Skip Holtz and East Carolina made quite a splash last season, jumping out of the gate with wins over Va Tech and West Virginia on their way to their first C-USA title.
It’s time to break out the eyepatch and the stuffed parrot.
The East Carolina Pirates made the sports pages by beating Virginia Tech (-9) and West Virginia (-7.5) in the first two weeks of the 2008 college football season. They weren’t able to hold onto their spot in the Top 25, but the Pirates did go on to win their first-ever Conference USA title.
Well, there’s more looting and pillaging where that came from. Our 2009 C-USA preview reveals all, with the teams neatly arranged in order of predicted finish.
1. East Carolina Pirates: At 150-1, the Pirates are one of only three teams in Conference USA to get betting odds on the BCS championship. Coach Skip Holtz has a sound defense installed; the offense could use some work, but the line is strong and QB Patrick Pinkney (13 TDs, seven INTs) returns for a sixth year of eligibility. Over seven wins looks pretty good here.
2. Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles: The Eagles are ahead of the Pirates on the odds list at 100-1. Very good things could indeed happen in coach Larry Fedora’s second year in charge. The Eagles were 5-0 SU and ATS down the stretch in 2008.
3. Central Florida Knights: UCF has to replace the entire defensive backfield from a team that went 4-8 (5-5-1 ATS). The offense will be better under new co-ordinator Charlie Taaffe. The schedule’s tough, but a return to the bowl season is a reasonable aim.
4. Marshall Thundering Herd: Mark Snyder hasn’t generated anything positive in four years as head coach. He doesn’t have a clear No. 1 quarterback going into Year Five, although the running game is excellent with Darius Marshall (1,099 yards, 4.9 yard per carry).
5. Memphis Tigers: The Tigers (6-7 SU, 5-6-1 ATS) are due for some slippage after replacing all four starters on the offensive line and losing defensive coordinator Tim Walton to the Detroit Lions. QB Arkelon Hall (12 TDs, seven INTs) will only be as good as his protection.
6. UAB Blazers: This year’s Blazers look a lot like the ones who went 4-8 (6-4-1 ATS) last year. There’s room for improvement from senior QB Joe Webb, who ran for 1,021 yards in 2008 (his first full year under center), but also threw 16 picks with 10 touchdowns.
1. Houston Cougars: Houston is the third C-USA team with BCS title dreams at 150-1. This is Year Two of the Kevin Sumlin regime; the Cougars won seven of their last nine games in Year One at 5-4 ATS. Having to replace three starters on the offensive line is a red flag for handicappers, but the skill positions remain outstanding.
2. Tulsa Golden Hurricane: Tulsa’s going to rebuild on the fly after going 11-3 (8-5 ATS) last year. Offensive co-ordinator Gus Malzahn, the man behind the Wildcat offense, has left to take the same job in Auburn. But incoming Herb Hand won’t make too many changes to a team that scored 47.2 points per game.
3. Texas-El Paso Miners: The Miners had a much tougher adjustment last year with new defensive co-ordinator Osia Lewis, who brought the rare 3-3-5 system over from New Mexico. Further adaptation will improve their 5-7 SU and ATS result and send UTEP bowling.
4. Southern Methodist Mustangs: Continuing the second-year theme, June Jones and his sophomore QB Bo Levi Mitchell (24 TDs, 23 INTs) are strong candidates for a profitable campaign after going 1-11 (3-6-2 ATS) in Jones’ first season at University Park. The Mustangs have home games against Rice and Tulane to help in their climb out of the C-USA basement.
5. Rice Owls: Rice was first in the West standings last year at 10-3 (9-4 ATS). But QB Chase Clement (44 TDs, seven INTs) is gone, and September starts with three road games at UAB, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. The Owls do have home field versus Tulane, though.
6. Tulane Green Wave: Tough luck for a Tulane program that was ranked No. 114 out of 120 FBS teams in terms of Fremeau efficiency last year, even worse than SMU (No. 107). Unproven sophomore QB Joe Kemp has the inside track for the No. 1 job.
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