Conference USA spring recap

Originally Published: May 3, 2005
By Brett Edgerton | Special to

Central Florida Golden Knights
2005 Schedule
9/1 at South Carolina
9/17 at South Florida
9/24 Marshall
10/1 at La.-Lafayette
10/8 Memphis
10/15 at Southern Miss
10/22 Tulane
10/29 at East Carolina
11/5 Houston
11/12 at UAB
11/19 at Rice

2004 overall record:
Conference record:
0-8 (MAC)

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Alex Haynes (854 yds)
Passing: Steven Moffett* (1,721 yds)
Receiving: Luther Huggins (585 yds)
Tackles: Brandon Marshall (51)
Sacks: Paul Carrington* (4)
Interceptions: Mike Walker* (3)

Spring answers: Last fall, Moffett was constantly criticized by coach George O'Leary for what the first-year coach perceived to be a lack of leadership and toughness. Not anymore. Never one to just throw around compliments for the sake of it, O'Leary simply couldn't stop gushing over the all-around improvements of Moffett this offseason. He has taken charge of an offense at a time when the unit is in desperate need of a revival. ... Two starting receivers were lost, but they were replaced by a taller, more athletic threesome: Walker, Marshall and Brooks Turner. With Walker and Marshall, who shifted from receiver for a year to help a depleted secondary last season, Moffett no longer has to throw the perfect pass for a completion. ... For a team that desperately needs a pass-rush, senior ends Paul Carrington and Kareem Reid finally offered hope of that this spring. Sophomore tackle Keith Shologan also looked much improved.

Fall questions: The offensive line is very much a work in progress. In 2004, it was the youngest in the country, with the starting five consisting of three true freshmen and a pair of sophomores. And while Dominic Ignelzi seemed to adjust well to his move from guard to tackle, there is still plenty left to be seen in August. ... How quickly the line can continue to develop is one of the keys to a better offense. The Knights simply have to score more points this fall. As the defense was giving up more than 400 yards a game last season, the offense was averaging just 280. That's not good math if you're looking to end the nation's longest losing streak. ... On the defensive side, James Cook stood out at linebacker, but that's also a position where UCF might have to rely on a large class of incoming freshmen. Same goes for the wrecked secondary, which was certainly hurt by the loss of top corner Walker to the receiving corps. ... Can the Knights finally get over that proverbial hump? It's not as though this was a horrible team last season -- UCF lost five games by five or fewer points. The Knights lost those nail-biters because they were clearly lacking a winning mentality. Ending that ugly 15-game losing streak early on is a must.

East Carolina Pirates
2005 Schedule
9/3 Duke
9/17 at Wake Forest
9/24 at West Virginia
10/1 Southern Miss
10/8 Rice
10/15 at SMU
10/22 at Memphis
10/29 Central Florida
11/12 at Tulsa
11/19 at Marshall
11/26 UAB

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 9, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Chris Johnson* (561 yds)
Passing: James Pinkney* (1,262 yds)
Receiving: Bobby Good* (427 yds)
Tackles: Chris Moore* (99)
Sacks: Richard Koonce* (6)
Interceptions: Zach Baker* (5)

Spring answers: It would be quite a surprise if ECU again ranked last in C-USA in rushing (just 93 ypg in '04). Johnson was solid when he got the chance as a freshman, and he looked considerably better this spring. He can return kicks, can catch a pass out of the backfield and has a tremendously quick first step. ... At a position that needs an infusion of big-play ability, junior WR Aundra Allison came out of nowhere the last half of spring practice. The coaches are very high on him. ... They were also pleased with senior DE Lorenza Pickett, who finally gets to start and is bringing much-needed leadership to the defense. He was one of several players who was constantly switched back and forth and never really found a home under former coach John Thompson. ... Pickett is part of a D-line that seems rejuvenated under new coach Skip Holtz and defensive assistants Greg Hudson and Donnie Thompson. The Pirates better hope it carries over. Getting to the quarterback just 15 times last season didn't exactly help the rest of the defense. ... Two guys you don't want to see if you've got the ball in the middle of the field: LB Koonce and FS Jamar Flourney. Koonce moved from the line and Flourney from his linebacking spot. Now set where they are, both guys can flat-out hit and flat-out flatten.

