Conference Rankings # 11-7
Seeing as I play football for “The U,” of Rhode Island that is, most of you can guess which D1AA conference I think is the best, the Colonial Athletic Association of course, CAA for short. With six teams in the USA Today D1AA Top 25, including 3 in the top 7, it’s pretty clear that the CAA is a very deep conference.
While my D1AA views are pretty clear, my D1A opinion is not so clear, and before I started this article it wasn’t even that clear to me. After some research and the knowledge I already had regarding these conferences, I was able to come up with a list that I am pretty confident with.
Take a look…
11. Sun Belt
The best team in the Sun Belt last year was Florida Atlantic and I have no reason to believe they won’t be the top team this year. They return 18 starters and 10 on the offensive size of the ball. Other then FAU, the only other team in the conference to finish above .500 was Troy and they return 14 starters. Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette both finished at .500, and they return 14 and 15 starters respectively.
I don't really think any of the teams in this conference could hang with the big boys, I think the best a team from this conference would do in even the ACC would be about 3-9.
Last season Bowling Green won the Eastern Division before losing to the Central Michigan Chippewas in the conference title game. Both teams celebrated eight win seasons and that seems like an attainable goal for each team as Bowling Green returns 18 starters and Central Michigan returns 15. As many people might remember, the Chippewas lost an exciting 51-48 game against Purdue in the Who-Really-Cares Bowl. That showed the sixth best team in the overrated Big Ten is still better than the best team in this conference.
9. Conference USA
East Division: Central Florida lost 2,000 yard rusher Kevin Smith’s decision to leave after his junior season was a tough loss, but they still should finish first in the East Division. UCF was 10-4 and they should be able to put together another good season this year. UCF proved they were a team on the brink when they held tough with Texas in an early season game last season. East Carolina should have another strong season which has become pretty typical of them; they’re a consistent threat to win eight or more. Southern Mississippi is a stronger lower level program, but let’s hope they have more of an idea of what they want to do this season then graduate Brett Favre. Junior Running back Damion Fletcher might be the best player in Conference USA this season.
Memphis, “We Are” Marshall and Alabama-Birmingham should round out the East Division.
West Division: Tulsa was also 10-4 and should put together another good year. Paul Smith was C-USA Offensive Player of the Year as he racked up 5,065 yards passing and 47 touchdowns for the nation’s number one offense. He has thrown 82 touchdown passes in three seasons. Senior tailback Tarrion Adams should be the second best running back in the league behind Damion Fletcher. Some would compare current Houston sophomore QB Case Keenum to former Houston product Kevin Kolb. Keenum was the C-USA Freshman of the Year and hopes to build on that this season. There is not much going on in the West Division behind these two teams as Rice, Southern Methodist, UT-El Paso and Tulane all promise to finish sub-.500.
8. Western Athletic
Running Back Ian Johnson is somehow still playing on the blue turf at Boise State, seems like he’s been there forever. Jeremy Childs at wide receiver gives this team nice balance. Quarterback is up in the air between frosh Kellen Moore and senior Bush Hamdan. Seven starters return from the WAC’s best defense in points allowed, rushing, and passing. The special teams are also strong with an all-conference caliber kicker in sophomore Kyle Brotzman. Many players still remain from the team that beat Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
Nevada is my pick to finish second in the WAC. They finished 11thin the nation last year in total offense with over 460 yards a game, they scored more than 30 points a game eight times. The running game might be even stronger this year with senior Luke Lippincott back. This All-WAC back, had eight 100-yard games and 18 total touchdowns. The Wolf Pack have WAC Rookie of the Year Colin Kaepernick back to play quarterback for them this season, but he is currently in a battle to try and win his position from the guy he replaced-after injury-last year Nick Graziano. Their center is an all-conference player in Domonic Green, and they also return four other starters to their offensive line. Notice how I just talked at length about the strength they have on offense, that’s because their defense is much inferior to their offense. They’re short on experience and went to the JUCOs to try and fill up their secondary. If they can score 30 point a game, there might not be too many questions asked about their flawed defense.
Fresno State should finish third this year. Senior QB is Tom Brandstater is an all-conference candidate, as is senior TE, Bear Pascoe. Is his first name really Bear? The special teams unit should be strong with All-Wac candidate A.J. Jefferson returning punts and kicks.
Hawaii should experience a down season after the departures of All-American QB Colt Brennan and head coach June Jones. New coach Greg McMackin has his hands full this year, he has high expectations to live up to. The defense should be much more athletic than last year’s unit. They are led by defensive lineman David Veikune, and linebackers Solomon Eliminian and Adam Leonard, all of whom are seniors and all-conference caliber athletes. This team could put up a good showing this year or struggle though a rebuilding year, either way, don’t expect the kind of year they had last year.
New Mexico State, San Jose State, Louisiana Tech, Utah State, and Idaho were all sub-.500 teams last year and should be again this year.
When it comes down to it, I think that Boise State and Nevada are two teams that could mess with some of the bigger conference schools this year.
7. Mountain West
BYU returns nine offensive starters from a team that finished 11-2 and 13thin the nation last season, don’t be surprised if they go undefeated this season, that is, if they can beat Washington and UCLA. They have Preseason All-Mountain West players in QB Max Hall, RB Harvey Unga, WR Austin Collie and TE Dennis Pita so their offense should be potent. They also have two Preseason All-Conference linemen in Dallas Reynolds and Ray Feinga. Austin Collie is also the preseason pick as the Mountain West’s best return man. One question I have to ask is how does BYU recruit? It is a great accomplishment for that program that we are even talking about the possibility of them playing in the Fiesta Bowl on January 5th.
Utah will look to their defense to try and beat Utah as they have an preseason All-Conference pick at each line of defense, DL Paul Kruger, LB Jeff Horinek, and DB Bruce McCain who are all seniors. They also have All-Conference special teams in Kicker/Punter Louie Sakoda.
TCU and their fourteen returning starters should come in third. Expect these Christians to be in a decent bowl game come Christmastime.
New Mexico went 9-4 last season and should have another good season this year.
Air Force was 9-4 last year and 6-2 in league, but expect them to be very down this season as they only return 8 Falcons. They will virtually have to start over on offense as they lose QB Shaun Carney, while also losing RB/WR Chad Hall who was the Mountain West Player of the Year last season.
San Diego State, UNLV, Wyoming, and Colorado State will round out the bottom of this league and shouldn’t cause too much noise this season.
BYU enters the year 12th in the polls, don’t be confused if you open up your paper on a Sunday in September and see that BYU beat UCLA, BYU is for real this season. They’ll prove they belong with the big boys.
Look for my BCS conference rankings and previews tomorrow...