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Conference USA Spring College Football Practice Update

College football players started reporting for spring practices over the past few weeks, meaning it’s time to take a look at the programs and see what we can expect in the fall. Let’s start by taking a look at the teams in the Conference USA and then be sure to take a look at our 2010 NCAA football preview. See something you like or dislike in the Conference USA spring update? Be sure to discuss it on one of the many great Conference USA forums listed in our NCAA message board directory.

 

Central Florida

  • Junior Rob Calabrese capped off a strong spring with a good Spring Game and Head Coach George O’Leary’s blessing as the Knights’ top QB heading into summer camp. Displaying good decision making was the primary reason for the move and Calabrese should be one of the league’s better QBs in a strong quarterback year for the C-USA.

  • One major concern will be replacing top tailback Brynn Harvey, who isn’t expected back until October at earliest. Brandon Kelly and Jonathan Davis appeared to be chosen duo to try to account for his production and both received extended auditions in the Spring Game.

  • One interesting player to keep an eye on will be senior linebacker Chance Henderson, who missed the entire 2009 season due to a knee injury. Henderson was fully mobile this spring and was one of the leading tacklers in the Spring Game. Expect him to provide solid tackling for the Knights this fall.

East Carolina

  • Change was in the air this spring as ECU spent much of their allotted time installing new Head Coach Ruffin McNeil’s schemes on both sides of the football. With the entire defensive front seven departing and a vacancy at quarterback, there was no better time to put the Pirates through a transition anyways.

  • An interesting development that came as a byproduct of the changes was the surprising ascension of sophomore walk-on Brad Wornick to the #1 spot on the depth chart. Wornick is going to have to fend off his challengers in the fall and that group will include former Boston College starter Dom Davis, so this one is far from decided.

  • Tailback is going to be a position of concern for McNeil this fall after having a tough spring at the position. Senior Jonathan Williams has the talent to be great but he has a long history of off-field issues. Meanwhile, seniors Gia Ruffin and Norman Whitley missed camp due to injury and Brandon Jackson got thrown off the team. Needless to say, this is going to be a very interesting race to watch in the fall because no one has seemingly locked down a spot.

Houston

  • The Cougars have powered their way to a string of massively successful seasons largely due to the strength of their offense. The goal is the change that in 2010 and the first step was implementing new DC Brian Smith’s favored 3-4 defense. Smith believes that it fits the available personnel better and with big Tyrone Campbell thriving at nose tackle, it sure looks like he’s right.

  • The other major point of emphasis on defense was at safety, where Smith and Head Coach Kevin Sumlin rotated five different players. While juniors Roisean Haynes and Nick Saenz were listed atop the depth chart, it is expected that the competition will continue into the fall.

  • The really good news for Houston is that their offense returns largely intact, led by superstar QB Case Keenum. He’ll have all of his skill position friends back and the Cougars should be one of the country’s most lethal offenses again.

 

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Marshall

  • There was certainly a lot of focus on native son Doc Holliday when he was named the new Herd head coach in January. However, it certainly wasn’t an easy spring for the new coach as his team looks to rebuild. Holliday kicked one of his starting cornerbacks off of the team and suspended the other for running into legal troubles, leaving a very green secondary heading into the fall.

  • Another major issue was on the O-Line, where projected starters Chad Schofield and John Bruhin missed all of camp due to injury. How thin is the Herd? Redshirt sophomore Chris Bowers, a walk-on, was atop the depth chart at center as practice closed for the summer. O-Line could very well be a major liability this fall.

  • At quarterback, senior Brian Anderson was expected to hold onto his job as the starting quarterback thanks to his experience and poise. However, redshirt frosh A.J. Graham made a spirited battle of it, causing the quarterback duel to extend into the fall. With the O-Line situation, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see both QBs under center in 2010.

Memphis

  • New Head Coach Larry Porter has a very unenviable decision to make this fall at quarterback. Early enrollee Ryan Williams was very impressive this spring, earning the Offensive MVP award during the Spring Game. Miami transfer Cannon Smith was his primary competition and seemed to struggle and was definitely less productive in the Spring Game. Thus you would assume that Williams is ahead heading into the fall, right? But here’s the rub: Smith’s father is Fred Smith, CEO of Fedex and one of Memphis’ biggest donors. So this battle will clearly continue into camp with Porter having to hope for the easiest resolution of a clear win for the sophomore son of a billionaire instead of the protracted ugliness that would accompany choosing a true freshman over the son of Memphis’ richest man. Far higher stakes than any 1 st time head coach would ever want in choosing his first starting quarterback.

  • Redshirt sophomore linebacker Ricky Holloway was the Defensive MVP of the Spring Game thanks to 13 tackles, only 7 less than he registered during the entire 2007 season! Fellow soph DeRon Furr was similarly productive, picking up 8 tackles and a sack after only contributing 15 last season. Expect both to play major roles for the Tigers this fall.

  • Senior Justin Thompson could be in line for a big year. A JUCO transfer, Thompson played a support role last season on the line and only appeared in eight games. However, he was impressive throughout camp and seems like a good candidate for a breakout season on the D-Line.




Rice

  • The biggest newcomer to the Owls this fall will be dynamic sophomore Michigan transfer Sam McGuffie, who came back home last season. McGuffie has freakish athleticism and should improve the running game, screen game and kick return game for Rice. That was apparent during the Spring Game, where McGuffie was clearly the most dominant force.