Fall questions: Until Pinkney's academic status is determined, it's hard to tell much about the quarterback position. If he does meet his requirements and returns in August, though, he won't have his old starting job handed to him. When you throw for three TDs and 11 INTs, that should be a given. As for the spring, redshirt freshman Davon Drew played well and has the edge over lefty Kort Shankweiler. ... If the running game is going to climb out of the cellar of C-USA, the offensive line simply has to be better. The group seemed optimistic this spring, but who isn't in the spring? These guys need to find a way to click when it counts. ... Well, the Pirates ranked dead last in the conference in both total offense (308 ypg) and scoring defense (40 ppg). That's generally not a good combination. A big factor was the 27 turnovers, many of which piled up early in games, putting the defense in a huge hole. During the spring, Holtz was not at all thrilled by the number of turnovers and penalties. Not a good sign.

Houston Cougars
2005 Schedule
9/1 Oregon
9/10 Sam Houston State
9/16 at UTEP
9/24 Southern Miss
10/1 at Tulsa
10/8 at Tulane
10/15 Memphis
10/22 at Mississippi State
11/5 at Central Florida
11/12 SMU
11/26 Rice

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Anthony Evans* (768 yds)
Passing: Kevin Kolb* (2,766 yds)
Receiving: Vincent Marshall* (1,040 yds)
Tackles: Wade Koehl* and Lance Everson* (115)
Sacks: Joe Clay (8)
Interceptions: Will Gulley* (4)

Spring answers: The Cougars believe they have the best trio of skill position players in the conference in Kolb, Evans and ultra-athletic Marshall -- and those three did nothing this spring that would change their minds. In fact, Houston goes four-deep at running back and all four could start at a lot of schools in the league. ... In the offseason, the embattled defense changed from a 4-3 to a 3-4, giving the unit a chance at better pursuit. The change also allows the unit to take better advantage of personnel, considering Houston is as deep at linebacker as it is at running back. The group even gets a bonus with Eddie McCray returning after an academic suspension kept him off the field in '04. He's considered a pass-rush specialist who is interchangeable between end and outside linebacker. ... The coaches didn't get a definitive answer in terms of the starting nose tackle. In this case, though, that's a good thing. They saw enough to feel more than comfortable with either junior Marquay Love or senior D.J. Johnson.

Fall questions: Kolb hit everything in sight this spring, but it's not as though the Cougars didn't already know what they had there. What they have behind him is still a mystery. The coach's son, backup Kendal Briles, underwent his third shoulder surgery, and his return is not a certainty. True freshmen Blake Joseph and Clint Walraven both enrolled early but still have a ways to go. ... So does the offensive line in front of them. Poor Kolb was sacked 44 times last season, and it might not get a whole lot better this fall. Neither center competing for the job looked worthy this spring, and it looks as though it'll have to be a redshirt freshman at right tackle. ... The Cougs still don't know whether Gulley is going to be back at free safety. The team's interceptions leader as a junior last fall, Gulley underwent offseason knee surgery, and the team is debating whether to use his redshirt in '05. If he returns, the position is his. If not, it's anyone's guess. ... After losing starting kicker Dustin Bell to graduation, it looks as though UH will be forced to give punter Justin Laird double duty. He's unproven at that spot, but unproven is likely better than what they saw from the others this spring.

Marshall Thundering Herd
2005 Schedule
9/1 William & Mary
9/10 Kansas State
9/24 at Central Florida
10/1 SMU
10/8 at Virginia Tech
10/15 UAB
10/22 at UTEP
10/29 at Tulane
11/8 Southern Miss
11/19 East Carolina
11/26 at Memphis

2004 overall record:
Conference record:
6-2 (MAC)

Returning starters
Offense: 3, Defense: 3, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Earl Charles (805 yds)
Passing: Stan Hill (2,387 yds)
Receiving: Josh Davis (914 yds)
Tackles: Curtis Keyes (108)
Sacks: Jonathan Goddard (16)
Interceptions: Chris Royal* (6)

Spring answers: First and foremost, the Thundering Herd filled the vacancy created when Bob Pruett shocked the Marshall family with his retirement announcement. Two days before the spring game, the university hired MU alum Mark Snyder, the defensive coordinator at Ohio State. It was a wildly popular choice with the fan base. ... On an offense (and a team) with plenty of question marks, the running backs offer no such worries. Ahmad Bradshaw, who played well against Snyder's OSU defense last season, offers the breakaway speed and backup Gerwin Williams the power running. ... Tight end is another strength. Jeff Mullins is the leader; sophomore Brian Shope is a great blocker; and Matt Parkhurst has tremendous hands and speed to stretch the field for the Herd. ... The secondary is the best Huntington has seen in at least a decade. The unit is one of the first things Snyder mentioned his first day of work. He was particularly pleased with Keyes and Royal, who he claimed were as good as the guys he had at OSU. Keyes is a vicious hitter. ... Believe it or not, the team's pass-rushing (led by end Damarcus Thomas) wasn't half-bad this spring. And coaches are convinced this will be a faster defense than last season.

