Can't wait to see these things this fall

Updated: May 4, 2006, 2:34 PM ET
By Ivan Maisel and Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Three Things I Can't Wait To See This Fall In Conference USA
Ivan Maisel
Pat Forde
Jordan Palmer1. Two years ago, UTEP shocked everyone by starting 8-2 before losing its last two. Last season, the Miners started 8-1 and lost their last three. Coach Mike Price has 19 starters returning this fall, including senior quarterback Jordan Palmer. We won't find out until November, but I want to know whether UTEP has the depth and stamina to finish the job.

Phil Bennett2. It has been 19 years since SMU suffered the death penalty, and never in that time have the Mustangs been so close to breaking through to success. An offense that scored more than 21 points only twice in the first nine games averaged 32 points per game in a three-game winning streak to close a 5-6 season. False hope? Is Phil Bennett's SMU team for real?

3. Football life is not back to normal at Tulane, but it's getting closer. The Green Wave will play on the road against three SEC teams (Mississippi State, LSU and Auburn). The good news -- great news -- is that Tulane will have five home games. The bad news is that a good defense must be rebuilt. At least the most pressing issues for the Green Wave will be on the field.

1. The quarterbacking in this league should be pretty strong. C-USA returns its 2005 leader in passing yardage (UTEP's Jordan Palmer) and its 2005 leader in passing efficiency (Tulsa's Paul Smith). And don't forget Houston senior Kevin Kolb, who appears to be on his way to 12,000 career passing yards.

Steve Kragthorpe2. Can Tulsa hold on to Steve Kragthorpe? He revealed himself as one of the game's brightest minds by turning around the Golden Hurricane in 2003, stumbled through a tough 4-8 year in 2004 and surprised everyone by winning the league title in '05. A brilliant offensive coach, he'll be a hot commodity in what could be a busy job market if Tulsa performs well again this year.

George O'Leary3. What does UCF do for an encore? The Golden Knights were the most improved team in college football last year, vaulting from 0-11 to 8-5. Now, they get a shot at instant in-state credibility with games against Florida and South Florida. Just winning one of the two would be huge for George O'Leary in the rebuilding process at UCF.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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