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Stage set for Pirates to surprise staff report

East Carolina will not be laboring under heavy expectations going into the 2004 football season, according to a poll of Conference USA coaches released on Monday.

The Pirates, coming off a 1-11 season in John Thompson's first season as head coach, are picked 10th in the 11-team league. ECU linebacker Chris Moore punter Ryan Dougherty were named to the All C-USA preseason team.

The light regard afforded them by the voters may well serve a productive purpose for the Pirates, who will be challenged by Thompson to prove the predictions wrong.

Louisville has been chosen to finish first. In the closest preseason coaches poll ever, the Cardinals received 106 of a possible 121 points. Memphis was second with 101 points, Southern Miss placed third with 100 and Texas Christian ranked fourth with 99.

Louisville finished 9-4 last season and is fueled by one of the most explosive offenses in the country. Nine starters return to an offensive unit that led C-USA in total offense (521.4 yards per game) and scoring offense (36.1 points per game) in 2003. A pair of first team All-Conference performers from last year, QB Stefan LeFors and WR J.R. Russell, are joined on the preseason all-league offense by LT Travis Leffew. Cardinals DE Marcus Jones also received preseason recognition.

Hopes are high in Memphis, as the Tigers return 19 starters from a team that won nine games for the first time since 1963 and played in a bowl game for the first time in 32 years. Reigning C-USA Offensive Player of the Year, RB DeAngelo Williams has been selected to repeat that honor this fall. Williams had 10 consecutive 100-yard games and set a school record with 1,430 rushing yards, despite missing the final three games with a knee injury. He is joined by WR Maurice Avery and FS Wesley Smith in receiving preseason All-C-USA accolades.

Defending champion Southern Miss was picked one notch behind Memphis in third place. The Golden Eagles' always-staunch defense will be led by the preseason Defensive Player of the Year, Michael Boley. Boley led the league and finished seventh in the nation in tackles for loss with 22.5, while registering 151 total tackles.

TCU, which is coming off its first 11-win campaign since winning the national title in 1938, was one point behind the Golden Eagles in fourth place. Running back Robert Merrill, who became the second straight Horned Frog freshman to rush for 1,000 yards, is helped by the blocking of offensive linemen Anthony Alabi and Chase Johnson. Those three players, along with defensive backs Mark Walker and Marvin Godbolt, give TCU a league-high five players on the preseason team.

Houston, which is coming off its first bowl appearance since 1996, was chosen fifth, just ahead of UAB. Sophomore QB Kevin Kolb was the most productive freshman QB in the nation last season and he will lead the high-powered Cougar offense again this fall. UAB welcomes back eight starters on offense and 10 on defense as it seeks its first-ever postseason bowl game. Both schools placed a pair of performers on the preseason all-league squad, with TE Stephen Cucci and DE Joe Clay representing UH and K Nick Hayes and LB Zac Woodfin listed for UAB.

USF, which posted a 7-4 record last season in its first year in C-USA, was chosen seventh, just ahead of Cincinnati. The Bulls welcome back nine offensive starters in their second year in the league, while the Bearcats placed a league-high three players on the preseason all-conference team for defense. Defensive ends Trent Cole and Andre Frazier are joined by CB Daven Holly in receiving the preseason accolades as UC prepares for its first season under new coach Mark Dantonio.

Rounding out the preseason poll are Tulane, East Carolina and Army. Tulane's talented WR Roydell Williams is joined by playmaking DB Tra Boger on the all-league team, while ECU is represented by Dougherty, the league's leading punter as a freshman last year, and productive linebacker Moore, who led the Pirates last season in tackles with 148 in 11 games. Army opens a new era this fall with the arrival of successful former collegiate and NFL coach Bobby Ross at West Point.


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Predicted Order of Finish (1st place votes) Pts.
1. Louisville (2) 106
2. Memphis (3) 101
3. Southern Miss (2) 100
4. TCU (4) 99
5. Houston 70
6. UAB 61
7. USF 56
8. Cincinnati 45
9. Tulane 39
10. East Carolina 37
11. Army 12

First Team Offense
QB Stefan LeFors, Louisville
RB Robert Merrill, TCU
RB DeAngelo Williams, Memphis
OL Anthony Alabi, TCU
OL Chase Johnson, TCU
OL Travis Leffew, Louisville
OL Jeremy Parquet, Southern Miss
OL Kyle Takavitz, Cincinnati
WR Maurice Avery, Memphis
WR J.R. Russell, Louisville
WR Roydell Williams, Tulane
TE Stephen Cucci, Houston

First Team Defense
DL Joe Clay, Houston
DL Trent Cole, Cincinnati
DL Andre Frazier, Cincinnati
DL Marcus Jones, Louisville
LB Michael Boley, Southern Miss
LB Chris Moore, East Carolina
LB Zac Woodfin, UAB
DB Tra Boger, Tulane
DB Marvin Godbolt, TCU
DB Daven Holly, Cincinnati
DB Wesley Smith, Memphis
DB Mark Walker, TCU

First Team Special Teams
K Nick Hayes, UAB
P Ryan Dougherty, East Carolina
KR John Eubanks, Southern Miss
PR Marvin Young, Southern Miss

Offensive Player of the Year
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Memphis

Defensive Player of the Year
Michael Boley, LB, Southern Miss

Special Teams Player of the Year
John Eubanks, KR, Southern Miss

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02/23/2007 11:29:58 AM

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