I’m a joiner and this morning I saw that the other bloggers were writing about the teams from their conferences that had the best chance of going bowling this year. So, I thought I’d join in.
Obviously, I have more conferences, so I’ll break this down over a few posts throughout the rest of the week. I’ll go in alphabetical order, so let’s start with Conference USA.
C-USA announced last month that it will have six guaranteed bowl spots and an agreement with the new Dallas Football Classic to participate in that game should be the Big Ten or Big 12 be unable to provide a team. The Liberty Bowl takes the conference champion and then teams are dispersed with the help of the league office.
I’m not going to pick the exact bowls but rather the teams I think will be bowling at the end of the year.
COUNT ON IT
Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles have missed the postseason just once this decade, so there’s no reason to think they’re going to slip now. Yes, there are questions on the offensive line, but this team should be challenging for a conference title by the end of the season.
Central Florida: The Knights rebounded from a tough 2008 to nearly play in the conference title game in 2009. This year, the defense looks stout and the offense seems to have found a quarterback in Rob Calabrese that can help expand their game. Running back is a huge question mark with Brynn Harvey out for nonconference play, but several other options seemed to step up during the spring.
Houston: The Cougars seemed to hit a wall at the end of last season, but with nearly everyone returning from that team, they’ll be the favorites to win C-USA West in the fall. The question will be whether they learned from last year’s mistakes to put themselves in better bowl position this year.
SMU: Dare I say that SMU is back? The Mustangs will be young again, but I think coach June Jones has found something in quarterback Kyle Padron and the Mustangs will once again be in a bowl hunt. I think the ‘Stangs have the best chance to give Houston a run for the West Division.
Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane had a down year in 2009, but I think that was an aberration. Coach Todd Graham acknowledged he underestimated the loss of some players heading into last year, but with most of the 2009 squad returning for 2010, he feels confident his team can rebound. Much of Tulsa’s success will depend on the offensive line, which was really shaky a year ago.
UTEP: The Miners have the talent to make a bowl game, especially with quarterback Trevor Vittatoe and running back Donald Buckram back, but the consistency is something that needs to come along. The Miners have a new defensive coordinator, which should alleviate the need to get into shootouts with opponents.
Marshall: It’s hard to say what a team will look like with a new coach and several of the top offensive weapons gone, but coach Doc Holliday does have some gems on his roster that could get this team to six wins. However, the nonconference schedule is a bear and the Herd has to play at Southern Miss, ECU and SMU.
East Carolina: The Pirates lost more starters to graduation than any other team in the country. Combine that with trying to learn a new offensive and defensive system and it seems like a rebuilding year.
Rice: Last year was a tough transition for Rice after losing almost all of its offense from 2008. This year should be better with some new quarterback choices, experience and running back Sam McGuffie available to play. The Owls could easily go 2-2 during nonconference play and have SMU and Houston at home, but there’s a tough road stretch during late October and early November that will get them a bowl berth.
WAIT 'TIL NEXT YEAR
Memphis: New head coach Larry Porter inherited a lot of potential, but it won’t be easy to put that together in a year. There are a lot of questions for this Memphis team, especially at running back, the position that carried the offense a year ago.
UAB: Quarterback Joe Webb was the Blazers’ all-everything player a year ago and now that he’s gone, no one has stepped up to fill that gap. Coach Neil Callaway has been looking for players to help out for the past few years and has had little luck finding someone to emerge. That will continue as the Blazers struggle in 2010.
Tulane: I thought the Green Wave would be better in 2009, but that didn’t happen and I don’t have a lot of confidence for 2010. They lose top players Jeremy Williams and Andre Anderson and are still looking for consistent play from both sides of the ball.