July 16, 2008
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The 2007 Conference USA Football Championship game featured Tulsa and UCF battling for the league title and the two squads are favored once again for a title shot in 2008, according to the league's 12 head coaches. The defending champion Knights were picked to win the East Division crown, garnering 67 of a possible 72 points. The Golden Hurricane was unanimously picked to win the West, grabbing all 72 available points.
UCF was picked to finish third in the East Division in last year's poll, but behind record-setting running back Kevin Smith, the Knights finished the year 7-1 in the league and advanced to host the third annual C-USA Football Championship game. UCF rolled to the league championship with a 44-25 win over TU and went on to play in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, just the second bowl appearance in program history. The team returns nine starters in 2008 to a defensive unit that picked off a school record 24 passes in 2007.
Despite falling in the C-USA Championship game, Tulsa represented the league in the GMAC Bowl and routed Bowling Green, 63-7, to finish the season at 10-4. The 10 wins were the most for the program since 1991 and along the way TU became the first team in NCAA history to have a 5,000-yard passer, three 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher. More importantly, nine starters return in 2008 to an offensive unit that led the nation in total offense a season ago.
Houston was voted to finish second in the West and is coming off its third consecutive appearance in a bowl game. The Cougars will be led in 2008 by first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin. Sumlin became the first African-American to head an NCAA FBS program in the state of Texas when he was picked for the job and is the 11th head coach in UH history. He spent the past five seasons at Oklahoma, where he served most recently as both the co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach. Senior DL Philip Hunt highlights the returning Cougars in 2008.
UTEP was tabbed to take third in the West in 2008 after finishing in fifth place in 2007. Quarterback Trevor Vittatoe returns for his sophomore campaign after having the second-most passing yards among NCAA FBS freshman last season. His favorite target at wideout will also be back in 2008, as Jeff Moturi returns for his senior campaign. Moturi tied the school record by making a touchdown reception in 10 consecutive games and also notched four 100-yard games in 2007.
East Carolina was picked to come in second in the East for the second consecutive season. The Pirates are coming off back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1999-2000 and finished 8-5 last season after a thrilling win over No. 22 Boise State in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl. ECU closed the season by scoring 30 or more points in six of its last seven C-USA games and returns both signal callers on offense. Patrick Pinkney and Rob Kass both saw action under center and will vie for the starting spot again. Pinkney played in all 13 games and made five stars, while Kass made seven starts and played in 10 contests.
Southern Miss was chosen to take third in the East after finishing 2007 7-6 overall for the team's 14th straight winning season. The Golden Eagles made their 18th appearance in a bowl and have appeared in a bowl game for six consecutive years and 10 out of the last 11. Larry Fedora will lead the Golden Eagles in 2008 after being named the program's 18th head coach last December. Fedora spent that last three seasons as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State where his teams were in the Top 10 in rushing yards per game and in the Top 20 in total offense.
Golden Eagle junior running back Damion Fletcher was chosen as the league's preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Fletcher carried the ball 29 times for 155 yards in the Papajohns.com Bowl to finish last season with a single-season best 1,586 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has recorded a total of 16 100-yard rushing games in his first two seasons, along with seven multi-touchdown games and 26 career scores.
Another Golden Eagle, reigning C-USA Defensive Player of the Year Gerald McRath, was picked as the preseason favorite to repeat as the conference's top defensive player. He led C-USA in tackles with 139 (71 solo, 68 assist) in 2007 and averaged 10.7 per game.
UCF cornerback Joe Burnett was tabbed as preseason Special Teams Player of the Year for the second straight season. Burnett has 926 career punt return yards, which ranks first among active players in the NCAA FBS and his three career touchdowns are tied for the most among active players. His average of 13.23 yards per punt return is also tops among all active players.
The 2008 C-USA Football season kicks off on Thursday, August 28 when UTEP travels to Buffalo. C-USA's first televised game follows on Friday, August 29 when Rice will host division foe SMU in a league contest on ESPN. Seven more games will take place on Saturday, August 30, highlighted by East Carolina's contest in Charlotte, N.C. against Virginia Tech that will be televised by ESPN.
2008 C-USA FOOTBALL COACHES PRESEASON AWARDS
Offensive Player of the Year
Damion Fletcher, RB, Southern Miss
Defensive Player of the Year
Gerald McRath, LB, Southern Miss
Special Teams Player of the Year
Joe Burnett, PR, UCF
First Team Offense
QB Chase Clement, Sr., Rice
RB Tarrion Adams, Sr., Tulsa
RB Damion Fletcher, Jr., Southern Miss
OL Patrick Brown, Sr., UCF
OL Robby Felix, Sr., UTEP
OL Ryan McKee, Sr., Southern Miss
OL Doug Palmer, Jr., East Carolina
OL Brandon Pearce, Sr., Memphis
WR Duke Calhoun, Jr., Memphis
WR Jarett Dillard, Sr., Rice
WR Brennan Marion, Sr., Tulsa
WR Jeff Moturi, Jr., UTEP
TE Cody Slate, Jr., Marshall
First Team Defense
DL Albert McClellan, Sr., Marshall
DL Moton Hopkins, Sr., Tulsa
DL Philip Hunt, Sr., Houston
DL Zach Slate, Sr., East Carolina
DL C.J. Wilson, Jr., East Carolina
LB Joe Henderson, Sr., UAB
LB Gerald McRath, Jr., Southern Miss
LB Brian Raines, Sr., Rice
DB Will Dunbar, Sr., UAB
DB Kenneth Fontenette, Sr., Houston
DB Andrew Sendejo, Jr., Rice
DB C.J. Spillman, Sr., Marshall
First Team Special Teams
K Jose Martinez, Sr., UTEP
P Thomas Morstead, Sr., SMU
KR Darius Marshall, So., Marshall
PR Joe Burnett, Sr., UCF