August 15, 2009

Conference USA preseason unit rankings

MORE: Conference USA preview

OFFENSIVE BACKFIELD

1. Houston: QB Case Keenum could lead the nation in total offense, and RB Bryce Beall should have another 1,000-yard season.

2. Southern Miss: RB Damion Fletcher is going for his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season. QB Austin Davis is coming off a solid freshman season.

3. UTEP: QB Trevor Vittatoe is underrated nationally. But is there a feature back on the roster?

4. East Carolina: QB Patrick Pinkney, a sixth-year senior, is a good game manager. There is good depth at tailback, though no standout.

5. UAB: QB Joe Webb is a dual threat who can really hurt foes with his legs. RB Rashaud Slaughter is steady.

6. Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane will have new starters at quarterback and tailback. FB Charles Clay is an excellent receiver out of the backfield.

7. Memphis: RB Curtis Steele could lead the league in rushing. QB Arkelon Hall has talent but must become more consistent.

8. Marshall: RB Darius Marshall is a standout, but the Herd need better play at quarterback.

9. SMU: QB Bo Levi Mitchell can be counted on to put up good numbers in his second season under coach June Jones.

10. Tulane: RB Andre Anderson has some talent. The Green Wave need new starting QB Joe Kemp to play well.

11. UCF: The Knights were atrocious on offense last season, and QB Rob Calabrese must make dramatic improvement.

12. Rice: There's no way the Owls can adequately replace star QB Chase Clement.

RECEIVERS

1. Houston: The Cougars return six receivers who had at least 25 catches, led by speedy Tyron Carrier.

2. Tulsa: Damaris Johnson, Trae Johnson, Slick Shelley and A.J. Whitmore form a productive quartet; they could combine for 175 receptions this season.

3. UTEP: Kris Adams and Jeff Moturi combined for 101 catches and 23 TDs last season.

4. SMU: Cole Beasley, Aldrick Robinson and Emmanuel Sanders combined for 168 catches last season, and 200 is a legit goal this season.

5. Memphis: Duke Calhoun and Carlos Singleton are good ones, but they're underutilized.

6. Southern Miss: Sophomore WR DeAndre Brown is the league's best. But he needs more help.

7. UAB: This is a deep unit, with the top six wide receivers and the top two tight ends returning. But the Blazers had just 10 TD passes last season.

8. Rice: WR Toren Dixon will be the go-to guy and should catch 70-plus passes. But WR Jarett Dillard and TE James Casey will be sorely missed.

9. East Carolina: Injuries and suspensions hurt this unit last season. Senior Jamar Bryant is the guy to watch.

10. UCF: The Knights have some talent at the position. But the receivers risk being underutilized because of quarterback issues.

11. Marshall: Productive TE Cody Slate likely will be the leading receiver, as there is no wide receiver on the roster who caught more than 17 passes last season.

12. Tulane: WR Jeremy Williams is a good one. As for the rest of the unit? Hmmm.

OFFENSIVE LINE

1. East Carolina: All five starters return. C Sean Allen and G Doug Palmer are an imposing interior duo.

2. Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles return four starters. Senior G Ryan Hebert has a shot at becoming the best lineman in the league.

3. UTEP: Four starters return, including star G Cameron Raschke. But he and his mates must do a better job in carving out running room.

4. Houston: The Cougars will have two new tackles, though a lot is expected of Roy Watts - a junior college transfer who should grab one of those vacant spots.

5. Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane are replacing three line starters, but sophomore T Tyler Holmes is a good building block.

6. UAB: Coach Neil Callaway is a former SEC offensive line coach, and he has an experienced group with which to work. C Jake Seitz and T Terence Edge have all-league potential.

7. Marshall: The interior has some questions. But the Herd are strong at tackle.

8. Memphis: Just one starter returns, and given coach Tommy West's love of the ground game, that is a bit worrisome.

9. SMU: Three starters return, and it's all about pass-blocking for them.

10. Rice: Three starters are gone, and as with the rest of the offense, there is some rebuilding going on.

11. Tulane: The line struggled last season, and the two best linemen were seniors.

12. UCF: One reason the offense was so pitiful last season was that the line didn't create much running room.

DEFENSIVE LINE

1. East Carolina: E C.J. Wilson is the best defensive player in the conference, and the tackle duo of Linval Joseph and Jay Ross could become dominant.

2. UCF: T Torrell Troup and E Bruce Miller have all-league talent.

3. Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles have experience and good depth, but they have to find a pass rush.

4. Marshall: The Herd need E Albert McClellan to return to his pre-injury form as a pass rusher.

5. UAB: Look for this group to play much better; all four starters are back.

6. Tulane: Reggie Scott's move from end to tackle should provide a boost.

7. Tulsa: This unit is the biggest defensive question for the Golden Hurricane.

8. Memphis: Just one starter returns, and the pass rush could be suspect.

9. Rice: Junior E Scott Solomon played well down the stretch, and his performance will be key this season.

10. UTEP: Two starters are back in the Miners' three-man front, but UTEP was awful against the run last season.

11. Houston: E Phillip Hunt is gone, and he was by far the best lineman last season.

12. SMU: The Mustangs are making the move to a three-man front, but there are a lot of unproven linemen.

LINEBACKERS

1. Tulsa: All three starting linebackers return. Mike Bryan is the standout.

2. Houston: Marcus McGraw has a chance to lead the league in tackles, and this is an experienced group.

3. UCF: Lawrence Young is the leader of a deep, experienced and aggressive unit.

4. East Carolina: ECU will miss Pierre Bell, but Nick Johnson is a likely all-league player.

5. Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles are looking for two new starters. There is some young talent, but it's untested.

