2012 Conference USA Football Preview, Prediction
Including a 4-1 record in 2011, which featured Houston defeating Penn State in the Cotton Bowl.
Major changes to the conference are just around the corner, as Houston, Memphis, Southern Methodist and Central Florida all depart to the Big East beginning in 2013. The C-USA will welcome Charlotte, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Old Dominion and Texas-San Antonio (although it is undecided which teams will be football members only).
Here's a preview for the 2012 C-USA season with predictions:
Central Florida Knights: 9-3 (7-1)
After threatening to transfer, quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey agreed to rejoin the team as a receiver-wildcat quarterback combo. This is huge for the Knights, who also return starting QB—and conference leader in passing efficiency—Blake Borties, along with the addition of Miami (Fla.) running back transfer Storm Johnson. UCF looks to have an extremely dangerous offensive attack and could run away with the East if Southern Miss has a down year.
Southern Miss Golden Eagles: 8-4 (7-1)
The Golden Eagles are coming off their first 12-win season in school history. However, head coach Larry Fedora and nearly his entire coaching staff fled to Chapel Hill and the North Carolina Tar Heels. Southern Miss returns just 10 starters to the field, not including NFL draft pick Austin Davis at quarterback. It'll find itself in a lot of dogfights, but a winning record for the 19th straight season is nowhere out of the question.
Marshall Thundering Herd: 7-5 (5-3)
Simply put, Marshall brings back a very inexperienced defensive unit after graduating its two first-team All-Americans (Vinny Curry and Omar Brown). The Herd will struggle as a whole to stop the run with lack of playmakers within the front seven. Quarterback Rakeem Cato returns to what should be a smooth-running offense, but can only do so much.
East Carolina Pirates: 5-7 (3-5)
The Pirates' defense was much improved last year, holding opponents to 102.5 less yards per game than they did in 2010 after switching to a 3-4. It suffers a huge blow to the offense by losing quarterback Dominique Davis, but retains play-making wide receiver Justin Hardy. There's some interest with East Carolina in 2012.
Memphis Tigers: 4-8 (2-6)
Former TCU offensive coordinator and QBs coach Justin Fuente takes over a program that has tallied a total of five wins over the course of three seasons. He will enjoy a team that returns 17 starters, but that could also work against his favor, as the Tigers finished 2-10 in 2011.
UAB Blazers: 2-10 (1-7)
Former Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee became the fourth head coach in UAB history in December, accepting what seems to be an impossible task: Take the Blazers to a bowl. It's been seven seasons since UAB has ended the regular season with a winning record, but it's unlikely that the trend will stop in 2012. Or 2013, '14, '15...you get the idea. The Blazers lost four starting offensive lineman to graduation and return a defense that was scorched for over 500 yards on seven different occasions. Ouch.
Houston Cougars: 9-3 (6-2)
New head coach Tony Levine did a great job leading the Cougars to a bowl win over Penn State after Kevin Sumlin left early for Texas A&M. Now, however, he'll be without NCAA career passing yards leader Case Keenum. Still, Houston has a relatively soft schedule, and all-conference running back Charles Sims will look to take control of the offense.
Tulsa Hurricane: 6-6 (4-4)
Coach Bill Blankenship's biggest challenge for 2012 will be to replace all-conference quarterback G.J. Kinne and the entire left side of the offensive line, which started a combined 83 games over the last four seasons. How quickly Nebraska QB transfer Cody Green (6'4", 245 pounds) can develop into the system will determine the outcome of Tulsa's season.
Southern Methodist Mustangs: 4-8 (3-5)
Surprisingly enough, coach June Jones decided to stay with SMU instead of joining Arizona State. That's great news for the Mustangs, but even he can't deny what's ahead: The ponies return just three starters to the offensive side of the ball, not including quarterback J.J. McDermott and the entire offensive line.
UTEP Miners: 3-9 (3-5)
After the Miners' unprecented run of back-to-back bowl appearances from 2004-05, coach Mike Price was given a contract extension through 2012. Oops. UTEP has then suffered six straight losing seasons and will likely endure another (in what would be Price's last season). The linebacker corps will be incredibly weak with three young, inexperienced starters and the secondary will be burned on a regular basis—something we're used to seeing.
Tulane Green Wave: 3-9 (2-8)
Curtis (C.J.) Johnson was hired by Tulane in December, and the Green Wave are very excited to have him on board. Wonder why? His resume: 25 years of coaching experience, a Super Bowl trophy with New Orleans and a national championship ring as an assistant with Miami (Fla.). However, nine straight losing seasons leads me to believe the trend won't come to an immediate hault in 2012.
Rice Owls: 2-10 (0-8)
In David Bailiff's six seasons as head coach, the Rice defense has allowed an average of 467.5 yards per game. That's a lot of first downs. The Owls are in no position to improve on their 4-8 seasons from a year ago, especially since they bring back just 10 starters to the roster.
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