8/3 Roundtable - 5 Thoughts On Conference USA
East Carolina QB Patrick Pinkney
East Carolina QB Patrick Pinkney
Posted Aug 3, 2009

8/3 Roundtable - Five thoughts on the upcoming Conference USA season. It's the Monday topic in the CFN Daily Roundtable Discussion.

CFN Daily Roundtables

August 3

5 Thoughts on Conference USA.

Over the next several weeks, as part of the CFN 2009 Preview, we'll examine some of the key questions going into the year with a daily discussion of the big topics.

Past Roundtables
7/24 5 Thoughts on the Big Ten
7/23 5 Thoughts on the MAC

7/22 5 Thoughts on the Big East
7/21 5 Thoughts on the M-West
7/20 5 Thoughts on the SEC

5 Thoughts on the ACC
7/15 5 Thoughts on the WAC

7/14 5 Thoughts on the Sun Belt

7/13 5 Thoughts on the Big 12
7/10 M-West & the BCS
7/9 Guilty Pleasures
7/8 OU or OSU - Biggest BCS Bust
7/7 5th BCS Game
7/4 Should the SEC get a BCS break?
7/3 There should be a playoff
7/2 There shouldn't be a playoff
7/1 The unbreakable record
6/30 BCS on ESPN
6/29 Best non-BCS program
6/26 Rule changes
6/25 Why does the Big 10 stink?
6/24 Top 3 non-conference games
6/23 Coach on the hot seat
6/22 The No. 5 team is ...
6/19 Most underrated teams
6/18 Most overrated teams
6/17 BCS title sleeper
6/16 Do 40 times matter?
6/15 Is a Rooney Rule needed?
6/12 Should Bama vacate wins?
6/11 Should players be paid?
6/10 Recruiting hype
6/9 Your No. 1 draft pick
6/8 Where would you coach?
6/5 Who does the least with the most?
6/4 Who does the most with the least?
6/3 Sept. star players
6/2 Who'll generate early buzz?
6/1 The one coach you'd want
5/29 Tebow, McCoy, or Bradford?
5/28 Should the Big Ten expand?
5/27 Should the Pac 10 expand?
5/26 Chizik, Kiffin, or Mullen?
5/24 Heisman sleepers
5/22 Most interesting teams
5/21 Is Tebow the best ever?
5/20 When should polls come out?
5/19 The M-West & the BCS, Part 1
5/18 BCS or bust for Weis

Pete Fiutak, CFN

Yes, I'm part of the problem. You can check me out at twitter.com/CFN_Fiu and find out future roundtable topics and other random musings.

Q: 5 Thoughts on C-USA.

It's time for Conference USA to make a step up and become a factor. More of a factor. A BCS factor.

The WAC has already sent two teams (Boise State and Hawaii) to the BCS, Utah has gone twice from the Mountain West, and TCU and BYU haven't been far off. But Conference USA hasn't been in the hunt, even though East Carolina was the big story of the first few weeks of last season.

The league isn't the MAC or the Sun Belt, and is better overall than the WAC, but it doesn't get the respect of the top-heavy Mountain West. Conference USA is firmly entrenched as the nation's eighth best conference, and it's going to be hard for any team to rise up and have a BCS-type season to raise the league's profile.

Teams in the WAC and Mountain West, helped partially by their location, can get away with playing lighter schedules. Hawaii, on its run to the Sugar Bowl two years ago, had the big break of getting all the top non-conference games at home. Boise State gets one nasty non-conference game a year, usually against a Pac 10 team. Utah earned its non-conference stripes last year with a win over a bad Michigan team and a close shave against Oregon State. Conference USA usually has to deal with a few bears from a few different power leagues. That's not to say the Mountain West takes the non-conference schedule off, BYU and TCU are playing some nice teams outside of league play, but for the most part, Conference USA has it tougher.

East Carolina has to play Big East power West Virginia, in Morgantown, and has to go on the road to face rising ACC star North Carolina. Houston, with its high-powered attack, not only deals with tough Big 12 foes Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, but it also plays Mississippi State out of the SEC. Southern Miss gets Virginia (ACC), Kansas (Big 12), and Louisville (Big East), while Tulsa has to play at Oklahoma (and gets to host Boise State). Those are the league's stars, and with a conference with several landmines, it'll be hard for any of them to get out of league play unscathed, much less unbeaten after their non-conference schedules.