6. Memphis: Greg Jackson is a returning standout. There is good depth and some intriguing newcomers.

7. Marshall: Mario Harvey is steady in the middle for the Herd.

8. SMU: The Mustangs switched to a 3-4 set this season, and the potential exists for an OK unit. Youri Yenga has some pass-rush skills.

9. Rice: Both starters return in the Owls' 4-2-5 scheme. Terrance Garmon is steady in the middle.

10. UTEP: The Miners have two new starters and again could have problems stopping the run.

11. UAB: The Blazers will miss Joe Henderson, who was their leading tackler. Some newcomers must come through.

12. Tulane: This is the weakest unit on a team that might be the worst in the league.

SECONDARY

1. Southern Miss: All four starters return, and the safety duo of Eddie Hicks and Chico Hunter is the best in the league.

2. East Carolina: FS Van Eskridge is the best defensive back in the league, and the Pirates have the best group of corners in the league.

3. Memphis: Three starters return, and if he's healthy, SS Alton Starr could contend for all-league honors.

4. Tulsa: Four starters are back in a 3-3-5 set. James Lockett is a big hitter, and Kenny D. Sims is the corner to watch.

5. Marshall: Sophomore DeQuan Bembry is coming off a big season, and he heads a nice group of corners.

6. Rice: The Owls were strafed through the air last season but expect improvement. FS Andrew Sendejo is their leading returning tackle.

7. SMU: All four starters return, but the group must play better than it did last season. CB Bryan McCann is the leader.

8. UTEP: Four starters return in a 4-2-5 set. But is that good? UTEP gave up 278.3 passing yards per game in conference play last season.

9. UCF: The Knights lost all four starters, but true freshman CB Josh Robinson should become a star.

10. Tulane: The Green Wave had good pass defense numbers last season, but that's because it was so easy to run against them.

11. Houston: CB Brandon Brinkley is a good one, but the rest of the unit is a question mark.

12. UAB: The Blazers were awful against the pass last season, and there are three new starters this season.

SPECIAL TEAMS

1. East Carolina: K Ben Hartman and P Matt Dodge might be the best in the league at their positions.

2. Houston: The return teams are explosive, and the kicker and punter are adequate.

3. Marshall: RB Darius Marshall is a big-time kick returner, and the coverage units were solid last season.

4. Memphis: K/P Matt Reagan is steady, and return man D.A. Griffin is solid.

5. Rice: The Owls need to find some new return men, but their specialists are OK.

6. Tulsa: There's a new kicker, and the coverage units need work, but the return men are good.

7. Tulane: P Ross Thevenot has a big leg and easily could lead the league in punting.

8. UCF: P Blake Clingan returns, but the Knights are looking for a new kicker and will miss Joe Burnett, who was a great return man.

9. UTEP: K Jose Martinez will be tough to replace. K Kyle Petersen is one of the best in the league.

10. Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles are breaking in a new kicker and a new punter.

11. SMU: The Mustangs need to replace K/P Thomas Morstead, and they need to find a new kick returner.

12. UAB: The Blazers will sorely miss K/P Swayze Waters. Their return teams need a huge upgrade.

COACHING STAFFS

1. East Carolina: Skip Holtz has done a nice job rebuilding the Pirates. Defensive coordinator Greg Hudson is a hot commodity.

2. Houston: Kevin Sumlin took what was a solid offense and tweaked it to make it even better last season.

3. Southern Miss: Like Sumlin, Larry Fedora is going into his second season, and he did a nice job spicing up what had been a stagnant offense last season.

4. UCF: The Knights were brutal offensively, but George O'Leary's team still played good defense. His focal point needs to be on recruiting better offensive talent.

5. Tulsa: Todd Graham lost offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, so the heat is on Graham to keep the Golden Hurricane offensive juggernaut in gear.

6. UTEP: After back-to-back eight-win seasons in his first two years on the job, Mike Price's team has slumped of late. He needs to get back on track this season.

7. SMU: This is the second year for June Jones, and if everything breaks right, he could get his team into a bowl.

8. Memphis: Tommy West has taken the Tigers to five bowls in the past six seasons.

9. Rice: David Bailiff had to replace his star offensive players and his offensive coordinator this offseason.

10. Marshall: This looks to be a "get to a bowl or else" season for fifth-year coach Mark Snyder, who hasn't had a winning record with the Herd.

11. Tulane: Bob Toledo and his staff appear to be fighting a losing battle in terms of getting the Green Wave into C-USA contention.

12. UAB: Neil Callaway has won six times in two seasons.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.




 

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