B.J. Daniels looks to lead South Florida to a Big East title.
Big East Predictions
Get ready for another unpredictable year in the Big East. West Virginia is the favorite, despite changing head coaches in early June. Bill Stewart resigned, elevating offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen to the top spot. Holgorsen has produced instant results in his career as an offensive coordinator, but this will be his first head coaching gig.
With Holgorsen at the controls, the Mountaineers should be able to solve some of the offensive issues that have plagued them since Pat White departed. Quarterback Geno Smith should be the conference’s top quarterback and the junior will have plenty of talented options to choose from at receiver. Improving the offense will be critical to West Virginia’s success, especially with seven new starters taking over on defense.
Although the Mountaineers seem to be the clear favorite, South Florida, Pittsburgh and Syracuse aren’t far behind. The Bulls have a loaded backfield with returning quarterback B.J. Daniels, team rushing leader Demetris Murray and transfers Darrell Scott (Colorado) and Dontae Aycock (Auburn). New Pitt coach Todd Graham should help jumpstart a Panther attack that ranked 72nd in the nation in total offense. The Orange return seven offensive starters and five on defense. Quarterback Ryan Nassib, running back Antwon Bailey and receiver Van Chew will benefit from a veteran offensive line.
Cincinnati struggled with the transition from Brian Kelly to Butch Jones and a rash of turnovers, which resulted in the program’s first losing season since 2005. The Bearcats have a few concerns on offense, but should be near the top in scoring with quarterback Zach Collaros and running back Isaiah Pead returning. If the turnover problems from last year are gone, Cincinnati should return to the postseason.
Connecticut is the Big East’s defending champ, but will take a step back in 2011. The Huskies have to replace one of the nation’s top backs in Jordan Todman and has to find a quarterback. Although the defense should be stout, the offense could be the worst in the conference.
Rutgers has plenty of weapons to work with on offense – receivers Mohamed Sanu and Mark Harrison – but has a shaky offensive line and the jury is still out on quarterback Chas Dodd. The Scarlet Knights regressed last season, but the talent is in place to make another run at a bowl.
Charlie Strong was one of the nation’s top first-year coaches last season, getting Louisville back into a bowl and posting a winning record. The Cardinals suffered heavy losses and a new starting quarterback must be found. Strong has recruited well, so Louisville has some young talent waiting in the wings. Although the Cardinals have a lot of turnover, getting back to a bowl isn’t out of the question.
From any perspective, the Big East had a down football season last year. There was the below-par performance against non-conference opponents. And even though the league finished 4–2 in its bowl games, the two losses were of the embarrassing variety. Oklahoma steamrolled UConn 48–20 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, and NC State stiff-armed West Virginia 23–7 in the Champs Sports Bowl.
There was, however, a lightning strike of good news in late November when TCU accepted an invitation to become a league member beginning July 1, 2012. The better news: The Horned Frogs’ 2010 season will count toward the Big East’s résumé if the league is subjected to BCS scrutiny when the next TV contract ends. TCU went undefeated, beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and finished No. 2 in the major polls and No. 3 in the final BCS standings. That almost certainly means the Big East will retain its AQ status. And when the Big East adds a 10th football team, the addition of TCU also serves as insurance if the conference loses, say, Rutgers and Pitt to another league.
Label this the year of the quarterback in the Big East. While six of the league’s top eight rushers have departed (only Cincinnati’s Isaiah Pead and Pitt’s Ray Graham return), the top six quarterbacks are back if you go by passing average per game. The six are Cincy’s Zach Collaros, WVU’s Geno Smith, Pitt’s Tino Sunseri, Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib, Rutgers’ Chas Dodd and South Florida’s B.J. Daniels. Smith will now be operating within Dana Holgorsen’s “Air Raid” offense, while Sunseri will be moved from under center to the shotgun for Todd Graham.
It seems to be an annual event. Almost inevitably, the Big East loses at least one of its more successful and higher-profile head coaches. Last offseason, UConn’s Randy Edsall bolted for Maryland. Two other Big East schools, however, jettisoned coaches. Pitt’s Dave Wannstedt resigned under pressure before landing an assistant head coaching position with the Buffalo Bills. WVU’s Bill Stewart was expected to spend one more year on the sidelines, but resigned in early June. Stewart will be replaced by new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen.
