Opening Week C-USA Football Notebook

Go C-USA! Logan Kilgore
Logan Kilgore

Aug 23, 2013

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All but one Conference USA team will be in action on opening weekend, with seven games being nationally televised over the span of three days.

Six C-USA teams will open at home, including Middle Tennessee, which will become the first new member of the league to debut when it hosts Western Carolina Thursday., August 29. Defending C-USA Champion Tulsa and Tulane also begin their seasons that evening, at Bowling Green and vs. Jackson State, respectively.

Newcomer Florida Atlantic will make the short trip down I-95 to face Miami (Fla.) Friday., August 30 on ESPN U.

Highlighting the Saturday action are Rice's visit to No. 5 Texas A&M (Noon CDT, ESPN) and CBS Sports Network's first game of the year as Marshall welcomes Miami of Ohio (7:30 p.m. EDT). East Carolina will welcome future Conference USA member Old Dominion (7 pm EDT, Fox College Sports) and a pair of C-USA/ACC matchups will appear on the ACC Network, as FIU visits Maryland and Louisiana Tech plays at NC State.

The Pirates will open the 2013 season Saturday, August 31 when it hosts future Conference USA member Old Dominion (7 p.m. EDT, Fox College Sports). East Carolina has won four of its last five season openers. ECU returns a combined 16 of 22 positional starters in 2013, bringing back eight on each side of the ball. Offensively, the Pirates return 76 percent of their rushing yards (1,341 of 1,760) and 88 percent of their passing yards (3,116 of 3,551), while on defense, ECU welcomes back 78 percent of its tackles (766 of 977) and 81.8 percent of its turnover production (18 of 22; 9/10 interceptions and 9/12 fumble recoveries). Players who accounted for 349 of ECU's 409 points in 2012 are on the 2013 roster (85 percent).

FIU will open the Ron Turner era Saturday, August 31 when it visits Maryland (12:30 p.m. EDT, ACC Networks). The 36-year coaching veteran was most recently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has coached 24 seasons in college and 12 in the NFL. Under Turner, the Panthers will switch to a pro style offense. Junior QB Jake Medlock returns to lead that unit after passing for 2,127 yards and 13 touchdowns with just two interceptions on 263 passing attempts last season.

The Owls will open the 2013 season with a nationally televised game a few miles down the road at Miami (Fla.) Friday, August 30 (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN U). The Owls return 53 letterwinners and 18 starters from last year's team. The offense brings back seven starters, while the defense has eight returnees and three starters are back on the special teams unit. The offense will have a new look with a switch to the spread offense. Junior LB Andre Kirk, a preseason All-C-USA selection, has started the majority of his first two seasons at Florida Atlantic and will be looked to as a defensive leader this fall. He finished fourth on the team in tackles last year with 70 and added four tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.

Marshall will open the 2013 season with a nationally-televised contest against former Mid-American Conference rival Miami (Ohio) Saturday, August 31 (7 p.m. EDT, CBS Sports Network). 2012 C-USA MVP Rakeem Cato became the fourth Herd quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards in a season, finishing with 4,201. and completing 69.5% of his passes. The preseason C-USA Offensive Player of the Year led all FBS passers with a per-game average of 350.1 yards and topped the conference in TD passes with 37.

The Blue Raiders will be one of the first C-USA teams to open the 2013 season, hosting Western Carolina Thursday, August 29. Middle Tennessee welcomes back nine offensive and eight defensive starters from a team that finished 8-4 last season. Senior QB Logan Kilgore, who has 5,342 career passing yards, is just the fifth signal-caller in school history to top the 5,000-yard mark. He is also ranked in the top five in touchdowns and completions.

Southern Miss will host Texas State Saturday, August 31 to begin the 2013 season. Todd Monken takes over as the new Southern Miss head coach this fall after serving as Offensive Coordinator at Oklahoma State. He is the third Golden Eagles head football coach of the last four hired whose previous job was offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. Each of the previous two (Jeff Bower and Larry Fedora) won at least one C-USA championship during his tenure at the school. Senior LB Alan Howze is the team's leading returning tackler (66 stops last season) and he added five tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and forced two fumbles.

