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2013 College Football Preview: Conference USA
By: Brian Graham - StatFox
Published: 7/4/2013  at  5:31:00 AM
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To get you prepared for the upcoming college football season, we continue our run of all FBS conference previews over the next several weeks. For complete coverage, download your copy of the 2013 StatFox Edge Football Preview. Next up is Conference USA, which will be quite different than it was last year. While four schools bolted for the American Athletic Conference (Houston, Memphis, SMU and UCF), C-USA accepted six others to form a 14-team league. The six newcomers are Louisiana Tech and UTSA from the WAC, and four former Sun Belt Conference schools -- Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Middle Tennessee and North Texas.

Odds to Win C-USA

(For the latest Odds, connect to Sportsbook.ag)
3-to-2: Tulsa
3-to-1: Marshall
3-to-1: East Carolina
10-to-1: Rice
12-to-1: Southern Mississippi
18-to-1: Louisiana Tech
18-to-1: North Texas
18-to-1: Middle Tennessee
40-to-1: UTEP
40-to-1: UAB
50-to-1: Florida Atlantic
50-to-1: Florida International
50-to-1: Tulane
75-to-1: UTSA

TULSA GOLDEN HURRICANE


2012 Statistics:
SU Record: 11-3 (8-1 in C-USA)
ATS Record: 9-5 (64%)
Over/Under: 5-8
Points Scored: 34.7 PPG
Points Allowed: 23.6 PPG
Odds to Win 2014 BCS National Championship: 50/1 (Field)

2013 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 7
Defense: Starters Returning: 3
Tulsa certainly has the offense (34.7 PPG, 30th in FBS) to defend its C-USA title, with a ground game that gained 246 YPG (9th in FBS). RBs Trey Watts (1,108 rush yds, 343 rec. yds) and JaíTerian Douglas (936 rush yds, 7 TD) should produce more in a weaker conference. QB Cody Green (2,592 pass yds, 17 TD, 11 INT) was limited by a shoulder injury last year, and has all the pieces in place to succeed with WRs Keyarris Garrett (845 rec. yds, 9 TD) and Jordan James (568 rec. yds), and a burly O-Line that allowed just nine sacks all season. The defense ranked among the nationís top-3 teams in sacks (53) and TFL (110), but the starting D-Line all left. The secondary is also shaky, but senior S Marco Nelson (8 INT career) is a rock. Senior LB Shawn Jackson (88 tackles, 10.5 TFL) is the heart and soul of this unit.

MARSHALL THUNDERING HERD


2012 Statistics:
SU Record: 5-7 (4-4 in C-USA)
ATS Record: 4-7-1 (36%)
Over/Under: 9-2
Points Scored: 40.9 PPG
Points Allowed: 43.1 PPG
Odds to Win 2014 BCS National Championship: 50/1 (Field)

2013 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 8
Defense: Starters Returning: 7
Marshallís offense sizzled last year, posting 40.9 PPG (7th in FBS), 534 total YPG (6th in FBS) and 365 passing YPG (led nation). The dynamic duo of QB Rakeem Cato (4,201 pass yds, 37 TD, 11 INT) and WR Tommy Shuler (FBS-best 9.2 catches per game; 1,138 rec. yds, 6 TD) both return along with TE Gator Hoskins (374 rec. yds, 10 TD). The veteran O-Line should provide plenty of holes for RB Kevin Grooms (737 rush yds, 6.1 YPC, 8 TD) to run through. New DC Chuck Heater takes over a defense that allowed 43.1 PPG (2nd-most in FBS) and 457 YPG (103rd in FBS). DEs Jeremiah Taylor (5.5 sacks, 8 QBH) and Brandon Sparrow (5 sacks) lead an improved D-Line, and LB Jermaine Holmes (81 tackles, 12.5 TFL) is tough. D.J. Hunter (102 tackles) moves from LB to safety, and CB Darryl Roberts (7 PD in 2011) is back healthy.