Fall questions: When you lose 16 starters, there are bound to be a few. Start at quarterback. Jimmy Skinner is the only one with any D-I experience, but that was only mop-up duty. Juco transfer Derek Divine is relatively unknown. Bernard Morris has a nice arm and is the most athletic, but needs to mature on and off the field. No one has an edge at this point. ... The wide receiving corps was decimated by the pre-spring ACL tear of Emanuel Spann, the team's top returner at that position. He's likely done for the year. Marcus Fitzgerald, Larry's brother, is an intriguing option, but is young and unproven – like everyone else in this group. ... The Herd lost its entire front seven, and five of those were three-year starters. What more can you say about that? With Snyder on board so late in the spring, it's safe to say just about every one of those positions is up for grabs in August. ... So is the spot opposite shutdown corner Willie Smith. It was almost assumed the position belonged to senior Chris Hawkins, who was groomed for the spot after transferring from UNC last season. Then junior Ivan Clark, known primarily for his work on special teams, proceeded to outplay Hawkins for much of the spring. This one might go down to the final week of August.

Memphis Tigers
2005 Schedule
9/5 Ole Miss
9/17 Chattanooga
9/24 at Tulsa
10/1 UTEP
10/8 at Central Florida
10/15 at Houston
10/22 East Carolina
11/1 UAB
11/12 at Tennessee
11/19 at Southern Miss
11/26 Marshall

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 4, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners) Rushing: DeAngelo Williams* (1,948 yds)
Passing: Danny Wimprine (2,892 yds)
Receiving: Tavares Gideon (665 yds)
Tackles: Tim Goodwell* (106)
Sacks: Marcus West* (6)
Interceptions: Dustin Lopez* (4)

Spring answers: Williams didn't participate much in drills, but did he really need to? He's a legitimate Heisman candidate, and anybody who doesn't think so hasn't seen him play. If he does go down to injury, though, coach Tommy West feels more than confident in sophomore Joseph Doss, who put on some muscle and was outstanding this spring. Jamarcus Gaither and Brian Davis should make this a deep unit. ... The Tigers needed some answers at receiver – a position that lost four of its top five contributors. For the time being, they have them. The group that remains is big and fast. Mario Pratcher made some tremendous catches and looks like a legitimate down-the-field threat, while Maurice Avery and speedy Ryan Scott were impressive. Redshirt freshman Carlos Robinzine and JC transfer Brandon Hunt are also potential playmakers. ... Watch out for sophomore LB Greg Hinds. All three starting linebackers return, but West didn't seem thrilled with their performance this spring. Hinds should have a chance to make an impact. ... So should redshirt freshman Ryan Williams, a pleasant surprise at nose guard and certainly a candidate for a starting job. ... Your team's quarterback really shouldn't be doubling as the punter. The Tigers had no choice last year, though, and Wimprine filled in the best he could. In junior college, Michael Gibson averaged 45 yards a boot. His best will be better.

Fall questions: It all begins at quarterback, where the staff was hoping to see more from the trio looking to replace record-setting Wimprine. Junior Patrick Byrne, a smart kid who throws an accurate long ball, is the favorite at this point, but his mistakes do seem to come at bad times. Behind him are redshirt freshman Will Hudgens and early enrollee Billy Barefield, who isn't afraid to run but is pretty raw at this point. ... Can the offensive line keep it up in the fall? It was perceived as a weak spot, but G Willie Henderson is finally coming into his own and three-year starter Andrew Handy looks fine after sitting out '04 with an injury. This group needs to remain aggressive in the fall. ... Can 6-6, 320-pound Van Houston step in for Albert Means on the D-line? West wasn't thrilled with the line this spring and made it clear to the entire defense that he isn't averse to letting the August arrivals come in and play right away. ... A year after it was ranked 114th in the country, the secondary remains one of the biggest question marks. Can Lopez and O.C. Collins shut down anyone? They're not terrible, but they are inconsistent and get beat way too often. FS Wesley Smith is a proven commodity, but the Tigers are trying just about everything at all the other spots. Even walk-on safety Jake Kasser was listed with the first team for much of the spring.

