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Features & Blogs
"Life in the UK"
• Sideline: Yes, Non–Conference Games DO Count
• NCAA Preview 2009
• Sideline: Time For The Talking To Stop
• Sideline: In Memory of Air McNair
• Sideline: Will Goodell Hand Out Hard Time?
• Sideline: Marshall's Not Joshing
• NFL Draft: No Rush To Judgment
• NFL Draft Analysis 2009 (Part 2)
• Sideline: NFL Draft Thoughts (Part 2)
• Sideline: NFL Draft Thoughts
• Sideline: Will Play For Food
• Sideline: Wonderlic Scores
• Sideline: Manning and Sanchez
• Sideline: 2010 Leagues Sci–fi, or Fantasy? / March Madness
• Sideline: Break Out The Brackets
• Sideline: LaDainian Tomlinson On The Record
• Sideline: The Incredible Sulk Continues
• Sideline: Guildford Heat Fired Up
• Sideline: Super Bowl thoughts from the Valley of the Sun
• Sideline: I know I came in here for something
• Sideline: College Football National Signing Day
• Sideline: 27 Points — 27 Super Bowl thoughts
• Sideline: An Epic QB Matchup?
• Sideline: Appreciating Arizona for What They Were
• Sideline: NFL Divisional Weekend Preview
• Sideline: Bowl Season Hangover
• Sideline: Six weeks Later
• Sideline: Wildcard Weekend Preview
• Sideline: Santa's Sackings
• Sideline: A Weis Decision ...for Now
• Sideline: Eye on the Ticker
• Sideline: Lions — An Anagram of Losin
• Sideline: Ready for the Turkey
• Sideline: Making it to the Big Dance
• Sideline: Brighter Days Ahead for Chargers?
• Sideline: Unnecessary Hits To The Pocket / Upset: BYU
• Sideline: Romo's Pause / Seattle Seahawks
• Sideline: Weekend Prep: Red River and More
• Sideline: College Football's 'Crossroads' Weekend
• Sideline: Gramatical Error
• Sideline: Turning The Page
• Sideline: So Cal 'Quizzed
• Sideline: 3rd Tuesday Panic / Forté Yard Dash
• Sideline: Two and Oh; Oh and Two
• Sideline: No More NCAAffeine
• Sideline: Week 1 College Football
• Sideline: How To Spell Heisman / Chad Ocho Cinco
• Sideline: A Second Slice
• Sideline: The Favre story STILL won't go away
• Sideline: Olympic Notes / Ricky's Still Relevant
• Sideline: Committee Meetings
• Sideline: Let the QB Battles Begin
• Sideline: Slinging The Slinger — More Favre
• Interview: Clint Dempsey
• Sideline: Welcome to the 2008 season
• Sideline: Plus One
• 2008 NFL Draft Review
• Sideline: Draft: The Morning After
• Sideline: Draft: Thinking the Unthinkable
• Sideline: Draft: Ready For The Long Haul
• Sideline: Sofa–bound Sport
• Sideline: Post–Winter Wonderland
• Sideline: Six Impossible Things
• Sideline: Brady's Misdirection Play
• Sideline: Colorful Language
• Sideline: Let the Romo–bashing begin
• Sideline: Bowl Bites: The Wrap
• Sideline: All About The Coaches
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 3
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 2
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 1
• Sideline: Coach Situations Vacant
• Sideline: For Some, The Playoffs Are Now
• Sideline: A Certain Lack Of Welcome
• Sideline: Unrelated Notes
• Sideline: Two Thanksgiving thoughts
• Sideline: Halftime: NFC
• Sideline: Halftime: AFC
• Sideline: London / A Tale of Two Chads / Intimidation
• Sideline: Damp Squib / Other London Notes
• Sideline: Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em / Dolphins – The Aftermath
• Sideline: The Dolphins Did What?
• Sideline: Notes on the Defenses
• Sideline: Habits to be Broken
• Sideline: Overtime
• Sideline: This Week's Starters
• Sideline: USF: Covering The Spread / Fantastic Football
• Sideline: Grossman: The Final Act? / McNabb, the Epilogue
• Sideline: Eagles QB in Slight Controversy
• Sideline: Leftwich's Parting Gift / Boos cruise
• Sideline: Notre Dame M.I.A.
• Sideline: Looking Beyond NFL Wk. 1
• Sideline: Best Hope For Heisman
• Sideline: Coaching Hot Seats / AP Poll Feeling ’Appy
• Sideline: The NFL’s Prime Cuts
• Sideline: Michigan Falls to Killer Apps
• Sideline: Look Out Couch / The Taint's On You, Bud
NCAA Preview 2009
Observations, Opinion & Occasional Silliness by Richard L Gale
Three C–USA teams — East Carolina, Southern Mississippi and Houston — are worth keeping an eye on, but Houston may have the have the highest upside, argues Richard L Gale
100–Word Dash: East Carolina
Down in the second–tier conferences, where the arms race of multiple–receiver sets dominate discussion, ECU not only have a secondary deep enough to close down the gaudy stats, but produce the turnovers to stop things in a hurry. Coach Skip Holtz' offense may lack players of defensive end CJ Wilson's ferocity, but the line is a cut above the usual C–USA standard, Patrick Pinkney has a sixth season of eligibility (what classes are there left to study at ECU?), and somebody will emerge at running back. It isn't that the Pirates are a great team — they just out–tidy their conference.
100–Word Dash: Southern Miss
Unheralded QB Austin Davis wandered in as a freshman and produced over 3600 yards and 32 TDs in Larry Fedora's new offense. With Damion Fletcher going for a fourth season of 1300+ rushing, what will Davis be like his second year? Last year's outlet receiver, TE Shawn Nelson, is in the NFL, and with both tackles changed, the conditions for something of a sophomore slump are there. Southern Miss' defense, while solid, lacks ECU's growl, and with key match–ups against both the Pirates and Houston on the road, they may have to settle for second best again in the division.
100–Word Dash: Marshall
If quarterback Brian Anderson's lone outing last season — three touchdowns against Tulsa — proves typical of what to expect, the Thundering Herd may have more than RB Darius Marshall for opponents to worry about. The defense has players of note at all three levels, and if DE Albert McClellan is finally back to 2006 fitness, the secondary's tally of breakups could benefit with more interceptions. None the less, predicting a winning record is hard with Virginia Tech, Bowling Green and West Virginia on the non–conference schedule. A season–ending visit to UTEP could be a battle of 5–6 teams seeking bowl eligibility.
100–Word Dash: UAB
If continuity and experience on the lines count for anything, UAB could have an upswing year. The returning O–line again seeks to spring dual–threat QB Joe Webb and RB Rashaud Slaughter, and six of last year's top seven receivers are back. The defensive line is back too (which is less of an asset), but with the secondary also in flux, the defense must be viewed as a liability until they prove otherwise. While the rest of the chasing pack in the East juggle their lines, the Blazers have an opportunity to perhaps land an even record and a bowl invite.
100–Word Dash: UCF
It's hard to see a breakthrough from UCF this season. Even though the quarterback position should be improved this year — either with ex–Demon Deacon Brett Hodges stepping in or as Rob Calabrese shows what he learnt from his freshman campaign — the line is still a muddle on a team that produced less offense than any other team in the nation. They will have an entirely new secondary as well, so unless running back Brynn Harvey leaps from a bit–part player to a workhorse, and the front seven go from nice to nasty, the Knights could be facing another 4–win season.
100–Word Dash: Memphis
At least UCF have a defensive line. By comparison, the Memphis Tigers return just one starting lineman on each side of the ball, suggesting that when it comes to Xs and Os, it'll be Ls not Ws for Memphis. Former JuCo running back Curtis Steele looked like a quality back in a breakout 2008, but with a clutch of QBs competing for the start job, it's hard to see the chemistry between line and backfield being anywhere near competitive. The back seven on defense could be sound, at least, but it's hard to see more than 3 wins for Memphis.
Houston could go a long way this season: beyond the division, and beyond the conference. The reason for that isn't just QB Case Keenum, who lobbed over 5000 yards of passes last season, with a combined 51 touchdowns, and has a legitimate shot at a Heisman invite. The Cougars also have a running game (West Division rivals might want to look up the definition of that phrase), with Bryce Beall dashing for over 1200 yards as freshman, with 13 more scores. Inevitably in this spread offense, he's also a key receiver. Together, they'll be the most potent offense in the nation.