EAST CAROLINA PIRATES


2012 Statistics:
SU Record: 8-5 (7-1 in C-USA)
ATS Record: 6-7 (46%)
Over/Under: 7-5
Points Scored: 31.5 PPG
Points Allowed: 31.6 PPG
Odds to Win 2014 BCS National Championship: 50/1 (Field)

2013 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 8
Defense: Starters Returning: 8
The Pirates have plenty of offensive firepower, led by QB Shane Carden (3,116 pass yds, 23 TD, 10 INT; 8 rush TD). He finished with 304 passing YPG, 19 TD and 5 INT in his final seven games (5-2 record). Top WR Justin Hardy (1,105 rec. yds, 11 TD) is back to dominate C-USA corners again, while WRs Jabril Solomon (410 rec. yds, 24.1 YPC) and Danny Webster (5 rec. TD) can also play at a high level. ECUís No. 90 rushing offense (136 YPG) should improve as RB Vintavious Cooper (1,049 rush yds, 7 TD) finds better consistency. New DC Rick Smithís defense (31.6 PPG, 90th in FBS) needs the most work in the secondary (276 pass YPG, 13th-worst in FBS) that has S Damon Magazu (80 tackles) and not much else. The front seven has plenty of experience though with DE Lee Pegues (36 tackles) and LBs Derrell Johnson (7 sacks, 8 QBH, 11 TFL) and Jeremy Grove (83 tackles).

RICE OWLS


2012 Statistics:
SU Record: 7-6 (4-4 in C-USA)
ATS Record: 8-4-1 (67%)
Over/Under: 6-7
Points Scored: 31.8 PPG
Points Allowed: 30.0 PPG
Odds to Win 2014 BCS National Championship: 50/1 (Field)

2013 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 9
Defense: Starters Returning: 10
The Owls dug themselves a 1-5 hole before winning five of six before crushing Air Force 33-14 in the Armed Forces Bowl. Almost every starter returns, including dual-threat QB Taylor McHargue (2,209 pass yds, 12 TD, 5 INT; 667 rush yds, 11 TD) and top WR Jordan Taylor (826 rec. yds; 3 TD in bowl). But the strength of Rice, per usual, is its ground game (202 YPG, 29th in FBS) with a smart O-Line blocking for McHargue and senior RBs Charles Ross (800 rush yds, 5 TD) and Turner Peterson (591 rush yds, 5 TD). The 83rd-ranked defense (426 YPG) is a bit thin up front in the 4-2-5 set, but LB Cameron Nwosu (92 tackles) sure can play, and the secondary drips with talent, led by DB Paul Porras (93 tackles) and CB Phillip Gaines (18 PD).

SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI GOLDEN EAGLES


2012 Statistics:
SU Record: 0-12 (0-8 in C-USA)
ATS Record: 3-9 (25%)
Over/Under: 8-4
Points Scored: 19.7 PPG
Points Allowed: 37.8 PPG
Odds to Win 2014 BCS National Championship: 50/1 (Field)

2013 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 4
Defense: Starters Returning: 9
New Head Coach: Todd Monken
The Eagles fell from 12 wins in 2011 to zero wins last season, losing eight of the 12 games by double-digits. They scored 19.7 PPG (13th-worst in FBS), gave up 37.8 PPG (9th-worst in FBS), and fired Ellis Johnson after one season. Former Oklahoma State OC Todd Monken will run a spread attack with redshirt freshman QB Kyle Sloter, but no Southern Miss receiver had even 350 yards last year. RB Jalen Richard (426 rush yds) is the key to this run-oriented offense. New DC David Duggan reunites with some of the players he recruited as the teamís co-DC in 2011 before leaving. DT Khyri Thornton (9.5 TFL) is the only experienced lineman, but the LB corps is stacked with Alan Howze (66 tackles) and Dylan Reda (55 tackles). Play-making CB Deron Wilson (8 INT, 3 TD career) and DB Jacorius Cotton (41 tackles) also shine.

