Case Keenum aired it out 700 times in 2009 with 44 touchdowns.
Conference USA is a 12-team mega conference that is not included in the Bowl Championship Series. In fact, during the recent shakeup of power conferences like the Big Ten, Big 12 and the Pac-10, Conference USA teams were not asked to fill any void.
That leaves C-USA's East and West Divisions stacked with a couple of teams that made some national headlines during the 2009 campaign.
Houston is the only Conference USA team that has been assigned future odds outside of the ‘field.’ The Cougars opened as a 150/1 long shot to win this year’s national championship, the same odds assigned to Michigan, Tennessee, Oklahoma State, South Florida, Connecticut and Rutgers. The ‘field’ to win the 2010 national championship is currently listed at 25/1.
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The Cougars won the West Division before losing to East Carolina in the conference title game, 38-32. Houston went 10-4 and 6-2 in conference before falling to Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl, 47-20. That marked the second consecutive season those two schools played each other in that bowl game, but Houston was victorious in the 2008 meeting.
Head coach Kevin Sumlin has gone 18-9 during his two years with the school, and will be helped once again from quarterback Case Keenum. The senior signal caller helped the school to a road upset of Oklahoma State last season, and will be aided this year by senior wideout James Cleveland and junior Tyron Carrier.
Houston begins the season with a home tune-up against Texas State before taking on UTEP followed by a road trip to UCLA. The Cougars finish the season with a tough two-game road trip versus conference foe Southern Miss and the Big 12's Texas Tech.
East Carolina went 7-1 in conference and 9-5 overall last season, ending the campaign with a Liberty Bowl setback to Arkansas, 20-17. That regular-season success meant that head coach Skip Holtz bolted to South Florida in the offseason. The Pirates enter this season as the two-time defending conference champions with new head coach Ruffin McNeil. The 51-year-old is a former East Carolina player who gained coaching experience as Texas Tech’s defensive coordinator.
The Pirates actually begin the year with a pair of home conference games against Tulsa and Memphis before embarking on a tough three-game road trip against Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Southern Miss. Senior wide receiver Dwayne Harris and junior defensive back Emanuel Davis have been named to the conference’s preseason first-team, and will need solid seasons to keep East Carolina in the hunt for a third straight title.
Southern Methodist is trying to take the next step after going 8-5 last season, including a 6-2 conference ledger. Head coach June Jones got the Mustangs into their first bowl game in 25 years and beat Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl, 45-10.
SMU opens the season with a tough road matchup against Texas Tech, and finishes the regular campaign with a trip to East Carolina. Sophomore quarterback Kyle Padron will lead Jones’ high-octane offense, while junior lineman Kelvin Beachum Jr. was named to the preseason all-conference team.
Central Florida (8-5, 6-2 in conference) wrapped up last season by losing to Rutgers in the St. Petersburg Bowl, 45-24. Veteran coach George O’Leary has now led the team for seven seasons, and the Knights hope to continue a six-game conference winning streak heading into this year.
Central Florida faces a tough schedule midseason with a road game against Houston sandwiched in between home endeavors with East Carolina and Southern Miss. The regular season wraps up with road games against Tulane and Memphis, the two teams that finished last in their respective divisions.
Head coach Mike Price will lead the University of Texas at El Paso (4-8, 3-5 in conference) for a sixth season, hoping to get this team back into bowl contention. The Miners might be on the cusp of a winning season before facing a tough stretch the last four weeks of the season. UTEP has road games scheduled against Marshall, Arkansas and Tulsa along with a home game against SMU.
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Southern Miss (7-6, 5-3 in conference) ended last season with a New Orleans Bowl loss to Middle Tennessee, 42-32. The Golden Eagles had three players selected to the all-preseason squad, led by junior receiver DeAndre Brown along with defensive lineman Anthony Gray and linebacker Korey Williams.
Southern Miss faces tough out-of-conference opponents South Carolina and Kansas, along with a tough stretch late in the year that could determine its fate. November road games at Tulane, Central Florida and Tulsa will be a true test, along with a home game against preseason favorite Houston.
Marshall (7-6, 4-4 in conference) will be led this season by first-year head coach John ‘Doc’ Holliday, who is taking over for Mark Snyder who resigned. The Thundering Herd finished last year by beating Ohio in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl with an interim coach.
Marshall starts the season with games against powerhouse programs Ohio State and West Virginia, less than an ideal situation for a new coaching regime. The schedule has this team alternating home and away games all season, with a key stretch occurring in October with road games against Southern Miss and East Carolina along with home dates with Central Florida and UTEP.
Things should be pretty interesting for Tulsa (5-7, 3-5 in conference) this season. The athletic administration contemplated rehiring former head coach Steve Kragthorpe in the offseason after he was fired from Louisville. Kragthorpe would essentially be a glorified assistant coach to Todd Graham, but the athletic budget couldn’t work the numbers. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Graham, who also had to scramble to get offensive line coach Spencer Leftwich after Herb Hand bolted for Vanderbilt.
Alabama-Birmingham (5-7, 4-4 in conference) is always overshadowed by the University of Alabama on the football field, especially after the Crimson Tide won the national championship. To make matters worse for the Blazers the school must find a replacement for departed signal caller Joe Webb. Only senior safety Hiram Atwater was named to the preseason all-conference team.
Rice (2-10, 2-6 in conference) will continue to try to rebuild under head coach David Bailiff (13-12 since 2007), but the school starts the year against the Texas Longhorns. A three-game road trip versus Central Florida, Tulsa and Tulane will have the Owls battered before hosting Conference USA East Division favorite East Carolina.
Tulane (3-9, 1-7 in conference) is another Conference USA program trying to rebuild. Former UCLA head coach Bob Toledo’s team will have to deal with a schedule that features seven bowl teams from the 2009 season. Despite the tough schedule, the Green Wave does have a four-game homestand in late October through November against SMU, Southern Miss, Rice and Central Florida.
Memphis (2-10, 1-7 in conference) is a basketball school for good reason. The Tigers managed just two victories last season on the gridiron, beating an overmatched UT Martin team and surprising UTEP. New head coach Larry Porter will have his work cut out for him after spending the last five years as Louisiana State’s running backs coach.
Senior Dominik Riley was the only Memphis player listed on the preseason all-conference team. The offensive lineman made the list for the second straight season, and he figures on seeing time at both right and left guard positions.