2012 NCAA Football Preview: Conference USA

August 22, 2012

Four of the “Big Six” conferences have already been covered, which means that in the coming days there will be previews that the majority of casual football fans may not care too much about. I urge those fans to at least take a look at these previews, as there may be something in it that strikes your interest.

Here is the Conference USA preview.


Thanks to a 13-win season by Houston and a 12-win season by Southern Mississippi, Conference USA saw much more time in the national spotlight than it normally does. This year the conference will likely fade back into relative obscurity until bowl season, as there are no teams who begin the season ranked and no Case Keenum or Austin Davis to bring some attention to the league for individual accolades.

One of the things that make this conference interesting to follow is that there will almost always be a team that comes out of nowhere to reach or approach double-digits in the wins category by the time the season wraps up. This year it will be extremely difficult to predict who that team will be, as no one appears to have a major advantage over anyone else. Add in the fact that there is undoubtedly some NFL-caliber talent on some of these teams, and you have the perfect conference for fans who love to search for diamonds in the rough.

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


The teams in Conference USA generally aren’t setting the goal of holding up the crystal football at the end of the season. Even an undefeated team from this league is viewed with skepticism and unlikely to get a real look from the voters. For most teams, getting to any bowl game is a tremendous accomplishment and is a much more realistic goal of achieving.

There are some schools that may be looking a year ahead, however. Both Memphis and Central Florida will bolt C-USA for the Big East next season, which gives those programs two years in a conference with an automatic BCS bid before the system is replaced with a four team playoff format. For those programs, proving that they will be able to compete with the big boys is just as important as any postseason bowl invitation they might receive.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)


If the Thundering Herd continues to improve as much as they did in 2011, then this will be a very good football team by the end of the year. Marshall returns eight starters to the offense, which while struggling at times last season, did show signs of improvement by the end of the year. If the offensive line does its job, then sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato should have no problem finding a corps of very talented receivers.

The Thundering Herd will likely be kept in most conference games thanks to the defense. The difference for this team between another 7-6 season and a shot at the C-USA title will be the offense. If it improves, this is a very dangerous team. If not, the progress made by head coach Doc Holliday halts a little bit. 

Hi, My Name Is… (Player To Watch)

Aaron Dobson (Sr.), Marshall wide receiver

Dobson is a playmaker that is a bit under the radar because the Thundering Herd experienced some issues on the offensive end last season. The 6’3, 200 pound senior will become a name most people will be familiar with around NFL Draft time next spring, but if things go well, he’ll be known well before that. He has the size and speed to dominate many of the defensive backs he will go up against in C-USA play.

Some people may already know Dobson as the player who made a ridiculous one-handed touchdown grab in the back of the end zone against East Carolina last season. If Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato has time to work, expect Dobson to catch a lot more touchdown passes this season. I can’t guarantee they’ll be as spectacular as that one, though.

Out-Of-Conference Game To Watch

Central Florida vs. Ohio State (September 8th)

How good is Ohio State’s offense under Urban Meyer out of the gate? If UCF plays to its potential, we may get an answer to that question. Central Florida is routinely one of the best defenses in Conference USA, and although it lost some key pieces from last season, is poised to be one of the better squads again in 2012. While the Buckeyes are bigger and more talented than the Knights, this could be a tricky matchup for Meyer & Co.

If the defensive line can get pressure on Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, the Knights may be able to make this a game past halftime. It would be a small shock, but UCF has the personnel to surprise a Buckeyes team that may be sleep walking through its non-conference schedule.

In-Conference Game To Watch

Tulsa vs. Houston (November 10th)

This game may end up deciding who represents the West Division in the C-USA title game. Last year, the Cougars thoroughly thrashed the Golden Hurricane in Tulsa, but Houston won’t have Case Keenum or former offensive coordinator Jason Phillips (who took the same job at SMU) to guide the offense. Instead, redshirt sophomore David Piland, who filled in for Keenum in 2010 when he went down with an ACL tear, will run the show. How Piland does will ultimately determine how Houston does as a team.

Tulsa improved dramatically on defense in 2011, and that improvement should continue in 2012. That said, expect this game to be decided by the Golden Hurricane defense. The one area where Tulsa struggled last season was against the pass, and if Piland makes fans in Houston forget about Keenum, it could spell trouble for the Golden Hurricane unless the experienced secondary steps up.

Conference Predictions

East Division

1. Central Florida (9-3, [7-1])

2. Southern Mississippi (7-5, [6-2])

3. Marshall (7-5, [5-3])

4. East Carolina (6-6, [5-3])

5. UAB (3-9, [1-7])

6. Memphis (3-9, [1-7])

West Division

1. Tulsa (9-3, [7-1])

2. Southern Methodist (7-5, [6-2])

3. Houston (8-4, [5-3])

4. UTEP (3-9, [2-6])

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

6. Tulane (2-10, [1-7])

Championship Game (Central Florida vs. Tulsa)

Winner: Tulsa

Questions from the Readers

There are no questions from the readers for the Big 12 Conference. Remember, if you have a question that you want to see answered, send me it on Around The Corn’s Facebook page, by tweeting me at @KBecks_ATC or emailing me at kbecks@aroundthecorn.com. The conferences that have yet to be previewed are the MAC, Mountain West, Pac-12, SEC, Sun Belt, WAC and Independents. Thanks everyone.

– K. Becks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *