Conference USA teams are synonymous with college football fans for their ability to put up ridiculous amounts of points and play zero defense. Not surprisingly, the same can be expected of CUSA teams in 2009 and the conference champion will most probably come down to the team that has the ball last.
The West division looks to be a two-team battle. Don't look for Rice to repeat their 10-win season of a year ago, as they lose their record setting quarterback/wide-receiver duo in Chase Clement and Jarett Dillard. Tulane has brought in another defensive coordinator to try and help a defense that ranked 119th last season. The battle at the top looks like it will come down to Houston and Tulsa. Houston might have the better offense with Keenum at QB, but the experience of Tulsa and their defense should allow them to have a fighting chance in capturing a league title.
The East division, also a seemingly two team race, will be decided when Southern Mississippi travels to East Carolina late in the season.
What team will be the biggest surprise in 2009?
The biggest surprise of 2009 might be Southern Miss who finished 7-6 last season. Despite the tough schedule (including a game at home against Virginia, and games at Kansas, Louisville, Houston and East Carolina) look for the Golden Eagles to step up and be competitive in both their in and out of conference games. They have plenty of weapons on offense including their quarterback Austin Davis, Damion Fletcher at running back and a fantastic playmaker in DeAndre Brown.
Look for Southern Miss to earn eight wins, and possibly one more if they can pull off a victory in the last game of the season at East Carolina.
What player if lost will impact the team the most?
The most detrimental loss to a team in this conference would be if Houston losses their quarterback Case Keenum. Case, who has been compared to former Cougar greats Andre Ware and David Klingler, enters his junior season as the premiere quarterbacks in the conference and has yet to reach his full potential.
Last season he led the country in total offense, throwing for over 5,000 yards. He has plenty of weapons at receiver and has a solid running back in Bryce Beall to compliment his passing game. If Keenum was to go down with an injury, all hopes of a chance at the West title will crumble as well.
Does a team from the Sun Belt make a BCS game?
Although CUSA will have some bowl eligible teams, it does not look like any of them will be making a push for a BCS bid. The best shot would be East Carolina, Tulsa and Houston. The schedule for all of these teams is not easy. They have a tough out of conference schedules and some tough road games in the conference for one team to really pull away from the rest of the pack.
Houston plays at Oklahoma State and Mississippi State and a home against Texas Tech. Tulsa is at Oklahoma, New Mexico, Southern Miss and home against Houston and Boise State. East Carolina is at West Virginia, North Carolina, Tulsa and home against Virginia Tech. East Carolina is also facing a tough FCS opponent in Appalachian State to open up the season.
What Conference USA team has the opportunity of beating a team from one of the BCS conferences?
There is one match up this season that seems like a sure win for Conference USA against the SEC... Houston v. Mississippi State. With a veteran team returning to Houston, and an incredibly high-powered offense, Mississippi State will be hard pressed to stop them. More importantly, MSU has had one of the most inept offenses in the country over the last few years... including losing to a terrible Auburn team in a barn burner that ended with a 3-2 score.
C-USA East C-USA West
East Carolina 9-3 Houston 10-2
Southern Miss 8-4 Tulsa 9-3
Memphis 7-5 UTEP 5-7
UCF 7-5 Tulane 4-8
Marshall 6-6 SMU 4-8
UAB 5-7 Rice 2-10