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2010 C-USA Preview - Team By Team Looks
SMU QB Kyle Padron
SMU QB Kyle Padron
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 6, 2010


Preview 2010 - CFN Conference USA Team By Team Quick Looks and Predicted Finish


Preview 2010

C-USA Team By Team


East
- East Carolina Preview | Marshall Preview | Memphis Preview
- Southern Miss Preview |  UAB Preview | UCF Preview

West
- Houston Preview | Rice Preview | SMU Preview
- Tulane Preview | Tulsa Preview | UTEP Preview

- 2010 C-USA Preview | 2010 C-USA Unit Rankings | 2010 C-USA Schedules & Picks
- 2010 CFN All-C-USA Team & Top 30 Players | Get C-USA Tickets
- 2010 C-USA Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish

Note: Predictions based on team talent and schedules.

Predicted Champion: Houston over Southern Miss

C-USA East Predicted Finish

T1. Southern Miss
Predicted Overall Record: 7-5
Predicted Conference Record: 6-2

Offense: Like so many Conference USA offenses, Southern Miss is in good shape at the skill positions, but has a whole heap of concerns in the trenches. There’ll be four new starters surrounding vet Cameron Zipp at the pivot and a ton of question marks that’ll be answered by junior college transfers and defensive imports. It may not be pretty in the early. Good news can be found in the returns of QB Austin Davis and WR DeAndre Brown, an exciting battery that’s had to overcome injuries to get to this point. Even without all-time leading rusher Damion Fletcher, the Eagles should be able to achieve a degree of balance out of the no-huddle spread. There’s an underrated mix of experience and potential, with senior V.J. Floyd looking to hold off the dynamite trio of Kendrick Hardy, Desmond Johnson, and Tracy Lampley.
Defense: With nine starters back, Southern Miss is set to build a bridge to the days when a nasty defense was its trademark. More than a dozen letterwinners return to a front seven that’s going to set the tone for the unit and take some heat off a vulnerable secondary. In NT Anthony Gray, DE Cordarro Law, and linebackers Korey Williams, Martez Smith, and Ronnie Thornton, the Eagles are flush with all-star potential. The defensive backfield, however, is a different story, breaking in two new starters in an area that was beatable versus better passing teams in 2009. CB C.J. Bailey and S Justin Wilson will be fine, but rookie CB Deron Wilson and S Kendric Presley must give opposing passers a reason to avoid their side of the field.

T1. East Carolina
Predicted Overall Record: 6-6
Predicted Conference Record: 6-2

Offense: The change taking place in Greenville is no more obvious than on offense, where a conservative attack is being scrapped in favor of a completely opposite look. As his offensive coordinator, Ruffin McNeill hired young Lincoln Riley to run a similar version of the “Air Raid” attack that was so prolific for so long at Texas Tech. The Pirates will operate a shotgun spread offense that floods the field with receivers and aims to strike as quickly as possible. Naturally, the existing personnel wasn’t recruited for this type of a system and achieving the right tempo and rhythm could take all year. East Carolina has a multi-dimensional star in WR Dwayne Harris, the ingredients of a decent line, and a ton of question marks. For starters, who’s the triggerman? Coming out of spring, untested sophomore Brad Wornick has the best chance of getting the ball in the opener.
Defense: At least for the short term, the good times are over for an East Carolina defense, which was the catalyst for the program’s recent success. That’ll happen when you lose nine starters and four first or second-team all-stars to the pros. New coordinator Brian Mitchell has a full plate in his first season. Besides trying to firm up a two-deep with a bunch of new faces, he wants to get his Pirates playing quicker and more aggressive, mixing in more blitzes and man-to-man looks. If there are strengths on the unit, they’re located at tackle and cornerback. Josh Smith and Antonio Allison are up-and-comers up front and Emanuel Davis is one of Conference USA’s best pass defenders. It’s a start, but this defense will struggle badly at times this fall as it adapts to life amid so much change.

