2008 Conference USA Lookbacks/Recaps
Rice QB Chase Clement
Rice QB Chase Clement
Posted Jan 18, 2009

Taking a look back at every Conference USA team's 2008 season.

East  UAB | UCF | East Carolina | Marshall | Memphis | Southern Miss
West  Houston | Rice | SMU | Tulane | Tulsa | UTEP
- 2008 CFN All-CUSA Team
| 2008 CFN Preseason All-CUSA Team
- 2007 Conference USA Lookback/Recaps

 - 2009 Conference USA Early Lookaheads

East Carolina  
CFN Preseason Prediction: 6-6   Final Record: 9-5

: The Pirates needed the Costco-sized box of Dramamine last fall to combat a year filled with ups and downs. East Carolina opened by stunning Virginia Tech and West Virginia, rising all the way up to No. 14 in the polls. Over the next two months, it plummeted back to reality, losing 4-of-7 games. However, the Pirates rose up in November to win the East and upset Tulsa for a Conference USA title. Naturally, the Pirates suffered a tough Liberty Bowl loss to Kentucky, winning the first half and dropping the final two quarters. Even after all the twists and turns, this goes down as one of the best seasons in school history.             
Offensive Player of the Year: QB Patrick Pinkney
Defensive Player of the Year: LB Pierre Bell
Biggest Surprise: Suffocating No. 8 West Virginia, 24-3. Even after shocking Virginia Tech, many people still felt the Pirates were going to be a one-hit wonder. The program proved otherwise, hammering the defending Big East champs with a physical and attacking defense. The three points was the Mountaineers’ worst output in almost seven years.
Biggest Disappointment: Losing the Liberty Bowl. The Pirates appeared headed to back-to-back bowl wins and their first 10-win season since 1991 before tanking in the second half. Sure, Kentucky caught a pivotal break from the officials, but that doesn’t excuse East Carolina for scoring three points in the last 39 minutes.  

Looking Ahead: The new king of the hill in Conference USA will spend the offseason working to stay there. Retaining head coach Skip Holtz, who gets wooed by bigger schools every year, was a pleasant surprise. The Pirates expect to be strong along both lines once again, which will help offset losses elsewhere.    

CFN Preseason Prediction: 6-6   Final Record: 8-5

: If the Houston administration had any early buyer’s remorse about hiring Kevin Sumlin, it was gone by October. The Cougars erased a slow start by finishing 7-2, capping the run with a win over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. Under Sumlin, there was no drop-off on offense from the days when Art Briles was in town. In fact, Houston was more potent than ever, averaging 40 points a game and finishing second nationally to only Tulsa in total offense.    

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Case Keenum
Defensive Player of the Year: DE Phillip Hunt
Biggest Surprise: Embarrassing Tulsa on Nov. 15. Houston wanted redemption for last year’s 56-7 loss at Skelly Stadium. Mission accomplished. It scored at will, only slowing down in the fourth quarter of a 70-30 rout of the nation’s No. 25 team. Keenum brought national attention to the program, accounting for seven touchdowns and throwing for more than 300 yards in a school-record 13th straight game.    
Biggest Disappointment: Losing to Rice two weeks later. With the West Division title at stake, Houston couldn’t overcome its defensive breakdowns. Chase Clement threw for 381 yards and five touchdown passes, making sure the Cougars wouldn’t mount a second half challenge. Instead of a shot at a league championship, Houston was resigned to a rematch with Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl.      
Looking Ahead: As good as the offense was in 2008, next year’s edition has a chance to be better. Keenum is back as the triggerman along with precocious 1,000-yard rusher Bryce Beall and 14 of the 15 players that caught a pass last fall. The defense will continue to have problems, especially with the loss of Hunt, the league’s premier sacker.   

CFN Preseason Prediction: 7-5  Final Record: 4-8

: The Herd got off to the fast start that it so desired, but getting to 3-1 wound up being a tease. Marshall would win once for the rest of the season, often falling victim to an offense that had trouble getting into the end zone. The season did mark the return of DE Albert McClellan, the former Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, who missed 2007 with a knee injury. Despite a fourth straight losing year, head coach Mark Snyder survived, earning at least one more year to return the Herd to glory.               
Offensive Player of the Year: RB Darius Marshall
Defensive Player of the Year: LB Maurice Kitchens
Biggest Surprise: Upsetting Houston on Oct. 28. Marshall was primed for a toe tag when the red-hot Cougars visited on a Tuesday night, but left with a surprisingly easy 37-23 victory. With a rare display of balance on offense, the Herd jumped all over its visitors, while limiting them to their lowest point total of the year.
Biggest Disappointment: Losing to UAB on Oct. 18. This one really hurt. At the time, the Herd was 3-3 and unbeaten in league play, having only lost to prominent BCS schools. Dropping a game to lowly UAB, however, was the first sign that the season wouldn’t end as well as it started. Despite moving the ball through the air, Marshall didn’t score an offensive touchdown in the second half, coming up short in its comeback bid.          
Looking Ahead: Snyder feels the school is close to turning the corner, but at some point, he has to deliver results. Although there’s skill position talent on this team, it needs a consistent quarterback to spread the ball around. Mark Cann got mixed reviews as a freshman, opening the door for Brian Anderson and a couple of junior college transfers to compete in the spring.   