Rice Owls
2005 Schedule
9/10 at UCLA
9/17 at Texas
9/24 Navy
10/1 at UAB
10/8 at East Carolina
10/15 Tulsa
10/29 UTEP
11/5 at SMU
11/12 Tulane
11/19 Central Florida
11/26 at Houston

2004 overall record:
Conference record:
2-6 (WAC)

Returning starters
Offense: 4, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Ed Bailey (1,021 yds)
Passing: Greg Henderson (487 yds)
Receiving: Marcus Battle (213 yds)
Tackles: Adam Herrin* (74)
Sacks: John Syptak* (8)
Interceptions: Terry Holley (3)

Spring answers: In rushing, the Owls were tops in the country at 307 yards per game. In passing, they were dead last at just 75 yards. As long as Ken Hatfield is around, they'll always be a running team. But even he recognizes there has to be some threat of an occasional completion to keep defenses honest. So this spring he moved QB Joel Armstrong into the shotgun formation and swore there was going to be more action in the air this fall -- yet another team using Utah as a model for change. The coaches were pretty pleased with how quickly Armstrong and backup freshman Chase Clement picked it up. ... To replace Bailey, last year's leading rusher, the Owls moved starting TE Joe Don Wood over, and he took to his new position immediately. It's an important spot in the Rice offense, and Wood looks as though he'll be reliable. ... The staff already knew that about DE Syptak, arguably the team's best player, and LB Herrin, who Hatfield thinks is one of the best smartest players he has ever coached.

Fall questions: If the Owls are truly committed to a viable passing game, a viable receiving corps has to be found first. Obviously, there hasn't really been a need for one in the past. Freshman Jarrett Dillard showed some positive signs this spring, but we won't really know anything about these guys until we actually see Rice chunking it around the field in the fall. ... Only two starters return from a beat-up offensive line. In fact, even those two (G Cory Laxen and T Rolf Krueger) were held back this spring because of injuries. The coaches feel fine about Quinton Smith and the H-backs, but those runners can't be trying to dance around another makeshift line again. ... The secondary situation wasn't pretty last year, and it's tough to tell whether it's going to get any better. Traditionally, Hatfield hasn't been a big fan of playing freshmen, but he has pulled back on that slightly in recent years and is willing to give them a try in the defensive backfield. ... No team in the country had a lower punting net (28.5 yds.) in 2004. It was a combination of two things: awful coverage units and a regression in the play of Jared Scruggs, who was superb as a freshman but fell apart last year when he was forced into several situational kicks. This will be a major point of emphasis in August.

SMU Mustangs
2005 Schedule
9/3 Baylor
9/10 TCU
9/17 at Texas A&M
9/24 Tulane
10/1 at Marshall
10/8 at UAB
10/15 East Carolina
10/22 at Tulsa
11/5 Rice
11/12 at Houston
11/26 UTEP

2004 overall record:
Conference record:
3-5 (WAC)

Returning starters
Offense: 11, Defense: 9, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Jerad Romo* (434 yds)
Passing: Tony Eckert* (1,406 yds)
Receiving: Bobby Chase* (483 yds)
Tackles: Alvin Nnabuife* (80)
Sacks: Desmond Jones* and Justin Rogers* (2.5 each)
Interceptions: Rolando Humphrey* (2)

Spring answers: When you return 22 starters, not many answers come in terms of position battles. However, there were a few players who stood out this spring. At tight end, junior Ryan Kennedy emerged as a true weapon. In fact, the Mustangs are in a good position there. Redshirt freshman Vincent Chase was one of the most high-profile SMU recruits in years. Chase broke his foot while weightlifting in the offseason, but he will be back in the fall and will allow the team to run plenty of two-tight end sets. ... After recording only 10 sacks in '04, the D-line needed a spark, and it got just that in former linebacker Don Ieremia-Stansbury, who showed good strength and speed and earned a starting spot almost immediately. Another welcome addition is juco transfer Adrian Haywood, a big tackle with a 37-inch vertical leap. He's almost a shoo-in to start. ... While return coverage will be a point of emphasis in August, the Mustangs have no such worries with place-kicker Chris McMurtray and punter Ryan Mentzel.

