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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, July 9, 2013 at 7:00 AM

We pick up again today with our college football conference previews. We’ll look at Conference USA today and tomorrow (East today, West tomorrow). After a couple days of showcase baseball series previews, we’ll finish off the mid-major outlook with the Sun Belt Saturday and the Independents on Sunday.

Marshall has been a popular choice among pundits to win the East this year. They return a lot of talent and a start quarterback in Raheem Cato who was Conference Player of the Year last year while leading the Thundering Herd to a #1 national ranking in passing offense. But, there are other contenders who also return experience AND their starting quarterbacks…suggesting we could be in for a terrific divisional race.

(Note that returning starter data comes from the respected Athlon publication. Be sure to check out the display ad for JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK on page 173 across from Notre Dame!)

 

CONFERENCE USA EAST

MARSHALL

Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense

Quarterback: Raheem Cato

Head Coach: Doc Holliday

There’s a lot to like about Marshall if you only focus on the positives. The offense really was great last year…but that came against a schedule of weak defenses in a minor conference. Overall, the team posted a losing record and didn’t go to a bowl. They were only 4-4 in conference action. So, to pick them to win the league, you have to pencil in an upgrade…and that upgrade has to come on DEFENSE since the offense was already among the nation’s elite. We’ll believe it when we see it…and it may be hard to see given another soft schedule. Only Virginia Tech provides a big boy challenge in pre-conference action. JIM HURLEY likes this team…but he doesn’t love this team.

 

EAST CAROLINA

Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 8 on defense

Quarterback: Shane Carden

Head Coach: Ruffin McNeil

The Pirates went 7-1 in league action last year, but then lost to Louisiana Lafayette in their bowl game. Their full season offensive stats weren’t as great as Marshall’s because Carden didn’t win the job until a few games in…and then they did a better job of running clock when they were winning (which reduces the number of yards you can gain in 60 minutes of game action). Part of the tie-breaker the media may be using for these top two teams is the fact that their regular season meeting will come at Marshall (in the season finale no less). Our own proprietary numbers have East Carolina as slightly better entering 2013. Note that EC also has to visit Middle Tennessee, the next team up on our list.

 

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE

Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 6 on defense

Quarterback: Logan Kilgore

Head Coach: Rick Stockstill

A few years ago, Rick Stockstill was one of the hot names in coaching. His time passed, as his Blue Raiders continued to flounder in their biggest tests. They still do a good job of grinding out wins vs. their own class though, which led to an 8-4 record last year that featured a 6-2 mark in CUSA. Inconsistency was an issue last year…as they lost to McNeese State but stunned Georgia Tech! You can’t ask a team like this to win the division. They will likely have a strong influence over who eventually does.

 

ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 8 on defense

Quarterback: Austin Brown

Head Coach: Garrick McGee

There’s a big drop off in Power Ratings after the first three teams in the East. UAB looks like they might compare well to those above given the returning experience. But, they were only 3-9 last year, while posting a 2-6 record in a league that had a lot of bad teams. We are expecting improvement from last year’s generally poor level of play. But, not enough to contend. A good team to look at in value underdog spots if the market doesn’t give them respect because of that returning experience.

 

SOUTHERN MISS

Returning Starters: 2 on offense, 7 on defense

Quarterback: ????

Head Coach: Todd Monken (new)

See what happens when you tinker! Southern Miss wasn’t quite happy enough with the direction the program had been going. Making changes led to an 0-12 debacle last year that got Ellis Johnson fired after just one year at the helm. Todd Monken is the latest Oklahoma State coordinator to get a head coaching job. You can at least expect big improvements on offense and higher scoring games for the Golden Eagles this season. They’ll fit right in! Marshall and East Carolina may score 60 against Southern miss…in games that make a run at 100 total points. If this YOUNG offense (only two returning starters) can’t figure out Monken’s system quickly…September is going to be a disaster in road games against Nebraska, Arkansas, and Boise State

 

FLORIDA ATLANTIC

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 7 on defense

Quarterback: ?????

Head Coach:  Carl Pelini

The Owls have a couple of very inexperienced options at the quarterback position, which means it’s hard to be optimistic about the season. That being said…if either choice turns out to be a player, you can rise up extremely quickly in this conference. We were mostly disappointed with the defense last year, because the name “Pelini” is supposed to mean DEFENSE. Let’s say it this way…this is a team to watch because things really could click in Pelini’s second year at the helm if he finds a quarterback. Don’t assume it’s going to happen until you see it happening against an early challenge featuring Miami-Fla, East Carolina, South Florida, and Middle Tennessee. No early scrimmages for this group.

 

FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL

Returning Starters: 3 on offense, 2 on defense

Quarterback: Jake Medlock

Head Coach: Ron Turner (new)

Turner’s reputation precedes him…which is a bad thing in this case because Turner’s name keeps getting linked with major failures! He has a chance to rebuild his name by turning this FIU program into a winner. There’s very little experience coming back…and Turner has always seemed overmatched at earlier levels. Big question marks heading into an early schedule that includes road trips to Maryland and Louisville.

That’s the East, we’ll look at the West featuring Tulsa, Rice, and Louisiana Tech tomorrow. If you’d like some information about JIM HURLEY’S seasonal football packages, you can learn more online or by calling the office at 1-800-323-4453. Don’t forget to ask about baseball when you call!

 

This week’s NOTEBOOK schedule:

Wednesday: CUSA “West”

Thursday: Cincinnati/Atlanta series preview in the NL

Friday: AL preview for either Texas/Detroit or Boston/Oakland

Saturday: Sun Belt

Sunday: Independents (including Notre Dame)

Then we transition to major conferences during baseball’s All-Star Break, starting with Alabama and the SEC West on Monday.

Are you ready to win? Build your bankrolls with nightly baseball as you gear up for Fall football. You’re always going to GET THE MONEY with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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