2001 NCAA Football Preview

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C-USA balances power, adds TCU

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Posted: Tuesday August 07, 2001 12:32 AM
Updated: Tuesday August 07, 2001 12:49 AM

ECU's David Garrard threw for 2,332 yards and 19 TDs last season. 
Scott Halleran/Allsport

  1   East Carolina
  2   Southern Miss
  3   Louisville
  4   Memphis
  5   UAB
  6   Tulane
  7   TCU
  8   Cincinnati
  9   Houston
10   Army

Number of current Conference USA teams ranked in the Top 15 in 2000 -- among 114 Division I-A teams -- in total defense. New C-USA member TCU was No. 1 (245.0 yards per game), Southern Miss No. 2 (268.2), Memphis No. 5 (275.3, UAB No. 11 (290.9) and Louisville No. 15 (304.2).

"Our first goal is to have a winning season. ... Some people will think that's not a lofty enough goal, but 12-0 is a winning season, so somewhere between six and 12 wins is what we're striving for."
-- New Memphis head coach Tommy West

By Al Myatt, Special to CNNSI.com

The thinking on the adjustments in the BCS formula that diminish rewards for blowout wins and increases the value of strength of schedule is that they could be a boost for Conference USA, which could nab an at-large spot having a team finish sixth or higher in the BCS standings.

"[That's] because C-USA is so balanced one-sided games are uncommon," said East Carolina athletics director Mike Hamrick.

Balance in C-USA left some scratching their heads after the league announced its preseason poll at the annual media kickoff in New Orleans. Tulane, which has seven starters back on each side of the ball from a 6-5 team, was picked eighth.

The Green Wave averaged 42.7 points in winning its last three games and has two "starting" quarterbacks returning.

"Polls don't indicate the toughness of this league," said Cincinnati head coach Rick Minter, whose own team was picked sixth after making a trip to the Motor City Bowl last season.

East Carolina head coach Steve Logan knows you can't take a week off in C-USA. Although his Pirates knocked off 2000 champion Louisville and traditional league kingpin Southern Miss last season, ECU's title hopes were undone by losses to UAB and Memphis, which finished fifth and seventh, respectively, in C-USA.

TCU, the new kid on the C-USA block, is coming off a 10-2 season but lost head coach Dennis Franchione and running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who finished fourth in the Heisman balloting.

As champions of the WAC the past two years, the Frogs have been exposed to C-USA's depth in the Mobile Alabama Bowl. TCU topped ECU, which went 4-2 in the league, 28-14 in 1999. But Southern Miss, which was 4-3 last season, was a 28-21 winner against the Frongs last season.

With seven league games and 10 teams, there's some significance in who you don't play. Army doesn't meet Louisville or Southern Miss, which have shared or won four of five league titles in the league's short history.

Tulane went 12-0 in 1998 on its way to the C-USA crown but missed the BCS because of the strength-of-schedule factor.

The trick in strength of schedule is for your opponents to win when they aren't playing you, and for your opponents' opponents to win. C-USA teams have some good opportunities to boost the strength of schedule component early on. TCU opens at Nebraska on Aug. 25 and Tulane visits BYU later the same day. More big non-conference dates include UAB at Florida State on Sept. 8, Southern Miss at Alabama on Sept. 15, Houston Playing host to Texas on Sept. 22, and Memphis at Tennessee on Nov. 10.

Memphis has applied for immediate eligibility for Albert Means, the Tigers' transfer from Alabama who is the centerpiece in a recruiting scandal in which his high school coach allegedly put him up for private auction to the Crimson Tide and others.

Means could be an impact player on a unit which lost both of its tackles from the nation's top rushing defense.

A hometown boy who grew up a few blocks from Beale Street, Means has exceptional size (6-6, 300) and speed. He has the ingredients to become a focal point for a Memphis resurgence under new coach and former Tigers defensive coordinator Tommy West.

That is, assuming the NCAA gives its approval.

And perhaps making an impact on the field would finally lessen some of the focus on his name off it.

HOT: Louisville quarterback Dave Ragone

Kept Cardinals fans from dwelling on the departure of Chris Redman last season.

NOT: Memphis quarterback Scott Scherer

Son of former head coach Rip Scherer currently fourth-team on the depth chart.

HOT: ECU defensive coordinator Tim Rose

Since his arrival in 1999, the Pirates have yielded about 10 fewer points per game.

NOT: Conference USA commissioner Mike Slive

Taking heat from high schools because league teams will take part in some Friday night telecasts.


ECU backup quarterback Richard Alston needed to make a car payment last season and allegedly purchased four counterfeit $100 bills for $50. He was arrested after reportedly attempting to pass one of the fake C notes at a Greenville, N.C., Burger King.

Alston continued to practice with the team at the end of last season but was barred from playing in games by ECU administrators. He was moved to receiver in spring practice.

The case wasn't prosecuted.

  • Louisville coach John L. Smith

    The Cards were 1-10 before he arrived. They're 21-13 since.

  • UAB quarterback Jeff Aaron

    Blazers were 4-2 in 2000 after he became the starter.

  • Cincinnati kicker Jonathan Ruffin

    Bearcats would have been 3-8 instead of 7-5 without his 26 field goals.


    The league and television have scheduled Southern Miss-East Carolina for the Friday (Nov. 23) after Thanksgiving for the second consecutive season. It could decide the league title and bowl destinations. ESPN has said kickoff will be at 6 p.m., much to the chagrin of high school interests, particularly in North Carolina, which will be playing the second round of the state playoffs that night.


    ECU quarterback David Garrard has 29 career starts and is the Pirates' career leader in total yardage. ... Pirates linebacker Pernell Griffin led the team in tackles with 87 despite missing three games with a bruised knee in 2000 and is the C-USA preseason defensive player of the year. ... Houston head coach Dana Dimel has six candidates for starting quarterback, a group he will reduce to three early in preseason practice. ... Memphis expects to start Travis Anglin at quarterback in the Tigers' new no-huddle, spread offense. ... Ready for some weeknight football? The ESPN networks will show one regular -eason game involving the C-USA on Monday night (Memphis at Mississippi State on Sept. 3), two games on Tuesday nights (Southern Miss at Louisville on Oct. 16, and ECU at TCU on Oct. 30), two games on Thursday nights (Colorado State at Louisville on Oct. 4 and Louisville at ECU on Nov. 15), and two on Friday nights (Southern Miss at ECU on Nov. 23 and TCU at Southern Miss on Nov. 30). ... Purdue will visit Cincinnati on Sunday, Sept. 2.

    Al Myatt covers Conference USA for the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer. His "This Week in Conference USA" column will appear weekly during the season.

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