Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Cardinals aim to go out on a high

C-USA begins last season with current makeup

The Associated Press

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Conference USA will look a lot different next year, but that doesn't mean much for this football season, league coaches said Tuesday.

"We'll worry about that next year," said Randy Butler, assistant head coach for Southern Mississippi. "The league's going to change, but until Dec. 31, it's going to be like it's been."

Five of C-USA's 11 members are leaving for other leagues, including Louisville, the coaches' pick to take the conference championship this season.

The coaches' poll put Memphis second and Southern Mississippi third.

But the Golden Eagles, the league's defending champions, aren't worried about those predictions. They've been league champs four times in C-USA's eight-year history.

"We go into every season believing that, and more importantly, our kids believe that," Butler said at the league's preseason media day.

Butler, represented the Southern Mississippi because Coach Jeff Bower was unable to attend. Bower's father died late last week and the coach was home with his family.

Joining Louisville in a move to the Big East next year will be Cincinnati and South Florida. TCU is headed to the Mountain West and Army is going independent.

But C-USA coaches said league play will be particularly competitive this year, nevertheless.

"From top to bottom, it's going to be as balanced as it's ever been," Butler said.

While Memphis coach Tommy West agreed that the league is at its strongest, he was not worried about the coming changes.

"I like this league, but if you don't like it here, then move on," West said. "We wish you the best of luck, but I'm excited about the teams that'll be coming into this league."

West has built the strongest offense Memphis fans have seen in a long time, and he led Memphis to postseason play for the first time in 32 years. The Tigers beat North Texas 27-17 in the New Orleans bowl.

Like Butler, West, too, expects his team to reach for the conference championship.

"Five years ago, the goal was to beat Tennessee or beat Ole Miss, beat Mississippi State. That was what turned everybody on," West said. "Now, I want to win this league."

East Carolina was selected next to last in the preseason poll, and coach John Thompson said his focus will be winning respect from the rest of the conference.

Thompson said he made a mistake common to college coaching in letting off-field duties take up too much of his time.

"Every guy sitting in here realizes we don't coach as much as we used to coach," Thompson said. "I'm definitely going to coach more. I'm going to be hands on."

As for conference champion, Thompson said, Southern Mississippi is still the team to beat.

"Until somebody knocks them off, they're the reigning champion, and I look at it that way," he said.

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said his team wants to win the championship, too, and not just because it's the last year in the league.

"If this was not our last year, that would still be one of our goals," Petrino said. "I think what you're going to see is there might be some hostility in some of the crowds we go into, give them something to yell and cheer about, which to me is good. I think the players feed off of that, get energy and excitement from it."


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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• Nippert Stadium
• Radio: WLW-AM 700


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