Wannstedt was replaced by ex-Tulsa coach Todd Graham, who also was once an assistant at Backyard Brawl rival West Virginia. Graham then hired four other former Mountaineer assistants — Tony Dews, Tony Gibson, Calvin Magee and Paul Randolph. The Big East now has two head coaches who once worked for ex-WVU coach Rich Rodriguez — Graham and Cincinnati’s Butch Jones.
TRICK SHOT ARTIST
While there are six returning quarterback starters, none are probably as famous as Connecticut walk-on Johnny McEntee, who has played in two games in two seasons with no pass attempts. The reason? McEntee became a YouTube sensation via the video “Johnny Mac Trick Shot Quarterback.” The video received millions of hits when McEntee performed throwing tricks like knocking the sign off a moving Domino’s delivery truck as well as a water bottle off the head of a teammate.
After Louisville assistant coach Clint Hurtt was named by a major website as the nation’s Recruiter of the Year, Cardinals coach Charlie Strong had to expect tough sledding keeping the assistant on board. He didn’t know how tough. Less than two weeks after Hurtt was honored, national champion Auburn came calling. The U of L assistant even visited the Tigers. But on Feb. 24, Strong sent the following message to his fans via Twitter: “Big news!! The big hurtt is staying with the cardinals.” Hurtt earned accolades by persuading several big-time players from south Florida to join a program that has but one bowl appearance in the last four years and 15 total. The U of L also earned mention on some Top-25 team recruiting lists.
Eric LeGrand, the Rutgers defensive tackle who was paralyzed from the neck down in a game against Army last October, was released from the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, N.J., in late March. He will reside at his aunt’s home in Jackson, N.J., for the near future.
Kellen Moore looks to lead Boise State into national title consideration.
In this space last year, we chronicled the dominance of the 2009 TCU Horned Frogs, a team that cruised to the Mountain West title with an 8–0 record and average margin of victory of 32 points. Well, guess what? TCU was even better in 2010. Last fall, Gary Patterson’s club once again went 8–0 in league play; this time around, the margin of the Frogs’ eight MWC wins was 33.4 points per game. TCU, in 2010, was the best team in the nation relative to its conference competition — and it wasn’t even close. The Horned Frogs outgained their MWC foes by an average of 312.0 yards per game. The next best team? Northern Illinois, which outgained its MAC opponents by 171.3 yards per game. Let those numbers sink in for a minute: TCU was that good in 2010.
But we have turned the page to 2011, and TCU, in its final season in the MWC before bolting to the Big East, will have some stiff competition in the form of the big, bad Boise State Broncos. After pushing around teams in the WAC over the last decade, Boise State has made the move to the more competitive Mountain West. And Chris Petersen’s club, with 14 starters back from a 12-win team, is the favorite to claim the title in its first season in the league. The Broncos will once again be led by quarterback Kellen Moore, who has an amazing 38–2 record as a starting quarterback. Boise State will also be potent in the running game, with Doug Martin and D.J. Harper operating behind an offensive line that returns three starters. On defense, the secondary needs to be rebuilt, but both starting linebackers and three members of the front four are back. Boise State ranked second in the nation in both total defense and scoring defense last season.
Don’t expect TCU to fall too far. Despite the loss of four-year starting quarterback Andy Dalton and a slew of other big-time players on both sides of the ball, the Horned Frogs will still be a factor in the league race. Patterson’s team will be strong on defense, and TCU’s running game figures to be among the best in the nation.
Perpetually underrated Air Force and San Diego State appear to be the best of the rest in the MWC this fall. The Falcons went 9–4 last season, and three of those losses — San Diego State, Utah and Oklahoma — came by an average of 3.3 points. AFA will continue to run the ball very well, but the 2010 Falcons could be potent through the air as well. Brady Hoke left behind a solid club in San Diego that will be guided by his former defensive coordinator Rocky Long, the one-time boss at New Mexico. The Aztecs boast star power on offense, with record-setting quarterback Ryan Lindley back for his senior season and Ronnie Hillman back for his sophomore campaign. Hillman rushed for 1,532 yards and 17 touchdowns as a freshman in 2010.
Once-proud Colorado State should be improved after struggling through its second straight losing season. The Rams were painfully young last year and were the only team in the nation to start a true freshman quarterback (Pete Thomas) in every game.