Fall questions: It's a three-man race at quarterback -- at least that's what it says on the depth chart. Most believe lefty Eckert, who earned all three wins for the Mustangs last year, is more comfortable with the offense and has the edge at this point. His TD-INT ratio last season was just 6-13, though, and he is less mobile than both Romo and Chris Phillips, who began 2004 as the starter before tearing his rotator cuff. ... What about at halfback? Romo was the team's leading rusher last fall. The coaches feel the talent is there, but no one really separated himself from the pack this spring. Either Cedric Dorsey or Richuel Massey needs to take up that role at some point. ... The offensive burden shouldn't entirely be on them, though. This team desperately needs some big-play performers -- the kind defensive coordinators have to stay up late at night preparing for. ... As for the defense, will the Mustangs ever be able to stop the run? Last season, they gave up more than 200 yards a game on the ground, and now they've lost all-WAC defensive tackle Allan Adami.

Southern Miss Golden Eagles
2005 Schedule
9/4 Tulane
9/10 at Alabama
9/17 McNeese State
9/24 at Houston
10/1 at East Carolina
10/8 Tulsa
10/15 Central Florida
10/21 at UAB
10/29 at NC State
11/8 at Marshall
11/19 Memphis

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Anthony Harris* (714 yds)
Passing: Dustin Almond* (1,848 yds)
Receiving: Antwon Courington* (659 yds)
Tackles: Michael Boley (125)
Sacks: Boley (9)
Interceptions: Trevis Coley* (4)

Spring answers: At running back, the coaches felt good enough about sophomore Larry Thomas that they moved Harris, last year's leading rusher, to fullback. The most improved offensive player of the spring, Thomas will bring plenty of speed to the position, as opposed to a between-the-tackles-type like Harris. ... During his first two seasons, Damion Carter always resisted talk of moving from QB to receiver. He finally relented and looks as though he could be a factor at a position of need. He still has a problem hanging on to passes, but disproved notions he was soft by going across the middle and getting knocked around quite a few times. ... The coaching staff insists Coley has All-American ability, but it wasn't able to completely pinpoint the senior's position until late in the spring. After flirting with him as Boley's replacement at weakside linebacker, it looks certain now that he'll return to his more comfortable spot at free safety. A large factor in that decision was the emergence of junior Wayne Hardy, who moved to linebacker from fullback and picked up the system with much success.

Fall questions: The offense struggled for much of the spring, and the wide receivers led the way in inconsistency. They're virtually all back and some potential playmakers exist, but it seems the group still drops too many and has yet to learn all the little stuff. Courington is the leading returner, but he was often outplayed by sophomore Tavarres Williams at flanker this spring. This group needs a spark. ... Not only does the O-line need to shore up the center position and both tackle spots but the line as a whole needs to play more physically to ensure the viability of the running game. ... He's supposedly the real deal, but speedy juco transfer Marcus Raines still remains somewhat of a mystery. His enrollment has created quite a stir, that's for sure. Convicted of involuntary manslaughter as a teenager, the Californian served two years at juvenile detention center and one in state prison. Kansas State revoked its scholarship offer when his past became public. But Bower and USM officials are convinced it was one big mistake in an otherwise trouble-free life. It's certainly a story worth following.

Tulane Green Wave
2005 Schedule
9/4 at Southern Miss
9/17 Mississippi State
9/24 at SMU
10/1 SE Louisiana
10/8 Houston
10/14 UTEP
10/22 at Central Florida
10/29 Marshall
11/5 at Navy
11/12 at Rice
11/19 Tulsa

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Jovan Jackson* and Matt Forte* (624 yards each)
Passing: Lester Ricard* (1,881 yds)
Receiving: Royde Williams (826 yds)
Tackles: Anthony Cannon* (107)
Sacks: Cannon* (4)
Interceptions: Six with 1 each

Spring answers: Four senior starters return along the offensive line. For what's always a dynamite offense, that's a good starting point. ... Don't be deceived by seeing no seniors on the D-line this fall. This is the second straight year that'll happen, and coach Chris Scelfo didn't seem too concerned in the spring. While still young, the hosses up front, especially Antonio Harris and Avery Williams, gained plenty of experience last season. And the one who didn't -- Alvin Johnson redshirted last season -- is getting rave reviews from the coaching staff. ... Depth is still an issue, but some are calling the senior linebacking trio the best the school has seen in years. That group includes Cannon, who is coming off his third straight 100-tackle season.

