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2008 CFN Conference USA Team Capsules
Tulsa FB Charles Clay
Tulsa FB Charles Clay
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 30, 2008


2008 CFN Conference USA Predictions and Team-by-Team Thumbnail Views

2008 CFN C-USA Preview

Predictions & Quick Team Previews

Team Previews & Predictions
East East Carolina | Marshall | Memphis | So. Miss | UAB | UCF 
West Houston | Rice | SMU | Tulane | Tulsa | UTEP

- 2008 CFN Conference USA Preview
- CFN All-Conference USA Team & Top 30 Players
- Conference USA Team-by-Team Capsules

-
Conference USA Unit Rankings

- Conference USA Schedules & Predictions


Conference USA Championship: Tulsa over UCF

East

T1. East Carolina
Predicted record: 6-6  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Offensive Player:
WR Jamar Bryant, Jr.
Best Defensive Player:
DE C.J. Wilson, Jr. (or DE Marcus Harris, Sr., if healthy)
Offense: One player won’t be enough to replace current Tennessee Titan RB Chris Johnson. As good as he was running the ball, he may be missed more as a kickoff returner and a receiver out of the backfield. Fortunately, the Pirates are well-stocked at the position, returning letterwinners Dominique Lindsay, Jonathan Williams, Norman Whitley, and Brandon Simmons. The budding star is Williams, a 6-1, 210-pounder that averaged almost seven yards a carry in limited action as a true freshman. After using three different starters a year ago, Skip Holtz would prefer to have one quarterback for the entire season. Patrick Pinkney is the dual-threat. Rob Kass is the strong-armed pocket passer. After needing emergency heart surgery and missing all of 2007, behemoth T Terence Campbell resumes his career with an eye on bolstering a line that’s missing two starters.
Defense: Nine starters are back from a defense that excelled at takeaways and is absolutely loaded in the trenches. All four of last year’s starters and nine lettermen comprise a defensive line that’ll send a couple of kids to the NFL and has the depth and girth of many ACC programs. While Zack Slate and C.J. Wilson apply the pressure from the outside, Jay Ross, Khalif Mitchell, and Linval Joseph are 300-pounders that clog running lanes on the inside. Although the Pirates have a chance to be special up front, the opposite is true on the last line of defense. The East Carolina secondary allows too many big plays through the air, lacking the cover corners to shut down the other team’s best receiver.

T1. Marshall
Predicted record: 7-5  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Offensive Player:
TE Cody Slate, Jr.
Best Defensive Player:
DE Albert McClellan, Jr.
Offense: New coordinator John Shannon is installing an up-tempo, one-back offense that was a smashing success at Toledo. His first objective will be to find a triggerman out of a tightly-packed group that includes last year’s backup Brian Anderson, Georgia Tech transfer Jonathan Garner, and redshirt freshmen Mark Cann, the favorite coming out of spring. Whoever gets the ball will spend plenty of time looking for WR Darius Passmore and TE Cody Slate, and handing the ball off to Darius Marshall. The Herd is deep at the skill positions, meaning the play of the quarterback and an unproven offensive line will dictate whether the offense sputters or shines in Shannon’s debut.
Defense: First-year coordinator Rick Minter is implementing an aggressive defense that’ll make good use of Marshall’s depth and athleticism at linebacker by frequently lining up in a 3-4 set. In a conference that’s become increasingly reliant on the pass, Minter can take solace in inheriting eight defensive backs with starting experience, including leading tackler C.J. Spillman. As seasoned as the group is, it’s also quite beatable, which is why a player like redshirt freshman CB DeQuan Bembry could knock a vet out of the starting lineup. DE Albert McClellan is the type of edge rusher who’s going to make everyone around him more effective. Before getting injured last season, he was the 2006 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, racking up 19 tackles for loss and 11 sacks.       

T1. Southern Miss
Predicted record: 8-4  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Offensive Player:
RB Damion Fletcher, Jr.
Best Defensive Player:
LB Gerald McRath, Jr.
Offense: Gone are the days when the Eagles would keep it on the ground 40 times a game, content to let the running attack and defense lead the way.  Fedora is an offensive innovator, who wants to attack with a one-back, no-huddle offense that spreads the field vertically and horizontally. Although it’s clear where the offense is headed, Southern Miss won’t forget about the running game, especially with all-league RB Damion Fletcher on the roster.  Remember, Fedora’s Oklahoma State offense ranked No. 8 nationally on the ground a year ago.  Of the three players vying to win the quarterback job, sophomore Martevious Young and freshman Austin Davis broke from the pack in what’s become an increasingly tight competition. 
Defense
:
You can call the Southern Miss D the Nasty Bunch, but the moniker hasn’t really fit for a few years. New coordinator Todd Bradford hopes to change that by installing an aggressive, in-your-face defense aimed at making the quarterback uncomfortable.  While it sounds good in theory, it won’t be easy to deliver when the front four will be starting four new players. If they can’t get penetration, expect plenty of blitzes from an undersized and athletic back seven. Hey, at least the Golden Eagles can count on LB Gerald McRath, a man among boys and a candidate to leave a year early for the NFL Draft. 