But that's not to say that some of these teams can't do what East Carolina did early last year.

Richard Cirminiello, CFN

Q: 5 Thoughts on C-USA.

The transformation of SMU under June Jones enters Phase 2, with much better results expected than a year ago.

From the outside looking in, last season was a disaster as the Mustangs finished 1-11, beating just Texas State out of the FCS. To those close to the program, however, substantial growth occurred as the coach got acclimated to his surroundings and the players got used to a new sheriff being in town. Chaos filled the air like a summer cookout. Positions were changed, systems were slowly digested, and those not buying in got the boot. Jones knew he had to completely break it down before building it back up.

Jones and the Mustangs are a sweet fit for both sides. Unlike most marriages, though, the honeymoon will come on the back end, while these first few years will be marked by a lot of pain and heavy lifting. He will get to where he needs to be in Dallas. It’s just a matter of time and patience, and he’ll be given both by the administration. In the short term, SMU will be more competitive than a year ago. Despite the dismal record, this was a program that got markedly better as the season progressed, losing four games down the stretch by a touchdown or less. The offense figures to be vastly improved now that the quarterback is no longer a true freshman and the line has had a year to adapt to new blocking schemes. Sometimes in this league, a potent offense is all it takes to win a lot of football games. Rice went 10-3 in 2008 with one of the nation’s worst defenses, and Tulsa has won back-to-back division titles with a unit that couldn’t stop anyone. Much like his days in the WAC, Jones and Conference USA are made for each other.

The worst is behind SMU. Better days lay ahead. Give Jones some more time and a couple more recruiting classes and he’ll have the Mustangs playing like a Lone Star version of Hawaii, a scoring machine that finished 2006 and 2007 ranked in the Top 25.

Matthew Zemek, CFN

Q: 5 Thoughts on C-USA.

: Bring a big bag of popcorn—or an ample amount of the tasty snack food you prefer—when Houston travels to Tulsa in the West Division’s game of the year on Nov. 7. East Carolina—with the return of quarterback Patrick Pinkney and several other offensive starters—figures to reach the C-USA title tilt from the East, so when Kevin Sumlin’s Cougars and Todd Graham’s Golden Hurricane lock horns in Oklahoma, the wild, wild (C-USA) West should produce its opponent for the poised and polished Pirates. Last year’s C-USA West race was made even more exciting by the presence of Rice and its pitch-and-catch combo of Chase Clement and Jarett Dillard. This year, it’s going to be a two-team tussle, with Houston and Tulsa fighting for the right to encounter East Carolina for the conference championship.

Hunter Ansley, Publisher, DraftZoo.com

Q: 5 Thoughts on C-USA.

A: Trevor Vittatoe just might be the most underrated player in the entire country. The UTEP junior quarterback is entering his third year as the starter and he’s still a virtual unknown. As a freshman he broke the 3,000-yard barrier and added 25 touchdowns against only seven interceptions. And as an encore he put up 3,200 yards and 33 scores. He also raised his passer rating by 11 points which put him in the top 20 last season. And he has the ninth best among returning starters this season. His defense has been awful, and that’s kept he and the Miners out of the limelight. But with another year like the two we’ve seen from him already, he might not be able to fly under the radar anymore. Other than that, it looks like another big year from East Carolina, who returns some key pieces. And it will be interesting to see how the Tulsa offense fares now that David Johnson and Gus Malzahn are gone. Southern Miss might end up with the most explosive offense in the conference with perhaps the best offensive trio (QB Austin Davis, RB Damion Fletcher, and WR DeAndre Brown). And Houston should put plenty of points on the board with QB Case Keenum , RB Bryce Beall, and WR Tyron Carrier giving the Golden Eagles a serious run for their money in that category. Keenum is this season’s Graham Harrell.

Jon Miller, Publisher,

Q: 5 Thoughts on C-USA.

A: Tulsa and Rice enjoyed 11 & 10 win seasons last year with high flying offenses. Houston has a quarterback that ‘is on pace’ to be the most prolific in NCAA history. East Carolina has pulled a few big wins out of its hat over BCS conference foes. This conference is not an afterthought, and teams like Oklahoma, West Virginia and North Carolina should probably plan on bringing their ‘A’ game when CUSA teams come to town. The bigger problem is the rest of the league; it’s just not that good.