2004 Conference USA Football Preview

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Dyer’s Sportsline 2004 College Football Preview
Conference USA
By Ron Dyer of Dyer’s Sportsline
July 8, 2004

Football season is almost here and we at Dyer’s Sportslineare on top of everything. To get you back in the game, we willbe publishing snapshot previews of all Division I College Footballand NFL teams in the coming weeks to assist you in your preparationfor a successful 2004 football season. Teams are listed in expectedorder of finish.

Memphis Tigers
Head Coach: Tommy West, 4th Year (17-19); 10th Year Overall(52-54)
2003 Record: 9-4 SU, 6-6 ATS
Projected Record: 9-2

Last year, all Memphis did was go 9-4, won its third bowl gameever, stomped Louisville 37-7, destroyed Houston 45-14 at Houstonand finished up with the nation’s #9 ranked defense and #16ranked offense. Fifty-nine lettermen in 2004 return includingQB Danny Wimprine, RB DeAngelo Williams and a total of ten startersto what should be one of the countries most powerful offenses.

Team Strengths: Led by QB Danny Wimprine, RB DeAngelo Williams,and a big, strong and fast receiver group, they should be ableto improve upon an offense that averaged 30.2 points and 444.5yards per game last year. They possess one of Conference USA’smost seasoned offensive lines with five senior starters. Theline only allowed 12 sacks in 470 passing attempts last seasonwhile paving the way to a 4.5 yard per rush average. The Memphissecondary has been great and finished #19 in the nation in 2003only allowing 185 yards per game and 14 touchdown passes.

Team Weaknesses: Undersized defensive front six that needsto create more big plays and turnovers. Undersized line thatrelies on its quickness to get into the backfield. Linebackerswill struggle against teams who smash them in the mouth.

What to Expect in 2004: The problem last year was consistencyand losing winnable games while playing excellent in tough situations.With a veteran team in 2004, this might be Memphis’ Cinderellayear. The defense relies on a blitzing attack to make up forthe lack of stars. The offense should be near unstoppable withthe best skill players in the league and a solid experiencedoffensive line.

Louisville Cardinals
Head Coach: Bobby Petrino, 2nd Year (9-4 Overall)
2003 Record: 9-4 SU, 6-7 ATS
Projected Record: 9-2

Eighteen starters return to a team that has as much offensivetalent as any team in the country. It starts with quarterbackStefan LeFors whose understanding of the offense grew each weeklast season. WR J.R. Russell has the speed to get behind thesecondary and the size to go across the middle. The talent atrunning back is crazy with Eric Shelton and Lionel Gates. Eachhas the speed, burst and agility to get themselves in the openfield, but also have the strength and power to break tackles.This is a team that will average a minimum of 35 points a gamein our opinion.

Team Strengths: The offense is returning experienced starterseverywhere after ranking fifth in the nation in total offensein 2003.

Team Weaknesses: Defensive line was inconsistent and playedbelow expectations in 2003. Linebackers are undersized and relyon their speed. Athletic secondary with potential but haven’tturned that into production between the lines.

What to Expect in 2004: Louisville has no glaring flaws thatathleticism and experience won’t cover up. This program in thepast hasn’t done too well with lofty expectations. More thanlikely, they will arrive in Florida on October 14th 5-0 fortheir match up against the Hurricanes. With an extra half-weekof preparation, they might catch the Hurricanes off guard inthe middle of their new ACC schedule and pull off the upset.Cardinal coaches have been looking at moving some of the offensivetalent to the other side of the ball (including Michael Bush)to add playmakers. If Louisville is able to tighten up theirback seven on the defensive side of the ball, they should beclose to unstoppable.

TCU Horned Frogs
Head Coach: Gary Patterson, 4th Year (27-11 Overall)
2003 Record: 11-2 SU & 5-8 ATS
Projected Record: 9-2

TCU’s 2004 schedule is as easy as it gets with the exceptionof two road games at Texas Tech and Louisville. There’s no excusefor the Horned Frogs not to be one of the most explosive offensiveteams in the Conference USA but will their defense be able tostop the top teams in 2004?

Team Strengths: RB’s Lonta Dobbs and Robert Merrill shouldcombine to rush for over 2,000 yards. WR’s are experienced anddeep with good size and speed. TCU has the top offensive linein the Conference USA that will open up huge holes for Dobbsand Merrill to run through.

