In a conference that is well known for its offensive firepower, the upcoming 2009-2010 college football season will not disappoint in Conference USA.
The 2008 season separated the pretenders from the contenders and this season should be much of the same with East Carolina, Southern Miss, Houston and Tulsa being at the top of the East and West divisions, respectively. Here are last year's standings.
East Division West Division
East Carolina 9-4 (6-2) Tulsa 10-3 (7-1)
Memphis 6-6 (4-4) Rice 9-3 (7-1)
Southern Miss 6-6 (4-4) Houston 8-5 (6-2)
UAB 4-8 (3-5) UTEP 5-7 (4-4)
UCF 4-8 (3-5) Tulane 2-10 (1-7)
Marshall 4-8 (3-5) Southern Methodist 1-11 (0-8)
Games That Will Decide the Conference
October 21st—Tulsa @ UTEP This is my shocker pick here, but I think UTEP could be a trap game for Tulsa. I say Tulsa goes down 49-44 in a shootout, making Houston the winner of the West division.
November 7th—Houston @ Tulsa Tulsa will have a new quarterback in junior Jacob Bower, but he will still put up big numbers in the no-huddle spread offense. It's all about revenge in this one; Tulsa wins another high scoring matchup between these two teams, 56-52.
November 28th—Southern Miss @ ECU The East will easily come down to these two teams and I see ECU taking care of business in a hard fought game 28-24.
*Notable Games: 10/31 Southern Miss @ Houston, 11/15 ECU @ Tulsa and 11/28 Tulsa @ USM. I say Tulsa could easily wind up losing one or both of these games, making it a smoother cruise for my pick.
Conference USA Title Game
December 5th ECU @ Houston—In my U of H Predictions article I said Houston would go either 11-1 or 10-2, so I see them having the home field in this contest.
Due to ECU's ability to play solid defense I see this being a somewhat lower scoring affair, in Conference USA standards, but Houston wins a close one 31-28 and takes home their first conference title since 2006 under Art Briles.
Players to Watch For
Conference USA is filled with stat sheet-filling studs this year. Here are some of the key names to be aware of and their stats from 2008.
ECU senior quarterback Patrick Pickney, 6'0" 198 lbs. 2,675 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions, with a 131.29 QB rating and a 60% completion percentage. Interesting Fact: Pickney will be a sixth year senior in his final season.
Southern Miss senior running back Damion Fletcher, 5'10" 177 lbs. 1,313 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns. Intersting fact: Fletcher hasn't registered a single fumble in his entire career at Southern Miss.
Southern Miss sophomore quarterback Austin Davis, 6'2" 210 lbs. 3,134 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions, with a 128.67 QB rating and a 57.5% completion percentage. Interesting fact: Davis threw for over 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns as a freshman for Southern Miss.
Houston junior quarterback Case Keenum, 6'2" 210 lbs. 5,020 passing yards, 44 touchdowns and 11 interceptions with a 159.91 QB rating and a 67.4% completion percentage.
Interesting fact: Keenum received the Conference USA Freshman of the Year award in 2007 and the Offensive Player of the Year Award in 2008. He has been tabbed to win the player of the year award again and is a Heisman Trophy candidate in 2009.
Memphis senior running back Curtis Steele, 6'0" 185 lbs. 1,223 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Interesting fact: Steele is only the fourth Tiger to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season.
Tulsa junior quarterback Jacob Bower, 6'3" 242 lbs. Providing he can fight off fellow quarterback G.J. Kinne, Bower would be a first year starter this year and is intriguing because he will put up huge numbers in Tulsa's high-octane offense. See last year's starting quarterback (4,059 yards and 46 touchdowns).
Conference USA should be an action-packed and interesting ride this year for folks looking to see plenty of competition and high scoring games. Tulsa and ECU cracked the top 25 rankings last year and this year could have the same result with Houston coming into the mix, as well.
Stay tuned for a good year.