The Ultimate Schedule: Conference USA East Division

    
August 19th, 2009

Conference USA Schedule “Rules”:

-         Four non-conference games

-         Eight conference games (three against West Division opponents)

-         Conference USA Championship Game (December 5th)

 

Week 1: Ole Miss @ Memphis (September 6th)

 

A game that’s become the traditional opener for both schools, the Tigers would land a serious blow for Conference USA should they upset a team many have in their preseason Top 10 polls. The Rebels won last season’s meeting 41-24, and Memphis hasn’t beaten the Rebels since the 2004 season opener. In order for Memphis to have any chance at beating Ole Miss, Curtis Steele will need to have an outstanding day and Arkelon Hall will need to make a few plays through the air while not turning the ball over. No one’s expecting Memphis to win, but an upset (or at the least a good showing) could move the Tigers into the Conference USA title conversation.

 

Other Games Considered: Rice @ UAB (9/5), Appalachian State @ East Carolina (9/5)

 

Week 2: East Carolina @ West Virginia (September 12th)

 

ECU thoroughly outclassed the Mountaineers in Greenville last year, so expect West Virginia to be on full alert when the Pirates reach Morgantown. Jarrett Brown takes over for Pat White at quarterback, but he’s got some big game experience to his credit. And Noel Devine also returns for West Virginia, but neither he nor White mattered much in last year’s meeting. Home-field advantage could end up being the determining factor, but to expect the defending C-USA champs to simply fold once they get off the plane would be to disrespect their resume. Should be a fun matchup.

 

Other Games Considered: UCF @ Southern Miss (9/12), SMU @ UAB (9/12), Marshall @ Virginia Tech (9/12),

 

Week 3: East Carolina @ North Carolina (September 19th)

 

The Pirates take center stage once again; such is life when you take on all comers in the non-conference schedule. ECU won the most recent meeting (2007) but has lost eight of the eleven all-time meetings. Butch Davis has the Tar Heel program looking ready to turn the corner and consistently contend for ACC titles, but ECU provides a serious roadblock before they reach conference play. Both teams will be coming off of tough road games the previous weekend (UNC visits Connecticut), so whether or not there will be any kind of “hangover” will be an interesting question to answer.

 

Other Games Considered: Virginia @ Southern Miss (9/19), Buffalo @ UCF (9/19), UAB @ Troy (9/19)

Week 4: UCF @ East Carolina (September 26th)

 

Southern Miss’ trip to Lawrence is more intriguing from a national perspective, but sometimes it’s just as interesting to check out a program in need of a big win travelling to face the division favorite. Not sure if George O’Leary is on the hot seat or not (I’d say no, although the Erick Plancher situation definitely doesn’t help matters), but how big would a win in Greenville be for the Knights? UCF has lost the last three meetings, two of which were by double digits; even in the season that the Knights won C-USA (2007) they allowed the Pirates to score fifty-two points. Last year’s game featured five combined turnovers and a combined 10-34 on third downs. While both defenses will once again be solid, don’t expect either offense to be as bad as they were in last year’s meeting.

 

Other Games Considered: Southern Miss @ Kansas (9/26), Marshall @ Memphis (9/26)

 

Week 5: Memphis @ UCF (October 3rd)

 

Two teams hoping to crack the top two of ECU and Southern Miss get together in Orlando in what is a big game for the visiting Tigers. Since Conference USA expanded the Tigers have not beaten the Knights, alternating between blowouts and close finishes in the four meetings. If you follow the trend Memphis is “supposed” to get blown out, but not so fast. The quarterback position didn’t play very well or the Knights in 2008, and who’s to say that things will automatically shoot up in that area? The Tigers have some solid offensive weapons; it’s now about whether or not they can get over the hump that is UCF.

 

Other Games Considered: Southern Miss @ UAB (10/1), East Carolina @ Marshall (10/3)

 

Week 6: UTEP @ Memphis (October 10th)

 

These two haven’t played since the 2006 season, and both teams are hoping that they can make a little noise in 2009. Both teams have solid playmakers on offense, and the meeting in the Liberty Bowl could very well come down to who has the ball last. Memphis, however, was the far superior defensive team last season and if much doesn’t change Mike Price’s team will have a tough time improving upon their fourth-place (in the West Division) finish in 2008. Also working in the favor of these two teams is an underwhelming slate around the league, meaning that many eyes will be paying attention to this one.

 

Other Game Considered: Southern Miss @ Louisville (10/10)

 

 

Week 7: Memphis @ Southern Miss (October 17th)

 

If Memphis wants to entertain any thoughts of finishing higher than their third place finish in 2008, they’ll need to beat the Golden Eagles in Hattiesburg for the third straight time. The Tigers, in fact, have won four of the previous five meetings, but none of those wins were by more than six points. In last season’s meeting the Tigers were phenomenal on the ground, rushing for 285 yards and possessing the football for more than thirty-five minutes in the 36-30 win. If Curtis Steele can rush for another 178 yards Southern Miss could fall again. However, Larry Fedora’s team is a far better offensively at this point than they were at the time of the last meeting so expect a wild, high-scoring affair.

