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Spring QB competition: C-USA

February, 8, 2011
2/08/11
9:00
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We continue our look at spring quarterback competitions with a look at Conference USA. This league is actually pretty solid when it comes to its top quarterbacks, with Case Keenum coming back and joining G.J. Kinne of Tulsa, Austin Davis of Southern Miss and Dominique Davis of East Carolina among others. But a few others have some question marks:

UTEP

[+] EnlargeTrevor Vittatoe
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinUTEP is replacing school record-holder Trevor Vittatoe and has to find a new starting quarterback for the first time since 2006.
Who’s out: Trevor Vittatoe, the school’s all-time leader in passing yards (12,439), passing touchdowns (97) and total offense (12,291).

Who’s competing: The Miners will also have a new starting quarterback for the first time since 2006 after Vittatoe started every game since 2007 (49 total). Redshirt freshman Javia Hall, sophomore Carson Meger, senior Tate Smith and junior college transfer Nick Lamaison are the candidates. Meger and Smith saw limited action last season, but Lamaison is the most intriguing candidate. Lamaison was the Offensive Player of the Year for both the All-California and All-American teams after leading Mt. San Antonio College to a 13-0 record. He went 300-of-499 for 3,993 yards with 30 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season and has two years of eligibility remaining.

Marshall

Who’s out: Brian Anderson.

Who’s in: A.J. Graham and Eddie Sullivan return. Graham was a redshirt freshman last season and Sullivan a true freshman and both played. But the most intriguing candidate could be Conelius Jones, a January enrollee who will be eligible to play in the spring. Jones signed with Michigan out of high school last season but did not qualify academically. He sat out this last year but was able to get his test score and should be in the mix to compete for the starting job.

Memphis

Who’s competing: Nobody is really out, but the job will be open again. Ryan Williams started the last 10 games last season as a true freshman but struggled with consistency. Coach Larry Porter will want to take another look at Cannon Smith, who went into the season as a starter before sustaining a concussion and then playing sporadically. There also Andy Summerlin, a junior college transfer who signed in 2010 but injured his shoulder last spring and was out for the fall. Memphis is considering moving back to the spread, but there's nothing definitive on that just yet.
Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program heading into the spring:

Central Florida Knights
Spring practice starts: March 19
Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • The Knights will need to develop offensive line talent after allowing 2.54 sacks per game and failing to block for a rushing offense that ranked 82nd in the country. The Knights return all but two offensive linemen and have one coming in the spring.
  • The quarterback battle will heat up with early enrollee Jeffrey Godfrey, who already has impressed coach George O’Leary. Godfrey will compete against Rob Calabrese for the starting role.
  • The Knights will have to find replacements for three key members of the defensive line -- DE Jarvis Geathers, RT Torrell Troup, LT Travis Timmons. The defense was the main reason the Knights finished 8-5 and won their final five games.
East Carolina Pirates
Spring practice starts: March 22
Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • With a new coach, a new system, and a crop of new starters, East Carolina will have its work cut out for it this spring. New head coach Ruffin McNeill needs to replace 15 players with starting experience, which won’t be easy with just a month to work.
  • The most underrated positions the Pirates have to fill are punter and kicker. All-American Matt Dodge is gone as is kicker Ben Hartman, who set the school record for career scoring. Finding replacements for those two is a top priority.
  • New offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley will be implement Texas Tech’s offensive system with just two scholarship quarterbacks and a team that relied on its running game. Riley is confident he can install all of his spread offense this fall, but there’s no telling how quickly the Pirates will pick it up.
Houston Cougars
Spring practice starts: March 27
Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • The one thing that really kept Houston from an undefeated season was its defense. Brian Stewart, who was named the defensive coordinator in January, inherits a young team with a lot of talent, but he has some work to do to catch the defense up to the offense by September.
  • Quarterback Case Keenum returns for his senior season, but his center, Carl Barnett, does not. Barnett started 39 games, so Keenum will have to establish a good rapport with his new center this spring. Blake Sargent, who was the backup last year, appears to be the front-runner.
  • Even though the Cougars did not lose many starters on offense, coach Kevin Sumlin will look for more athletic players to rotate into the mix. Last season, 19 players had at least one catch and 12 had double-digit catches.

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