Cougars must do it again after the departure to Baylor of head coach Art Briles, the architect of the program’s recent revival.  While Houston failed to repeat as Conference USA champs, and lost a bowl game for the eighth straight time, it did win eight games and tie Tulsa atop the Western Division in somewhat of a transition season.  When the Cougars were having problems last year, the defense was often the culprit, giving up an average of 42 points a game in their four regular season losses.       

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Anthony Alridge

Defensive Player of the Year: DE Phillip Hunt

Biggest Surprise: QB Case Keenum.  Faced with the unenviable task of succeeding Kolb, the freshman did an admirable job, flashing a live arm and good mobility, while providing hope for the future.  While sharing time with tag-team partner Blake Joseph, Keenum tossed 14 touchdowns passes and scrambled for nine more.

Biggest Disappointment: With the West up for grabs on Nov. 10, Houston played its worst game of the Briles era, getting blitzed by Tulsa, 56-7.  Despite boasting two of the league’s most explosive players, RB Anthony Alridge and WR Donnie Avery, the Cougars were never able to break through against a very suspect Hurricane defense.

Looking Ahead: Former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Sumlin takes the reigns of the program, promising to build on the success of the past few seasons.  Although the new head coach will have weapons on offense, replacing the speed and big-play ability of Alridge and Avery will be next to impossible.

Rice
Recap: Whatever magic the Owls had in 2006 never quite reached the surface for the 2007 edition, which managed just three wins in David Bailiff’s debut on the sidelines.  While the offense was setting a school record for points in a season, the defense was allowing more than 42 points and 510 yards a game, impossible numbers for any attack to overcome.  To Rice’s credit, it was competitive in every league game, putting up a fight long after bowl eligibility was out of reach.         

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Chase Clement

Defensive Player of the Year: S Andrew Sendejo

Biggest Surprise: After starting the season 0-4, absolutely no one expected the Owls to beat league favorite Southern Miss in Hattiesburg, but that’s precisely what they did on Oct. 3.  Rice jumped all over the Golden Eagles, hanging on for a 31-29 upset, and giving faint hope that like last season, the program would rally for a postseason game.   

Biggest Disappointment: It didn’t take the Owls very long to realize that they weren’t in Kansas anymore.  In the opener with Nicholls State, Rice turned the ball over five times, and could only muster 218 yards versus an FCS defense in a tone-setting, 16-14 loss.

Looking Ahead: With Clement and his top four receivers, including Jarett Dillard, back for another season, Rice should have few problems putting points on the board next season.  If, however, the Owls have any hope of making it back to a bowl game, Bailiff will need to coax a dramatic turn around out of his defense and special teams units as well.


SMU
Recap: What was billed as a bust out year for the Mustangs wound up being just a colossal bust that ended with a single win, a 10-game losing streak, and a vacancy at head coach.  Easily the biggest disappointment in Conference USA, SMU lost five times by a touchdown or less, and was never able to overcome a rebuilt defense that yielded almost 500 yards and 40 points a game.  Although the program severed ties with sixth-year coach Phil Bennett on Oct. 28, it took until early January before athletic director Steve Orsini pried June Jones away from Hawaii.         

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Justin Willis

Defensive Player of the Year: S Bryce Hudman

Biggest Surprise: With a lame duck coach and absolutely nothing but pride to play for in the finale, the Mustangs went toe-to-toe with 6-5 Memphis before falling, 55-52.  The defense was predictably feeble, but the offense cranked out a season-high 564 yards and seven touchdowns in the school’s third overtime loss of the year.    

Biggest Disappointment: In a season crammed with heartbreaking losses, the Oct. 27 loss at Tulsa was especially painful and poignant.  In the last straw for Bennett, the Mustangs failed to punch in the game-sealing score with two minutes left, and allowed the Hurricane to drive the length of the field for the winning touchdown.        

Looking Ahead: What now?  After coming so close to a bowl game in 2006, SMU regressed badly in 2007, finishing 1-11.  There’s hope with the arrival of Jones and the return of the multi-dimensional Willis, but if the Mustangs don’t get more help from the defense, their bowl drought will continue in 2008. 