The Blazers will visit in-state rival Troy for the 2013 season opener Saturday, August 31 (6 p.m. CDT, ESPN3). UAB returns seven starters on an offensive unit that ranked among the best in school history last fall. The Blazers registered 5,029 offensive yards and averaged 28.2 points, third-most in the UAB record book in both categories. In addition, UAB's 308.8 passing yards per game established a school record and was the 19th-best mark in the country in 2012.

Head coach Skip Holtz will make his return to Conference USA Saturday, August 31 when Bulldogs play their first football game as a member of the league, facing NC State (11:30 a.m. CDT, ACC Network). Holtz won back-to-back C-USA Championships at East Carolina in 2008-09. Sophomore RB Kenneth Dixon was named a Freshman All-American last season as well as the Western Athletic Conference's Freshman of the Year. He led the nation in scoring with 28 total touchdowns (27 rushing) break's Marshall Faulk's NCAA records for most touchdowns scored, most rushing touchdowns scored and most points, all for a freshman. Dixon had 200 rushes for 1,194 yards, just missing averaging 100 yards a game at 99.5.

North Texas will open the season at home for the first time since 2001 when the Mean Green welcome Idaho to Denton on Saturday, August 31. Since the opening of Apogee Stadium in 2011 and the start of the Dan McCarney era, North Texas has a home record of 7-4 in two seasons, a stark improvement since 2005. In the previous six seasons dating back to 2005, the Mean Green had won only a combined five home games in six years. For the first time in school history the Mean Green had three players rush for more than 500 yards in a single season in 2012. As a team, North Texas eclipsed the 2,000 yard rushing mark for the third time in the last four seasons.

The Owls will carry a five-game winning streak into their season opener at No. 5 Texas A&M Saturday, August 31 (Noon CDT, ESPN). Rice returns 19-of-22 starters from last year's 7-6 Armed Forces Bowl team as well as 54 total lettermen. Senior QB Taylor McHargue completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,209 yards and 12 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He was also the leading rusher among quarterbacks in C-USA, gaining 667 yards on 164 attempts. McHargue tied for fifth in the league in rushing touchdowns with 11.

The Green Wave will begin their final season playing at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium when they host Jackson State Thursday, August 29. Junior WR Ryan Grant concluded the 2012 season with seven 100-yard games, the most among C-USA players last season, and tied the school single season mark set by Marc Zeno in 1987. Grant finished with 76 receptions for 1,149 yards. Sophomore S Darion Monroe was a 2012 Freshman All-American. He led the team with 97 tackles (61 solo, 36 assists) and fumble recoveries (3) while adding 2.5 tackles for loss.

Tulsa will kick off the 2013 season at Bowling Green Thursday, August 29 (6 p.m. CDT, ESPN U). the Golden Hurricane are the defending Conference USA Champions, have won 10+ games in four of the last six seasons and have been to a bowl game in seven of the last eight seasons. Senior RB Trey Watts, the MVP of both the C-USA Championship Game and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, finished the season with a league-high 2,191 all-purpose yards (1,108 rushing, 343 receiving, 154 punt return yards, 586 kickoff return yards).

The Miners are the lone C-USA team that is not in action on opening weekend. UTEP will open its season September 7, hosting New Mexico. New head coach Sean Kugler is no stranger to the program, having lettered at UTEP from 1985-88 and serving as an assistant from 1993-2000. Kugler spent three seasons as the offensive line coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers prior to his return to El Paso. Junior WR Jordan Leslie ranked fourth in C-USA last season in receiving yards per game at 81.1. He caught 51 passes for 973 yards (19.1 per catch) with six touchdowns.

The Roadrunners will play at New Mexico to open the 2013 season Saturday, August 31. UTSA begins its third season of play this fall and first as a member of Conference USA after going 8-4 overall last season. Junior S Tristan Wade tied for the team lead with four interceptions, forced four fumbles and had two fumble recoveries in his 12 starts a year ago. He also ranked second on the squad with 74 tackles (45 solos) and 11 pass breakups.



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