Greetings Conference USA students, fans, faculty, staff and alumni! ...and of course, greetings to everyone else. I'm Nicole C Cartier, Conference USA's newest member, and it is my pleasure to provide you with the best, most up-to-date information out there regarding all C-USA sports. Not wanting to make a big boisterous entrance into your lives all at once, I would just like to sincerely say "Thank you" beforehand... for reading and supporting your C-USA blogger.
-Humbly yours, Nicole C Cartier
OK, now on to business. Football. As many of you, young and old, start school again, whether it's dropping the kids off at school or dropping your jaws looking at that Calc 4 class on your schedule, there's one thing that coincides nicely with the hyphenated words "back-to-school"--football. You wait all summer long for that first kickoff, that initial smell of tailgating food and beverages, and of course yelling at your favorite team with your fellow friends. I mean who schedules their classes around games? Or stays horizontal on the couch on a gorgeous day with the TV set to your favorite games? I raise my hand proudly to both of these actions--I used to schedule my classes around sports schedules ....But, I digress...
Without further ado, and with the help of my very knowledgeable colleagues Russ Anderson and Courtney Morrison-Archer, we give you five of this season's top Conference USA football games to watch. Now, I understand I am just diving in here having not been involved in the guts and glory of previous C-USA football seasons, so I ask that you be gentle and kind with your comments... but passion is always appreciated.
(In order of appearance)
Southern Miss. vs South Carolina, Thursday September 2 6:30 CT, ESPN
The Golden Eagles fly into Columbia to take on the Ole Ball Coach and the Gamecocks. Being the first night of college football, this is definitely a great way to start the season. Southern Miss has not just pads on their shoulders, but the weight of starting off the season against a tough SEC school. Analysts project South Carolina to really excel in the SEC this year, with talks of them vying for the title of SEC East champion.
Expect the Eagle defense to soar this season as the defensive unit returns nine starters, including Butkus Award watch list member Korey Williams. Southern Miss will also have a defense full of amazingly athletic guys like sophomore LB Jamie Collins (at 6-3, 231 pounds, has a vertical the same as LeBron James). Although only four starters return on the offensive side, the Eagles are set at QB with Austin Davis coming back from a foot injury and a back-up QB with statistics reading like a starter in Martevious Young. Young started eight games last year when Davis went down and had over 1,800 yards with 18 TDs and only three interceptions. Coach Larry Fedora will need the experience from his defense in their season opener against a competitor like South Carolina. The longer he can keep fresh bodies out there, bodies with experience, the better the Eagles' chances are at wearing down the Gamecocks.
Given the Eagles profile this year with talented starters and a useful secondary, I see a potential upset in Columbia.
West Virginia at Marshall, Friday September 10, 6:00 CT, ESPN2
This game will definitely be a fun night in the state of West Virginia. This is only the third time WVU has visited Joan C. Edwards Stadium in its years of playing Marshall, so Thundering Herd fans get ready to show how much green spirit you have.
Who doesn't love an intrastate rivalry? But, this also is the home debut of Marshall Head Coach Doc Holliday. Not only did Coach Holliday grow up in the great state of West Virginia in Hurricane, he was educated (twice actually, one Bachelor's one Master's) and employed at WVU. So, it's safe to say that Coach has some deep roots in the Wild and Wonderful. Now we get to see how Coach Holliday used his kindergarten skills of color-ography and mixed those blue and yellow colors together to join the green side. Bringing in 31 years of coaching on top of his savvy recruiting skills to the Herd, Coach Holliday has a tough schedule this season starting with No. 2 Ohio State and then hosting the 25th-ranked Mountaineers. Coach Holliday and his boys will definitely already be in the mind-set ready to play on their home field. So bring on some exciting Thundering Herd football and watch has they take it out on the field against the Mountaineers for their home season opener.
TCU vs SMU, Friday, September 24 7:00 CT, ESPN
Get your eggs and sugar-cured ham out for the battle of the iron skillet--winner gets a breakfast at the nearest diner (notice I didn't say free). Anyway, No. 6 TCU visits Coach June Jones and the SMU Mustangs for a special Friday night lights this year in Dallas. Every year, this game never lets anyone down as far as excitement factor--there's just something about a rivalry that seems to negate any sort of ranking, athletic superiority and preemptive mindset. Last year TCU was walking away with the skillet at their home stadium, but when TCU came to Ford Stadium with a number in front of their name the last time, it was the Mustangs that walked away as Iron Chef.