Team Weaknesses: Two headed quarterback system with BrandonHassell and Tye Gunn could backfire if the team slips up. Asis always the case, this won’t be a problem if TCU continuesto win. Losing Bo Schobel (and his 17 sacks) and Chad Pugh onthe defensive line has to be a concern. Lack of size at startingLB and depth are also big concerns. The pass defense gave upway too many yards allowing 256 yards per game. Two All-AmericanJUCO players could help turn this weakness into a strength.

What to Expect in 2004: With a healthy Marvin Godbolt returningat safety after his ACL tear, he can solidify Gary Patterson’sdefensive scheme. If TCU can end their slide on defense fromlast year, the rest of the Conference might be playing for secondplace.

UAB Blazers
Head Coach: Watson Brown, 10th Year at UAB (47-54)
2003 Record: 5-7 SU, 5-7 ATS
Projected Record: 6-5

Fifty-three returning letterman provide outstanding depth in2004 everywhere except on the offensive line where only twostarters return and little experience in the backups. The defenseis loaded on the line and at linebacker. If the offensive linecomes together, this program might be able to take the nextstep forward in 2004.

Team Strengths: QB Darrell Hackney has the potential to bespecial if he stays healthy. Three stud sophomore RB’s led byCorey White provide outstanding depth and potential. ReturningWR’s are as deep as any team in America. Defensive line willbe one of the conferences top units. Linebackers are tops inthe league with five starting caliber linebackers. The passdefense was solid last season only allowing 11 touchdown passesand 208 yards per game and with everyone nearly back shouldbe a strength in ’04.

Team Weaknesses: Little to no experience on the offensive linebesides last year’s two remaining starters Batusic and Gallowaythat only allowed 14 sacks in 2003.

What to Expect in 2004: UAB is looking at a possible bowl bidin 2004. If the offensive line can gel and step up, this teamhas enough talent to succeed. Unfortunately, even the strongestof teams with a weak offensive line will have mounting problems.UAB is definitely a team to watch early this season as a possibleplay on team ATS.

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Head Coach: Jeff Bower, 14th Year (89-62-1)
2003 Record: 9-4 SU, 8-5 ATS
Projected Record: 5-6

Southern Miss has had one of the toughest defenses in the countryover the past few seasons. This season sees seven starters needingto be replaced on the defensive side of the ball. There areseveral good players waiting to step in, so with time, lookfor the defense to gel and become dominant over the course ofthe season. However, the Golden Eagles offense has lacked popand their running game was almost non-existent. Good defensesare able to keep them in check.

Team Strengths: The top three receivers from last year returnled by All-Conference USA candidate Marvin Young. LB MichaelBoley looks to continue his All-America ways as the new leaderof the defense and is surrounded by a fast and experienced linebackercorps.

Team Weaknesses: QB Dustin Almond has the arm and experience,now he has to make more plays on a consistent basis. He onlycompleted 48.7% of his passes last year. The team does not havea go to #1 running back. A consistent pass rush from a newcomeron the defensive line has to develop. All four starters needto be replaced from a secondary that allowed 174 yards per gameand only nine touchdowns. This isn’t going to be the killerpass defense of years in the past, but it still should be oneof the best in the league.

What to Expect in 2004: In the four losses last year, SouthernMiss scored a total of 19 points against California, Alabama,Nebraska and Utah. It could be payback time for the defendingConference USA champions with road dates at Memphis, South Floridaand TCU to make a repeat tough. With the turnover on defenseand opening the season against Nebraska and California, theGolden Eagles could possibly be staring at a 0-2 start and anuphill battle. How the new players respond to controversy willdictate how far they go in Conference USA action.

Cincinnati Bearcats
Head Coach: Mark D’Antonio, 1st Year
2003 Record: 5-7 SU, 4-7 ATS
Projected Record: 5-6

Mark D’Antonio takes over the reigns for the Bearcats aftera successful career as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator. Hehas deep roots within Ohio high school ranks, which will helprecruiting efforts in the years to come. D’Antonio fell intoa nice situation with QB Gino Guidudli returning for his seniorseason and with 51 lettermen back.

Team Strengths: QB Guidudli and the defensive front seven areall strong positions, especially the ends and linebackers. DETrent Cole is one of the top overall defensive ends in the conferenceand will be in plenty of opposing quarterbacks faces this fall.