LOUISIANA TECH BULLDOGS


2012 Statistics:
SU Record: 9-3 (4-2 in WAC)
ATS Record: 5-6-1 (46%)
Over/Under: 11-1
Points Scored: 51.5 PPG
Points Allowed: 38.5 PPG
Odds to Win 2014 BCS National Championship: 50/1 (Field)

2013 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 3
Defense: Starters Returning: 4
New Head Coach: Skip Holtz
After guiding the nationís top offense in points (51.5 PPG) and yards (578 YPG), head coach Sonny Dykes moved onto Cal, allowing Skip Holtz to lead a heavily-depleted offense in the post-WAC era. Texas Tech transfer QB Scotty Young will likely replace QB Colby Cameron, as Young is most suited to run this spread attack. The pace of the offense might slow down a bit as the Bulldogs break in a new offensive line. This may hurt the production of RB Kenneth Dixon (1,194 rush yds, 6.0 YPC, 27 TD). WR D.J. Banks (434 rec. yds) will have a much larger role this year. DC Kim Dameron will operate a 4-2-5 defense, with the two linebackers likely being JUCO transfers, Mitch Villemez and Nick Thomason. The defensive standouts on this unit are DE IK Enemkpali (6 sacks) and CB LeíVander Liggins (50 tackles, 11 PD).

NORTH TEXAS MEAN GREEN


2012 Statistics:
SU Record: 4-8 (3-5 in Sun Belt)
ATS Record: 5-7 (42%)
Over/Under: 5-6
Points Scored: 20.9 PPG
Points Allowed: 27.8 PPG
Odds to Win 2014 BCS National Championship: 50/1 (Field)

2013 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 8
Defense: Starters Returning: 8
North Texas is celebrating its 100th year by joining Conference USA. Offense was a problem all last season, as the Mean Green eclipsed 24 points just once against a BCS school. Unimpressive QB Derek Thompson (2,629 pass yds, 14 TD, 14 INT) should start for the third straight season, but doesnít have much to throw to besides WR Darnell Smith (379 rec. yds). But the ground game has three capable backs in RBs Brandin Byrd (860 rush yds, 4 TD), Antoinne Jimmerson (544 rush yds, 5 TD) and Purdue transfer Reggie Pegram running behind a top-flight offensive line (FBS-low 6 sacks allowed). The same cannot be said for the lackluster D-Line (19 sacks, T-92nd in FBS). The back seven is strong though, led by LBs Zach Orr (108 tackles) and Derek Akunne (90 tackles), and All-Sun Belt CB Zac Whitfield (12 PD, 3 INT).

MIDDLE TENNESSEE BLUE RAIDERS


2012 Statistics:
SU Record: 8-4 (6-2 in Sun Belt)
ATS Record: 7-4-1 (64%)
Over/Under: 5-6
Points Scored: 26.6 PPG
Points Allowed: 28.0 PPG
Odds to Win 2014 BCS National Championship: 50/1 (Field)

2013 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 9
Defense: Starters Returning: 8
The Blue Raiders (6-2 in Sun Belt) join Conference USA with most of their starters intact, including QB Logan Kilgore (2,571 pass yds, 16 TD, 6 INT) and RB Jordan Parker (851 rush yds, 3 TD). Both will benefit from a polished O-Line that allowed just seven sacks last year (tied 2nd-fewest in FBS). While Kilgore will need JUCO WR duo Devin Clarke and Chris Perkins to emerge, he welcomes back senior WR Tavarres Jefferson (team-high 51 rec. in 2011) who redshirted in 2012 (hamstring injury). The defense allowed 441 YPG (94th in FBS) and had just 14 sacks. More pressure from LB/DE Leighton Gasque (4 sacks) will help S Kevin Byard (74 tackles, 4 INT, 2 TD) and CB Kenneth Gilstrap (2 INT). MLB Roderic Blunt (75 tackles) is a heady player.

