For complete C-USA player rankings and player previews, see our Draft Kit.
Conference USA features five of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Case Keenum, Dominique Davis, G.J. Kinne, Austin Davis and Kyle Padron. Of course where there are good quarterbacks there must be guys on the receiving end. Damaris Johnson, Patrick Edwards and Tyron Carrier are some of the nation’s fastest receivers and will give opposing cornerbacks fits. The conference’s prolific passing offenses are a huge draw for fantasy owners and a nightmare for defensive coordinators.
Note that all of the quarterbacks mentioned above are seniors, so this could be the last year we see such explosiveness from the conference. It’s time to get in while the getting is good.
Below is a look at the teams from West division.
2010 Record: 5-7
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 13th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 96th
Base Offense: Spread
Returning Starters: 6 Off / 6 Def
Significant losses: WR James Cleveland, WR Kierrie Johnson
Newcomer of Note: Running back Charles Simms missed all of 2010 due to academics. He wasn’t on the spring roster, but he should be back this fall.
2011 Thoughts: Whether it was because of the loss of offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen or quarterback Case Keenum, the Cougars offense was more conservative last fall than their previous two seasons. In a nutshell the Cougs ran the ball more and scored less. With Keenum back we should see renewed emphasis on the passing game.
Both Tyron Carrier and Patrick Edwards are going for their third 1000-yard receiving season. As long as they both stay healthy, odds are they will get it. E.J. Smith and Justin Johnson will fill the other two starting receiving spots.
The backfield is deep and talented, especially if Sims returns. Bryce Beall, Michael Hayes and Sims all have the ability to start, but there simply aren’t enough balls to go around.
Final Analysis: Will we see the Houston offense of 2008 and 2009? Doubtful, but it should still be one top offenses in the country as the Cougars get back to their passing roots with Keenem back behind center. Don’t be afraid to take a flier on a guy like Smith or Johnson. But avoid the running back situation at all costs on draft day.
2010 Record: 4-8
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 52nd
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 114th
Base Offense: Hybrid Spread
Returning Starters: 7 Off / 7 Def
Significant losses: WR Patrick Randolph
Newcomer of Note: Receiver Mario Hull redshirted last fall and is a change of pace from the big tight end/receivers that the Owls will strut out on the field this fall.
2011 Thoughts: Running back Sam McGuffie found the perfect offense to fits his talents. McGuffie touched the ball an average of 19.6 times per game. Because many of those touches came as a receiver out of the backfield, he was able to lessen the wear and tear on his body. If he can continue to show the durability he did last fall, he’ll be the Owls’ top offensive threat.
Quarterback Taylor McHargue has the potential to breakout in 2011. Taking over the starting role at the end of last season, McHargue showed off his wheels rushing for 155 in the final two games of the season.
Is there such thing as having too many tight ends? If so Rice would be guilty of such an offense. At times the Owls will lineup with Vance McDonald, Luke Wilson and former quarterback Taylor Cook on the field at the same time. Each goes over 6-5 and 230 pounds and all are freakishly athletic for their size. McDonald spent time split out wide this spring in effort to make room, but he’s still listed as tight end on Rice’s official roster.
Final Analysis: With the quarterback situation settled, look for the Owls to rise in the offensive rankings. This has the making of being a top 30 offense in 2011. McHargue, McGuffie and any one of the three tight ends are late round fantasy options on draft day. Though watch out for a tough non-conference schedule.
2010 Record: 7-7
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 74th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 59th
Base Offense: Run n’ Shoot
Returning Starters: 10 Off / 8 Def
Significant losses: WR Aldrick Robinson, K Matt Szymanski
Newcomer of Note: If something should happen to running back Zach Line, freshman K.C. Nlemchi could be thrust into early action.
