BY NEIL BISMAN
CONFERENCE USA INSIDER
Nobody expected much out of Conference USA this season but this past weekend was just downright ugly for the league’s members. The combination of a few blowouts and a loss to a D 1-AA school not named Appalachian State is not going to do much to doubt the naysayers. Tulane was the only member of the league to not have played a game.
-Tulsa kicked off their season with a win Thursday night at Louisiana-Monroe but did not look all that impressive in doing so. Tulsa struggled for most of the first half but had a nice second half to ensure they did not leave without a victory. Tulsa should be cut some slack though – they are trying to break in a new spread offense. The Golden Hurricane were unable to come up with an answer for Louisiana-Monroe running back Calvin Dawson but they are not alone as not many schools have had trouble stopping the underrated back.
-Former Georgia assistant Neil Calloway has the unenviable task of turning around a once-proud UAB program and appears to be light years away from doing so. UAB was forced to compete, and I use the term loosely, against Michigan State with a mere 67 scholarship players, 18 below NCAA requirements. The Blazers had no answer for the Spartans offensive attack and it probably won’t be the last time that they cannot stop an offense this season. Calloway did have his squad playing hard though, which is all you can really ask for at this point.
-As abysmal as UAB looked, East Carolina did the conference proud with its 17-7 loss against Virginia Tech. The popular thing to do was blame the close score on the emotion that filled the field in Blacksburg, and that may have been the case, but East Carolina deserves some credit as well. The defense looked solid in shutting down the Tech attack but there remains a lot of work to be done on the offensive side. It may almost be beneficial for them to open up against the tough Hokies’ defense because all others will look weak by comparison.
-The Marshall offense is a mess and it showed in the school’s 31-3 defeat against Miami (FL). Ahmad Bradshaw’s surprising early departure for the NFL left a major hole in the offense and it is one that they have not been able to fill. The rebuilding continues but the conference may be weak enough that they are able to become bowl eligible.
-The post-Todd Graham era did not get off to a good start as Rice joined Michigan in losing to a foe from the Football Championship Subdivision with a 16-14 loss against Nicholls State. Putting up 218-yards of offense couldn’t cut it against the Nicholls State Colonels and it certainly won’t get it done against stronger opponents.
-Houston kept it competitive against Oregon in the first half but the Ducks’ offense proved to be too much for the Cougars to handle. Senior Anthony Aldridge looked extremely impressive, running for 205-yard on just 22 carries. Houston gets another chance to restore their national credibility with an October 6th trip to Tuscaloosa to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide.
-The UTEP offense failed to show up and the defense surrendered 383-yards yet somehow managed a 10-6 victory over New Mexico. The “bend but don’t break” defense kept the Lobos’ offense out of the end zone and was able to escape with a victory that they may not have deserved.
-Southern Miss was able to overcome a disappointing performance by quarterback Jeremy Young and proved to be too much for an inferior Tennessee-Martin squad. Damion Fletcher continued to run amok over defenses by putting up 156-yard on just 19-carries.
-Five turnovers for the Memphis Tigers, including a 99-yard interception returned for a touchdown, did them in at home game against Ole Miss. Quarterback Martin Hankins had a monster game statistically but much of it goes for naught due to his four interceptions. If he can keep his turnovers to a minimum, Memphis could be much closer to a bowl game than the 2-10 record they put up a season ago.
-Last and certainly not least, UCF held on and held on for dear life after all but blowing a 25-3 halftime lead before defeating North Carolina State 25-23 for the only win by a Conference USA school over a BCS school. The Knights got a monster game from Kevin Smith who ran for a career-high 217 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game. Going into Raleigh, North Carolina and knocking off one of the big boys may be just what this program needs to get back to a bowl game.
Not the best of weeks for the conference and with a tough schedule up ahead for the league’s members, things may continue to get worse before they get better.