Fall questions: Who the starting cornerbacks will be is still a mystery -- as well as whether they'll be more physical and tackle better. ... The graduation of Royde Williams and Chris Bush, who combined for 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns at receiver last season, leaves the Green Wave without much experience at that position. That could present a problem, considering Tulane likes to line up in four-receiver formations. The group includes possession-types such as Bubba Terranova, but no one really filled the void of a deep threat during the spring session. It looks as though Scelfo will have to give a long, hard look to the freshman arrivals in August. ... Ricard, who missed the final two games of '04 with a broken wrist, appeared to be OK during spring work. His potential backups, however, did not. Scott Elliott battled shoulder problems, and Nick Cannon battled shoulder and elbow problems. If Ricard goes down early, there could be problems. ... Can the defense turn it around? Even with another explosive offense expected, the Wave simply can't give up 33 points a game again if they want to go bowling.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane
2005 Schedule
9/1 Minnesota
9/10 at Oklahoma
9/17 at North Texas
9/24 Memphis
10/1 Houston
10/8 at Southern Miss
10/15 at Rice
10/22 SMU
11/5 at UTEP
11/12 East Carolina
11/19 at Tulane

2004 overall record:
Conference record:
3-5 (WAC)

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Uril Parrish* (1,064 yds)
Passing: James Kilian (2,247 yds)
Receiving: Garrett Mills* (560 yds)
Tackles: Michael LeDet (94)
Sacks: Clint Rountree (4)
Interceptions: LeDet (4)

Spring answers: With Parrish out during scrimmages, the Golden Hurricane were able to see just how deep they were at tailback. Even with OU transfer Courtney Tennial having to sit out a year, Tulsa should be just fine with Brandon Diles and Tarrion Adams running behind a 1,000-yard rusher in Parrish. ... If Mills were 6-5, NFL scouts would be drooling their way to Skelly Stadium to see the tight end. At 6-2, he still warrants a look. ... The tweaks made to the linebacking corps look like positive ones. John Bunting moved to the outside and still looked like the all-conference performer he is (he was all-WAC last season), while Nelson Coleman completed the swap by moving to the middle. On the other outside spot, the staff loves the effort and play of sophomore Chris Chamberlain, who showed good speed this spring. ... On a defensive line that needed to get bigger in size, Colorado transfer Chadd Evans stepped in at end and appears ready to compete for a starting job in the fall.

Fall questions: If either redshirt sophomore Paul Smith or redshirt freshman Robert Johnson has an edge at quarterback, coach Steve Kragthorpe and his staff are good at keeping a secret. Johnson is more mobile, but Smith has a very accurate, strong arm and actually led Tulsa to an important late-season victory two years ago as a true freshman. ... As for the receivers, the Hurricane desperately need to find an ability to stretch the field. One would think speedy Ashlan Davis, who set an NCAA record with five KO return touchdowns last season, fits that mold. In August, it'll be interesting to see whether Idriss Moss, a JC transfer who started out at UCLA, can make a contribution, as well. ... The defense lost both corners, as well as versatile Rountree at the Spur position. Nick Graham appears to have the edge at one corner, but the other is anyone's guess. Same goes for Rountree's replacement, although Kedrick Alexander will be in the mix again. After serving a suspension last year, the former starter has returned and is determine to get himself back in the rotation. ... Can TU stop the run? Not much else matters if this defense is going to give up 211 yards a game on the ground again.

UAB Blazers
2005 Schedule
9/3 at Tennessee
9/10 at Troy
9/17 Jacksonville St.
10/1 Rice
10/8 SMU
10/15 at Marshall
10/21 Southern Miss
11/1 at Memphis
11/12 Central Florida
11/19 at UTEP
11/28 at East Carolina

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Dan Burks* (880 yds)
Passing: Darrell Hackney* (3,070 yds)
Receiving: Roddy White (1,452 yds)
Tackles: Dominique Cosper* (102)
Sacks: Larry McSwain* (13)
Interceptions: Will Evans* (2)

Spring answers: With the huge loss of White at wide receiver, coach Watson Brown shook the offense up a little bit during drills. It's not as much a systematic change as a psychological one. He believes that with White not around, Hackney has to get out of the mind-set of just throwing to the "X" receiver and instead try to spread the wealth by dumping off some short passes to running back and tight ends. It's not something Hackney has done a whole lot of in the past, but he might not have a choice if a legitimate deep threat doesn't emerge. ... On the other side of the ball, the Blazers have added some man defense to the primary zone in hopes of preventing all the big plays this unit gave up last year. Individually, junior end McSwain looks even better than he did last season and redshirt freshman Joe Henderson really made a name for himself at weakside linebacker.

