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Conference USA breakdowns and matchups

Denny O'Brien's Game Day Preview
Saturday, September 14, 2002


Pirates confident as league kickoff looms

Magazine Correction Notice:

The Conference USA Preseason Preview and Power Poll package which appeared in the just-published The Magazine was written by Denny O'Brien. It was inadvertently attributed to Ron Cherubini because of a technical error.






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East Carolina put a lot of emphasis on conference games last fall, a mentality that has carried over into this season.

That's why Pirates head coach Steve Logan isn't in an all-out panic mode following his team's 0-2 start.  Even though ECU is mired in a five-game losing streak, Logan knows the Bucs have a clean slate in Conference USA.

That was essentially the message in a surprisingly upbeat locker room following the Pirates' 27-22 loss to Wake Forest Saturday.

"Their head is way up right now," Logan said.  "They know they're a good football team.  That's the thing about it."

"We've had two scrimmages and we're going to start conference play next week.  That's what I know."

Stressing the importance of each conference game paid dividends last season. 

In 2000, the Pirates may have overlooked a couple of opponents, as UAB and Memphis pulled upset specials that cost them the C-USA crown.  But that wasn't the case last year, as the Pirates won the league games in which they were decided favorites en route to a second-place finish.

"One game means no less than any other," Logan said.  "You want and expect to win every game."

"I do know that with one loss in a conference you still can win a championship.  That's been proven. With two losses in a conference you can't win a championship.  That's been proven. So we need to go win."

Tulane at East Carolina

The Pirates and Green Wave enter the game in slightly reversed situations.  East Carolina is 0-2 for the first time since 1986.  Tulane is 2-0 for the first time since Tommy Bowden bolted for Clemson.

Both boast potentially explosive offenses, to go along with revamped defenses.  It has all the ingredients of a high-scoring affair.

When ECU has the ball

Turnovers have been the most consistent aspect of the Pirates' offense thus far, having committed nine in their first two games.  But don't expect the Bucs to stray away from their core philosophies, mixing in the run with the short-to-intermediate passing game, while occasionally taking their shots down field.

However, the big play, which has been successful against Tulane in recent years, could be neutralized somewhat by the Green Wave's new defensive schemes.  

"They have a new defensive coordinator who came in and really simplified their schemes," Logan said.  "They are running to the ball, getting more helmets on the ball than they did the last two years. It's a simple scheme and just lets the kids just free up and play football."

The running game is slowly coming around for the Pirates and the offensive line is giving Paul Troth ample time to throw.  More of the same should be the story for the Pitt County offense in the league opener.

Advantage: ECU

When Tulane has the ball

New personnel sometimes calls for schematic changes on offense.  That's not entirely the case in the Big Easy.

"They are still running the offense with five wide receivers, shotgun snap and see how many five-yard hitches you can throw," Logan said.  "They have intermixed more of a running game than they have had and we have redesigned our defense hopefully to match up well with this kind of offense."

Quarterback J.P. Losman and receiver Roydell Harris are as lethal a passing combination as there is in the league, but much of the Pirates' defensive attention will likely fall the way of running back Mewelde Moore, who is Tulane's leading rusher (237 yards) and receiver (8 catches, 110 yards).

The Wave has four new starters along the offensive front, meaning the Pirates could be successful at rushing the passer.  The only problem is, Losman is just as adept at running the football as he is throwing it.

Advantage: Tulane

Special teams

The Pirates and Wave have the best special teams units in C-USA.  It's as simple as that.

Kevin Miller has been perfect on both field goal attempts for the Pirates, even nailing a 50-yarder last week against Wake Forest.  Punter Jarad Preston has picked up where he left off last season, averaging a solid 45-yards per boot, which is tenth-best in the nation.

The Green Wave has itself a pretty good kicking specialist, too.  Kicker/punter Seth Marler won the Lou Groza award last season as the nation's best kicker.

In the return game, both boast potential gamebreakers, meaning special teams could be an all-out stalemate on Saturday.

Advantage: Even


Common sense tells you the turnovers will eventually taper off for the young Pirates.  This week is as good as any.  Pirates 27, Wave 23.

Denny O'Brien's
C-USA Power Poll

 1. Southern Miss (2-0) - Southern Miss of new is beginning to look like Southern Miss of old.  Not good news for C-USA foes. 