UTEP MINERS


2012 Statistics:
SU Record: 3-9 (2-6 in C-USA)
ATS Record: 4-8 (33%)
Over/Under: 6-6
Points Scored: 21.2 PPG
Points Allowed: 29.8 PPG
Odds to Win 2014 BCS National Championship: 50/1 (Field)

2013 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 6
Defense: Starters Returning: 5
New Head Coach: Sean Kugler
Mike Priceís retirement opened the door for Sean Kugler, the former UTEP player and coach who was the Steelers O-Line coach for the past three years. Kugler will run mostly a two-back set to get a lead blocker for RB Nathan Jeffery (897 rush yds, 7 TD) who was slowed by a hamstring injury last year. Texas A&M transfer QB Jameill Showers (7.3 YPA, 2 TD, 1 INT career) will likely beat out Blaire Sullivan (9.1 YPA, 2 TD, 1 INT career) for the starting job. WR Jordan Leslie (973 rec. yds, 6 TD) is the No. 1 target. The poor defense (440 YPG, 93rd in FBS) still needs work, but a solid nucleus exists with DE Horace Miller (6 sacks), DT Germard Reed (7 TFL), LB A.J. Ropati (58 tackles) and star S Richard Spencer back from a knee injury.

UAB BLAZERS


2012 Statistics:
SU Record: 3-9 (2-6 in C-USA)
ATS Record: 5-7 (42%)
Over/Under: 6-5
Points Scored: 28.3 PPG
Points Allowed: 37.5 PPG
Odds to Win 2014 BCS National Championship: 50/1 (Field)

2013 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 5
Defense: Starters Returning: 7
It was a long 2012 season for first-year coach Garrick McGee, whose UAB team was 2-6 in C-USA play, allowing 41.3 PPG to conference foes. One thing the Blazers did very well was throwing the football (309 pass YPG, 19th in FBS). Sophomore QB Austin Brown (2,673 pass yds, 15 TD, 12 INT) should be more confident running this offense, especially when he targets WR Jackie Williams (799 rec. yds) or TE Kennard Backman (4 TD). Brown also has do-it-all junior RB Darrin Reaves (1,037 rush yds, 13 TD; 302 rec. yds) at his disposal. The O-Line allowed 42 sacks (tied 4th-most in FBS), but returns four starters. The porous UAB defense lost the nationís leading tackler in MLB Marvin Burdette, and had the 8th-worst passing efficiency mark in the FBS (22 TD, 6 INT). The Blazers need much more out of DE Connor Boyett (3 sacks) and LB Patrick Bastien (6 TFL) to approach respectability.

FLORIDA ATLANTIC OWLS


2012 Statistics:
SU Record: 3-9 (2-6 in Sun Belt)
ATS Record: 8-4 (67%)
Over/Under: 5-6
Points Scored: 20.5 PPG
Points Allowed: 30.8 PPG
Odds to Win 2014 BCS National Championship: 50/1 (Field)

2013 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 5
Defense: Starters Returning: 7
After scoring a paltry 13.2 PPG in their first six games under new head man Carl Pelini, the Owls offense closed 2012 with 27.8 PPG over the final six contests. A more mobile quarterback -- either Melvin German III or JUCO Jaquez Johnson -- will take over for departed QB Graham Wilbert in this spread offense. WR William Dukes (979 rec. yds, 4 TD) shines amongst a deep group of receivers, but RB Jonathan Wallace (673 rush yds, 6 TD) may not improve his 3.8 YPC with a horrible O-Line. The defense was repeatedly steamrolled (202 rush YPG, 104th in FBS) and lacked pressure (12 sacks, T4th-worst in FBS). DEs Cory Henry (2 sacks) and Martin Wright (5 QBH) hope to change that. OLB Randell Johnson (2 sacks) and a solid secondary provide some hope that FAU can stay competitive in its new conference.

FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL GOLDEN PANTHERS


2012 Statistics:
SU Record: 3-9 (2-6 in Sun Belt)
ATS Record: 5-7 (42%)
Over/Under: 7-5
Points Scored: 25.0 PPG
Points Allowed: 31.7 PPG
Odds to Win 2014 BCS National Championship: 50/1 (Field)

2013 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 3
Defense: Starters Returning: 3
New Head Coach: Ron Turner
This 3-9 FIU team played better in the second half of the season, going 2-4 with the four defeats coming by 19 total points. However, Mario Cristobal was still fired and replaced by long-time OC Ron Turner. He will guide the Golden Panthers minus 16 starters into C-USA waters. However, the three offensive starters back are the most important ones -- QB Jake Medlock (2,127 pass yds, 13 TD, 2 INT), RB Kedrick Rhodes (699 rush yds, 3 TD) and WR Willis Wright (633 rec. yds, 25.3 YPC, 5 TD). All three are learning Turnerís pro-style offense (was a spread attack) and the O-Line has virtually no experience. New DC Josh Conklin will run a 4-3 he hopes will be anchored by DE Greg Hickman (9 TFL). The linebackers are green, but the secondary is solid with CBs Sam Miller (62 tackles, 5 PD) and Richard Leonard (52 tackles, 6 PD).

TULANE GREEN WAVE


2012 Statistics:
SU Record: 2-10 (2-6 in C-USA)
ATS Record: 7-5 (58%)
Over/Under: 5-6-1
Points Scored: 21.4 PPG
Points Allowed: 38.4 PPG
Odds to Win 2014 BCS National Championship: 50/1 (Field)

2013 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 8
Defense: Starters Returning: 8
Tulaneís offense was dreadful during its 2-10 season with 320 YPG (112th in FBS), and second-year coach Curtis Johnson now needs to pick a starter between QBs Devin Powell (4.5 YPA, 1 TD, 3 INT) and JUCO Nick Montana, son of Joe Montana. But there is no tough decision in the backfield with RB Orleans Darkwa (2,090 rush yds, 27 TD career) the only option for a hideous ground game (40 YPG on 1.7 YPC). WR Ryan Grant (1,149 rec. yds, 6 TD) could be C-USAís best receiver. The nationís 7th-worst defense (483 YPG) has a boatload of experience returning. CB Lorenzo Doss (5 INT) and S Darion Monroe (96 tackles) lead a talented secondary, and seniors DE Julius Warmsley (3 sacks) and LB Dominique Robertson (23 solo tackles) starred in the spring. K Cairo Santos (21-for-21 FG) won the 2012 Lou Groza Award.

TEXAS-SAN ANTONIO ROADRUNNERS


2012 Statistics:
SU Record: 8-4 (5-3 in WAC)
ATS Record: 7-3 (70%)
Over/Under: 6-2
Points Scored: 31.2 PPG
Points Allowed: 28.8 PPG
Odds to Win 2014 BCS National Championship: 50/1 (Field)

2013 Preview:
Offense: Starters Returning: 10
Defense: Starters Returning: 9
UTSA was 8-4, but just two of those wins came versus full FBS members (New Mexico State and Idaho). Although Larry Cokerís group cannot go bowling this year, they can keep improving with so many returnees. Heady QB Eric Soza (2,085 pass yds, 20 TD, 3 INT) can also run the football (364 yds, 6 TD), but RBs David Glasco II (537 rush yds, 5 TD) and Evans Okotcha (450 rush yds, 8 TD; 349 rec. yds) are the preferred ball carriers. WR Kam Jones (323 rec. yds) and TE Cole Hubble (308 rec. yds, 20.5 YPC, 4 TD) are both sure-handed targets. The defense allowed 50.3 PPG in its three WAC losses, but forced 29 turnovers for the year. The 4-2-5 set is anchored by All-WAC S Triston Wade (4 INT, 4 FF) and LBs Steven Kurfehs (71 tackles) and Blake Terry (64 tackles).

All 2013 College Football Previews:

MAC
Conference USA
Mountain West - July 8
Sun Belt - July 11
American Athletic - July 15
Independents - July 18
ACC - July 22
Big 12 - July 29
Big Ten - August 5
Pac-12 - August 12
SEC - August 19
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