T3. UCF
Predicted Overall Record: 7-5
Predicted Conference Record: 5-3

Offense: The UCF offense took a leap forward in 2009, but will it last now that QB Brett Hodges has finished his cup of coffee in Orlando and RB Brynn Harvey is on the mend? The one-and-done Wake Forest transfer was a clear difference-maker behind center, leaving behind nothing but question marks. Although the time has come for junior Rob Calabrese to maximize all of his potential, he’s going to get pushed for the starting job by true freshman Jeffrey Godfrey. Unexpectedly mature for such a young athlete, he also has the quick feet to survive behind a shaky Knight line. Whoever gets the ball will spend plenty of time looking to get it in the hands of RB Jonathan Davis and WR Kamar Aiken, the centerpieces of a gifted group of skill players.
Defense: After going toe-to-toe with East Carolina in 2009, UCF should once again be among Conference USA’s stingiest defenses. It could, however, take a different route getting back to that familiar place. Last season, the run defense was the pillar and the pass defense was a liability. Yet, in a possible role reversal, the Knights are spending the offseason trying to bolster the middle of the front seven, while the once-rudderless secondary brings everyone back, including budding superstar CB Josh Robinson. The one constant remains DE Bruce Miller, arguably the best defensive player in school history and the nation’s active leader with 27 career sacks. As he goes, so goes the UCF D.

T3. Marshall
Predicted Overall Record: 7-5
Predicted Conference Record: 5-3

Offense: One player rarely makes a program or even a unit. That said, Clemson transfer Willy Korn is going to have a chance to be an impact player immediately in Huntington ... provided he unseats incumbent Brian Anderson behind center. Marshall has a good mix of talent elsewhere, from RB Martin Ward and a seasoned offensive line to WR Antavious Wilson and TE Lee Smith. Unlocking this group’s potential, however, is contingent upon the play at quarterback improving. Enter Korn, the one-time can’t-miss recruit, who never achieved his potential in the ACC. He has a new lease on his college career and an enormous opportunity to be the guy who finally builds a bridge to the days when the Herd perennially flourished at producing big-time quarterbacks.
Defense: Ever so quietly, the defense continues to shine. The D has been in the top four among Conference USA programs in run defense, pass defense, and scoring defense. Fundamentally sharp, the Herd flies to the ball and plays with a pack mentality. The undisputed leader of the group will again be LB Mario Harvey, a 250-pound wrecking ball and one of the league’s best run defenders. The biggest hurdle to maintaining a high level of play rests with the secondary. While FS Omar Brown and CB Ahmed Shakoor return following table-setting years, the rest of the unit is a question mark because of suspensions and graduations. Making matters worse, the D needs to generate more edge pressure than it did a year ago.

5. UAB
Predicted Overall Record: 4-8
Predicted Conference Record: 2-6

Offense: What do you do if you lose your two best players and your only two all-stars from a year ago? You rebuild as quickly as possible. UAB begins a new era without do-it-all QB Joe Webb and four-year starting C Jake Seitz. In their place is expected to be David Isabelle and Darion Smith, respectively, who have limited experience between them. Isabelle, assuming he holds off Bryan Ellis, does share a lot of Webb’s qualities, such as a knack for beating defenses with his feet. Whoever gets the nod will have a decent supporting cast that includes a mix of backs, a veteran line, and one of the best receiving corps in Conference USA. If the Blazers have any hopes of approaching last year’s output, they’ll have to leverage the talent and size advantage provided by TE Jeffery Anderson and receivers Frantrell Forrest, Nick Adams, Roddell Carter, and Mario Wright.
Defense: UAB has more depth, talent, and experience on defense than at any time in Neil Callaway’s tenure. Will it make a difference? The Blazers have been shoved around over the last few seasons, allowing 455 yards and 32 points a game in 2009. However, the returns of nine starters and 29 lettermen lend hope that progress is on the horizon. While UAB will never be confused with Alabama’s other FBS schools, it should be able to generate more pressure on the quarterback and create a few more big plays than last year. Up front, the team is very deep and very feisty, led by the inside-outside tandem of Elliott Henigan and Bryant Turner, respectively. On the last line of defense, the secondary will continue to yield big plays, but thumpers, such as Hiram Atwater, Chase Daniel and Jamie Bender, will make receivers earn every catch they make. If LB Marvin Burdette can patrol the middle and keep plays in front of him, this D has a chance to break the recent cycle.