Team Weaknesses: Any injuries on the offensive line will exposethe Bearcats lack of depth. The receiving corps needs to stepit up in 2004 after a disappointing 2003 season. The interiordefensive tackles lack experience and injuries have hamperedtheir development, but the potential is there. Need a secondcorner back to step up and replace the departed Zach Norton.

What to Expect in 2004: With 16 starters back, it’s hard notto like this team as a Conference USA contender. However, witha difficult schedule, this will not be an easy task. D’Antonio’sdefenses at Ohio State were always in the top-ten in the countryand he should have a positive impact on the Bearcats defensein 2004. We really like this team’s potential, but they do havea difficult schedule including opening the season at Ohio State.The big game to watch is October 23rd vs. Memphis. A win wouldhelp propel the Bearcats into a stretch where they’ll see TCU,Southern Miss, South Florida and Louisville in succession. Theletdown game is October 9th facing league cupcake Army.

Tulane Green Wave
Head Coach: Chris Scelfo, 6th Year (26-34)
2003 Record: 5-7 SU, 5-5-1 ATS
Projected Record: 4-7

Only three defensive starters returned last year and the productiondropped dramatically allowing over 35 points and 464 yards pergame. 2004 looks brighter with 18 returning starters, includingeight on defense, and enough experience in the secondary andon the offensive line to improve two of last year’s weaker spots.

Team Strengths: All five starters return on the o-line forminga good front wall. The receiving corps is one of better onesin the league led by all-star Roydell Williams and all-starto be Chris Bush. The secondary looks good and is experienced.

Team Weaknesses: Lack of experience and depth at RB. We haveconcerns about where a pass rush will come from and the inabilityto stop the run.

What to Expect in 2004: Tulane doesn’t have enough all-aroundtalent to finish at the top of the conference. The quarterbackderby won’t be settled until the fall to replace J. P. Losman,but there are three solid players to choose from. The winnerwill have an experienced line to operate behind and one of thebest sets of receivers in the league helping matters. The schedulemakers did the Green Wave a favor in their first two games withgames against Mississippi State and Florida A&M to get theirnew quarterback up to speed quickly.

South Florida Bulls
Head Coach: Jim Leavitt, 8th Year (51-26 Overall)
2003 Record: 7-4 SU, 4-5 ATS
Projected Record: 3-8

Jim Leavitt has delivered 31 wins in the last 4 seasons. TheBulls are an excellent home team, even though their 21-gamehome winning streak was snapped by TCU last season. They winwith defense featuring plenty of athletes and a solid frontline.

Team Strengths: The offensive line has the potential to bestrong with all five starters returning. The Bulls top offensivethreat, Brian Fisher, has moved over to RB to fill a gapinghole. The defensive ends are great with the versatile CraigKobel, while Lee Roy Selmon adds a veteran inside presence.The pass defense was excellent last year and should be strongagain this season if the safety prospects play up to their expectedlevel of performance.

Team Weaknesses: The offense had major issues last year andoccasionally needed gimmicks running the option around the goalline last season to score. The quarterback situation is thekey with Pat Julmiste needing to step up and lead to get theoffense moving. The receiving corps didn’t do much last year,but that was mostly the fault of the quarterbacks. There’s onlyone returning starter at linebacker and no experience whatsoeveramong the reserves, so injuries could hamper this squad.

What to Expect in 2004: The road will be unkind with five verylosable games to South Carolina, TCU, Louisville, UAB and Cincinnati.This team is a good enough to win six games if everything comestogether, but their offense is going to need to control thetime of possession better than last year (2003 Average Timeof Possession 25:46 vs. Opponents 34:14).

Houston Cougars
Head Coach: Art Briles, 2nd Year (7-6 Overall)
2003 Record: 7-6 SU, 8-4-1 ATS
Projected Record: 3-8

After winning five games the previous three seasons, sevenwins was a great accomplishment in 2003. However, those sevenwins came against the weakest of the weak teams. Against qualitycompetition, the Cougars allowed 51.3 points per game in theirsix losses, all to bowl teams. Needless to say, there is stillwork to be done in Houston and Art Briles appears to have histeam heading in the right direction.