CFN Preseason Prediction: 5-7  Final Record: 6-7

Recap: The Tigers bowled for the fifth time in the last six years, but does straddling the .500 mark and playing in second-rate postseason games qualify as progress? It’s a question some within the fan base have started to ponder. Attendance continues to decline and complacency has set in at a program that’s yet to win a conference championship since joining the league 12 years ago. To its credit, Memphis rallied to bowl eligibility after an 0-3 start, and was competitive in the majority of its losses.       

Offensive Player of the Year:
RB Curtis Steele
Defensive Player of the Year: DT Clinton McDonald
Biggest Surprise: Steele. While not overly hyped when he arrived from Northwest Mississippi Community College, Steele quickly blossomed into the program’s best tailback since DeAngelo Williams left for the NFL. He finished his first season in Memphis with 1,253 yards, fourth best in school history, and scored seven touchdowns.      
Biggest Disappointment: The St. Petersburg Bowl. No, Memphis wasn’t expected to beat South Florida, especially near its campus, but getting blown out, 41-14, was a lost opportunity to make a statement against an up-and-coming BCS opponent. The Tigers allowed almost 500 yards and had problems getting Steele rolling.
Looking Ahead: JUCO QB Arkelon Hall should be better in his second season at Memphis, especially since he’ll be supported by one of the best casts of skill position players in the league. The program is also buzzing about the transfers of defensive players Jamon Hughes, Derrick Odom, and DeRon Furr from the SEC, and RB Lance Smith from Wisconsin.

CFN Preseason Prediction: 3-9   Final Record: 10-3

: For the second time in the last three years, the Owl football team authored a historical season that’ll forever go on the school timeline. This year’s squad actually topped the 2006 edition, winning a bowl game for the first time since 1954 and spitting out its first 10-win season since 1949. The catalyst was once again a Chase Clement-led offense that was held below 35 points just three times all year, and in Jarett Dillard and James Casey, had two of the most exciting receivers in the country. The Clement-to-Dillard connection finished the year as the most prolific pitch-and-catch combo in NCAA history.             
Offensive Player of the Year: QB Chase Clement
Defensive Player of the Year: LB Brian Raines
Biggest Surprise: Routing Western Michigan in the Texas Bowl. While no shocker that the Owls beat the Broncos, the margin of victory and play of the defense was unexpected. In what was supposed to be match up of equals, Rice scored the game’s first 38 points, and completely shut down the high-powered Western Michigan passing attack until the outcome had been decided.    
Biggest Disappointment: Never competing against Tulsa on Oct. 4. Had this game been played a month later, the results might have been different. Rice hung tough for about 20 minutes before succumbing to the Hurricane offensive machine, 63-28, dropping its only league game of the season.           
Looking Ahead: While Clement and Dillard have helped laid the foundation for a program that had been crumbling, they’ve also set the bar ridiculously high for the next generation of Owls. Plus, Casey has decided to leave for the NFL with two years of eligibility remaining. A lot will be expected from new QB John Thomas Shepherd and a defense that returns nine starters.       

CFN Preseason Prediction: 3-9  Final Record: 1-11

Recap: Those expecting much more than a 1-11 record from the Mustangs were probably giving a little too much credit to new head coach June Jones. Yes, the program is building, but there’s still a talent gap versus the rest of the league, and Jones preferred to use a ton of underclassmen, including true freshman QB Bo Levi Mitchell, rather than look for quick fixes that might have added an extra win or two. Percolating just below that one-win season was a young team that started growing up in October and November with a bunch of near-misses.

Offensive Player of the Year: WR Emmanuel Sanders
Defensive Player of the Year: DE Youri Yenga
Biggest Surprise: Nearly knocking off Tulsa and Houston in back-to-back weekends in October. Those on the Hilltop looking for a silver lining in an otherwise dismal year should concentrate on these two games. Despite being substantial underdogs, the Mustangs stayed with the Hurricane and Cougars before falling short in a pair of uplifting six-point losses.     

Biggest Disappointment
: Going winless in conference play. While no one expected miracles in Jones’ first season, even one win against a league opponent would’ve made the long offseason just a little more tolerable. Moral victories didn’t go unnoticed, but SMU had hoped to put someone other than Texas State-San Marcos in the win column.  