This year Coach Jones brings back 17 starters from their first bowl appearance in 25 years AND posted the largest margin of victory of any bowl game, 45-10. Sophomore standout QB Kyle Padron was also named Sheraton Hawaii Bowl MVP his last outing. Emmanuel Sanders will be missed along with his record breaking statistics, but these young Mustangs have a lot left to show this year. It will be a battle for SMU as TCU returns their dangerous offense, but the defense lacks a little bit of the luster it had from their 2009 campaign with two stars in DE Jerry Hughes and LB Daryl Washington departing, as well as a pair of All-MWC first-team cornerbacks. This little break in defense should be an advantage to Padron and RB Zach Line, who rushed for seven touchdowns last season. Receivers Aldrick Robinson, the lone starting senior on the offense, and junior Terrance Wilkerson, who combined for 89 receptions, 1,327 yards and nine touchdowns in 2009, will also be expected to shine for the Mustang offense.
Whatever the outcome, you should be walking away feeling pleasantly fulfilled. Now, I'll be at the diner down the road, as I just made myself hungry.
Both of these teams both gained AP Preseason Poll votes, so naturally this game should garner a must-see from any C-USA fan. The aforementioned reasons of the Mustangs' preseason vote against the offense of this year's Houston team should see a very high-scoring game as both teams' accumulated very high offensive statistics last year.
I've previously mentioned SMU's offensive case, now here is Houston's: Case Keenum. Currently on Heisman watch, he is on the clock to break two major NCAA records; he is just 4,122 yards from breaking the career passing record set by Timmy Chang in 2004 (17,072), and he's 32 TDs away from Graham Harrell's career touchdown mark of 134. Also, let me remind you that he'll be supported by three returning receivers with over 1,000 yards. Given that last year Keenum threw for 5,641 yards and 44 touchdowns, I'd say that history will be made this season and you should definitely be on watch as these two square off in Dallas, Texas, to watch the yards accumulate for these two programs.
Tulsa at Notre Dame, Saturday, October 30 1:30 CT, NBC
Tulsa Football has been one of the top teams in the Western Division of C-USA since winning the inaugural C-USA Championship in 2005. It will be interesting to see how 41 returning letterman fare against the rebuilding Fighting Irish and first-year coach Brian Kelly.
Quarterback G.J. Kinne is back and so are two of his most productive receivers, Damaris Johnson and Charles Clay. Kinne racked up more than 3,000 total yards and 27 touchdowns in Coach Graham's spread offense and should provide plenty of points and highlights for wideout Johnson, who has two of the top four all-purpose yardage season totals in Conference USA history, amounting to 2,693 yards. Tulsa's offense shouldn't have any problem against Notre Dame's defense as they ranked in the bottom half of the country in all major defensive categories and gave up some serious yardage; they also return 9 starters from that same team. Defensively, no team in Conference USA allowed fewer rushing touchdowns (nine) than Tulsa's last year and it took 28 quarters for a team to finally run in for a score.
It will definitely be a great day in South Bend for some football, but also because it has been 12 years since a Conference USA team has played the Fighting Irish. Count on this game's score to reach high numbers as each team as some quality offensive playmakers and also, something to prove.
Tulsa at East Carolina, Sunday, September 5 1:00CT, ESPN2
This is the first conference game, so naturally it needs to be recognized. East Carolina, two-time reigning C-USA Football Champions, will welcome in new Head Coach Ruffin McNeill in a newly expanded stadium. More fans equal louder stadium which also equals greater home field advantage. The great people in Greeneville, NC have deemed it the Purple and Gold event and encourage all attendees to wear a certain color assigned to their seating section. Did I mention it will be on ESPN2? Exciting day for Pirate Nation. Big challenge for both teams. Huge start for the conference.
Houston at UCLA, Saturday, September 18 9:30CT, FSN
This will be Houston's first big game on a national stage against a PAC-10 power. Oh, and it's at the Rose Bowl. The Cougars hope to walk away with a big win in Pasadena on their path to another bowl victory to close out the 2010 season.
So fellow sports fans, I give you my first C-USA Blog. If you didn't see your favorite team mentioned, it doesn't mean they won't be exciting to watch! I just only had 5 spots....Anyway, I always welcome comments and suggestions as well as ideas you may have for a future blog, and I always give credit where it is due.
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