Team Strengths: QB Kevin Kolb was as productive as a true freshmanquarterback could be throwing six interceptions and 25 touchdownswhile completing more than 61% of his passes. The combinationof the speed of RB Anthony Evans with the power of RB JackieBattle combined for at least 1,500 yards.

Team Weaknesses: The run defense has to be better after allowing208.7 yards per game and 33 touchdowns. The offense coughedup the ball far too often (40 fumbles with 19 lost). Littleto no depth on the offensive line.

What to Expect in 2004: Houston appears to be a program onthe rise winning seven games last year and getting to a bowlgame. The Cougars have some excitement not seen in recent yearswith several good young players. If Houston gets back to a bowlgame this season, it will be a miracle with their schedule andfacing Oklahoma and Miami.

East Carolina Pirates
Head Coach: John Thomson, 2nd Year (1-11 Overall)
2003 Record: 1-11 SU, 5-7 ATS
Projected Record: 3-8

John Thompson has changed things up by bringing Florida’s Fun’n’ Gun offense to East Carolina. Unfortunately for the Pirates,they don’t have the receivers that are talented enough to runthis attack. With the return of RB Art Brown and QB’s JamesPickney and Patrick Dosh, some pieces to the offensive puzzleare in place. 2004 looks to be a building year to bigger andbetter things in 2005 and on for the Pirates.

Team Strengths: RB’s Marvin Townes and Brown have combinedfor 3070 yards rushing and 33 touchdowns in their careers, butthere has to be some concern with the change in offensive philosophyif their talents will be maximized. However, the new offensefits the talents of QB’s Pickney and Dosh. Linebackers are goodled by Chris Moore.

Team Weaknesses: Receiving corps only had 3 touchdown catchesin 2003 and lost leading WR Terrance Cooper and his 87 catcheslast season. A definite concern heading into the season! Onlyone starter returns on the offensive line that paved the wayfor 3.3 yards per carry and allowed 32 sacks. Pass rush onlyregistered 12 sacks in 2003. Run defense allowed almost 200yards per game and 26 rushing touchdowns. The young secondarywas exposed due to lack of pass rush.

What to Expect in 2004: QB Pinckney has a lot of responsibility,as he’s in charge of an offense that will run seven differentgroupings and up to 25 formations. Early on in the season, expectthe Pirates to struggle as they get comfortable with their newoffense and their young receivers develop. The schedule is difficult.They open with Big East favorite West Virginia and than WakeForest. The offense is going to try to outscore people, andas it appears, no significant strides can be expected on defense.

Army Black Knights
Head Coach: Bobby Ross, 1st Year at Army (94-86-2 Overall in16 College Seasons)
2003 Record: 0-13 SU, 5-7-1 ATS
Projected Record: 0-11

Bobby Ross is the new man on campus directing the Army BlackKnights who have struggled to a 1-24 record over the last twoseasons. They do have 18 starters back from the winless teamlast year, but their overall talent level is lacking. Ross willbe looking to run the ball more than his predecessor and thepieces are in place with running back Carlton Jones about toexplode behind an offensive line that is excited to run block.

Team Strengths: WR Aaron Alexander can run, block and makethe big catch. RB Jones is a nice ball carrier with power andshould be even more effective now that the one back offensehas been scraped. Eight starters return on defense (4-2-5 alignment)that allowed 464 yards and 36.6 ppg so there is nowhere to gobut up with this unit. Deep and experienced secondary. Disciplinedteam, penalized 516 yards less than opponents in 2003.

Team Weaknesses: Army lacks explosive playmakers on offenseand lacks size and speed on the defensive line and the abilityto pressure the quarterback. Lacking a leader at QB. Three arevying for the job probably up to the season opener. Were out-rushedby 147 yards per game on average in 2003.

What to Expect in 2004: If a leader develops at QB and if theoffense can show some improvement and score some points to takethe pressure off the defense, this team can win possibly wintwo games. With Bobby Ross at the helm and taking advantageof the players strengths with his new system, a possible “playon” team as an underdog, especially if a leader steps upat a quarterback. The big game is December 4th against Navyand we have to believe that Army will be looking for some revengeafter two blowout losses to the Mid Shipman by a combined scoreof 92-18 over the last two seasons.

Article by Ron Dyer of Dyer’s Sportsline at footballjunky.com- a leader in sports handicapping information supplying informationto make your sports betting profitable.

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