Defensive coordinators John Skladany of UCF and Andre Patterson of UTEP might want to get some extra shut eye in the next two weeks. Because once the season starts, they’ll be having their share of sleepless nights.
Conference USA returns a national-best four quarterbacks that threw for at least 3,000 yards last season – East Carolina’s Dominique Davis, Southern Miss’ Austin Davis, Tulsa’s G.J. Kinne and SMU’s Kyle Padron.
UCF and UTEP each have to face those four quarterbacks this fall – and it’s even worse for Patterson’s UTEP club, who also has to play Houston and likely NCAA record holder Case Keenum, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility.
“I think four or five years from now, people will look back and say ‘Wow, all those guys came out of that league,’ ” Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said.
Nine of C-USA’s 12 schools return their starting quarterbacks. Besides Keenum, Dominique Davis (3,967 yards passing, 37 TDs), Padron (3,828, 31 TDs), Kinne (3,650 yards, 31 TDs) and Austin Davis (3,103, 20 TDs), other returnees include UAB’s Bryan Ellis (2,940 yards, 25 TDs), UCF’s Jeff Godfrey (2,159 yards, 13 TDs) and Tulane’s Ryan Griffin (2,371, 14 TDs).
“The non-BCS schools have to play ‘up’ in non-conference games so you better be doing something a little bit different and take some chances in games with schemes or you’re going to have a tough time winning all four non-conference games,” SMU coach June Jones said. “The quarterbacks are benefiting. They’re spreading the field and doing something different and each team has their own mark.”
C-USA also returns a national-best six quarterbacks who threw 20 or more touchdowns last season.
“They’re all so versatile and they’re also great leaders,” East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeil said. “Which is not easier said than done.”
Even without Keenum last year, C-USA still had seven of the nation’s top 40 quarterbacks in passing yards per game, including four of the top 18.
“It’s an offensive league,” UTEP coach Mike Price said. “But you’re going to win it on defense if you can just slow some people down.”
All of the league’s offensive firepower has taken a huge toll on C-USA defenses. Last year, seven league teams ranked among the nation’s 27 worst defenses in passing yards allowed.
“If you don’t like going against the best [quarterbacks], then you’re not one to be in this conference,” UCF defensive end Darius Nall said.