Conference USA Football Predictions
Conference USA was a force in 2011 with Houston and Southern Miss both finishing the year in the top 25 with No. 18 and No. 20 rankings, respectively.
Houston was headed to a BCS bowl until it fell to Southern Miss in the conference title game. That proved to be the only loss of the season for the Cougars, who finished 13-1. The Golden Eagles finished 12-2. Both schools won their bowl games.
Overall, the conference sent five teams to bowl games and finished 4-1 in those contests.
The conference will remain strong in 2012 but will be weakened in 2013 when Houston, UCF, SMU and Memphis move to the Big East. These schools will be replaced by FIU, Louisiana Tech, North Texas and Texas-San Antonio.
2012 Conference USA Predictions
1. UCF - The Knights underachieved in 2011, finishing 5-7 overall and 3-5 in C-USA. Expect last year’s disappointment to drive them to an East division title in 2012. UCF boasted the top defense in the league last season, one that only allowed 18.3 points and 303.3 yards per game. That defense will be tough as nails once again. Plus, the offense gets a boost with the additions of transfers Tyler Gabbert (QB) and Storm Johnson (RB).
2. East Carolina - East Carolina finished 5-7 overall and 4-4 in league play last season, but I believe it will contend for an East division title this year. The Pirates showed major improvement on the defensive side of the football in 2011, and I expect the defense to be downright dominant at times in 2012. Middle linebacker Jeremy Grove and outside linebacker Derrell Johnson are players to watch.
3. Southern Miss - I believe the Golden Eagles are in for a bit of a letdown following last year’s conference championship. They only return 10 starters and lost head coach Larry Fedora, who is an offensive genius.
4. Marshall - The Thundering Herd finished second in the East with a 5-3 record last season but could take a step back. The defense carried the load last year, and Vinny Curry, the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year, is no longer around to anchor the unit. Plus, five of the team’s top six tacklers are also gone. Those losses will be too much to overcome.
5. UAB - The Blazers defeated eventual conference champ Southern Miss, but they finished just 3-6 in league play in 2011. Garrick McGee is a good hire, but he won’t get this ship turned around over night. He inherits only 11 returning starters and just one of those are an offensive lineman. With an inexperienced O-line, the Blazers will struggle to move the football in 2012.
6. Memphis - The Tigers have won only two conference contests the last three years. Conference wins will continue to elude them, but a favorable non-conference slate will give them an opportunity to improve on last year’s 2-10 record.
1. Houston - The Cougars lose Case Keenum, but I still expect them to be one of the most explosive offensive teams in the country. They led the nation in both scoring and total offense in 2011 with 49.3 points and 599.1 yards per game. Quarterback David Piland has starting experience, and he has plenty of speed at his disposal in the receiving corps.
2. Tulsa - Tulsa lost five games in 2011, but those five losses came to teams that all won at least 10 games. One of those losses was a 48-16 home defeat to Houston. They will have an opportunity to win the West, but I believe they’ll come up just short again with a loss at Houston being the difference.
3. SMU - The quarterback play should improve with the addition of Texas transfer Garrett Gilbert. And, Zach Line is a talented running back. Still, I have a hard time believing the Mustangs will be able to contend in the West with an entirely new offensive line. Not a single starter is back up front, and that will make life difficult for both Gilbert and Line.
4. UTEP - Mike Price has assembled a talented squad, but I fear a brutal schedule will be too much to overcome. They play Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Wisconsin in three of their first four games. They also get the three toughest teams from the East (East Carolina, UCF, Southern Miss) and two of those games are on the road. A bowl game doesn’t appear to be in the cards.
5. Rice - The Owls’ 10-3 campaign in 2008 is now a distant memory as they have endured three straight losing seasons. They won only four games in 2011 and they’ll be lucky to win that many this year. That talent just isn’t there right now, especially on defense.
6. Tulane - The Green Wave enter the season on a 10-game losing streak. They went 1-7 in C-USA contests last season and have recorded just five conference the past four seasons.
C-USA Championship – UCF over Houston