SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Conference Previews

  Conference USA

Projected Standings
(Projected overall record in parentheses)
1
  Southern Miss
   7-1  
(9-3)
2
  TCU
   6-2  
(9-3)
2
  Tulane
   6-2  
(9-3)
4
  Louisville
   5-3  
(7-5)
5
  East Carolina
   5-3  
(6-6)
6
  South Florida
   4-4  
(6-5)
7
  Cincinnati
   4-4  
(6-6)
8
  UAB
   3-5  
(4-8)
9
  Houston
   2-6  
(4-8)
9
  Memphis
   2-6  
(4-8)
11
  Army
   0-8  
(1-11)
 

SI.com's Stewart Mandel breaks down the 2003 conference race and predicts the final standings.

Since winning Conference USA three of the league's first four years, Southern Miss has had a trophy drought the past three seasons. That could change this fall, however, with a stacked defense that includes two returning All-Americas, linebacker Rod Davis and safety Etric Pruitt.

The Eagles will have to fend off defending conference champ TCU, which returns emerging stars Tye Gunn at quarterback and Lonta Hobbs at tailback and led the nation last season in rushing defense. And Tulane, which surprised everyone with its bowl season a year ago, again will be explosive on offense with future NFL quarterback J.P. Losman and multitalented running back Mewelde Moore.

A transition year is in order for league powerhouse Louisville after losing highly successful coach John L. Smith and quarterback Dave Ragone, but don't expect the Cardinals to fall too far in new coach Bobby Petrino's first season. Another new coach, East Carolina's John Thompson, should get the Pirates headed back in the right direction after last year's uncharacteristic 4-8 campaign.

Conference USA newcomer South Florida should be instantly competitive, going 4-0 against league opponents last season. Cincinnati returns prolific QB Gino Guidugli but loses 13 starters from a team coming off its third straight bowl trip.

The rest of the league's teams are in various states of rebuilding. A young UAB team looks to regroup after slipping back below .500 last season. New coach Art Briles looks to rescue Houston from years of mediocrity. Memphis hopes the arrival of former Mississippi State defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn can help end its 31-year bowl drought. And Todd Berry may be on his last legs at Army.

 
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