T1. UCF
Predicted record: 7-5  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Offensive Player:
LT Patrick Brown, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
CB/PR Joe Burnett, Sr.
Offense: Considering the gaping hole that exists in the running game, the Knights are going to need more production from a passing attack that was last in the league and 105th nationally a season ago. The battle to replace Kyle Israel at quarterback will focus on Joe Weatherford, brother of Florida State’s Drew Weatherford, and Michael Greco, a 220-pound dual-threat southpaw that conjures up images of Tim Tebow light. As if the running game needed more problems, Phillip Smith, Kevin Smith’s successor, suffered a lower leg injury and finished the spring on crutches. If he’s unavailable for any length of time, UCF will be forced to dig deep into the roster, relying on unknowns, such as James Jamison and Ronnie Weaver.  Led by starters Rocky Ross and Kamar Aiken, the receivers will be a strength if they can cut down on dropped passes.        
Defense: In light of the problems on the other side of the ball, the defense may have to carry the offense in the early stages of the season. The unit welcomes back nine starters, 10 if you count LB Jordan Richards, who was slated to start before suffering a season-ending injury. The secondary, in particular, is flush with senior talent, led by all-leaguers Joe Burnett and Sha’Reff Rashad. It was those two ball hawks, along with Jason Venson and Johnell Neal that helped UCF lead the conference with two dozen picks a year ago. The defense’s biggest objective will be to find replacements for DE Leger Douzable and DT Keith Shologan, the line’s best pass rusher and run-stuffer, respectively.  If they can stay healthy for a change, the Cory Hogue-led linebackers will be deep and disruptive.                  


5. Memphis
Predicted record: 5-7  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Offensive Player:
WR Duke Calhoun, Jr.
Best Defensive Player:
DT Clinton McDonald, Sr.
Offense: The Tigers boast a veteran offensive line that believes it can be the most dominant in the West era.  Exactly who the group will be blocking for has yet to be determined. Underappreciated QB Martin Hankins needs to be replaced after throwing 43 touchdowns over the last two seasons.  Since the strength of the team is at wide receiver, the staff must uncover an able distributor. Versatile Matt Malouf brings an interesting blend of run and pass.  The wild card, however, is JUCO transfer Arkelon Hall, a former Washington State signee and one of the highest-rated pocket passers of 2005.  The running game has been ravaged by graduations, defections, and injuries, creating opportunities for transfer Curtis Steele, sophomore Jeremy Longstreet, and redshirt freshman Mike Davis.
Defense: The strength of the defense resides at safety and on an experienced line that’s led by all-league candidate Clinton McDonald, a sneaky-good penetrator from the inside.  The front wall will need to be extra special to compensate for a back seven that’s defenseless versus any passing game with a pulse.  The Tiger defensive backs like to take chances and play aggressively, accepting the occasional blown coverage for takeaways that go the other way.  Unfortunately for the defense, the corners get burned regularly, but the momentum-changing plays have been non-existent.  New coordinator Tim Walton’s lofty goal for Memphis is to maintain that frenetic, high-energy personality, while improving its tackling and fundamentals. 

6. UAB
Predicted record: 2-10   Conf. record: 1-7
Best Offensive Player:
QB Joseph Webb, Jr.
Best Defensive Player:
FS Will Dunbar, Sr.
Offense: Topping Callaway’s list of offensive priorities is to improve a running game that was last in the league a year ago.  The coach is keeping his fingers crossed that Aaron Johns, a gifted former Alabama running back, can qualify academically after missing the mark last season.  QB Joseph Webb offers some interesting options, both as a strong-armed passer and a scrambler on designed running plays.  He’ll have no shortage of quality targets.  Frantrell Forrest led the team with 49 receptions as a freshman, Mike Jones tore it up in the spring, and Roddell Carter is physical junior college transfers capable of contributing immediately.  Jake Seitz anchors a young line that was unexpectedly solid in pass protection but needs to step it up in the running game.
Defense: Underclassmen were everywhere last year, which should start to pay dividends this season.  The Blazers got shoved around by every opponent not named Alcorn State, prompting Callaway to demand more physicality in the front seven. UAB does return its best player, all-league S Will Dunbar, who could have left for the NFL after 2007.  A sure-tackling playmaker that paced the team with 122 stops, he’s the leader of a vulnerable secondary. The Blazers other building blocks will be ends Bryant Turner and Joe Happe, linebackers Joe Henderson and Mike Tashman, and CB Kevin Sanders, all of whom showed flashes of productivity in 2007.  The offense better be prepared to score plenty of points because the program will need them to have a chance at winning more than two games this fall.