 2. Cincinnati (1-0) - Off week means 'Cats are more than ready for West Virginia.

 3. Louisville (1-1)- Cards flying high again after romp over upstart Duke.

 4. TCU (1-1) -  The Frogs bounce back with laugher over Northwestern.

 5. Tulane (2-0) - Wave makes huge jump after semi-surprise over Houston.

 6. Memphis (1-1) - Tigers hung with Ole Miss for as long as they could.

 7. Houston (1-1) - Cougars back down to earth after thumping from Green Wave.

 8. East Carolina (0-2) - Turnovers have Pirates submerged in five-game losing streak.

 9. UAB (1-1) - Win over Troy State gives the Blazers bragging rights in battle of 'Bama mid-majors.

10. Army (0-1) - Loss to I-AA  Holy Cross doesn't help league power rating.

Army at Rutgers

Does it get any worse than this?

Rutgers enters this contest fresh off its 34-11 loss to Buffalo.  That wouldn't be so bad if we were talking about the Bills.  But we're not.

Meanwhile, Army, thought to be much-improved over last season, stumbled to a 30-21 setback to I-AA Holy Cross.  And it was at home!

This has all the makings for a snoozefest, and picking a winner might be easier by flipping a coin.  Heads, Army... Tails, Rutgers.  Tails it is -- Scarlet Knights 24, Black Knights 20.

West Virginia at Cincinnati

The Mountaineers have dominated their series with the Bearcats, with the only blemish being a 7-7 tie in 1940.  But it wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that this is the best Cincinnati team ever to make the trek to Morgantown.

The 'Cats are talented and have a lot of heart, evidenced by their furious season-opening rally against TCU.  West Virginia, on the other hand, is a bit of a mystery after blowing out I-AA Chattanooga, then having the favor returned to them by Wisconsin.

Cincy is much more comfortable in its spread-out attack, as the Mounties are still learning Rich Rodriguez's schemes.  That's good enough reason to side with the 'Cats, 31-20.

Louisiana-Lafayette at Houston

If Ricky Bustle wasn't aware of the challenges facing him as the Ragin' Cajuns' head coach, he's now painfully familiar.

Houston turned the ball over seven times in its league loss to Tulane and is a significant drop-off in competition for the Cajuns, who opened the season with losses to Texas A&M and Minnesota.

The Cougars should still have enough, though, as UL-L is still bustling up its program.  Cougars 24, Cajuns 13.

Memphis at Southern Miss

Coaches rarely use payback as a motivating force.  But don't be surprised if Southern Miss skipper Jeff Bower reminds his team of last season's 22-17 loss to the Tigers.

The Golden Eagles are knocking on the Top 25 door and a win over Memphis could go a long way toward helping them break through.

If the Tigers could steal a win in the Rock, they could be well on their way to that much-anticipated return to postseason play.  They won't though, because Southern Miss is just too good.  Eagles, 28-10.


TCU showed now signs of a hangover against Northwestern, following up a heartbreaking loss to Cincinnati with a 48-24 mauling of the Wildcats.

This week, though, the afterglow of a blowout victory should carry over, especially when you consider that SMU suffered an embarrassing 38-7 drubbing at the hands of Navy in its opener.

The Frogs will have no problem in the Metroplex Bowl, stomping the 'Stangs, 40-7.

Pittsburgh at UAB

The Panthers and Blazers are a study of two programs heading in opposite directions. 

Walt Harris has Pittsburgh climbing the Big East ladder, while Watson Brown's Blazers are on the C-USA decline.

The contrasting situations should be evident on the scoreboard, with Pitt taking home a 30-16 victory.

Game of the Week:
Louisville at (24) Colorado State

Louisville bounced back nicely at Duke last week without breaking so much as a sweat in a 40-3 rout of the Devils.  A trip to Fort Collins means its back to business for the Cards.

Last year's bout between the two was as painful to watch as the bruising hits delivered by Cardinals defensive end Dewayne White in a 7-2, mistake-filled victory.

This time around shouldn't too different, with both schools showcasing their defenses in front of a national television audience.  So if that's your forte, pull up a chair and order a pizza.  If not, check out the box score in the Sunday paper.

If neither option floats your boat, here's a quick prophetic summation.  The Rams stand toe-to-toe for much of the game, until Cardinals QB Dave Ragone puts the Rams away late, 21-9.

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02/23/2007 01:47:12 AM

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