 

Other Games Considered: Rice @ East Carolina (10/17), Marshall @ West Virginia (10/17), Miami (FL) @ UCF (10/17)

 

Week 8: Bye Week (October 24th)

 

As lean as the schedule seemed in Week 6, at least there was the option of UTEP/Memphis. No such decisions this week, so it’s a good time to recharge the batteries for the stretch run.

 

Week 9: Southern Miss @ Houston (October 31st)

 

While Southern Miss has some excellent offensive weapons they’d be hard-pressed to get into an all-out shootout with the Houston Cougars. These are two of four teams to score seventy points or more in a game last season, but for the year the Cougars were a far more potent unit, ranking second in the conference in total offense. The Golden Eagles ranked fourth, but their yardage average (433.5 yards per game) was more than one hundred yards less than the Cougars (562.8 ypg). Quarterbacks Case Keenum and Austin Davis will throw the ball to capable receivers, and backs Bryce Beall and Damion Fletcher are more than capable of stealing the headlines. Preview of the Conference USA title game? Possibly.

 

Other Games Considered: East Carolina @ Memphis (10/27), Marshall @ UCF (11/1)

 

Week 10: Virginia Tech @ East Carolina (November 5th)

 

ECU overkill in regards to the non-conference games selected? Maybe, but look at who the Pirates are taking on this year and you know they won’t be accused of ducking anyone. Just like the West Virginia game this is a rematch of a game the Pirates won last season. ECU knocked off the Hokies, eventual ACC champions, in Charlotte thanks in large part to special teams. For all the talk about “Beamer Ball” it was an ECU blocked punt that was returned by T.J. Lee for the game-winning score.

 

The Hokies were outgained by more than one hundred yards, but to be fair this had as much to do with the bad decision (at the time, and it was corrected) to redshirt Tyrod Taylor. With Taylor on the field things could be different; at the very least he offers Virginia Tech another dimension they didn’t have in last year’s meeting.

 

Other Games Considered: Memphis @ Tennessee (11/7), UCF @ Texas (11/7), and Florida Atlantic @ UAB (11/7)

Week 11: East Carolina @ Tulsa (November 15th)

 

Just like the Southern Miss/Houston matchup on Halloween, these two could very well see each other the first Saturday in December as well. The Pirates beat Tulsa in last season’s conference title game 27-24, picking off David Johnson five times and forcing seven turnovers overall in the win at H.A. Chapman Stadium. With a new quarterback running things for Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Herb Hand, the Pirates will look to ratchet up the pressure in order to force some mistakes. Key number from the previous meeting: 199. As in the number of passing yards for Tulsa, who was third in C-USA in passing offense (301.9 ypg) last year. If the Golden Hurricane aren’t balanced on offense they can be slowed down.

 

Other Games Considered: Southern Miss @ Marshall (11/14), UAB @ Memphis (11/14)

 

Week 12: UAB @ East Carolina (November 21st)

 

Yes, ECU again. But with the quota of three interdivisional games already reached, Southern Miss hosting Tulsa has to be watched from a distance. Two of the last three meetings in this series have gone down to the wire despite the rebuilding nature of the UAB program, including a Blazers win in 2006. The trend of the series has been a simple one: low-scoring games mean that UAB’s got a shot while the higher the scores go, so go the chances of a Blazer victory. Eleven starters return on offense for Neil Calloway’s team, so there may be enough weapons needed to steal a win in Greenville. However, it would be in the best interest of the Blazers to have their defense keep the Pirates under wraps.

 

Other Games Considered: Tulsa @ Southern Miss (11/21), Memphis @ Houston (11/21)

 

Week 13: Southern Miss @ East Carolina (November 28th)

 

The scheduling gods got this one right, matching the two favorites for the East Division crown on the final day of the regular season. However the Golden Eagles have won seven of the last eight meetings in the series, and they haven’t lost at ECU since 1994. If the division crown comes down to this meeting then the Golden Eagles have the historical advantage, and if Southern Miss stops the run again this year they’ll be well on their way to eight out of nine. The Pirates rushed for just sixty-six yards in last season’s 21-3 loss, and the game was sewn away thanks to two touchdowns within the first four minutes of the fourth quarter. A loss to Southern Miss didn’t cost ECU a trip to the title game in 2008; a loss this year due to the date on the calendar could keep them home this year.

 

Other Games Considered: Memphis @ Tulsa (11/27), UCF @ UAB (11/28)

 

Week 14: Conference USA Championship Game (December 5th)

 

The pick here is that Houston knocks off East Carolina thanks in large part to the arm of Case Keenum, clinching a trip to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in the process.