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August 18, 2004
QB Stefan LeFors hopes to hand Louisville a conference title.
This is the last year before C-USA is dismantled, and it should prove to be the most interesting and strongest yet for the young conference. The four teams that look to be in the hunt for the conference crown are TCU, Memphis, Louisville, and Southern Miss. Of course there is always a team or two that surprises people, and C-USA has a few candidates that could fill that role. The deciding factor for this conference race will be which big four teams' defense will step up and make big plays.

Louisville: For second-year head coach Bobby Petrino, this year's team looks to light up the scoreboard like a Christmas tree and march out of C-USA with a trophy in hand. The Cards will return 19 starters including 9 each on defense and offense. C-USA First Team selection QB Stefan LeFors looks to get the ball to senior WR J.R. Russell, who caught 75 passes for a school-record 1,213 yards last season. This Cardinal defense is under new coordinator Mike Cassity, who aims to turn around a squad that gave up an average of 429 yards per game.

Memphis: The Tigers are coming off a season that included a rare event: a bowl game. It was the first time in 32 years, and Tommy West does not want to lose the momentum gained from last season. A "dark horse" for the Heisman trophy is RB DeAngelo Williams. Surprisingly, Williams led his Tigers to 181 yards a game rushing, which ranked fourth in the NCAA. Like other teams in C-USA, Memphis could potentially run into problems on the defensive side of the ball. This season they will return five starters on defense and are counting on their offense to pick up the slack.

TCU: Like others, this is TCU's final year in C-USA; the Horned Frogs are heading to the MWC. WRs Reggie Harrell and Cory Rodgers will give the Frogs a threat down field and Robert Merrill, who did not even play the first two games, ran for over 1,000 yards last season. QB Tye Gunn, who missed most of last season, may or may not start this year. QB Brandon Hassell, who took over last season for the injured Gunn, went 8-0 and may reclaim the job this season. Like Memphis, TCU only returns four starters and is very young on the D-Line.

Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles from Hattiesburg look to defend the C-USA title this year. They might run into some problems with their herculean schedule though. Southern Miss goes to Nebraska, South Florida, Alabama, Memphis, and TCU. Not to mention they have California at home. Although they had some problems last year with the offense, they are experienced, returning nine starters. On defense they return four starters, losing all of their secondary and C-USA defensive player of the year Rod Davis.

UAB: Unlike the first four teams I previewed, UAB's defense could actually be pretty good. UAB most likely has the best group of LB. The starting group of LB combined for a total of 575 tackles over the past two seasons. The Blazers are also well experienced in the secondary and have freshmen All-American Jermaine McElveen to help on the D-Line. On offense they bring back eight starters. The only problem with that is the three seniors that left on offense where all on the line. UAB can be good offensively, but that can only happen if the O-Line steps up big early in the year.

South Florida: The Bulls could turn out to be really good or really bad. Their success hinges on if they can find a running game because there are no real guarantees at the QB position. Another crucial factor is if they can find a few early season wins. The Bulls start their season against Pittsburgh, then two weeks later at South Carolina, followed by TCU and Southern Miss. If they can manage to win two of those games, then they might be able to squeak into a bowl game.

Houston: In Art Briles' first year, he led Houston to a 7-6 record, not bad considering it's Houston. QB Kevin Kolb was only a freshman last year, and he performed well in Briles' pass happy offense. There was balance in the offense last year, as RB Anthony Evans ran for 1,149 yards and nine touchdowns. The Cougars were 108th in the country last season in scoring defense, and that has to change if Houston wants to be a legitimate contender in C-USA this year.

Cincinnati: This is Mark Dantonio's first year at Cincy, and it could prove to be rough. One spot Dantonio will not have to worry about is the QB position. QB Gino Guidugli is one of the best in C-USA and holds school records in passing yards and passing touchdowns. There are several gaps to fill on the defense, and the Bearcats get no break from the schedule, traveling to Ohio State, Syracuse, Southern Miss, and Louisville. They also have Miami (Ohio), Memphis, and TCU at home.

East Carolina: The RB position is the strongest on the team, and they will have to carry the team if virtually newcomer QB James Pinkney does not step up. The Pirates almost have to get better since they only won one game last season, and while that goal is obtainable, it will not be easy.

Tulane: The loss of QB J.P. Losman and RB Mewelde Moore will be detrimental to the Green Wave. This young Tulane team will struggle through the season, winning only a couple games.

Army: I do not look for anything to get better for Army under first season coach Bobby Ross. A tough schedule and a team that is not used to winning will prove to be too much for the Black Knights.


Team Overall CUSA
Louisville 10 1 8 0
Memphis 9 2 7 1
TCU 9 2 7 1
Southern Miss 6 5 6 2
UAB 6 5 5 3
South Florida 5 6 3 5
Houston 4 7 3 5
Cincinnati 2 9 2 6
East Carolina 2 9 2 6
Tulane 2 9 1 7
Army 0 11 0 8

Preseason All-Conference USA Team

QB: Stefan LeFors (Louisville)
RB: DeAngelo Williams (Memphis)
RB: Robert Merrill (TCU)
WR: J.R. Russell (Louisville)
WR: Roydell Williams (Tulane)
TE: Stephen Cucci (Houston)
OL: Travis Leffew (Louisville)
OL: Chase Johnson (TCU)
OL: Jeremy Parquet (Southern Miss)
OL: Anthony Alabi (TCU)
OL: Derrick Sarosi (South Florida)

DL: Trent Cole (Cincinnati)
DL: Marcus Jones (Louisville)
DL: Eric Scott (Southern Miss)
DL: Jermaine McElveen (UAB)
LB: Robert McCune (Louisville)
LB: Michael Boley (Southern Miss)
LB: Zac Woodfin (UAB)
DB: Wesley Smith (Memphis)
DB: Marvin Godbolt (TCU)
DB: Mark Walker (TCU)
DB: Daven Holly (Cincinnati)

K: Nick Hayes (UAB)
P: Ryan Dougherty (East Carolina)
KR: John Eubanks (Southern Miss)

Conference Bests

Best Team - Louisville: This is a toss up, but I'll give the Cards the nod with duo Stefan Lefors and J.R. Russell.

Best Coach - Tommy West (Memphis): I don't know if West is the best coach in C-USA, but he took his team to their first bowl game in 32 years last year, so that's got to be worth something.

Best Player - DeAngelo Williams (Memphis): This guy is "tough as nails" and ran for nearly 1,500 yards last season.

Best Stadium - Michie Stadium (Army): It can't get much better than a trip to West Point in the fall.

Best Game - Louisville at Memphis (Nov. 2nd): This could decide who wins C-USA.

Best Fans - Southern Miss: Southern Miss was about the only team eligible for this award. C-USA teams aren't known for fan support.

Best bet to under-achieve - Louisville: The Cards do not have a good history after being hyped up.

Best bet to over-achieve - South Florida: A good team, but they must overcome their difficult schedule.

This year I think C-USA will provide plenty of surprises and also shock plenty of football fans by its strength that it has not had in years past.

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