6. Memphis
Predicted Overall Record: 1-11
Predicted Conference Record: 1-7

Offense: The overhaul taking place at Memphis is no more evident than on offense, where the quarterback, top two rushers, and top three receivers have vanished. The Tigers are essentially starting over, with help from a veteran line that seems to perennially outplay its expectations. It’s not as if there isn’t enough talent to surpass last year’s feeble output. It’s just that so many unproven players will have to come through at once. At quarterback, there’s a tight three-way race between sophomores Cannon Smith and Tyler Bass, and true freshman Ryan Williams. Wisconsin transfer Lance Smith was supposed to spearhead the ground game, but he’ll first have to recover from a broken leg in the spring. And while Miami transfer Jermaine McKenzie has the look of a go-to receiver, he hasn’t played a game in a couple of years. There are a lot of balls in the air for coordinator Eric Price, who’ll eventually want a balanced attack that can set the tempo of the game with its physicality.
Defense: It’s been years since Memphis was even respectable on defense. The job of slowly turning things around belongs to Jay Hopson, the newest in the revolving door of coordinators. The initial goals are basic, namely becoming better at the four Ts—tackling, turnovers, technique, and toughness. Naturally, it’s not an overnight process, as the Tigers attempt to revamp the pass rush and the secondary. They will, however, be athletic, aggressive, and tough in the middle. Sophomore DT Dontari Poe is a 6-5, 350-pound budding force and LB Jamon Hughes is about to become a household name in Conference USA circles. There’s a decent amount of raw talent to begin the healing, but this season will be just the first step in a lengthy rebuilding process.

C-USA West Predicted Finish

1. Houston
Predicted Overall Record: 9-3
Predicted Conference Record: 8-0

Offense: Coordinator Dana Holgorsen has left Houston for Oklahoma State, creating an internal promotion for Jason Phillips. However, nothing will change with this rocket-boosted attack. After flirting with the NFL, QB Case Keenum is back and ready to continue his assault on the NCAA record books. He’s the point guard of a Cougar offense that led the country in scoring, passing, and total offense a year ago. And he’ll once again be surrounded by gobs of speedy skill position talent, like versatile backs Charles Sims and Bryce Beall, and receivers James Cleveland, Tyron Carrier, and Patrick Edwards. If there are any concerns about keeping this train on the tracks, they’re up front, where a decent line lost C Carl Barnett to graduation and all-star RT Jarve Dean to a suspension.
Defense: Stop the run. That’s been the missive around Houston ever since last season ended. After being gutted for 226 yards a game and 37 rushing touchdowns, changes were inevitable for the Cougars. The first order of business was to hire defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, who promptly installed a new 3-4 alignment. Essentially, Houston wants to get more speed on the field and be a little less predictable than in recent years. While there’s no doubt the program has a good collection of athletes, who fly all over the field, when opponents commit to a north-south running game, it has trouble matching up. Six starters are back, led by tackling machine Marcus McGraw. One of the most important cogs, DE Matangi Tonga, is a former BYU player, who has the potential to be the run-stuffer this team craves.

