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2009 Conference USA Football Preview
by Ben Burns

Conference USA Power Rankings

(ATS records are from last three seasons.)

1. East Carolina Pirates

ATS: 23-17 (Home: 11-6. Away: 10-9)

Thing to remember: This is Coach Skip Holtz’s best team, featuring 16 returning starters and plenty of all-conference talent on both sides of the ball.

The Pirates have a tough opening stretch, featuring road games at West Virginia and at North Carolina. If they struggle early, they could be a good value entering conference play.

Under Holtz, the Pirates are 20-13 ATS against conference foes.

Bonus: ECU is 13-3 as a road dog under Holtz.

2. Southern Miss Golden Eagles

ATS: 27-26 (Home: 7-9. Away: 10-9)

Thing to remember: Southern Miss has the most returning starters in the conference with 19, including 10 from an offense that averaged 30.6 points a game last year.

Bonus: The Golden Eagles have been deadly in the first month of the season, going 31-12 ATS the past nine seasons.

3. Houston Cougars

ATS: 17-20 (Home: 10-6. Away: 6-11)

Thing to remember: With quarterback Case Keenum, the reigning CUSA Player of the Year, back under center, big things are expected from a Cougar offense that put up 40 a game last season. But will second-year coach Kevin Sumlin try to slow the offense down a little bit in order to keep his inexperienced defense off the field?

After last year’s prolific numbers, there could be some value on the under this year.

4. Tulsa Golden Hurricane

ATS: 19-20 (Home: 10-7. Away: 7-10)

Thing to remember: The Hurricane entered camp with three players vying for the starting quarterback position. The offensive line lost three starters, possibly pushing three sophomores into starting roles.

Co-offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn bolted for Auburn in the offseason.

This offense, which has led the nation in total offense two straight years, has to take a step back this year, right?

5. UTEP

ATS: 17-18 (Home: 7-10. Away: 10-8)

Thing to remember: The Miners have emphasized defense throughout the offseason and believe they’ve made huge strides heading into their second season in defensive coordinator Osia Lewis’ scheme.

6. Central Florida Knights

ATS: 17-18-1 (Home: 8-8-1. Away: 5-8)

Thing to remember: In a conference filled with offense, Central Florida has the best defense, especially up front. Led by All-Conference tackle Torrell Troup, the Knights allowed a conference-low 3.3 yards per carry and were second in sacks last season.

Offense is another story. The Knight opened practice with no true starter at quarterback. Whoever wins the job will be stuck behind an inexperienced offensive line and with no standout running back.

7. Memphis Tigers

ATS: 15-18-2 (Home: 8-10. Away: 6-5-3)

Thing to remember: The Tigers have their starting quarterback, leading rusher and leading receiver back from last year’s squad. Unfortunately, they only have one returning starter on the offensive line to block for them.

8. UAB

ATS: 15-18-1 (Home: 6-7-1. Away: 9-11)

Thing to remember: The Blazers lost one of their top offensive linemen, when tackle Terence Edge, who has started every game last year, was ruled academically ineligible.

Still, UAB returns 10 starters on offense, including senior quarterback Joe Webb.

9. SMU Mustangs

ATS: 14-11-1 (Home: 6-9. Away: 8-9-1)

Thing to remember: In June Jones’ second year at Hawaii, the Warriors went just 3-9 straight up, but 7-4 ATS.

A similar year could be in store for the improving Mustangs, who might not post a winning record, but should be much more competitive.

10. Rice Owls

ATS: 23-14 (Home: 11-4. Away: 11-8)

Thing to remember: Owl coaches have been talking up their experienced defense (nine returning starters).

The defensive praise is probably half truth and half deflecting attention away from an offense that lost every star from last year’s prolific unit.

Three quarterbacks entered August practice with a shot at the starting job. The winner may decline after realizing his offensive line could start four sophomores.

11. Tulane Green Wave

ATS: 14-21 (Home: 6-11. Away: 8-10)

Thing to remember: Coach Bob Toledo enters his third season with what he says is his best team. But he also told New Orleans Times-Picayune that he “doesn’t know if we’ll win more games.” Doesn’t sound like a whole lot of confidence in a team that is 5-11 ATS in conference play under Toledo.

12. Marshall Thundering Herd

ATS: 12-20-1 (Home: 7-6-1. Away: 5-14)

Thing to remember: Coach Mark Snyder has 16 returning starters. He’ll need every one of them to keep his job.

David Payne wrote this on behalf of Ben Burns.

Last week’s Mountain West Conference Preview can be found here.

Get winning sports picks from Ben Burns!

 
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