C-USA Notes From Media Day

Conference USA wrapped up the "Media Blitz" in Dallas, Texas on Tuesday, August 1. Now, it's time to get past the pre-season predictions and get down to work for the 12 football teams in C-USA. Many questions linger: Can UCF and Tulsa repeat in the East and West; how will UAB and Memphis replace their stars at QB and RB; can Marshall bounce back from the first losing season in 21 seasons?

Some notes from various media outlets on the Conference USA Media Day:
Central Florida will open its new $51 million, 45,000 seat on-campus stadium next season, adding to the already completed indoor practice facility and a new $107 million, 10,000 seat Convocation Center for basketball at the booming campus in Orlando. "When I first got there I talked about laying the foundation, laying the tracks," O'Leary told The Birmingham News. "Now those tracks are leading to the stadium." O'Leary said the additions are "right on target" with the top facilities in the conference.
UAB Head Coach Watson Brown is the center of speculation on whether he will continue as head coach of the Blazers or remain as Athletic Director. The Birmingham News stated that UAB President Carol Garrison has given Brown an option: he can coach this season, then retire and return as AD; he can continue as head coach, which will lead UAB to go out and hire a full-time AD; or coach one more year, setting up offensive coordinator Pat Sullivan as his successor, and then leave to coach another program. The safe route is option one, but the season's outcome might affect two and three.

Brown is not very happy about playing a Conference USA game the second week of the season against East Carolina, especially wedged between the opener with Oklahoma and then a game at Georgia. ECU coach Skip Holtz agreed with Brown. "Playing a conference game this early, there are a lot of unknowns," said Holtz. "It's going to be a challenge for both of us." Of course, Rice and Houston have it even worse, as the two cross-town and West Division rivals meet in the season opener on Sept. 2.
The changes in the clock for this college football season were received differently by C-USA coaches. The clock will start on the kick on kickoffs and will start on a change of possesion with the start of the 25-second play clock. O'Leary told the Orlando Sentinel, "I'm a big believer that the game in college is too long anyway. I think when you start going over three hours considerably, it's just too long." Houston's Art Briles was not happy, however. "I don't like it," said Briles. "You're gonna lose anywhere from six to 10 snaps a game. If I'm a defensive coordinator, I love it...What people want to see is good football. We're not the NFL."
C-USA will have three Tuesday games this season, one on Wednesday (UCF traveling to Huntington to face the Thundering Herd), four Friday nights and even two Sunday games. "We've played on every day of the week but Wednesday since I've been coaching," said Memphis' Tommy West. "I don't really care what day we play on as long as we have ample time in between to prepare and recover from the previous week."
CSTV added two new voices to its lineup. Trev Alberts, an All-American at Nebraska and formerly with ESPN, will team with play-by-play man Tom Hart. Alberts will also appear on the weekly studio show, "Crystal Ball," with Brian Jones. Also joining CSTV is former FSU quarterback Chris Rix, who will team with Johnathan Coachman on game calls.

Marshall linebacker Ian Hoskins stood over USM quarterback Dustin Almond after a big hit in last year's Marshall-Southern Miss game.

Jeff Bower, the elder statesman among C-USA coaches who has been at the helm since the league came into being in 1996, has simple goals for his team. "A conference championship," Bower told The Clarion-Ledger in Mississippi. "That's what I expect every year." Only four other coaches in the nation have been at the helm as long as Bower, who is in the 16th season as head coach of his alma mater, Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles have a tough start, with back-to-back road games to open C-USA play at defending East champ UCF and defending West champ Tulsa. "Your first two conference games, you're playing the two teams that were in the championship game last year, playing on a Tuesday night, both of them on the road. That's a first for me."
Bower, on a happier note, thinks his offensive line might be the best in school history. "I think we have a chance to be as good as we have ever been," Bower told the Biloxi (Miss.) Sun-Herald of his line, returning four starters. "It should be the strength of our offensive football team. Leading the way is Travis Cooley, a 6-foot-2, 297 senior guard. He and George Batiste are pre-season All-C-USA picks. "I'm going to do the same thing I always do," said Cooley. "Play hard. It's a huge honor for me." Cooley had 43 knockdowns last year, with six "pancake" blocks and allowed only one sack all season for the 7-5 Golden Eagles, who have to replace three-year QB starter Dustin Almond this season.
A quarterback who is back is Houston's Kevin Kolb (pronounced "Cobb"). UH is pushing Kolb for the Heisman Trophy with a web site, www.kolbheismanwatch.com, which features a blog by the QB, stats, media archieves and more. "I would hope that (the Heisman campaign) is perceived as if the entire university is going to benefit from this," Kold told the Houston Chronicle. "I'm getting thrown in with (Andre Ware, who won in 1989) and thrown in with (David) Klingler, but I don't belong there yet." Collegefootballnews.com ran a recent list of Heisman candidates and seemed to agree with Kolb; he was 86th of 100 candidates.
Rice's new head coach Todd Graham was not thrilled with his early schedule. In addition to opening with cross-town and West Division rival Houston, the Owls then travel to UCLA, host the national champion Texas Longhorns and then play at Florida State. "We're not making excuses," Graham told the Hattiesburg (Miss.) American, "but USC wouldn't schedule that preseason. I can guarantee we're not going to do that in the future." Graham was defensive coordinator for Tulsa last season when the Golden Hurricane won C-USA in its first season out of the WAC.

Other tough schedules include Marshall traveling to top five WVU to open the season, then to Tennessee and Kansas State in weeks three and four before opening league play with UCF. The Golden Knights will open at South Carolina, then travel to the SEC's Florida Gators and host Pitt of the Big East. Tulane will hopefully have a full season of home games this year, but have trips to Mississippi State, to LSU and to Auburn in a swing of SEC games, plus Army at home. Southern Miss opens at Florida, hosts N.C. State and travels to Virginia Tech. UAB will open at Oklahoma and also play at Georgia and host Mississippi State. Memphis will play Ole Miss and Tennessee this season, as well as three of the West teams that went to bowls-UTEP, Houston and Tulsa.
Speaking of Tulsa, coach Steve Kragthorpe knows that conference title has put a bulleye on his team but he deflected attention for his team's climb to the top. "The players, in particular, have made a lot of sacrifices and have worked extremely hard," Kragthorpe told the Tulsa World. "It's been a good three years because we experienced success, but it's been a hard, tough climb. When I walk into QuickTrip, everyone wants to talk TU football...Three years ago, I didn't see that."

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