2011 NCAA Football Preview: Conference USA

August 26, 2011


Conference USA may not have any national title contenders, but they are not short in supply of one thing: talented quarterbacks. The league is filled with experienced playcallers, from Dominique Davis at East Carolina to Case Keenum at Houston to G.J. Kinne at Tulsa. These aren’t just regional gems, either. Last year, Keenum was on the preseason Heisman Trophy watch before going down with a knee injury early in the season, and Kinne caught the eye of the nation on Christmas Eve last year when he lit up Hawaii for 343 yards passing and three touchdowns in the Hawaii Bowl.

If there is one reason to watch Conference USA games this season, it would be the potential for offensive firepower in almost every matchup. The defensive secondaries for most teams aren’t exactly top tier, but as mentioned above, the quarterbacks can still sling the ball around the field. Seriously, who doesn’t like watching a football game where the score resembles that of a basketball game every once in awhile?

Team(s) With the Best Shot at a National Championship Bid


Conference USA isn’t a Big Six conference, and they don’t have one of the mid-major powers in Boise State or TCU. With that said, it would be almost impossible for a team from this conference to make a serious run for a national title bid. They say that everyone has a chance at the beginning of the season, but realistically that is not the case.

It is far more interesting to debate which C-USA teams have a shot at breaking the double digit win barrier during the regular season. Houston, Southern Methodist, Southern Miss, and Central Florida all have a shot at doing just that, thanks to their powerful offenses. It will be interesting when these teams clash with each other, as those games will likely have some bearing as to which teams will play in the Conference USA Championship Game.

Quite frankly, the conference championship game is the only championship game that any team in C-USA has a real shot at making.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)

Southern Methodist

With Conference USA, it’s hard to pick a team that could surprise, simply because the predictions seem to be all over the board from one media outlet to the next. That being the case, let it be known that SMU doing well would not be a surprise to some people, or to Around The Corn Sports Blog.

The Mustangs return virtually everyone (10 offensive starters, 8 defensive starters) from a team that managed to go 6-2 in C-USA in 2010. Also, with as many gunslingers as there are in the conference, Mustangs junior quarterback Kyle Padron is extremely overlooked. Padron has been starting games since he was a freshman, and thrives in coach June Jones’ Run ‘N’ Shoot offense that made Colt Brennan a hot topic of conversation several years ago.

The offense should not be an issue at all for SMU this year. In fact, they have the ability to go blow for blow offensively with every team on their schedule. However, it’s their defense that makes the Mustangs particularly dangerous in Conference USA. Last year they had one of the best defenses in almost every major category, and overall was the second best defense behind UCF, which boasted one of the better defensive squads in the entire nation. With eight returning starters, including the entire secondary, this is an SMU team that should be able to contain, if not shut down, some of the better offensive attacks in the country.

The Mustangs are a real threat to win their first conference title since they tied for the Southwest Conference title in 1984.

Hi, My Name Is… (Player To Watch)

Case Keenum (Sr.), Houston quarterback

Keenum is gearing up for a sixth season of college football after being granted another year of eligibility after injuring his knee in the third game of the 2010 season. He probably won’t be a contender for the Heisman Trophy as he was before his injury last year, but should still be a headache for defensive coordinators assuming he stays healthy.

Keenum is arguably the single most valuable player on any Conference USA team. With him, Houston was supposed to contend for a C-USA title, and started off 2010 by beating their first two opponents by at least 30 points. Without him, the Cougars went 3-7 and had trouble finding their identity on offense.

Impressing NFL scouts will almost undoubtedly be on Keenum’s mind this season, as he was a solid prospect before his injury. If he can prove that the injury does not affect his play, not only will he be hearing from NFL teams come next spring, he will help Houston win a lot of football games this season and even put the Cougars in position to win the Conference USA title.

Out-Of-Conference Game To Watch

Tulsa vs. Oklahoma (September 3rd)

Sure, the game is in Norman, and in all likelihood the Golden Hurricane will get thoroughly beaten, but there aren’t a whole lot of games on Conference USA teams’ schedules worth getting excited about. Besides, Oklahoma could come out rusty, and Tulsa could take them by surprise much like BYU did to the Sooners in 2009.

Tulsa isn’t as talented as that BYU team was, but they do have the ability to score a lot of points. The question is, how will G.J. Kinne fare against a swarming Sooners defense unlike anything he sees on a week to week basis in Conference USA? If Tulsa’s game against Oklahoma State last year is any indication, probably not very well.

There is a small glimmer of hope for Tulsa in this game. The Golden Hurricane pass defense can’t be any worse than it was last year (it ranked last in the nation), and even a moderate improvement should help them immensely. If Tulsa can prevent Oklahoma from scoring into the 50s, then they have a chance to keep up on offense.

In-Conference Game To Watch

Southern Methodist vs. Houston (November 19th)

This is a C-USA West division battle, and it may decide which teams represents the division in the Conference USA title game.

Both teams should do very well this year after mediocre campaigns in 2010. SMU is a veteran laden team that not only can score, but can contain teams with a powerful offense. This is bad news for Houston, which should have a very good offense as usual, but may have issues defensively.

Although Case Keenum and Kyle Padron of are two of the more talented quarterbacks in the entire conference, this game may come down to the running game. SMU has a solid running back in junior Zach Line, and the Mustangs will use him to target a Houston defense that was weak last season against the run. Houston does return starters at every position on the defensive line, but it remains to be seen how improved they will be.

Conference Predictions

East Division

1. Central Florida (9-3, [6-2])

2. East Carolina (7-5, [6-2])

3. Southern Mississippi (9-3, [6-2])

4. Marshall (3-9, [3-5])

5. UAB (3-9, [2-6])

6. Memphis (1-11, [0-8])

West Division

1. Southern Methodist (10-2, [8-0])

2. Tulsa (7-5, [6-2])

3. Houston (10-2, [6-2])

4. Rice (3-9, [3-5])

5. Tulane (4-9, [2-6])

6. UTEP (2-10, [0-8])

Championship Game (Central Florida vs. Southern Methodist)

Winner: Southern Methodist

– K. Becks

2 Responses to 2011 NCAA Football Preview: Conference USA

  1. Josie Ellsmore on September 19, 2011 at 3:43 am

    Did you design the site this well with the default blog tools? Your blog is incredible.

    • K. Becks on September 22, 2011 at 8:28 pm

      The design is a customized version of Magazine Basic. So no, it was not completely designed with default tools.

      Thank you very much, though.

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