West

1. Tulsa
Predicted record:
8-4  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Offensive Player:
WR Brennan Marion, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
DE Moton Hopkins, Sr.
Offense: A star will be born as soon as the staff decides on its next starting quarterback. The hurry-up, no-huddle offense is that prolific under coordinator Gus Malzahn.  The early edge goes to David Johnson, who backed up Paul Smith for three seasons and spent a year in the system.  However, he’s no lock to win the job, and will get challenged by Clark Harrell and Jacob Bower, a coveted JUCO recruit.  The transition to a new starter will be made easier by the presence of a veteran line and 1,000-yard receivers Brennan Marion, Trae Johnson, and Charles Clay.  As if the Hurricane needs more weapons, the program’s leading rushers from the last two years are also back.  Tarrion Adams ran for 1,225 yards and caught 30 passes after starter Courtney Tennial was lost with a season-ending Achilles injury.
Defense: Even more than the need to develop a quarterback, Tulsa has to remake a 3-3-5 defense that allowed more than 40 points to six opponents, and graduated its best defenders. The linebackers, the backbone of the defense, have been robbed of three all-league players, and the secondary needs a refresher course on how to stop the pass. The Hurricane is banking on holdovers Mike Bryan and Tanner Antle, and junior college transfer Kaipo Sarkissian to fill the voids at linebacker on a defense that’s putting out APBs for consistent stoppers. For a pick-me-up, the coaches will point to all-conference end Moton Hopkins, who led the linemen in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks a year ago. 

2. Houston
Predicted record: 6-6  Conf. record: 5-3
Best Offensive Player:
QB Case Keenum, Soph.
Best Defensive Player:
DE Phillip Hunt, Sr.
Offense: While there’ll be subtle differences based on personnel, Houston is basically installing the same Texas Tech spread that’s perennially among the nation’s leaders in passing. The first order of business will be to decide between quarterbacks Case Keenum and Blake Joseph, who split time a year ago. Joseph has the stronger arm, but Keenum is more accurate on intermediate routes and moves well outside the pocket, making him a nice fit for Holgorsen’s system. If the offense is going to hum early, the receivers need to step up, putting pressure on last year’s backups L.J. Castile, Tim Monroe, and Chris Gilbert. After missing most of 2006 and 2007 with a knee injury, promising T SirVincent Rogers is a welcome addition to a line that’s replacing Jeff Akeroyd on the right side.         
Defense: After leading Conference USA in total defense, Houston expects to be even stingier this season under first-year coordinator John Skladany. And why not? The Cougars return eight starters, and the transition to the 4-3 couldn’t come at a more ideal time. While the defense is a little shorthanded at linebacker, it’s brimming with talent and experience along the defensive line. The best of the group is explosive end Phillip Hunt, who led the league with 10.5 sacks and requires more than one blocker. All-conference CB Kenneth Fontenette needs more help from a secondary that got torched by every decent passing game it faced.  

T3. Tulane
Predicted record: 5-7  Conf. record: 3-5
Best Offensive Player:
WR Jeremy Williams, Jr.
Best Defensive Player:
LB David Skehan, Sr.
Offense: If the personnel supports it, Bob Toledo would like to run a balanced offense that isn’t afraid to air it out or employ the occasional trick play.  Unfortunately, question marks at quarterback and running back could stifle his ingenuity.  The workhorse out of the backfield will be Andre Anderson, a hard-running 210-pounder that’s ready to step out of Forte’s shadow.  After his chief competition, Andre Agers, was suspended, the Green Wave was left with just one other scholarship tailback.  Although Toledo might wait until August to name his starting quarterback, Kevin Moore clearly assumed the favorite’s role in the spring, showing the best arm strength and a good command of the offense.  Whoever gets the nod will benefit from playing behind a veteran line and throwing to an improving receiving corps that’s led by Jeremy Williams.     
Defense: Now that coordinator Thom Kaumeyer is gone, it’s up to O’Neill Gilbert to keep the defensive momentum going from last season.  Gilbert inherits seven starters and a stern mandate to improve the pass defense.  The Green Wave secondary got toasted for 17 touchdown passes over last year’s final six games in a league that got more pass-happy with the offseason hirings of June Jones, Kevin Sumlin, and Larry Fedora.  There are also concerns at defensive tackle, where last year’s top three performers have run out of eligibility.  Tulane will try to compensate for its suspect corners with a pass rush that’s fueled by all-league-caliber ends Reggie Scott and Adam Kwentua.  At linebacker, last year’s leading tackler Evan Lee will be joined by David Skehan, a veteran making the switch from safety.