Wyoming took a step back in the second season of the Dave Christensen era, winning only three games after enjoying a rare bowl victory in 2009. And the Pokes must move forward without quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, who transferred despite starting his first two seasons in Laramie. UNLV, too, needs to identify a quarterback if it hopes to make a move in the MWC. Omar Clayton, who started 35 games at the school, has graduated, leaving a gaping hole for second-year coach Bobby Hauck.
New Mexico has upgraded its talent, but the Lobos still have a long way to go to be competitive. Mike Locksley is on the hottest of seats in Albuquerque.
Bryant Moniz and Hawaii are one of the frontrunners for the 2011 WAC crown.
Something is missing here. What could it be? Oh, it’s Boise State, the team that won (or shared) the league title in eight of its nine seasons in the WAC. The Broncos, looking to improve their lot in life, packed their bags and headed to the Mountain West Conference.
What remains is an eight-team WAC (for now) that has some decent programs but lacks star power at the top.
Nevada and Hawaii appear to be the best two teams in the first year A.B. (After Boise), though both Fresno State and Louisiana Tech could make things interesting.
The Wolf Pack will be without record-setting quarterback Colin Kaepernick, but Chris Ault’s Pistol offense should still churn out plenty of yards. Tyler Lantrip, a true drop-back passer, is the favorite to replace Kaepernick, though redshirt freshman Cody Fajardo could get a look if Nevada needs a running threat. The defense, which made strides under coordinator Andy Buh last season, loses some key playmakers but still should be strong enough to keep Nevada in the title race.
Hawaii has proved there is life after June Jones. The Warriors went 10–4 overall last year and 7–1 in the WAC with an offense that would have made Jones, now the boss at SMU, proud. Led by Bryant Moniz, the national leader in total offense (367.3 ypg), Hawaii led the nation in passing offense (394.3 ypg) and ranked sixth in total offense (500.6 ypg). Greg McMackin, Jones’ former defensive coordinator, has a 23–18 record in three seasons.
Fresno State returns 1,100-yard rusher Robbie Rouse, but the big story for the Bulldogs is new quarterback Derek Carr, the younger brother of former No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick David Carr. Carr has flashed a big arm during his time as Ryan Colburn’s backup; now it’s his time to prove he can get the job done on the big stage.
Louisiana Tech had little trouble moving the ball in the first year under Sonny Dykes, but the Bulldogs must improve on the defensive end if they hope to muscle their way into the WAC title chase. Tech ranked 116th in the nation in total defense, giving up an alarmingly bad 462.1 yards per game. Dykes’ offenses are usually headlined by a quarterback who slings the ball all over the field, but the main attraction for the Bulldogs in 2011 will be tailback Lennon Creer.
Idaho took a small step back in 2010, winning only six games after a breakthrough ’09 campaign that ended with an 8–5 record and a win over Bowling Green in the Humanitarian Bowl. The Vandals must move forward without NFL Draft pick Nathan Enderle at quarterback. Senior Brain Reader is the next man up in Moscow.
Utah State also has a big hole to fill at quarterback, as Diondre Borel has moved on after throwing for 2,108 yards last season. The Aggies’ offense, however, will get a boost from the return of Robert Turbin, who rushed for 1,296 yards in 2009 but missed last season with a torn ACL.
Mike MacIntyre had a rough first season as the head coach at San Jose State. The Spartans went 1–12, with the only win coming by five points over FCS foe Southern Utah. Among the 12 defeats was a 14–13 setback vs. UC Davis. There is hope for improvement this fall, however.
New Mexico State has made little progress in the two-year DeWayne Walker era, though the Aggies have won two straight against in-state rival New Mexico. Last season, NMSU ranked 117th in the nation in scoring offense and 115th in scoring defense. Significant improvement is needed on both sides of the ball.
Corey Robinson looks to lead Troy to another Sun Belt title.
FIU and Arkansas State are inching closer to the top, but the Sun Belt title still runs through Troy. The Trojans have shared or won five straight conference titles and appear to be in great shape to retain the crown once again.
Sophomore Corey Robinson can only get better in his second season under center, but the Trojans suffered a blow at receiver with the loss of Chip Reeves and Jamel Johnson after spring practice. Even with eight new starters, the Trojans should be one of the Sun Belt’s top offenses. Defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi is one of the nation’s underrated players, collecting 13.5 sacks last year. Troy ranked near the bottom of the conference in total defense last season, but should finish higher in 2011 with six starters back.
