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QB changes aplenty in Conference USA

Case Keenum seemed like he was at Houston forever while he set all those NCAA passing records.

Keenum played in five seasons, getting a medical redshirt after tearing an ACL early in 2010. He finally finished his college career last season by becoming the first FBS quarterback with three 5,000-yard passing seasons, throwing for 5,631 yards and 48 touchdowns as the Cougars won 13 games.

Conference USA had five 3,000-yard passers last season, but all of them are gone - Keenum, Austin Davis at Southern Miss, Tulsa's G.J. Kinne, East Carolina's Dominique Davis and SMU's J.J. McDermott.

That means a lot of new names this season at the most visible position. A year after a season dominated by quarterbacks, the only signal-caller to attend C-USA media day this time was UTEP's Nick Lamaison, an eight-game starter in 2011.

"We may not know their names now, but I bet by next season you will see some quarterbacks here,'' Rice coach David Baliff said. "Some of those guys really rise up and make a difference for the program. Just the parity in Conference USA, it's going to boil down to who can take care of the football, who can make the big plays and who can tackle.''

SMU, Houston, Central Florida and Memphis are in their final C-USA seasons before moving to the Big East. They will be replaced next season by North Texas, Louisiana Tech, Florida International and Texas-San Antonio.

While losing the most prolific passer, Houston may also have the most ready replacement.

When Keenum got hurt two years ago, David Piland was a true freshman who threw for 2,641 yards and 24 touchdowns in eight games. The Cougars redshirted him last year preparing for post-Keenum.

"I told him this word for word - Case Keenum, I physically saw him months earlier leave the locker room after he was done playing and he took his shoes with him,'' said Cougars coach Tony Levine, one of C-USA's five new head coaches. "There are no shoes to fill for David Piland. He's got his own shoes, he wears a different size. He's young, but he does have eight games of starting experience under his belt.''

A look at C-USA:

EAST

  • MARSHALL - Key players: WR Aaron Dobson, RB Tron Martinez, QB Rakeem Cato, SS Devin Arrington. Returning starters: 8 offense, 5 defense.
  • Notes: Won four of last five games last season, including a bowl victory over future C-USA foe Florida International. ... Four of their wins were by six points or less, and another was a seven-point overtime victory. ... Cato threw for 2,059 yards with 15 touchdowns as a freshman last season. ... Among six departed defensive starters are all three linebackers.

  • SOUTHERN MISS - Key players: RB Tracey Lampley, LB Jamie Collins, CB Deron Williams. Returning starters: 6 offense, 4 defense.
  • Notes: Set school record with 12 wins last season, winning the C-USA title with 49-28 victory over previously undefeated Houston in league championship game. It was their fifth conference title, but first since league went to divisional play in 2005. ... New coach Ellis Johnson was Southern Miss defensive coordinator in 1988-89 and head coach at his alma mater, The Citadel, from 2001-03. ... Lampley is an all-purpose player who ran 91 times and caught 47 passes last season.

  • UCF - Key players: RB Latavius Murray, WR Quincy McDuffie, FS Kemal Ishmael, SS Clayton Geathers, WR J.J. Worton. Returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense.
  • Notes: Return top three rushers from last season, all who rushed for more than 400 yards. ... The Knights have played in three of the seven C-USA championship games. They have also had three losing seasons in that same span, including last year's 5-7 with a three-game losing streak in November. ... Worton had 41 catches last season, a school record for freshmen.

  • EAST CAROLINA - Key players: DB Damon Magazu, RB Torrance Hunt, LB Jeremy Grove, WR Justin Hardy. Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense.
  • Notes: Coach Ruffin McNeil is starting his third season. ... Magazu, who had 80 tackles and four interceptions last season, is the only returning starter in the secondary. ... Have to replace record-setting quarterback Dominique Davis, who in only 25 games set school records for completions (727) and TD passes (62).

  • MEMPHIS - Key players: LB Akeem Davis, QB Jacob Karam, P Tom Hornsey. Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense.
  • Notes: New coach Justin Fuente spent past five seasons as an assistant at TCU, where he was co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach the last three years. ... The Tigers were outgained 491 total yards to 274 last season. ... Davis is a nickel back who had 78 tackles last season and led the team with three interceptions and four fumble recoveries.

