John Klein: C-USA still looking for contenders
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Friday, September 07, 2012
9/07/12 at 4:53 AM
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: C-USA is looking for contenders
The Big 12 and Conference USA may be wide open, deep with possible contenders, and likely full of surprises for two entirely different reasons.
As many predicted, the difference between Oklahoma at the top of the preseason Big 12 polls and teams all the way down to eighth or ninth (Iowa State and Texas Tech) may not be much.
The possibility of competitive games among the top six to eight teams appears to be very likely. Baylor, Iowa State and Texas Tech all appear better than expected. Oklahoma, through one game at least, does not appear to be unbeatable.
The same could be said of Conference USA. Where Tulsa fits may not be much different from five or six other teams.
The difference is the level of play. The Big 12 has six to eight pretty good teams.
By contrast, it would be difficult to make the case that anyone, at this point, appears to be good in Conference USA.
That's no knock on Tulsa or UTEP, who appeared to be the league's most capable teams in losses to Big 12 teams last weekend.
However, what it says about Conference USA is that the league has teams that will struggle to be competitive when they leave the league for nonconference games.
Tulsa plays host to Tulane on Saturday, the first C-USA game of the season, and the Golden Hurricane is expected to get the early lead in the C-USA West Division race with a victory.
In fact, it could be argued that Tulsa will win its next seven games after the sputtering start against Iowa State.
Tulsa, favored to win at Iowa State but a loser by two touchdowns, is as good of a bet in the league as anyone at this point.
"It wasn't what we planned by any stretch of the imagination, but it's certainly what we have to deal with," said Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship. "We'll move forward from here."
That's the best any of the C-USA coaches can say at this point. To say Conference USA stumbled out of the gate is an understatement.
Only UCF (over Akron) and East Carolina (over App State) got victories for C-USA last week.
The rest of the league really struggled.
Houston, a team many believed would be a serious challenger to win the league, lost to Texas State. Tennessee-Martin beat Memphis. Troy and Rutgers beat C-USA teams. So did UCLA, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Iowa State, Baylor and Nebraska.
No upsets. To be honest, no near upsets, either. The highlights were UTEP and Southern Miss played decently against top 10 teams.
Memphis coach Justin Fuente could have been speaking for every team in the league when he said this week "it was disappointing, and we're ready to move on."
Things got so bad in Houston, where Texas State dominated in a 30-13 victory, that UH's offensive coordinator was forced out on Monday. After one game.
"We hold ourselves to a higher standard than what was on display Saturday night," said Houston coach Tony Levine.
In some cases, it was a matter of being overmatched. Certainly, UTEP was overmatched by OU's talent. So was Marshall by West Virginia and Southern Miss by Nebraska.
"That offense (West Virginia) is going to do that to several teams this year," said Marshall coach Doc Holliday. "They're good."
The disappointments were at the top of the league. Tulsa looked like it was better than Iowa State for a quarter then did not threaten the rest of the game. SMU got absolutely swamped by Baylor. Southern Miss didn't hang around with Nebraska very long.
"Obviously, we thought we would perform better in some areas," said Southern Miss coach Ellis Johnson.
In preseason, most C-USA coaches were cautious. A lot of teams in the league are rebuilding. So, this isn't a total surprise.
"I have not taken this job and made crazy promises and outlandish guarantees," said Fuente.
For most of the league, the schedule doesn't get any easier. ECU goes from beating App State to South Carolina, a top 10 team from the mighty Southeastern Conference.
"They have SEC talent on all three sides of the ball," said ECU coach Ruffin McNeill.
Besides ECU's trip to South Carolina, Rice is at Kansas, UCF goes to Ohio State and UTEP is at Ole Miss.
Conference USA desperately needs some victories if it has any hope of putting a team in the top 25 this year.
Right now, the top 25 looks as distant to Conference USA teams as a spot in a BCS bowl.