Looking Ahead: Look out, Conference USA. SMU is about to take the next step in its rebuilding plan under Jones. Playing so many freshmen and sophomores will start paying dividends, and the run-and-shoot won’t look so foreign in 2009. Mitchell figures to be more comfortable throwing to an emerging corps of receivers that’s led by Sanders and Aldrick Robinson.

Southern Miss
CFN Preseason Prediction: 8-4  Final Record: 7-6

Recap: Considering the complete change in philosophy that took place when Jeff Bower was let go, 2008 was a clear-cut success in Larry Fedora’s first year in Hattiesburg. The Golden Eagles reeled off four straight wins down the stretch just to become bowl-eligible and then came from behind to beat Troy in the New Orleans Bowl and finish above .500. As building-block seasons go, Southern Miss has laid a solid foundation while using a bunch of underclassmen on both sides of the ball.                 
Offensive Player of the Year: RB Damion Fletcher
Defensive Player of the Year: LB Gerald McRath
Biggest Surprise: Shutting down East Carolina to remain alive for the postseason. The eventual Conference USA champs could not move the ball on the Golden Eagles, making just 10 first downs and failing to reach the end zone. It was a game until the fourth quarter, when a pair of touchdowns blew the game open.
Biggest Disappointment: Dropping a heartbreaker to UTEP on Oct. 4. Southern Miss lost four games by a touchdown or less, but none more excruciating than this one to the Miners. Despite generating 541 yards of offense, the Golden Eagles were forced to settle for a few too many field goals when touchdowns were needed, losing in double overtime, 40-37.        
Looking Ahead: The offseason got off to a rocky start when star WR DeAndre Brown broke his lower leg in the bowl win. A scratch for the spring, it remains to be seen whether he’ll be ready for the opener. Freshman QB Austin Davis came on very strong in his first year in Fedora’s system, and should be even better in 2009. McRath has declared early for the NFL Draft, leaving a large hole on the defense.

CFN Preseason Prediction: 5-7   Final Record: 2-10

: At 2-2, the Green Wave felt pretty good about itself. And why not? It played unexpectedly well against Alabama and East Carolina, and was riding a two-game winning streak. Unfortunately, that would be the high point for the program in 2008. Tulane dropped the rest of its games, matching a school-record for losses in a season. What’s worse, the Green Wave failed to develop a quarterback and stopped being competitive at the end of October, losing the final six games by at least 17 points.                            
Offensive Player of the Year: RB Andre Anderson
Defensive Player of the Year: DE Reggie Scott
Biggest Surprise: Giving Alabama one of its toughest tests of the regular season. The Green Wave may have lost 20-6, but it earned the respect of the Tide, which scored a single offensive touchdown and generated a season-low 172 yards of total offense. Unfortunately for Tulane, it would be its best showing of the year.   
Biggest Disappointment: Getting crushed at home by Army, 44-13. After four games, the Green Wave was playing as if it planned to be one of this year’s upstarts in Conference USA. The Black Knights, however, ended that chatter behind FB Collin Mooney, who ripped the Tulane D for 187 yards and four scores on just 19 carries.

Looking Ahead
: After two years with Bob Toledo calling the shots, Tulane isn’t any closer to being a threat in Conference USA. In fact, the Green Wave regressed in 2008, particularly on defense. The program needs to get faster on both sides of the ball and somehow transform one of the young quarterbacks, Kevin Moore or Joe Kemp, into a productive passer.     

CFN Preseason Prediction: 8-4  Final Record: 11-3


Recap: Although the Golden Hurricane lost in the Conference USA title game for a second straight December, it was still a banner year for the program. Tulsa set all kinds of offensive records en route to a school-best 11 wins and a second bowl victory in-a-row. An 8-0 start had it thinking BCS bowl game until back-to-back losses to Arkansas and Houston ended that dream. After 21 wins in the last two years, head coach Todd Graham has a new 10-year deal and a solid foundation to build the future upon.    

Offensive Player of the Year: QB David Johnson
Defensive Player of the Year: S James Lockett
Biggest Surprise: True freshman WR Damaris Johnson. While Graham was thrilled to land Johnson back in February, he couldn’t have figured he’d be this good, this fast. The 5-8, 175-pound jackrabbit finished No. 5 nationally in all-purpose yards, doing damage as a kick returner and catching 53 passes for 743 yards and 10 touchdowns.  
Biggest Disappointment: Losing for the first time to Arkansas on Nov. 1. If the Hurricane was going to earn some national respect, it knew it had to win this game, the only one on the schedule against a team from a BCS conference. Tulsa failed the test, scoring just three points in the second half of a deflating 30-23 defeat.