Tulane
Recap: There was progress in Bob Toledo’s first season at Tulane, even if it wasn’t always evident on the scoreboard.  The Green Wave won four games, two in the final three games, escaping the West Division cellar that appeared to be its destiny before the season began.  The season wound up being the year of Matt Forte, who rushed for 2,127 yards and 23 touchdowns in the best individual performance by a Tulane player in school history.        

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Matt Forte

Defensive Player of the Year: S Joe Goosby

Biggest Surprise: Forte.  Everyone around the program knew Forte was good, but no one could have expected him to play so well in his final year in New Orleans.  Plagued by durability issues and a lack of a supporting cast, he twice exploded for more than 300 yards in a game, and flourished in a new system that made more use of a tight end and a fullback.   

Biggest Disappointment: The Green Wave would have inched closer to the .500 mark had it not blown a game to Army on Oct. 6.  Up by a touchdown with 29 seconds left, Tulane allowed the Knights and backup QB Kevin Dunn to travel 80 yards, the last 36 on a deflected pass with no time on the clock that sent the game to overtime.

Looking Ahead: The Green Wave doesn’t lose much in terms of pure numbers, but replacing Forte will be next to impossible.  Toledo’s West Coast offense might lean more heavily on the pass in 2008, provided Anthony Scelfo and Kevin Moore become more consistent passers.


Tulsa
Recap: Losing Steve Kragthorpe to Louisville doesn’t look like such a bad deal for Tulsa after all.  While Kragthorpe’s Cardinals were becoming one of the most disappointing teams of 2007, the Todd Graham-led Hurricane was flourishing in its new hurry-up, no-huddle offense.  Tulsa led the country in total offense, offsetting the play of a suspect defense, to win 10 games, while providing the backdrop for record-setting QB Paul Smith to account for an amazing 60 touchdowns and 5,184 yards.           

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Paul Smith

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Chris Chamberlain

Biggest Surprise: The offensive line.  For a unit that was completely gutted by graduations, the Hurricane offensive line did a surprisingly good job of protecting Smith and paving the way for Tarrion Adams to run for 1,225 yards on just 219 carries.  Led by Justin Morsey and Rodrick Thomas on the right side, the line returns four starters, and should be even more effective next fall.

Biggest Disappointment: Although it had two chances, Tulsa just couldn’t solve UCF and RB Kevin Smith, allowing 44 points and chunks of rushing yards in each game.  By getting blown out in each meeting, including the league title game, the Hurricane lost an opportunity to upgrade its bowl destination from the GMAC Bowl to the Liberty Bowl.   

Looking Ahead: Even though Smith is out of eligibility, this is an exciting time for the Tulsa program.  If his likely successor, David Johnson, is up to the challenge, the offense will roll again in 2008, especially with such an abundance of skill position players back at Skelly Stadium.

UTEP
Recap: For the fourth consecutive season, the Miners got off to a fast start before crumbling down the stretch, a troubling trend that’s begun to chip away at Mike Price’s legacy in El Paso.  Although UTEP found a terrific replacement at quarterback for Jordan Palmer, freshman Trevor Vittatoe, and ran the ball surprisingly well, it wasn’t enough to overcome one of the nation’s poorest defensive units.  The surprise of the first half in Conference USA at 4-2, the Miners lost their final six games, allowing an average of 44 points a game.    

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Marcus Thomas

Defensive Player of the Year: S Quintin Demps

Biggest Surprise: At its peak, UTEP had the look of a West Division sleeper, especially after outlasting eventual division champ Tulsa, 48-47, on Oct. 6.  The Miners battled back in the final quarter, winning on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Vittatoe to WR Joe West with less than a minute remaining in the game.

Biggest Disappointment: The Miners’ second-half slide began with a crushing defeat to East Carolina on Oct. 13.  On its way to a 5-2 record and a third straight pulsating victory, UTEP allowed the Pirates a game-knotting 34-yard touchdown pass on the final play of regulation before falling, 45-42, in overtime.  The program wouldn’t win another game all year.

Looking Ahead: Vittatoe has three more years of eligibility and Price refused a chance to return to Washington State, so the Miner offense will be in good hands for the next few seasons.  However, if UTEP is going to be more than just half good in 2008, it has to completely revamp a defense that stopped no one last fall.