  • It was the ‘Battle of the Taylors’ at quarterback this spring, where Miami transfer Taylor Cook and freshman Taylor McHargue both performed well under center. McHargue is a bit more mobile than the 6’7” Cook but both showed the ability to move the offense up and down the field. This battle will surely continue into the fall.

  • Sophomore Tight End Vance McDonald had a strong spring, capped off by a five catch, 69 yard, one touchdown showing in the Spring Game. Expect him to be one of the top targets for whichever Taylor starts the season under center.

Southern Methodist

  • After a resurgent season in 2009 thanks to June Jones’ pass happy offense, there is major optimism in Dallas thanks to the presence of sophomore QB Kyle Padron, who went 5-1 down the stretch last season as the Mustangs’ starter. Expect the new young star to put up ridiculous numbers, even with the loss of all-time receptions leader Emmanuel Sanders to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

  • A much more pressing situation on offense is at tailback, where SMU has to replace the strong production of departed senior Seanbrey McNeal, who was the first 1,000 yard rusher that Jones has every coached! The current roster looks fairly thin, though, so incoming recruits Kevin Pope and Darryl Fields will get legitimate chances to start in fall camp.

  • While SMU only lost 13 lettermen from last year’s team, Jones also brought in the school’s best recruiting class in nearly two decades in February. Thus, a lot of positions that appear somewhat settled coming out of spring might see a significant shakeup once all of those talented freshmen arrive in August. Needless to say, this is going to be one of the deepest teams in SMU’s recent history.

Southern Mississippi

  • Quarterback isn’t a concern for the Eagles but it could turn into a distraction in the fall. 2008 saw then-freshman Austin Davis put together a solid campaign and lead his team to a bowl game. But he missed all of 2009 with a foot injury and rising senior Martevious Young put together a solid 2009. So how is playing time going to sort out between the two? With Davis expected back at 100% this fall, this battle could be the story of camp.

  • Center Cameron Zipp is the only returning starter on the O-Line and that’s a major cause for concern this fall. Head Coach Larry Fedora brought in some JUCO linemen in anticipation of this event and it appears that Lamar Holmes might have locked down one of the spots. However, the competition for the other three will be relatively wide open in the fall.

  • Replacing the school’s all-time rushing leader won’t be easy but the Eagles will appear to do so with the tailback by committee strategy. Senior V.J. Floyd and freshman Kendrick Hardy distinguished themselves well and sophomore Desmond Johnson impressed as well. Expect all three to carry the ball a lot this season.


 

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Tulane

  • Cornerbacks Phil Davis and Alexander Lauricella took significant strides forward this spring, even completing the Green Wave’s scrimmage without allowing a passing touchdown. While no one is going to confuse Tulane’s passing game with Houston’s, that’s still a big stride forward in a QB-heavy league.

  • Iowa transfer Dezman Moses had a solid spring and should be a major contributor this fall after sitting out the 2009 season per NCAA rules. He was the brightest spot on a D-Line that looks much improved this season.

  • The bad news was that Tulane’s quarterbacks didn’t really stand out. Ryan Griffin is expected to start but he was underwhelming in live action. The problem is that backup Kevin Moore wasn’t any better so it appears that Tulane is going to underwhelm at the QB position this fall.

Tulsa

  • Tailback will be an interesting race to watch this fall as the battle between Alex Singleton and Jamad Williams was not resolved this spring. Both men ran well and scored a touchdown in the spring game and could be a strong tandem to balance out Tulsa’ pass happy offense this season.

  • One position that appeared to have made some significant strides from 2009 was the offensive line, where Tulsa struggled through serious injury issues last season. With a group of more mature youngsters that were thrown into the fire last fall and the healthy upperclassmen that they replaced, there is widespread hope that the Golden Hurricane line will keep QB G.J. Kinne upright in 2010.

  • Tight End Charles Clay continued to progress into a top option for Kinne. Clay might be one of the country’s most athletic tight ends and he is most likely bound for an enormous season this fall.

UAB

  • Don’t expect UAB to come to a decision any time soon at quarterback as David Isabelle and Joe Bento both played well in the Spring Game to cap off a competitive camp. Expect the pair to both see the field regardless of who is named the starter because they have different styles and could be dangerous together.

  • Unfortunately, the widespread success of the UAB offense throughout the spring underlines the major concern for this team: Defense. UAB simply has to put together a stronger defensive group if they want to have a chance at a bowl game and there weren’t enough positives on that side of the football this spring to give Blazer fans a lot of optimism.

UTEP

  • There will be a lot of pressure in the Valley of the Sun this fall as Mike Price has to deal with the fallout from last season’s unreasonable expectations. A lot of pundits got the UTEP fans riled up by picking the Miners to win their division thanks to a light schedule. Of course, all of those pundits (but not this writer!) ignored the basic fact that UTEP simply wasn’t a very good team and now there is serious pressure on Price to go to a bowl game. It will be very interesting to see how that pressure affects the team’s play on the field.

  • Sophomore Carson Meger exited the spring as a walk-on but it is possible, even likely, that he will be on scholarship by the time August rolls around. Meger was the most impressive quarterback in camp and showed great command of the offense and is now entrenched as the top backup to Tim Curry.

  • The Miners were one of a litany of team installed the 3-4 defense as their base set this spring. While there were some concerns about their ability to slow the run, the UTEP defense appeared to be an improved unit. Senior Robert Soleyjacks doesn’t appear to care what defense he plays in as he racked up two sacks in the Spring Game and looks ready to be a leader of an improved unit. Will it be enough to get to a bowl game?

 

 

 

By Matt Baxendell
CollegeSports-fans.com Staff Writer

 

 


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