Fall questions: Losing a player such as White (71 catches, 14 TDs in '04) cannot be overestimated. He was the perfect down-the-field complement to the strong arm of Hackney, who also lost his No. 2 guy, Bradley Chavez. Players such as Reggie Lindsey, Norris Drinkard and Nick Coon didn't do anything this spring to make one believe they are go-to guy material. ... When the team's three starting linebackers graduating, 850 career tackles go with them. In fact, Zac Woodfin and Nigel Eldridge are 1-2 on UAB's all-time tackles list. So, not only is that trio gone but also two of the top backups. During the spring, Brown played 11 guys there and said nine of them can play all three positions. Whether they can play them well will be determined this fall. ... At kicker, the Blazers have to replace four-year starter and all-Conference USA performer Nick Hayes. The job is there for heralded true freshman Swayze Waters, but no one ever knows how an 18-year-old is going to handle the pressure of kicking at the Division I level. Punter Parker Mullins would have to be the option if Waters struggles.

UTEP Miners
2005 Schedule
9/3 at New Mexico State
9/16 Houston
9/24 New Mexico
10/1 at Memphis
10/14 at Tulane
10/22 Marshall
10/29 at Rice
11/5 Tulsa
11/12 Texas Southern
11/19 UAB
11/26 at SMU

2004 overall record:
Conference record:
6-2 (WAC)

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 0

2004 statistical leaders (* returners) Rushing: Howard Jackson (1,187 yds)
Passing: Jordan Palmer* (2,818 yds)
Receiving: Johnnie Lee Higgins Jr.* (700 yds)
Tackles: Robert Rodriguez (121)
Sacks: Thomas Howard* and Chris Mineo* (8)
Interceptions: Adrian Ward (5)

Spring answers: For the first time in years, there's no quarterback controversy at UTEP. Coming off a 26-TD season, Palmer continued his excellent play in the spring. There's even plenty of insurance behind him with Washington State transfer Chris Hurd and former starter Orlando Cruz. ... Palmer will have plenty of options -- that much was clear by the end of the spring. In fact, some are ready to call it the greatest receiving corps in school history. When Chris Marrow and Jayson Boyd went down with injuries, senior Chris Francies showed marked improvement while Joe West and Aaron Givens showed just how deep this group goes. Higgins is already a proven commodity. ... After two years away on a Mormon mission, 6-7 TE Jamar Hunt shook off the rust and might very well be starting by midseason. ... Two newcomers to the secondary, Emeri Spence and Arthur Giddens, had impressive springs and should solve any depth issues. Spence came over from the loaded receiving position, while Giddens transferred in from JC. ... After some initial worries, the kicking game looks as though it'll be a strength. Place-kicker Reagan Schneider showed he has recovered fully from last year's knee problems, while new punter Ryan Hotchkiss arrived from junior college and boomed a 55-yarder in the spring game.

Fall questions: Who will get the majority of the carries? Quick and shifty Tyler Ebell, a UCLA transfer and former Parade All-American, is atop the chart going into August. However, sophomore Marcus Thomas and senior Matt Austin, who was tearing it up this spring before injuring his ankle, aren't far behind. ... Although the unit seemed to get better as practice went along, the offensive line is still a question mark after losing three starters. An interesting battle is shaping up at center, where redshirt freshman Robby Felix appears to have a slight edge over junior Andy Smith. ... While the competition at both vacated cornerback spots is ongoing, the pair of openings at linebacker appear to be settled with Jeremy Jones and Trey Collavo. That doesn't mean there's an absence of worry, though. Godwin Akinduro and local legend Rodriguez were not only the two leading tacklers (and it wasn't even close), but also the team's leaders on and off the field. ... Speaking of off the field, how are the Miners going to handle all the expectations that surround them this year? Taking a gander at the favorable schedule, one El Paso columnist all but predicted an undefeated season. Keep in mind this is a program that lost 11 games in 2003. It'll be interesting to see if Mike Price tries to combat all the local hype.

Brett Edgerton is a researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at