The Ultimate Schedule: Conference USA West Division

August 19th, 2009

Conference USA Schedule “Rules”:

-         Four non-conference games

-         Eight conference games (three against West Division opponents)

-         Conference USA Championship Game (December 5th)


Week 1: Buffalo @ UTEP (September 5th)


It’s an important season for head coach Mike Price and the Miner program, and they’ll be tested right out of the gate by the reigning MAC champions. Head coach Turner Gill has high hopes for new quarterback Zach Maynard, and weapons such as James Starks and Naaman Roosevelt will help Maynard with the transition to starter. And with a defense that welcomes back eight starters, the Bulls will be a handful for UTEP in the season opener. Trevor Vittatoe is back for another run as starting quarterback, and if the defense can raise its level of play the Coach Price may be able to get UTEP back into bowl contention.


Other Games Considered: Rice @ UAB (9/5), Tulsa @ Tulane (9/4)


Week 2: Houston @ Oklahoma State (September 12th)


This promises to be a wild, high-scoring affair with football filling the sky. In Case Keenum and Zac Robinson you’ll have two of the better quarterbacks in the nation, and the same goes for running backs Bryce Beall and Kendall Hunter. Add to this the presence of OK State WR Dez Bryant and the winner will likely score at least forty points. The question for both teams lies with the defense; as in how much have both units improved since last season.


Bill Young takes over the defensive coordinator role at Oklahoma State, and his addition has to be the difference if the Cowboys want to entertain any thoughts of cracking the Texas/Oklahoma tandem at the top of the Big 12 South. Houston, with a win here, would open up a world of possibilities in regards to a possible run at a BCS bid.


Other Games Considered: Rice @ Texas Tech (9/12), Kansas @ UTEP (9/12), Tulsa @ New Mexico (9/12)


Week 3: Tulsa @ Oklahoma (September 19th)


The Golden Hurricane will have their hands full with a Sooner squad that blew them out in Tulsa last season. Heisman winner Sam Bradford is back and has a number of weapons at his fingertips with TE Jermaine Gresham, RB DeMarco Murray and WR Ryan Broyles among the many options. Tulsa, despite an offense that was the best in Conference USA last season, will have to contend with one of the best front sevens in all of college football. Coach Graham prefers a balanced attack so expect Tulsa to commit to establishing the run early on. If they can’t they’ll be in trouble against a team that, much like them, can put points on the board in a hurry.


Other Games Considered: Rice @ Oklahoma State (9/19), UTEP @ New Mexico State (9/19)


Week 4: Bye Week (September 26th)


A little early for a bye week, but with October delivering a matchup of Boise State visiting Tulsa and no conference games on the schedule for West Division teams it’s a good time to rest. Keep an eye on Texas Tech visiting Houston and Rice hosting Vanderbilt for some entertaining football.


Week 5: Houston @ UTEP (October 3rd)


The Cougars racked up seven hundred yards of offense in last year’s meeting yet only won by the final score of 42-37. The Miners had the ball for a little more than six minutes longer than Houston despite rushing for just 102 yards. Trevor Vittatoe had arguably his best game of the season, throwing for 362 yards and accounting for five total touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough to upstage Case Keenum’s 480 passing yards and Bryce Beall’s 167 rushing yards. Houston has won the last three meetings in the series, scoring at least thirty-four points in each contest. Expect some fun in El Paso, and a Miner win would quickly turn the division race into a three-team affair.


Other Games Considered: Tulsa @ Rice (10/3), SMU @ TCU (10/3)


Week 6: East Carolina @ SMU (October 10th)


While the more intriguing game in regards to division title/bowl implications would be Memphis taking on UTEP, we’ve already seen the Miners twice in the first four games of the season. That means a trip to Dallas is in order to check out the growth of the Mustangs under June Jones. It was a tough first season for Coach Jones, who had to lean upon a freshman quarterback (Bo Levi Mitchell) and went 1-11. Now with Mitchell and the other cogs of the offense having a full season under their belts with Jones, some are looking for the Mustangs to make a jump up the standings. How high? A meeting with the defending conference champions would provide an early answer. They haven’t met since 2006, so it will be interesting to see how the normally stout Pirate defense deals with the run and shoot.


Other Games Considered: UTEP @ Memphis (10/10), Houston @ Mississippi State (10/10)


Week 7: Boise State @ Tulsa (October 14th)


No team in their right mind would schedule two games just four days apart; that rule doesn’t apply here. The Golden Hurricane host one of the schools that has provided the “BCS buster” blueprint over the last ten years in Boise State. QB Kellen Moore had an outstanding freshman campaign, and the Broncos were essentially two points away from going unbeaten in 2008 (losing to TCU 17-16 in the Poinsettia Bowl). Boise State has an awful lot of weapons back for another run at the BCS, and this along with their opener against Oregon may be their biggest roadblock. Tulsa can score with just about anyone; it’s the matter of how well their defense can perform in games like this. Linebacker Mike Bryan and SPUR James Lockett will lead the way for a unit that should improve its productivity. Are the strides enough to slow down the Broncos? We shall see.


