College Football 2011: Conference USA Preview

Robert TrainorContributor IMarch 14, 2011

College Football 2011: Conference USA Preview

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    Most college football fans overlook Conference USA and see the teams within this conference as jokes who can't compete with BCS conference schools.

    This is not necessarily true. C-USA has provided college football with quality teams that can compete at any level.

    Here's a look at how the teams stack up this year.

12. Memphis Tigers

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    2010-2011 Record: 1-11 (0-8)

    Projected 2011-2012 Record: 4-8 (2-6)

    Key Players: Ryan Williams (QB) Sophomore; Marcus Rucker (WR) Junior

    Expect another disappointing season from the Memphis Tigers, who were the league's worst team a year ago. However, I can see Memphis performing on a different level this year. Starting QB Ryan Williams has more experience and will connect with leading receiver Marcus Rucker many times throughout the year.

    They will certainly win more games. The Tigers have a weak schedule including teams such as Arkansas State, Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee, Rice and even Tulane. There are plenty of opportunities for Memphis to win. The question is, are they up for the challenge?

    Projected C-USA Finish: 12th (sixth in East)

11. Tulane Green Wave

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    2010-2011 Record: 4-8 (2-6)

    Projected 2011-2012 Record: 3-9 (3-5)

    Key Players: Ryan Griffin (QB) Sophomore; Orleans Darkwa (RB) Sophomore

    As a Tulane football fan, there is a lot to look forward to for your football team's future. Tulane will not progress dramatically this year, however. I would expect a performance similar to last year.

    Tulane has an inexperienced roster that hasn't fully developed yet. With that said, you will witness many growing pains leading to another disappointing season. However, expect big numbers out of Griffin and Darkwa as they shape up the team's future.

    Projected C-USA Finish: 11th (sixth in West)

10. Rice Owls

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    2010-2011 Record: 4-8 (3-5)

    Projected 2010-2011 Record: 3-9 (3-5)

    Key Players: Nick Fanuzzi (QB) Senior; Jeremy Eddington (RB) Sophomore

    Rice will lose many games this year due to lack of defense, not offense. The Owls will score plenty of points this year. They will participate in many shootouts, which they will lose.

    Rice has a tough non-conference schedule including teams such as Texas, Purdue, Baylor and Northwestern. The Owls have a long way to go to become competitive in Conference USA.

    Projected C-USA Finish: 10th (fifth in West)

9. UTEP Miners

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    2010-2011 Record: 6-7 (3-5)

    Projected 2010-2011 Record: 5-7 (3-5)

    Key Players: Marlon McClure (WR) Junior; Trey Brown (OLB) Freshman

    In comparison to past years, the Miners had a successful campaign in 2010. They made the New Mexico Bowl, where they lost to BYU 52-24. There won't be too much improvement this year due to the loss of their star QB, Trevor Vittatoe, which is why I expect a similar result for this season.

    UTEP has a very easy non-conference schedule facing teams such as Stony Brook, New Mexico and Colorado State.

    Projected C-USA Finish: Ninth (fourth in West)

8. UAB Blazers

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    2010-2011 Record: 4-8 (3-5)

    Projected 2011-2012 Record: 4-8 (3-5)

    Key Players: Bryan Ellis (QB) Senior; Pat Shed (RB) Senior

    UAB continues to struggle in C-USA. I don't see anything changing this year. They have a few good players, such as Bryan Ellis and Pat Shed, but that won't be enough.

    The Blazers' non-conference schedule is too powerful to handle. They will play Florida, Troy and Mississippi State.

    Projected C-USA Finish: Eighth (fifth in East)

7. Marshall Thundering Herd

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    2010-2011 Record: 5-7 (4-4)

    Projected 2011-2012 Record: 5-7 (4-4)

    Key Players: Aaron Dobson (WR) Junior; Donald Brown (CB) Junior

    Marshall will come up just short of a bowl appearance once again this season. The results should be about the same. The loss of QB Brian Anderson really sets this team back. Marshall is one step away from reaching a bowl game.

    Projected C-USA Finish: Seventh (fourth in East)

6. Tulsa Golden Hurricane

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    2010-2011 Record: 10-3 (6-2)

    Projected 2011-2012 Record: 6-6 (5-3)

    Key Players: G.J. Kinne (QB) Senior; Damaris Johnson (WR) Senior

    Tulsa's performance will drop greatly due to an impossible non-conference schedule.They have to face Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State.The Golden Hurricane will lose all of those games.

    The offense will be there for Tulsa, but the lack of defense will cost them C-USA games against UCF, SMU and Houston.

    Projected C-USA Finish: Sixth (third in West)

5. Houston Cougars

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    2010-2011 Record: 5-7 (4-4)

    Projected 2011-2012 Record: 9-3 (6-2)

    Key Players: Case Keenum (QB) Senior; Patrick Edwards (WR) Senior

    The Houston Cougars will have a bounce-back year due to the recovery of star QB Case Keenum. If Keenum does get injured again during the season, they have a great backup in David Piland, who started for the Cougars a year ago in his freshman year. This team would go undefeated in the conference if it could get a better defense.

    SMU and Houston meet towards the end of the season, which could decide the No. 1 team in the West.

    Projected C-USA Finish: Fifth (second in West)

4. Southern Miss Golden Eagles

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    2010-2011 Record: 8-5 (5-3)

    Projected 2011-2012 Record: 8-4 (6-2)

    Key Players: Austin Davis (QB) Senior; Danny Hrapmann (K) Senior

    The Golden Eagles will have a successful campaign in the conference, just like last year. Their kicker Danny Hrapmann has been very accurate and will be the deciding factor in a game or two. Southern Miss will come up just short in the East due to strong teams such as UCF and East Carolina.

    Projected C-USA Finish: Fourth (third in East) 

3. East Carolina Pirates

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    2010-2011 Record: 6-7 (5-3)

    Projected 2010-2011 Record: 7-5 (6-2)

    Key Players: Dominique Davis (QB) Senior; Chevelle Buie (RB) Freshman

    ECU will give most foes fits due to its passing attack led by Dominique Davis, who threw for almost 4,000 yards last season. The Pirates will not win C-USA this season with their horrible defense, which was ranked 119th last season.

    Projected C-USA Finish: Third (second in East)

2. SMU Mustangs

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    2010-2011 Record: 7-7 (6-2), Conference USA runner-up

    Projected 2011-2012 Record: 7-5 (6-2)

    Key Players: Kyle Padron (QB) Junior; Zach Line (RB) Junior

    The SMU Mustangs will seek revenge after a devastating loss to UCF in the Conference USA title game. Expect the Mustangs to play for the title once again.

    What makes SMU better than most teams in the conference is its team balance. They have a good defense, unlike most teams in the conference.

    SMU will beat Houston, which will give the Mustangs the tiebreaker in the West.

    Projected C-USA Finish: Second (first in West), C-USA runner-up

1. UCF Knights

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    2010-2011 Season: 11-3 (7-1), Conference USA champs, Liberty Bowl champs

    Projected 2011-2012 Season: 10-2 (7-1)

    Key Players: Jeffrey Godfrey (QB) Sophomore; Toby Jackson (DE) Junior

    UCF is the most complete team in the conference. At times their offense has trouble executing, but their defense keeps them in games. UCF had a very strong recruiting class consisting of three 4-star recruits.

    The Knights will trip up along the way at least once against a team like ECU or SMU, but only once in the conference.

    Projected C-USA Finish: First (first in East), C-USA champions