2012 Conference USA Football Conference Odds and Predictions: Favorites and Sleepers – Although Conference USA has never been a powerhouse on a national level, the 12-team league had built a decent reputation of pulling upsets and winning bowl games. However, the landscape of the conference will change dramatically following the upcoming season. SMU, Houston, Memphis and UCF will all head to the Big East beginning in 2013, leaving Conference USA a shell of its former self. While the future of the conference is uncertain, it will at least come to an end on a high note. Here is a look at how the team’s stack up in the final year of Conference USA’s current makeup.
2012 Conference USA Football Conference Odds and Predictions: Favorites and Sleepers
George O’Leary has helped make the UCF Knights a major player in Conference USA, and in 2012-13, they will be looking to win the East Division for the second time in three years. Last year, the Knights struggled in close games, but they return a ton of starters on offense. Blake Bortles should be much better in his second year as starter, and UCF has the best trio of running backs in the conference. With an experienced offensive line leading the way, the Knights should be one of the highest-scoring teams in Conference USA. The East Division is there’s to lose.
This year’s Houston Cougars lose record-setting quarterback in Case Keenum and head coach Kevin Sumlin, and while another 12-0 regular season may be out of reach, there is still enough talent on this team to win the West Division. In particular, many of the speedy skill position players that came to Houston to play in Sumlin’s high-scoring system are still around. Having four starters back on an experienced offensive line certainly helps, as well. Even in a transition year, the Cougars should be able to outscore opponents on their ways to another West Division crown.
The Dark Horses
Don’t let their 8-5 record from last season fool you. The Tulsa Golden Hurricane are a serious threat in Conference USA. Four of the losses came against teams ranked in the top 10 in the country, and Tulsa went 7-1 in conference play. The Golden Hurricane have 13 starters back from last year’s team, and while quarterback G.J. Kinne isn’t one of them, there is a capable backup waiting in the wings. Former Nebraska QB Cody Green will take over the offense, and his athleticism and mobility should bring an added dimension to the offense. If Green takes care of his business, Tulsa has enough talent to challenge for their first Conference USA title since 2005.
After picking up two bowl wins in three years, the Marshall Thundering Herd could be ready to take the next step in 2012-13. Marshall did its best to use a physical, tough defense to compete in an offensive-minded conference. This year, the stout defensive unit should get a little more help from the other side of the ball. Quarterback Rakeem Cato is back after a 15-touchdown season as a freshman, and his top two targets are back, as well. Receivers Antavious Wilson and Aaron Dobson both have big play ability and speed, and now that Cato has his feet wet at the collegiate level, the Marshall offense has the chance to become truly explosive.
Although only three starters are back on offense, the rest of Conference USA needs to be leery of the SMU Mustangs. After all, running back Zach Line is back this year, coming off a 17-touchdown campaign in 2011-12. Line averaged almost six yards per carry last season, and after an injury ended his season early, he will be back with a vengeance. The Mustangs also welcome quarterback Garrett Gilbert into the mix. The former Texas Longhorn and former high school player of the year is no doubt talented. However, he never seemed to fit in at Texas. Uniting with offensive guru June Jones at SMU could work out great for all parties involved. The Mustangs have a ton of upside.
Odds to win the Conference USA Championship
Central Florida +250
Southern Miss +500
Southern Methodist +500
East Carolina +800
Conference USA East Division Odds
Central Florida +115
Southern Miss +225
East Carolina +360
Conference USA West Division Odds
Southern Methodist +200
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