Other Games Considered: Rice @ East Carolina (10/17), Navy @ SMU (10/17), and Houston @ Tulane (10/17)


Week 8: Tulsa @ UTEP (October 21st)


The final game in the three-team round robin that will likely decide the West is Houston taking on Tulsa the first Saturday in November. And the Miners should be hungry for some revenge; if they’re not upset about getting seventy-seven points hung on them last season then something’s very wrong (SMU only allowed 37 the week prior). The Miners gave up 791 yards of offense, thirty-six first downs…and Tulsa only scored seven points in the fourth quarter. It was an embarrassing showing, indicative of the Miners’ poor defense in 2008. The UTEP offense struggled mightily on the ground, rushing for just thirty-two yards and thus failing to keep the ball away from the Golden Hurricane. For UTEP, this meeting is just as much about restoring pride as it is pushing their way into the division title race.


Other Games Considered: SMU @ Houston (10/24), Tulane @ Southern Miss (10/24)


Week 9: Southern Miss @ Houston (October 31st)


The Golden Eagles have done quite well against the Cougars, winning seven of the last nine games in the series. The two haven’t met since 2006 when they split two meetings (Southern Miss winning the latter for the conference title), and they could very well meet twice in 2009. Both teams are expected to be a part of the conference title hunt, with the Cougars looking to improve defensively while the Golden Eagles will look to become even better offensively. Unlike East Carolina, who won’t have to play Houston, the Golden Eagles drew both Houston and Tulsa and that fact makes this an even bigger game for Southern Miss.


Other Games Considered: UAB @ UTEP (10/31), Tulane @ LSU (10/31)


Week 10: Houston @ Tulsa (November 7th)


Their meeting last season provided arguably the most shocking result of the Conference USA season. The Cougars forced five turnovers on their way to a 70-30 beating in a game that featured fifty-nine combined first downs and more than 1,100 yards of total offense. Case Keenum threw for 402 yards and six touchdowns, and the Cougars raced out to a 42-17 halftime lead. The last two meetings have been blowouts, with the Golden Hurricane kicking things off with a 56-7 beating in 2007. Hopefully this time they go down to the wire, with the winner likely leaving with the inside track to the Conference USA Championship Game.


Other Games Considered: Rice @ SMU (11/7), UTEP @ Tulane (11/7)


Week 11: East Carolina @ Tulsa (November 15th)


Another meeting that could take place again on December 5th, and it’s also a rematch of last year’s title game. The Pirates picked off David Johnson five times in the 27-24 win, making up for a yardage difference of 121 yards and an ECU offense that was just 2-13 on third downs. Tulsa finished the game with seven turnovers and in Tulsa’s three losses last season they averaged five turnovers per game. If the Pirates are to duplicate last season’s win they’ll need to get more out of their passing game; ECU had just 122 yards through the air, but when you win the turnover margin by six that deficiency can be overcome. Will there be more of the same in the rematch? We’ll find out.


Other Games Considered: Houston @ UCF (11/14), UTEP @ SMU (11/14)


Week 12: UTEP @ Rice (November 21st)


The Owls have won the last three meetings in the series, including a 49-44 thriller last season in which the teams combined for more than one thousand yards and fifty-three first downs. Unfortunately for David Bailiff he won’t have QB Chase Clement, TE James Casey or WR Jarrett Dillard since both have run out of eligibility so those weapons won’t be on the field. However, do not doubt Rice’s ability to put points on the board; their offensive system gets the ball in the air often and puts points on the board in a hurry. The same goes for UTEP, which had more of an issue defensively in 2008 than the Owls. High-scoring games have been the norm in this series so nothing less should be expected.


Other Games Considered: Tulsa @ Southern Miss (11/21), Memphis @ Houston (11/21)


Week 13: Rice @ Houston (November 28th)


The “Bayou Bucket” will be on the line, and the Cougars will be looking for some revenge after a loss to the Owls cost them a berth in last year’s conference championship game. The schools are separated by just five miles and don’t care too much for each other, which makes this an appealing game to take in on the final day of the regular season. James Casey had an outstanding day for the Owls, accounting for five touchdowns (three receiving, one passing and one rushing) and 203 all-purpose yards. He’s out of eligibility, but don’t think that Coach Bailiff won’t have some offensive wrinkles to throw at the Cougars.


Other Game Considered: Memphis @ Tulsa (11/27)


Week 14: Conference USA Championship Game (December 5th)


The pick here is that Houston will end East Carolina’s reign as Conference USA champion, beating the Pirates in the championship game.