Pouring a little cold water on that excitable opening paragraph is the defense, which returns almost nobody. But some of those that are stepping in — JuCo arrival Jack Candy and lightning fast Devin Mays look like upgrades to a secondary that can stymie most of what the division throws at Houston. The offensive line is also shuffling, but it is doing so with decent options between seniors and promising talents. Also, the program has been progressing for a while, and has acquired the sort of roster depth that inevitably trickles down to providing solid special teams.
Picking one team from C–USA for special attention, Houston isn't the automatic choice. For one thing, East Carolina may be a marginally better team, but by season's end, Houston will have a chance to prove me wrong in the C–USA Championship off the back of a 9–game winning streak and an unbeaten run in conference play. Nationally, they should be top 25 ranked, and if they upset visiting Texas Tech September 26 (I'm not going to suggest they beat Oklahoma State on the road the week before!), they could be 11–1, on a 10–game winning streak and looking to tap the BCS on the shoulder if they can knock off the champion of the East.
Of course, it could also fall apart early if understandable losses to Oklahoma State and Texas Tech are followed by more cruel luck at UTEP and at Mississippi State. The good news for coach Kevin Sumlin is that this isn't one–year window: If Keenum comes back for his senior season, what returns on the offensive side again will be good, and the best of the defense with it. Houston is poised for the national spotlight in a way it hasn't been since the days of the Southwest Conference.
100–Word Dash: Tulsa
Whoever quarterbacks Tulsa in 2009 — David Johnson graduated — they inherit a system that comes with stunning athlete Damaris Johnson at one receiver position, others who have had their moments, and one of the best receiving fullbacks in the nation, Charles Clay. Jamad Williams could step in ably for departed rusher Tarrion Adams, but the line looks likely to field sophomores at both tackles and center, and that's no gift to a learning QB. If it all works out, Tulsa keeps its head above water, despite a secondary that was oftentimes torched repeatedly last season, but winning the West seems unlikely.
100–Word Dash: UTEP
In some ways, UTEP mirrors rivals SMU: the running game isn't good, the defense isn't special and special teams may be a liability (especially with a freshman kicker). And, of course, the passing game is everything. There, however, UTEP is a step ahead of SMU, as Trevor Vittatoe's TDs–to–picks record was 33:9 last year. When it comes to a shoot–out with SMU, UTEP edges it passing, rushing and stopping the pass (which is all that's required). Beating Tulsa is possible at home, but as for the West title, Houston may as well be Texas, who they play one week earlier.
100–Word Dash: SMU
SMU continues to seek some exorcism of the curse of their 1980s death penalty. The hiring of June Jones brought hope last season, but zero C–USA wins. This season could be very different. Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell should shrug off some of the 23 interceptions that offset 24 scores, the receivers clearly ‘get' the offense, and there might actually be some run in the run–and–shoot (starting RB Chris Butler looked good on the rare occasions they ran the ball). If the defense and special teams don't stink, a third–place finish in the West isn't impossible. National relevance remains a dream.
100–Word Dash: Rice
Do you want the good news, the bad news or the really bad news? The good news is Rice returns most of their defense. The bad news is much the same thing, although improvements can be expected along the learning curve. The really bad news is the offense is going to put a lot of pressure on that defense this season. Starting quarterback? Unknown. Starting running back? Tyler Smith has 6 career yards out of the backfield. And there isn't a senior on the offensive line. Rice could bounce back hard in 2010, but a 2009 bowl is a push.
100–Word Dash: Tulane
Even in the days of Matt Forte, the Green Wave were hardly relevant. Without him, the 200 points scored barely registered alongside the 414 points conceded. Even if new starting quarterback Joe Kemp enjoys a whole season of connecting with quality WR Jeremy Williams (injured through a significant lump of last season), the defense is going to have to make a light–year jump not to leak first downs again, and special teams were at least as bad. But with the offensive line missing some key graduates, even that offense can't be assumed a strength. It looks like another long season.