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Conference USA Notebook
Monday, July 21, 2008

By Denny O'Brien


Spread attacks rule in C-USA

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

MEMPHIS — College football is finally catching on to something one coach discovered decades ago.

Appalachian State can’t patent it, though it did leverage the diverse system to concoct an upset over Michigan in the Big House last year. Nor can Boise State, which ran the table in 2006 and pulled a shocker over Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Though there is no concrete documentation on the origins of the spread offense, it’s clear that one of its forefathers is new Southern Methodist coach June Jones.

“I’ve been saying it for 35 years,” Jones said. “We were at the Houston Gamblers and we introduced four wide receivers and spread the field. In the state of Texas, that was like communism.

“It does give a chance for an Appalachian to beat Michigan. How in the heck does Hawaii beat Alabama, beat Purdue, beat Michigan State? How did we do that? Well the reason why is that we spread the field. Even though they were better than us, it gives us a chance to beat them.”

It has become a great equalizer in college football, and its many variations make it flexible enough to revise it based on a roster’s talent.

Rich Rodriguez, for example, was very pass-oriented as the offensive coordinator at both Tulane and Clemson. But during his days at West Virginia, the colorful coach used the spread offense in what has become one of the most explosive rushing teams in the country.

In Conference USA, it’s used both ways, and it’s a system that is used pervasively throughout the league.

“It looks like this conference as a whole is even more wide open than the WAC,” said Jones, who left Hawaii last year for SMU. “I mean, everybody kind of spreads the field. Everybody gives you a lot of different looks.

“I think the conference is a little more evenly matched than the WAC was. I’m looking forward to going through it.”

New Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora has a history of running the spread attack, breaking many records as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. Given that experience, he thinks he’ll fit in with his new colleagues.

“As I’ve looked at everybody, everybody spreads it out pretty much,” Fedora said. “There have been a lot of points scored in this league.

“When I first started running the spread back in 1998, that is what it was for (to equalize talent). We didn’t have the talent that we were going to match up against, especially up front. You get the ball off quick so that an offensive lineman doesn’t have to block as long. It also opens up some great vertical seams on the field for the running game.”

But in this league of offensive innovation, there still are a handful of fundamentalists pacing the sidelines. Central Florida coach George O’Leary has taken a more traditional approach to winning, riding the sturdy legs of a workhorse running back.

Tulane coach Bob Toledo is also partial to that style of play.

“When I took over at Tulane, they said that you can’t run the football at Tulane,” Toledo said. “Well, we proved that we can run it. We were one of the leading rushing teams in the conference and played number one in rush defense.

“The key is, you’ve got to score a lot of points, but you’ve got to keep your defense off the field. Defensively, you’ve got to play good pass defense. Most of the people have good skilled athletes, good quarterbacks and good receivers.”

Pressure cooker

No first-year coach will face more pressure this season than Fedora. He replaces Southern Miss icon Jeff Bower, who was fired last year after a 7-6 finish.

Fedora was hired to inject more enthusiasm into the USM program and upgrade the overall talent. It’s a lot of pressure for a first-year coach, but nothing more than he imposes on himself.

“I feel pressure every morning that I wake up and get out of bed,” Fedora said. “But it’s pressure that I put on myself.

“The expectation level, as high as it will be, will not be as high as I have.”

Even so, Fedora understands that he is replacing a Southern Miss icon, though he doesn’t focus on things that are out of his control. Instead, he concerns himself with the task of building on what already was a strong foundation and elevating the Golden Eagles a few rungs up the competitive ladder.

“Jeff did a tremendous job,” Fedora said. “He is a legend here at Southern Miss. His accomplishments were unbelievable.

“I’m just hoping that I can just take where he’s left off and continue with that legacy, and even do better with it. I can’t control what’s happened in the past. I just feel very fortunate to be here.”

Bowl ties

C-USA has six bowl agreements for the 2008 season after the reshuffling of a couple of games.

Back on the roster is the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, and the inaugural St. Petersburg Bowl also joins the postseason party. They replace the departed Hawaii and Bowls.

The league could also position itself for the Congressional Bowl should the ACC not qualify a ninth member.

However, time is running out on C-USA’s current bowl contracts. The league’s agreement with the GMAC Bowl ends in 2008, while its deals with the rest of its bowl ties conclude in 2009.

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07/21/2008 02:24:57 AM

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