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Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Can't wait to see these things this fall

By Ivan Maisel and Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

Three Things I Can't Wait To See This Fall In Conference USA
Ivan Maisel
Mark Schlabach
1. The most impressive aspect of Memphis' 7-6 record last season is that the Tigers remained respectable in a rebuilding year. Memphis has 15 returning starters and a schedule that starts slowly. The question is whether the team can score points. Coach Tommy West has little experience at quarterback and none at tailback. If the offense clicks, Memphis will challenge for the East Division title again.

Damion Fletcher 2. Southern Mississippi junior Damion Fletcher rushed for a quiet 1,586 yards last season. That's what happens when you're in the same league as 2,000-yard rushers Kevin Smith of UCF and Matt Forte of Tulane. They've since gone to the NFL, and now we'll see if new Golden Eagles coach Larry Fedora will use Fletcher the way Fedora's predecessor, coach Jeff Bower, did. Fletcher needs 622 yards to become the school's all-time leading rusher. How quickly will he break the record?

3. New SMU coach June Jones says it's impossible to know how quickly the Mustangs will catch on to his run 'n' shoot offense. Because he doesn't have a quarterback with any experience, it might take a little longer than quickly. You assume that junior wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who needs eight touchdown catches to set the school record (currently 25), will do so. But if he doesn't do it by September, it will be a long first year for Jones and SMU.
1. Which team had the most potent offense in the country last season? It wasn't Hawaii, Texas Tech or Missouri. It was Tulsa, which averaged 543.9 yards and scored 79 touchdowns (second only to Oklahoma). Golden Hurricane coach Todd Graham will have to find a replacement for record-setting quarterback Paul Smith -- senior David Johnson leads the competition heading into the summer -- but the running game might be better. Courtney Tennial, who scored 16 touchdowns, ran for 845 yards and caught 31 passes in 2006, is back after rupturing his Achilles tendon in last year's preseason.

2. Many Southern Miss fans and boosters believed the program was stuck in neutral under former coach Jeff Bower, who led the Golden Eagles to 14 consecutive winning seasons and 10 bowl games in 11 years. New coach Larry Fedora better win big, but it might be difficult as he tries to install a spread offense with only six returning starters. One thing won't change: Damion Fletcher will have the football in his hands often.

June Jones3. Four coaches have tried to rebuild SMU from the ashes of the NCAA's death penalty and were largely unsuccessful. June Jones becomes the fifth man to give it a try this coming season, and he'll at least put a more entertaining brand of football on the field. Jones' chances of success in his first season will be better if junior quarterback Justin Willis returns to the team this fall. Willis missed all of spring practice after he was indefinitely suspended.