2. SMU
Predicted Overall Record: 5-7
Predicted Conference Record: 5-3

Offense: This is a June Jones production. Did you expect anything other than a prolific passing game and a high-powered Run & Shoot offense? The Mustangs took a step in the right direction last season, Jones’ second in Dallas, scoring eight more points a game than a year earlier and ranking No. 15 nationally through the air. Plus, they enjoyed the added bonus of popping the cork on Kyle Padron, the program’s quarterback of the future. In his rookie year, he replaced Bo Levi Mitchell, losing just one of six starts and accounting for three times as many touchdowns as picks. In the Hawaii Bowl, he tantalized Pony fans, earning game MVP honors by throwing for 460 yards and two scores without a turnover. While his favorite target will be Aldrick Robinson, SMU needs a few more playmakers to step up. Star receiver Emmanuel Sanders is a Pittsburgh Steeler and 1,000-yard rusher Shawbrey McNeal left with a year of eligibility remaining. Darius Johnson and Darryl Fields, respectively, are young playmakers with an opportunity to pick up the slack early in their careers.
Defense: A stroke of genius. That’s the only way to describe Tom Mason’s switch to the 3-4 last season. By getting an extra athlete on the field, SMU was far faster, more aggressive, and disruptive than in recent seasons. The Mustangs were third in the league in takeaways, doing an outstanding job of making stops and getting the ball back in the hands of the prolific offense. Was it a one-year blip on the radar? This season’s ensemble is determined to answer that challenge. It’ll do so without last year’s leading tackler and with grave concerns at nose tackle and in the secondary. Of course, that doesn’t mean there won’t be talent on this side of the ball. Up front, Taylor Thompson and Marquis Frazier form an impressive bookend at defensive end. The linebackers could be among the best in Conference USA, boasting future stars in sophomores Taylor Reed and Ja’Gared Davis. And the secondary is halfway there with FS Chris Banjo and CB Sterling Moore.

T3. Tulsa
Predicted Overall Record: 6-6
Predicted Conference Record: 4-4

Offense: Was last year’s decline in offensive production due to a change at coordinator, breaking in a new quarterback, or the dreadful play of the line? How about all of the above? The 2009 squad, while potent by some standards, was a shell of itself, accounting for 18 fewer points and 155 fewer yards a game compared to 2008. Tulsa will continue to go with the hurry-up, no huddle system, mixing in the run with the pass. Promising news comes from the return of nine starters, including QB G.J. Kinne and one of the nation’s best set of receivers from a non-BCS conference. Rebounding, however, hinges on the play of an offensive line that suffered myriad injuries a year ago and ranked 118th nationally in pass protection. If it can’t evolve, much of the playmaking ability from the likes of Damaris Johnson and Charles Clay will again be neutralized.
Defense: For the second consecutive season, the Tulsa D took steps in the right direction, but why doesn’t it seem to be enough? It could be that the Hurricane got progressively worse as the season progressed, allowing an average of 41 points over the final four games. It was that last stretch, which eliminated a solid first half of the year. The program will continue to employ a 3-3-5 formation that gets as many good athletes on the field at one time, and requires them to play hard and fast. That philosophy accepts that big plays will be allowed as long as it nets even more sacks and takeaways. The pillars of the defense will be DE Cory Dorris, LB Tanner Antle, and spur safety DeAundre Brown at each respective level.

T3. UTEP
Predicted Overall Record: 6-6
Predicted Conference Record: 4-4

Offense: UTEP has a fourth-year starter, Trevor Vittatoe, behind center and an All-America candidate, Donald Buckram, carrying the ball. There’s not too much to worry about with an offense that’s forever been the catalyst for the program. Of course, that doesn’t mean the Miners don’t have anything to work on in August. Vittatoe has to rebound from his worst year in El Paso, the left side of the line must be rebuilt, and someone has to replace WR Jeff Moturi and take some heat off go-to guy Kris Adams. They’re the type of problems that can be overcome with extra work in the summer and the emergence of a few underclassmen. Now that Buckram has bloomed, the backfield could be Conference-USA’s best if Vittatoe can channel his sophomore year and shake off a rocky offseason.
Defense: The hot potato that is the UTEP defense is now in the hands of former UNLV assistant Andre Patterson. The most noticeable change as he tries to solve one of the nation’s feeblest units is a shift to a 4-3 base that’ll require more depth and talent up front. While the Miners have potential on the outside, with ends Bernard Obi and Robert Soleyjacks, the tackles have no experience and little hope of plugging the holes in a run defense that allowed more than five yards a carry. The return of Jamie Irving from injury and Isaiah Carter from academics will help bolster a corps of linebackers that’s deeper than at any point in the last few seasons. The secondary was fortunate to get back star S Braxton Amy back for one more year because the rest of the unit is unproven and about to get picked on regularly. With only four starters back from a group that gave up at least 30 points eight times, it’s going to be a long year in El Paso.

