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The Black Knights won only three games last season while finishing eighth in the conference. Four offensive and six defensive starters return from that team to try for a winning season. The OOC schedule is very weak, with only one of the four games on the road and that being at Rutgers. The CUSA schedule will challenge Army. Six of the Black Knights’ twelve games are in West Point. With the easy non-conference schedule, Army should be able to pick up a couple easy wins, but I don’t see the Knights anywhere near the top of the conference, or even the middle. This should be another bad season for Army.
The Bearcats had a successful 2001 season, winning seven games and participating in the postseason. A total of sixteen starters, eight from each side of the ball, return for Cincinnati this season. The non-conference schedule is fairly tough, with a trip to Hawaii as well as a home game with Ohio State. The Bearcats are not only taking advantage of playing the extra twelfth game this season, but they are doing one better, scheduling thirteen football contests in 2002. The good news for Cincinnati fans is that over half of the games, seven, are in Cincinnati. With QB Guidugli returning, I think this could be the most successful Bearcats football team in a while, as they should challenge for the CUSA title.
East Carolina has been one of the steadiest teams in CUSA over the past few seasons. After last year’s .500 season and a trip to the postseason, the Pirates could take a step down in 2002. Only twelve starters, six from each side of the ball, return this season. The OOC schedule, which includes road trips to West Virginia and Wake Forest as well as a home game with South Florida, is not too tough. ECU has only five games at home in Greenville which will make the task tougher. The experience may be lacking at first, but I think the Pirates can pull off a .500 season both overall and in CUSA.
Houston was the worst team in CUSA last season, going winless on the season and finishing dead last in the conference standings. Eight starters from the offense and five from the defense return this season, however, which should give UH experience, especially on the offense. Non-conference games at home against LA-Lafayette and South Florida as well as a road OOC contest at Rice are winnable. The CUSA slate also has a couple possibilities for victories for the Cougars, but I don’t see Houston winning more than a few games this season, and they should finish at or near the bottom of CUSA.
The Louisville Cardinals have also been one of the most successful football teams over the past few years, and they should continue that streak again in 2002. Only five offensive starters return, but ten players from the defensive side of the ball return, which will make the UL defensive one of the most experienced in the nation. Spectacular returning QB Ragone will make up for the lack of experience on offense. The OOC schedule is one of the tougher ones in CUSA, with home games against Kentucky and Florida State, as well as a matchup with Mountain West-contender Colorado State. I expect Louisville to be the class of Conference USA this season, and they have a chance to have double-digit wins by the time the regular season is over.
The Memphis Tigers are an up-and-coming team in CUSA. UM just missed a bowl bid last season as they went 5-6 overall but finished in seventh place in the conference. The Tigers will be an experienced team as seventeen starters return for 2002 (nine on offense and eight on defense). Memphis’s non-conference schedule, which includes trips to Mississippi and South Florida, as well as a visit from Mississippi State, will be a challenge for the Tigers. I like the Tigers’ chances of capturing at least a .500 record this season. If they are to go to a bowl game, though, Memphis will have to fare well in CUSA and likely finish in the top four at the end of the season.
Southern Mississippi has also been one of the conference’s most consistent teams as of late. Although the Golden Eagles missed out on the postseason in 2001, their record (6-5 / 4-3) was not bad. Seventeen starters return to Hattiesburg this season, eight offensive and nine defensive. The non-conference schedule is probably the conference’s toughest, with a home game against Big Ten-member Illinois as well as trips to Alabama and South Florida. There doesn’t appear to be a game on the USM schedule they can’t win (as usual). I expect the Golden Eagles to pull a couple upsets along the way but also lose a game or two they shouldn’t. That all adds up to a good, but not great, season for USM, but I do expect them to challenge for the conference title.
The Horned Frogs finished 2001 with a .500 record as they captured CUSA’s last available bowl bid in the Mobile Bowl. Seven offensive starters and six defensive starters return for the team that finished tied for fith in the conference last season. The non-conference slate has only one tough game, a road trip to Northwestern. Over half of the Frogs’ eleven games are in Fort Worth. TCU is always in the games they play, which leads to a lot of close, fourth-quarter wins. This season, the Frogs should again be around the .500 mark in both their overall and conference records.
The Green Wave finished the 2001 season with a dismal 3-9 record while winning only one CUSA game. Five offensive and nine defensive starters return this season to lead Tulane. There is only one tough game on the OOC slate, a visit from Big XII-power Texas. Seven of the Wave’s games are at home, but the Super Dome isn’t a thrilling place to play when it’s only one-fourth full. Tulane will likely struggle again this season, finishing near the bottom of the conference.
UAB has risen to the top half of the conference over the past few years, mostly thanks to solid defensive play. The Blazers return only six offensive starters and two from the defensive side of the ball in ’02, though. The non-conference schedule has a couple of tough matchups, one against Florida at the Swamp and a home game with Pitt. Six of UAB’s twelve games are in Birmingham. One of the most interesting matchups is a game in Birmingham where UAB takes on in-state rival and D-I-newcomer Troy State. I don’t think UAB will continue their streak at the top of the conference in ’02, proabably finishing just under .500 both overall and in CUSA play.
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