2011 Thoughts: The loss of Aldrick Robinson opens the door for another receiver to step up. Cole Beasley has the most experience and will provide quarterback Kyle Padron with a steady option to throw to this fall. The potential breakout star is Darius Johnson. He was a bit rough around the edges last fall, but he should be improved. Both will lineup as slot receivers and give opposing linebackers fits.
Quarterback Kyle Padron and running back Zach Line are about as consistent as they come. Pair them up together and you are guaranteed fantasy production each and every week. Texas A&M better be on upset alert in the season opener.
Final Analysis: With Padron, Line and Robinson it is pretty strange to think that SMU was only ranked 74th in the country last year in scoring offense. Playing against wickedly bad C-USA defenses and plenty of experience returning, they should be a top 20 offense in 2011. Load up on the Mustangs.
2010 Record: 4-8
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 80th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 113th
Base Offense: Pro Style
Returning Starters: 7 Off / 7 Def
Significant losses: TE Cody Sparks, WR Casey Robottom, WR D.J. Banks
Newcomer of Note: Freshman running back Dante' Butler will spell Orleans Darkwa this fall.
2011 Thoughts: Running back Orleans Darkwa teased us in the season opener last fall with 75 yards rushing and three scores. An elbow injury forced him to the sidelines for the better part of the next five games. By week eight he was back and tore off five straight 100-yard rushing performances. During the last six games of the season, Darkwa averaged 24.3 carries and 125.3 yards per game. That is the definition of workhorse.
Ryan Griffin will once again start at quarterback; however they must replace their top three pass catchers from last fall. If the passing game struggles, teams will be able to key on Darkwa. Ryan Grant and former quarterback Joe Kemp have big shoes to fill.
Final Analysis: As long as he stays healthy, Darkwa will push for 1500-yards rushing this fall. The passing game looks like a concern, however.
2010 Record: 10-3
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 6th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 85th
Base Offense: Hybrid Spread
Returning Starters: 8 Off / 8 Def
Significant losses: RB Charles Clay, WR Trae Johnson
Newcomer of Note: The Golden Hurricane have a few holes to fill are receiver and incoming freshman Keyarris Garrett is one of the top recruits in the 2011 class.
2011 Thoughts: The Todd Graham era is over and the big question is will the offense miss a beat? New head coach Bill Blankenship vows to keep the offensive juggernaut churning. That shouldn’t be too hard with quarterback G.J. Kinne and receiver Damaris Johnson back this fall. Kinne shook of a rough 2009 campaign and lived up to expectations in 2010.
Johnson is one of the top playmakers in the country. He led the nation in all-purpose yards in 2010 with 202.2 per game. Someone will need to step up and provide Kinne with second go-to option. Thomas Roberson and Ricky Johnson will need to step up their game and provide Kinne with secondary option this fall.
If there is one area that could use improvement it is at running back. They have yet to find a go-to back and as many as five backs will see carries this fall.
Final Analysis: Kinne and Johnson are obvious early round selections. But be weary of a tough non-conference schedule that includes Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State. If you’re in a keeper league, check out Shavodrick Beaver. A deadly dual-threat, he’ll inherit the offense in 2012.
2010 Record: 6-7
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 71st
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 66th
Base Offense: Single Back
Returning Starters: 2 Off / 8 Def
Significant losses: QB Trevor Vittatoe, RB Donald Buckram, WR Kris Adams
Newcomer of Note: Junior college transfer quarterback Nick Lamaison exited spring as the front runner for the starting job.
2011 Thoughts: Coach Mike Price will have his work cut out for him this fall. Gone are four-year starter Trevor Vittatoe, three-year starter Kris Adams and one-year wonder Donald Buckram.
The Utes only return two returning starters from last year’s squad, the lowest total in of all the FBS teams. To say this year will be a rebuilding year is an understatement. The problem is Price may not be given time to see it through. He’ll be on the hot seat from game one.
Final Analysis: Stay away. With only two returning starters and losing four-year starter at quarterback, there are simply too many unknowns.