Conference USA Football Predictions 2014
By Tyler Smith
CUSA Football Predictions 2014
Offense: QB Rakeem Cato is a legitimate contender for a Heisman this season. Last season he had over 3,900 passing yards and totaled 45 touchdowns for the Thundering Herd. Cato's top target is back, Tommy Shuler. Shuler totaled 10 touchdowns with over 100 receptions. With Hoskins gone (15 touchdowns '13) they will need another option in the passing game. A player to keep an eye on to fill that role is WR Angelo Jean-Louis. The three returning starters on the line will compete for all conference spots. This should help ease way for Butler at RB. RB Kevin Grooms would of been nice to have but was dismissed from the team.
Defense: Chuck Heater did a great job at DC in his first season. The line is in pretty good shape with the top two sack leaders, James Rouse and Ra'Shawde returning. The linebackers will be impressive with all three leading tacklers back and the addition of D.J. Hunter back at linebacker. The secondary will feature a few sophomores, the best of the bunch is CB Corey Tindal.
Special Teams: Everyone returns to their roles in special teams. Amoreto Curraj plays a major role on kickoffs. Most teams are lucky to get a return off his kicks.
Overview: The offense will be firing on all cylinders and the defense should be even better than last season. The schedule isn't too challenging. An undefeated season could be in the cards for the Herd this season.
Offense: Plenty of questions on offense. At Wide receiver has one starter returning. Not one returnee had over 20 receptions last season. The line is in good shape at the tackle positions with a combined 50 starts. Now who they will be protecting isn't certain just yet. Three players will have a chance to start under center. Three players competing for the spot are Austin Grammer, A. J. Edely and Brent Stockstill. The deepest position on offense is RB with several good options. The guy who gets the most carries should be Jordan Parker.
Defense: The defense is why the Blue Raiders shouldn't drop off. T.T. Barber is the leader on defense. Barber had 119 sacks, three picks and 11.5 tackles for loss. Safety Kevin Byard has nine career interceptions and he makes the most of them after the pick. The defensive line is going to have to get a better push this year. The depth is there. Look for a couple sophomores, Jimal McBride and Shaquille Huff, to have big impacts on the defensive line.
Special Teams: Kicker, Cody Clark had a nice freshman campaign. The punting job will be decided in fall camp.
Overview: The good news in a three-way QB race? The first game is vs. Savannah State. T.T Barber is one of the top defensive players in the conference. MTSU beat Marshall at home last season, this year they play in Huntington.
Overview: The Hilltoppers offense is still in pretty good shape despite the loss of running back Antonio Andrews. While they won't be able to replace Andrews Leon Allen seems to be a fair replacement. Brandon Doughty had 14 touchdowns but matched that with 14 interceptions. Two of his top targets are back in Willie McNeal and Nicholas Norris. Cameron Clemmons will anchor the line. The defense lost two guys to the next level in Andrew Jackson and Xavius Boyd. Losing those two linebackers will mean the Hilltopper defense will take a step back. The secondary does feature a NFL talent in corner Cam Thomas. WKU will finish the season with UTSA and Marshall.
#4 Old Dominion
Overview: Everyone is intrigued by ODU and rightfully so with QB Taylor Heinicke running the show. Heinicke has put up monster numbers with over 4,000 yards passing and 33 touchdowns. His top targets are all back for their senior seasons with Larry Pinkard (Pinkard was dismissed from the team) and Antonio Vaughan back who have combined for over 1,800 yards and 18 touchdowns. While the running game isn't a strong focus, the position is weak. The defense is where the Monarchs will struggle. The good news is they played a lot of young players last year in preparation for this season. In their first season in CUSA they will get Marshall at home.
Overview: The Owls 4-4 in conference play last season and had three conference losses by seven or less points. The top rushing option for FAU is also the QB Jaquez Johnson. He had over 700 yards rushing with ten touchdowns. If Johnson devlops into a more accurate passer watch out for the Owls offense. Senior WR William Dukes is the leading returnee with six touchdowns. The line will look to continue to take a step forward with three starters back. The defense was impressive last season holding opponents to an average of 22 points. FAU returns their top two tacklers and stud corner D'Joun Smith. Who can get pressure on the QB will play a big role on how well this defense is this year. A six and six record will be hard to repeat this season.
Overview: The Golden Panthers had one win last season. Let's start with the biggest issue the Panthers have, the offensive line. The line ranks 124th out 125 teams in sacks allowed giving up 52 last season. All five starters return from that squad. If they don't take a step forward FIU will be back at the bottom. E.J. Hillard will have full custody of the QB spot with a lot of his top targets back. The defense almost gave up as much running yards as they did passing last season. Seven starters return including four of the front seven. The front seven will have to improve on stopping the run, they can not allow over 200 yards rushing a game again. September 27th at UAB will be a good test for the Panthers.