FIU and Arkansas State aren’t too far behind the Trojans, with both teams bringing back key pieces from last year. FIU returns 12 starters, including playmaker T.Y. Hilton at receiver and five starters from one of the Sun Belt’s top defenses last season. Arkansas State is under the direction of a new coach – Hugh Freeze – who did a great job coordinating the offense last season. Freeze has plenty to work with in 2011, with quarterback Ryan Aplin and the Sun Belt’s top receiving corps returning.
UL Monroe and MTSU will likely battle for the No. 4 and No. 5 spots in the standings. The Warhawks barely missed out on a bowl bid last year and return 14 starters, including promising sophomore quarterback Kolton Browning. MTSU has to replace quarterback Dwight Dasher, but after struggling mightily with turnovers last year, it could be addition by subtraction. A bigger concern for the Blue Raiders could be the defense, where eight starters must be replaced.
It will be a surprise if North Texas or Western Kentucky reaches a winning season, but these two teams feature a couple of nationally underrated running backs. North Texas’ Lance Dunbar rushed for 1,553 yards and 13 scores last year, while Western Kentucky’s Bobby Rainey amassed 1,649 yards on a whopping 340 carries. Both teams have solid coaches and should show improvement in 2011, before taking another step forward in 2012.
Louisiana and Florida Atlantic round out the projected Sun Belt standings. The Ragin’ Cajuns feature All-America tight end Ladarius Green and a promising new coach in Mark Hudspeth, but major improvement on defense is needed. Hudspeth will need some time before getting Louisiana back into the Sun Belt title race. The Owls will play 2011 in a new stadium, but that could be the extent of the excitement in Boca Raton this year.
We take photos of hundreds of college football games. And while we're on the sidelines each Saturday, we also find time to shoot some cheerleaders. Here are some of our favorite University of Michigan Cheerleaders from the Athlon Archive!
With 18 starters returning, SMU is the favorite to claim the Conference USA crown.
Conference USA Predictions
Conference USA might not be home to some of the elite teams in college football, but you can’t deny that the league plays a pretty exciting brand of ball — that is, if you like watching a lot of scoring. Last season, Conference USA had four of the top 16 teams in the nation in scoring offense. Only one other league had more than two teams among the top 16 — the WAC with three.
The most offensive C-USA teams were No. 6 Tulsa (41.4 ppg), No. 13 Houston (37.7), No. 15 Southern Miss (36.9) and No. 16 East Carolina (36.8). And while defense is still important, the aforementioned schools did prove that you can win a bunch of games simply by putting up gaudy numbers on the scoreboard. Tulsa, Houston, Southern Miss and East Carolina combined to post a 20–12 record in league play. It is worth noting, however, that the two teams that played for the league title, UCF and SMU, ranked fifth and ninth in the conference in scoring.
What can we expect in 2011? More of the same: A bunch of potent offenses and the usual list of contenders in both divisions.
UCF and Southern Miss figure to wage an exciting two-team race in the East. The Knights’ offense will be led by quarterback Jeff Godfrey, the 2010 C-USA Freshman of the Year, and a host of talented tailbacks. Junior Latavius Murray is the incumbent, but UCF regains the services of Brynn Harvey, a first-team all-conference pick in 2009 who missed last season with a knee injury.
Southern Miss is almost a lock to play in a 10th straight bowl game, but the Golden Eagles’ first goal is to win the C-USA East title, something they have failed to do since the league split into divisions in 2005. Southern Miss will be explosive on offense once again but must improve on the defensive end.
The West should be wild with three teams able to make a legitimate argument that they should be No. 1 in the preseason. Our pick is SMU, which shared the West crown with Tulsa last year and played in its second bowl game under June Jones. The Mustangs have a tough slate — they play both UCF and Southern Miss — but they welcome back 18 starters, and unlike some of the other top teams in the league, they are strong defensively.
Houston slumped to 4–4 last year and did not play in a bowl game for the first time since 2004. But the Cougars will be back, due in large part to the return of quarterback Case Keenum, who was granted a sixth season by the NCAA after he missed all but three games a year ago with a torn ACL. The Cougars will be aided by a kind schedule — they don’t play Southern Miss or UCF out of the East, and host SMU.
Tulsa has a new coach — Bill Blankenship takes over for Todd Graham — but the talent level remains high. The Golden Hurricane outgained C-USA foes by an average of 77.7 yards per game en route to a 6–2 record in league play.