T3. UTEP
Predicted record: 5-7  Conf. record: 3-5
Best Offensive Player:
QB Trevor VIttatoe, Soph.
Best Defensive Player:
S Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith, Jr.
Offense: QB Trevor Vittatoe had a sensational freshman debut for the Miners, throwing 25 touchdown passes and emerging as the new face of the program. His favorite target Jeff Moturi was equally impressive in his first significant action, catching 65 passes for 891 yards and 13 touchdowns. With a year of experience behind them, they’re poised to become the most prolific pitch-and-catch combo in Conference USA.  When UTEP runs the ball, it’ll likely go to the left side, where T Mike Aguayo, G Cameron Raschke, and C Robby Felix are returning starters. As long as the line does its job, Terrell Jackson and Donald Buckram are a pair of shifty backs capable of igniting the running attack.
Defense: UTEP was gutted for at least 45 points six different times in 2007, closing the year in tatters for the third straight season. Price shook up his staff in the offseason and signed some quick fixes out of the junior college ranks, but there’s no easy solution for a unit that was routinely pushed around. New coordinator Osia Lewis brings from New Mexico a 3-3-5 set that uses three hybrid safeties and attacks from different spots on the field. The Miners have been especially repugnant in pass defense, yielding more than 300 yards a game, but do have some building blocks for Lewis to call a foundation. Safety Da’Mon Cromartie Smith and CB Cornelius Brown earned honorable mention All-Conference USA recognition as sophomores.      

5. SMU
Predicted record: 3-9  Conf. record: 2-6
Best Offensive Player:
QB Justin Willis, Jr.
Best Defensive Player:
CB Bryan McCann, Jr.
Offense: First-year head coach June Jones wants to spread the field with four or five receivers on every play and air it out with short and intermediate strikes. His most prized inheritance, QB Justin Willis, has served his suspension and made his way back to the team. He doesn’t have a howitzer, but that’s never been a prerequisite for success for Jones’ pupils. The junior understands the game well, has a good pocket presence, and throws a catchable ball, ingredients for a solid season. In this offense, there’s a need for capable receivers. Lots of them. Emmanuel Sanders is a great start, but the Mustangs need quantity along with quality. Sophomore playmaker Aldrick Robinson had a breakthrough spring and figures to benefit the most from the change in offense.   
Defense: June Jones has never worried too much about defense in his coaching career. He’ll fit in well at SMU. The Mustangs had one of the nation’s worst units a year ago, finishing 116th in total defense and 117th in scoring defense. Things don’t figure to get any better for a group that’s undersized up front, inexperienced at linebacker, and ineffective in pass defense. The defense is especially thin at cornerback after losing Jonathan Lindley and Brandon Jones to graduation. One bright note is the return of S Rock Dennis, a heralded junior college transfer, who sat out last year with a shoulder injury.

6. Rice
Predicted record: 3-9  Conf. record: 1-7
Best Offensive Player:
WR Jarett Dillard, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
FS Andrew Sendejo, Jr.
Offense: QB Chase Clement is the catalyst of an offense that’s broken a slew of school records over the last two seasons. A year ago, he led the Owls in rushing as well as passing, accounting for 3,912 yards and 37 touchdowns, showing a knack for elevating his play late in games. The receiving corps will again give overmatched league secondaries fits. Jarett Dillard was a Biletnikoff Award finalist two years ago, and James Casey is a 23-year old former professional baseball player who debuted with 46 receptions. Bailiff’s quest to run the ball with more authority is a direct challenge to a line that got routinely abused and is revamping the left side.          
Defense: The Owls lose little on defense, but that’s not necessarily cause for optimism. Rice finished near the bottom of the country in many statistical categories, allowing 43 points a game and finishing dead last in pass defense. Although the staff spent the past few months hammering home the importance of fundamentals and sound tackling, there’s no easy solution for a squad that lacks the basics, like size, speed, and depth. On a positive note, Rice does return a proven, fringe all-league player at each unit. DE Scott Solomon led the Owls in sacks as a freshman and was a monster in the spring. Although Brian Raines isn’t very big, he’s been a two-year tackling machine at linebacker. The best is yet to come for FS Andrew Sendejo, who led the team with 107 tackles in his sophomore year. It’s a start.