Overview: The pieces at the skill positions are there. Sophomore running back Jordan Howard will be the star of the team. Jamarcus Nelson is a talented WR who had 846 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Who will be throwing the ball to Nelson and WR Jamari Staples is the one hurdle the Blazers have. The defense seems to have promise but you look at UAB's past they won't improve that much. Special teams is very strong with kicker Ty Long and Punter Hunter Mullins. UAB does get Southern Miss and FIU this season so the wins will need to come in those games.
Offense: Nine starters return to the Roadrunner offense. A new face will be at QB with the departure of three year starter Eric Soza. Tucker Carter should be solid under center for UTSA. Tucker is more of a pro-style QB, with a good arm. Good news for the new QB is that all five linemen return. The WR position is deep with the ball being spread around a lot last season. Look for the passing attack to be more of a factor this season. Last years leading rusher David Glasco returns at RB. He only totaled 95 carries last season, but in a game vs Tulsa he got 21 carries and ran for 135 yards.
Defense: If the defense can play like they did at the end of the season, the Roadrunners will be in good shape. Only losing one starter from last season this defense is packed with experience and depth. The line has good depth with three of the teams leaders in sacks return along with Burge and Mabry in the DT slots. Triston Wade led the team in tackles from his safety position last season. Drew Douglas is the lone returning starter at LB. Douglas had 70 tackles a sophomore.
Special Teams: Kicking wasn't a strong point last season with Sean Ianno missing eight field goals last season. Five of which were inside the dome.
Overview: Plenty of excitement surrounds the program and for good reason. Plenty of starters return on both sides of the ball. If Carter can hold down the QB position, the Roadrunners will be in title contention. The first home game vs. Arizona should have the Alamo Dome rockin'.
Overview: The Owls are soaring after a ten win and conference title season. Rice will have to find a way to replace leading rusher Charles Ross and his 15 touchdowns. Sophomore RB Jowan Davis seems to be the leading candidate. WR is still in good shape with Jordan Taylor back as well as three other players who had 20 or more catches. Three starters return on the line to protect QB Driphus Jackson. Jackson does have a little starting experience under center. On the other side of the ball the Owls will hope to force a high number of turnovers again. The defense tackle spots are as good as it gets in the conference with Christian Covington and Stuart Mouchantaf. The Old Dominion contest will be telling of how the season may go.
#3 Louisiana Tech
Overview: The Bulldogs offense brings back RB Kenneth Dixion who blew up last season and averaged 6.1 yards a carry. The line is big with three returning starters. The QB situation is still between Scotty Young and Ryan Higgins and will likely carry on through the season again. A new target at WR, Paul Turner from LSU, will give both quarterbacks a go to guy. The secondary proved to be strong last year as they only allowed 219 yards through the air. Four of the three starters are back to continue where they left off. Manny Diaz should be able to help improve the Bulldogs run defense. LaTech could surprise some people this year.
#4 North Texas
Overview: North Texas has the best offensive line in the conference. The problem is who's behind and to the side of them. QB is up for grabs with three players contending for the spot this fall. Running back will be Antoinne Jimmerson who played OK in the backup role. Carlos Harris will have to be the go to guy at WR this year. Defensively the Mean Green was fantastic last season. However, that was last season. With only one player returning in the front seven expect the redzone defense to take a step back. The secondary will still play at a high level with a good cast of players. The Louisiana Tech and Rice game will play a big factor in how this season fairs for the Mean Green.
Overview: The Miners really struggled to score last season with over half their games resulting in them scoring 20 or less points. On the flip side the defense gave up over 40 points seven times. The offense should be better with Showers at QB and Jones and Jeffery in the backfield. The defense gave up over 247 yards on the ground last season and with three new starters on the line it's hard to see much changing.
#6 Southern Miss.
Overview: One thing that has to change for Southern Miss., turnovers. The Golden Eagles were -19 in turnover margin last season. The running game has to be better. If they aren't going to run the ball well then the passing game has to improve and with Mullens back who had a completion percentage under 50 percent, that won't drastically change. The defense should be better after getting hit hard with injuries, but don't expect much.
CUSA Offensive Player of the Year
Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall
CUSA Defensive Player of the Year
D'Joun Smith, CB, FAU
CUSA Coach of the Year
Larry Coker, UTSA
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