5. Rice
Predicted Overall Record: 3-9
Predicted Conference Record: 2-6

Offense: Potential comes from places, like Tuscaloosa, Ann Arbor, and Miami. The task ahead for new coordinator David Beaty is to make sure the Owls start to realize it. In the first year without star QB Chase Clement and WR Jarett Dillard, Rice was horrible on offense, averaging just 18 points and a league-low 304 yards a game. Provided the line can start consistently putting a helmet on someone, better days should be on the horizon. Alabama transfer Nick Fanuzzi returns at quarterback, where he’s getting competition from Miami transfer Taylor Cook and redshirt freshman Taylor McHargue. The best gem, however, comes from Michigan. RB Sam McGuffie was on everyone’s wish list two years ago. Now he’s an Owl, and he’s posturing to take the rest of Conference USA by storm.
Defense: The coaches change. The players change. The results? Well, they’re painfully similar year after year. There’s no end to Rice’s defensive struggles, a perennial display of futility that tests that staff and forces the offense to operate on a perpetual fast break. Nine starters are back, but that’s small consolation for a unit that was helpless against the pass and gave up more points per game, 43, than any other program in America. Although all-star DL Scott Solomon is a nice starting point and FS Travis Bradshaw has been a gem as a walk-on, they’re not nearly enough to bolster a defense riddled with holes. In a league that favors the pass, the Owls will continue having trouble until they can recruit and develop a better caliber of defensive back.

6. Tulane
Predicted Overall Record: 1-11
Predicted Conference Record: 0-8

Offense: At worst, Tulane should have the kind of freewheeling attack that can move the ball and drag other teams into shootouts. It hasn’t happened under the direction of Bob Toledo. Even last season, with star RB Andre Anderson and WR Jeremy Williams back from injuries, the Green Wave still ranked last in Conference USA scoring. Over the last two seasons, it’s been held to single-digits seven times. Now, coordinator Dan Dodd is looking to install more of a vertical passing game, a departure from the conventional West Coast system. At face value, it seems like an odd fit since second-year QB Ryan Griffin doesn’t have a rifle and the receivers have no proven deep threat. After whetting the locals’ appetite last November, Griffin is naturally the key to any turnaround. He’ll get unexpected support from an exciting collection of young backs, while looking to maximize the playmaking skills of up-and-coming WR D.J. Banks.
Defense: Few units in America are greater coach killers than the Tulane D. It’s gone through three coordinators in the last four years, and second-year assistant Steve Stanard is living on borrowed time if he can’t initiate something positive. To be fair, he’s had little talent to work with, inheriting a team that’s had no players earn a spot on either of the last two All-Conference USA teams. The Green Wave couldn’t be feebler than a year ago, ranking no higher than 109th nationally in rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, scoring defense, and takeaways. Stanard is making a shift in alignment, adding a nickel back at the expense of a linebacker in order to bolster that leaky secondary. He’s also banking on a pair of transfers, DE Dezman Moses and LB Trent Mackey, who began their careers at Iowa and Duke, respectively.

East
- East Carolina Preview | Marshall Preview | Memphis Preview
- Southern Miss Preview |  UAB Preview | UCF Preview

West
- Houston Preview | Rice Preview | SMU Preview
- Tulane Preview | Tulsa Preview | UTEP Preview

- 2010 C-USA Preview | 2010 C-USA Unit Rankings | 2010 C-USA Schedules & Picks
- 2010 CFN All-C-USA Team & Top 30 Players | Get C-USA Tickets
- 2010 C-USA Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish