C-USA wrap: Final upset ends breakthrough dream
It finally was going to happen: After seven seasons of having the Mountain West and Western Athletic conferences almost annually putting teams into the BCS, this looked to be the season that Conference USA finally broke through.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. Houston was 12-0 heading into the Dec. 3 league title game, which was played on the Cougars’ home field. But Southern Miss ended the Cougars’ BCS dreams with a dominating 49-28 upset.
The fall was a long one for Houston: From a possible spot in the Sugar Bowl, the Cougars tumbled all the way to the TicketCity Bowl, a 2-year-old game played in Dallas’ Cotton Bowl that has an 11 a.m. local-time kickoff on Jan. 2.
To add more angst to the situation, Houston coach Kevin Sumlin – who led the Cougars to double-digit wins in two of the past three season – seems certain to leave for a “bigger” job, with Texas A&M the likely destination. The same situation exists at Southern Miss, where Larry Fedora will fill the North Carolina vacancy. SMU coach June Jones also looks to be on the way out, with Arizona State the main suitor.
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Player of year: Houston QB Case Keenum. He is graduating with basically every important NCAA career passing statistic. While his final home game didn’t go as he wanted, he still will go down as the best quarterback in school history (and, yes, we know Houston’s Andre Ware won the Heisman). He has thrown for 5,099 yards, 45 TDs and just three picks this season, leads the nation in total offense and is third in passing efficiency.
Freshman of year: East Carolina LB Jeremy Grove. While ECU isn’t going bowling this season, the defense made huge strides over last season. Grove is a major reason; he made 122 tackles, a figure that ranks 10th nationally, third in the league and leads the team. Grove, who missed one game, had double-digit tackles in eight contests this fall.
Coach of year: Southern Miss’ Larry Fedora. His team won at Houston to take the league title, so he edges out the Cougars’ Kevin Sumlin. Fedora parlayed his team’s 11-2 record into the coaching job at North Carolina.
Coordinator of year: Houston offensive coordinator Jason Phillips. Phillips, a former Cougars wide receiver, would’ve loved playing in the offense he oversees. Houston leads the nation in total offense, pass offense and scoring offense, and also is effective when it wants to run the ball.
Biggest surprise, team: Marshall. The Herd weren’t overpowering by any means, but they did finish second in the East Division and earn a bowl bid – and with a true freshman starting at quarterback. There’s not really a bad loss on the record, and wins over Southern Miss and Louisville were impressive.
Biggest disappointment, team: UCF. The Knights never could get their offense untracked and finished tied for fourth in the East Division. That’s embarrassing. A rebuilt defense was its usually stingy self, but the offense was way too inconsistent. Sophomore QB Jeff Godfrey regressed and the whole unit suffered.
Biggest surprise, player: Houston WR Justin Johnson. There’s always a need for wide receivers at Houston, but Johnson’s huge senior season was a shock nonetheless. Coming into the season, he had caught 33 passes, for 395 yards and three TDs in his career. He had only two receptions for 18 yards in the opener, then became a valuable weapon in Keenum’s arsenal. He followed up that lackluster opener with three consecutive 80-yard games, then ended the season with five consecutive 90-yard games. Though he was the No. 3 option, Johnson still had 75 receptions for 1,081 yards and 11 scores.
Biggest disappointment, player: SMU QB Kyle Padron. He threw for 3,828 yards and 31 TDs last season, and looked to be a legit contender for all-league honors this season. Instead, he had a rough first quarter in the opener against TCU, throwing two interceptions, and, basically, was done for the season. He didn’t take a snap after the third game and ended the season 9-of-20 for 152 yards, no TDs and three picks.
Best game: Nov. 12, Southern Miss 30, UCF 29. This game was a defensive struggle until the fourth quarter, when the teams combined to score 34 points. A field goal early in the fourth quarter gave Southern Miss a 19-9 lead, and considering how inept UCF’s offense had been, the game appeared to be over. But Latavius Murray returned the ensuing kickoff for a score and it became a nail-biter. Another Southern Miss field goal about two minutes after the kickoff return gave the Golden Eagles a six-point lead, but backup QB Blake Bortles then marched UCF to the go-ahead TD. Southern Miss answered with a TD and s two-point conversion on its next drive for a 30-23 lead. Three plays later, Bortles threw a pick, and Southern Miss proceeded to drive to UCF’s 10. But with 2:55 left, Jamal Woodyard fumbled and UCF recovered at its 11. Bortles then guided a 12-play drive that ended with a 25-yard TD pass to J.J. Worton on the final play. UCF disdained the extra point and went for the win, but missed the two-point conversion pass.
Biggest upset: Dec. 3, Southern Miss 49, Houston 28. Houston was a 13-point favorite in the league title game, and a victory would’ve meant a BCS bid for the Cougars. But Southern Miss got off to a fast start, withstood a Cougars rally, then blew it open with a 21-point third quarter. Houston had season-low totals in points and yards (428) and also allowed a season-high in points and TD passes (four).
Underclassmen liable to turn pro: Memphis DT Dontari Poe, UCF CB Josh Robinson
Bowl outlook: Five C-USA teams earned bowl bids, and each game is winnable. At the same team, the league easily could go 0-5 as well. Despite its loss in the league title game, Houston got the most high-profile opponent, as the Cougars meet defense-minded Penn State in the TicketCity Bowl. It will be just the ninth Big Six opponent Keenum has faced in his career. Southern Miss gets WAC also-ran Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl, but the Golden Eagles’ focus could be a concern. SMU gets Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl, Marshall gets FIU in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl and Tulsa faces BYU in the Armed Forces Bowl.
|FIRST TEAM OFFENSE|
|QB||Case Keenum, Houston; 6-2/210, Sr.; Abilene (Texas) Wylie|
|RB||Orleans Darkwa, Tulane; 6-0/214, Soph.; Nashville Ensworth|
|RB||Zach Line, SMU; 6-1/230, Jr.; Oxford (Mich.) High|
|WR||Willie Carter, Tulsa; 6-2/221, Jr.; Crockett (Texas) High|
|WR||Patrick Edwards, Houston; 5-9/175, Sr.; Hearne (Texas) High|
|WR||Darius Johnson, SMU; 5-10/175, Jr.; Missouri City (Texas) Hightower|
|T||Lamar Holmes, Southern Miss; 6-6/333, Sr.; Itawamba CC (Miss.), preceded by Gastonia (N.C.) Huss|
|T||Matt McCants, UAB; 6-7/295, Sr.; Mobile (Ala.) Williamson|
|G||Clint Anderson, Tulsa; 6-2/285, Sr.; Allen (Texas) High|
|G||Darius Barnes, Southern Miss; 6-4/329, Soph.; Memphis Westwood|
|C||Chris Thompson, Houston; 6-2/285, Sr.; Hitchcock (Texas) High|
|FIRST TEAM DEFENSE|
|E||Vinny Curry, Marshall; 6-4/263, Sr.; Cincinnati Harmony Community School|
|T||Delvin Johnson, Marshall; 6-3/312, Sr.; Woodruff (S.C.) High|
|E||Scott Solomon, Rice; 6-3/270, Sr.; San Antonio Marshall|
|LB||Curnelius Arnick, Tulsa; 6-1/230, Sr.; Dallas Carter|
|LB||Sammy Brown, Houston; 6-3/240, Sr.; Mississippi Gulf Coast CC, preceded by Wiggins (Miss.) Stone|
|LB||Jamie Collins, Southern Miss; 6-3/239, Jr.; Meadville (Miss.) Franklin County|
|LB||Trent Mackey, Tulane; 5-11/227, Jr.; Lafayette (La.) Carencro|
|CB||Josh Robinson, UCF; 5-10/192, Jr.; Plantation (Fla.) High|
|CB||Deron Wilson, Southern Miss; 5-10/175, Soph.; New Orleans Walker|
|FS||Omar Brown, Marshall; 5-11/195, Sr.; Moncks Corner (S.C.) Berkeley|
|SS||Dexter McCoil, Tulsa; 6-4/222, Jr.; Lutcher (La.) High|
|FIRST TEAM SPECIAL TEAMS|
|K||Chris Boswell, Rice; 6-2/210, Soph.; Keller (Texas) Fossil Ridge|
|P||Ian Campbell, UTEP; 5-11/170, Jr.; Mt. SAC College (Calif.), preceded by Pasadena (Calif.) Maranatha|
|KR||Rannell Hall, UCF; 6-2/175, Fr.; Miami Carol City|
|PR||Tracy Lampley, Southern Miss; 5-9/168, Jr.; Waynesboro (Miss.) Wayne County|
|SECOND TEAM OFFENSE|
|QB||Austin Davis, Southern Miss; 6-2/221, Jr.; Meridian (Miss.) West Lauderdale|
|RB||Ja'Terian Douglas, Tulsa; 5-11/180, Soph.; Arlington (Texas) Lamar|
|RB||Charles Sims, Houston; 6-0/206, Soph.; Houston Westbury|
|WR||Cole Beasley, SMU; 5-9/180, Sr.; Little Elm (Texas) High|
|WR||Tyron Carrier, Houston; 5-8/170, Sr.; Houston Worthing|
|WR||Lance Lewis, East Carolina; 6-3/209, Sr.; East Mississippi CC, preceded by Concord (N.C.) High|
|T||Kelvin Beachum, SMU; 6-3/306, Sr.; Mexia (Texas) High|
|T||Tyler Holmes, Tulsa; 6-4/301, Sr.; Ottawa Merivale (Canada)|
|G||Kevin Forsch, Houston; 6-5/301, Soph.; Spring (Texas) Klein Oak|
|G||Josh LeRibeus, SMU; 6-2/310, Sr.; Richardson (Texas) Berkner|
|C||Jordan Rae, UCF; 6-2/272, Jr.; Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Cypress Bay|
|SECOND TEAM DEFENSE|
|E||Cordarro Law, Southern Miss; 6-2/261, Sr.; Whitfield (Ala.) Sumter County|
|T||Dontari Poe, Memphis; 6-5/350, Jr.; Memphis Wooddale|
|T||Germard Reed, UTEP; 6-0/280, Soph.; Lufkin (Texas) High|
|E||Dezman Moses, Tulane; 6-3/248, Sr.; Iowa transfer, preceded by Willingsboro (N.J.) High|
|LB||Shawn Jackson, Tulsa; 6-0/238, Soph.; Tulsa (Okla.) McLain|
|LB||Marcus McGraw, Houston; 6-0/228, Sr.; Arlington (Texas) Bowie|
|LB||Taylor Reed, SMU; 6-0/230, Jr.; Beaumont (Texas) West Brook|
|CB||Bryce Callahan, Rice; 5-10/180, R-Fr.; Cypress (Texas) Cypress Woods|
|CB||D.J. Hayden, Houston; 6-0/190, Jr.; Navarro College (Texas), preceded by Missouri City (Texas) Fort Bend Elkins|
|FS||Kemal Ishmael, UCF; 5-11/211, Jr.; North Miami Beach (Fla.) High|
|SS||Bradley Jacobs, East Carolina; 5-10/210, Sr.; Mississippi Gulf Coast CC, preceded by Long Beach (Miss.) High|
|SECOND TEAM SPECIAL TEAMS|
|K||Kevin Fitzpatrick, Tulsa; 6-2/190, Sr.; Jensen Beach (Fla.) High|
|P||Kyle Martens, Rice; 6-6/230, Sr.; Spearfish (S.D.) High|
|KR||Vernon Frazier, UTEP; 5-6/175, Sr.; Duncanville (Texas) High|
|PR||Richard Crawford, SMU; 5-11/195, Sr.; Saddleback College (Calif.), preceded by Oceanside (Calif.) El Camino|
|ALL-FRESHMAN TEAM OFFENSE|
|QB||Rakeem Cato, Marshall; 6-1/180, true freshman; Miami Central|
|RB||Travon Van, Marshall; 5-10/200, true freshman; Milford (N.J.) Milford Academy, preceded by San Diego Helix|
|RB||Jamal Woodyard, Southern Miss; 5-8/202, redshirt freshman; Fairhope (Ala.) High|
|WR||Justin Hardy, East Carolina; 6-0/181, redshirt freshman; Vanceboro (N.C.) West Craven|
|WR||Der'rikk Thompson, SMU; 5-11/185, redshirt freshman; Troup (Texas) High|
|WR||J.J. Worton, UCF; 6-2/193, redshirt freshman; Homestead (Fla.) South Dade|
|T||Al Bond, Memphis; 6-5/295, redshirt freshman; Memphis Southwind|
|T||Rowdy Harper, Houston; 6-6/290, redshirt freshman; Broken Arrow (Okla.) High|
|G||Drew Carroll, Rice; 6-4/280, redshirt freshman; Abilene (Texas) High|
|G||Jerel Watkins, UTEP; 6-2/275, redshirt freshman; Channelview (Texas) High|
|C||Chris Jasperse, Marshall; 6-4/296, redshirt freshman; Greensboro (N.C.) Page|
|ALL-FRESHMAN TEAM DEFENSE|
|E||Brentum Todd, Tulsa; 6-3/222, true freshman; Tulsa (Okla.) Union|
|T||Terry Williams, East Carolina; 6-1/324, redshirt freshman; Loganville (Ga.) Grayson|
|E||Diaheem Watkins, UAB; 6-4/230, true freshman; Centreville (Ala.) Bibb County|
|LB||Jeremy Grove, East Carolina; 6-1/230, redshirt freshman; Frederick (Md.) Gov. Thomas Johnson|
|LB||Jermaine Holmes, Marshall; 5-11/238, true freshman; Valdosta (Ga.) High|
|LB||Derrick Matthews, Houston; 6-0/200, true freshman; Houston North Shore|
|LB||Stephon Sanders, SMU; 6-3/230, true freshman; Mesquite (Texas) Horn|
|CB||Brandon Alexander, UCF; 6-1/180, true freshman; Orlando Evans|
|CB||Bryce Callahan, Rice; 5-10/180, redshirt freshman; Cypress (Texas) Cypress Woods|
|S||Clayton Geathers, UCF; 6-3/200, redshirt freshman; Hemingway (S.C.) Carvers Bay|
|S||Emmanuel Johnson, Southern Miss; 5-11/175, true freshman; McKenzie (Ala.) High|
|ALL-FRESHMAN TEAM SPECIAL TEAMS|
|K||Ty Long, UAB; 6-2/180, true freshman; Roswell (Ga.) High|
|P||Cole Way, Tulsa; 6-8/205, true freshman; Tulsa (Okla.) Union|
|KR||D.J. Vinson, UAB; 5-10/175, redshirt freshman; Clay (Ala.) Clay-Chalkville|
|PR||Mario Hull, Rice; 6-1/205, redshirt freshman; Altair (Texas) Rice Consolidated|
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