Looking Ahead: Much like a year ago, one of the spring goals will be to determine a new starting quarterback. Jacob Bower has the early edge to replace Johnson. Whoever gets the ball will be running the same wide-open, no-huddle offense that’s been so successful even though offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has left the school for Auburn.

CFN Preseason Prediction: 2-10  Final Record: 4-8

: Although it may be a long process, progress is beginning to happen in Birmingham. Sure the Blazers won just four games, but that’s two more than a year ago, and they played their best ball at the end of the season. After a rough start, UAB finished 3-2 and a respectable game out of second place in the East Division. The campaign was marked by the emergence of dual-threat QB Joe Webb, who, like Darrell Hackney before him, has the skill set to carry the program to new heights. 

Offensive Player of the Year
: QB Joe Webb
Defensive Player of the Year: LB Joe Henderson
Biggest Surprise: Beating UCF on Nov. 29. Two weeks after snapping a 19-game road losing, UAB got a winning streak started away from Legion Field thanks to five Swayze Waters field goals. What’s more, the Blazers blanked the Knights for their first shutout in a decade of Conference USA play.
Biggest Disappointment: Losing a heartbreaker to East Carolina on Nov. 22. The Blazers came awfully close to a nice effort in November into a torrid stretch run. The Pirates had trouble moving the ball on the resurgent UAB defense, needing a Brandon Simmons touchdown run in the final minutes to pull out a 17-13 squeaker.   

Looking Ahead: Now that there’s a flicker of momentum, UAB needs to seize it and build on it in the offseason. With Webb and all of his favorite targets back in 2009, the offense is in good shape. If the defense can keep playing the way it did in the second half, the Blazers could make a serious push for bowl eligibility.   

CFN Preseason Prediction: 7-5  Final Record: 4-8

: As disappointments go, none was bigger in Conference USA than the UCF season. A year after winning the league championship, the Knights were out of bowl contention in early November, largely due to the nation’s most feeble offense. Ironically, UCF had a penchant for rising against better competition and lying down against average opponents. The Knights came within a touchdown of beating South Florida, Miami, and East Carolina, yet were blow out by UTEP and shutout in the finale by UAB.

Offensive Player of the Year:
LT Patrick Brown
Defensive Player of the Year: CB Joe Burnett
Biggest Surprise: Hanging with the ‘Canes in Miami for four quarters. The defense and special teams kept the Knights close throughout, but as was the case all season, the offense didn’t do enough to complete the upset. Despite producing just 78 total yards and no offensive touchdowns, UCF had a chance to pull this game out late.

Biggest Disappointment
: Getting shelled by UTEP on Sept. 27. The one area that the Knights could count on throughout the season was its defense…until this trip to El Paso. The Miners got three touchdown passes from Trevor Vittatoe and scored a pair of defensive touchdowns in a 58-13 rout. This was the first clear sign that 2007 was over and 2008 was not going to be memorable year.

Looking Ahead
: If George O’Leary is going to find his way off the hot seat in 2009, he’s got to figure something out on offense. Freshman Rob Calabrese could get a crash course in being the starting quarterback. On defense, the front seven will be among the league’s best, but the secondary loses four starters who played a ton of football in Orlando.

CFN Preseason Prediction: 5-7  Final Record: 5-7

: The clock is ticking for head coach Mike Price. Hey, they still like him in El Paso, but three consecutive losing seasons has the locals getting worried. The Miners actually reached .500 with a win over SMU on Nov. 15, but couldn’t pick up the additional needed to become bowl eligible. As has been the trend throughout Price’s five-year tenure, UTEP had no problems putting up points, but struggled mightily to stop decent offenses.             
Offensive Player of the Year: QB Trevor Vittatoe
Defensive Player of the Year: LB Adam Vincent
Biggest Surprise: WR Kris Adams. Jeff Moturi began the season as the Miners’ one sure-thing at wide receiver. Adams ended the season as Vittatoe’s favorite target and on the Conference USA honor roll. A year after catching just five passes, he hauled in 50 for 958 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Biggest Disappointment: Losing to New Mexico State on Sept. 20. When UTEP looks back on the season, this is one that got away and could have cost the program a bowl berth. In a see-saw game, the Miners were forced to go without their top two backs and Vittatoe, who hurt his ankle in the first quarter. Even a couple of defensive touchdowns were not enough, as the Aggies scored late to pull a 34-33 win. 

Looking Ahead: This could be the season that UTEP finally produces a winning record. It better be. Very few seniors contributed to the 2008 team, and Vittatoe and his mates will be expected to roll in the passing game. The defense gets a much-needed boost from S Braxton Amy, the star of the unit who missed all of last season with a knee injury.

- 2009 Conference USA Early Lookaheads