  • UAB - Key players: Returning starters: QB Jonathan Perry, RB Greg Franklin, WR Jackie Williams, WR Patrick Hearn, LB Marvin Burdette. Returning starters: 7 offense, 4 defense.
  • Notes: Garrick McGee spent the past four seasons as an Arkansas assistant before becoming UAB's fourth head coach. ... Blazers haven't had a winning season since 2004. ... Jonathan Perry started last six games at quarterback last season. He threw for 2,042 yards and 10 TDs in eight games.

    WEST

  • HOUSTON - Key players: QB David Piland, RB Charles Sims, LB Derrick Mathews, LT Jacolby Ashworth. Returning starters: 5 offense, 6 defense.
  • Notes: Houston's 54 wins since 2005 are the most in Conference USA. ... Ashworth has started 25 games at left tackle the past two seasons for an offensive line that allowed only 1.3 sacks per game for the nation's top passing offense. (682 pass attempts). ... Sims ran for 821 yards and nine TDs last season. ... Coach Tony Levine spent the past four seasons as a Houston assistant. He took over when Kevin Sumlin left after the C-USA championship game, and the Cougars won their bowl game over Penn State.

  • TULSA - Key players: RB Trey Watts, RB Ja'Terian Douglas, WR Willie Carter, WR Bryan Burnham, S Dexter McCoil, LB Shawn Jackson. Returning starters: 6 offense, 7 defense.
  • Notes: McCoil has 13 career interceptions, matching school record. ... Junior Cody Green went into fall practice as the starter to replace departed quarterback G.J. Kinne. Green will have the benefit of Tulsa's top two rushers (Watts, Douglas) and top two receivers (Carter, Burnham) being back from last season. ... After a brutal early stretch with games against three top-10 teams, Golden Hurricane won their first seven C-USA games before a loss in the regular season finale to Houston.

  • SMU - Key players: RB Zach Line, WR Darius Johnson, LB Taylor Reed, LB Ja'Gared Davis. Returning starters: 3 offense, 7 defense.
  • Notes: Garrett Gilbert, who as a freshman played for Texas in the BCS national championship game in January 2010, will likely be the starting quarterback. Gilbert transferred to SMU and completed his undergraduate degree to be eligible to play this season, instead of having to wait another year. ... Mustangs have been to three consecutive bowl games. They have won seven games in three straight seasons for first time since 1980-84, before the NCAA death penalty. ... Johnson has been the MVP in the Mustangs' last two bowl games. ... Will have five new starting offensive linemen.

  • UTEP - Key players: QB Nick Lamaison, WR Michael Edwards, S DeShawn Grayson, P Ian Campbell. Returning starters: 7 offense, 4 defense.
  • Notes: The Miners haven't had a winning record since 2005, when they went 8-4 in their first C-USA season. ... UTEP returns eight player who had multiple touchdown catches last season. ... Coach Mike Price is going into his ninth season in El Paso.

  • RICE - Key players: TE Luke Wilson, K Chris Boswell, WR Vance McDonald, LB Cameron Nwosu, CB Bryce Callahan. Returning starters: 5 offense, 5 defense.
  • Notes: Since winning 10 wins in 2008, coach David Bailiff's second season, the Owls have won only 10 games combined the last three seasons. ... Callahan led all FBS freshmen with six interceptions last season. He had as many interceptions (three) as completions against him over the last four games (12 attempts).

  • TULANE - Key players: Returning starters: QB Ryan Griffin, RB Orleans Darkwa, WR Wilson Van Hooser, LB Trent Mackey, LB Darryl Farley. Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense.
  • Notes: New coach Curtis Johnson spent the previous six seasons as receivers coach for the New Orleans Saints. He has been part of a Super Bowl title and an NCAA national championship, as an assistant coach at Miami in 2001. ... Green Wave had one of the league's most experienced quarterbacks with third-year starter Griffin. ... Mackey had 145 tackles even while missing the season finale last year. ... Tulane's last winning season was in 2002.


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