Three-yards-and-a-cloud fans will want to avoid CUSA as the conference is going to be lighting it up all year long, featuring some of the best offense and worst defense in college football for 2011.
When it is all said and done, the conference might be home to 5 of the top 10 QBs, 4 of the top 10 WR, a few 1,500 yard rushers, and a guy out West who could rewrite the TE record book. On the other end of the excellence spectrum, it is entirely possible that at least half the league will finish 100th or worse in either rush defense, pass defense, or both.
Even middling guys who will not even smell a professional team south of the Great Lakes could put up decent numbers on par with the household names from some of the other power conferences just by virtue of the wide-open nature of offenses in this conference plus the generally putrid defenses, on top of the obvious stars this season, there will be lots of great value picks that will likely be around later in your draft.
East Division 2011 Preview
ECU could average 40+ per game this season, it all starts with QB Dominique Davis who absolutely thrived in year 1 of the new offense last season to the tune of over 4,000 total yards and 46 scores while completing almost 65% of his passes. Despite the loss of 3 OL and top pass catcher Dwayne Harris, Davis could very well exceed last year’s gaudy numbers with another year of experience in the system under his belt. If Davis (a senior) goes down early in the season, Brad Wornick is the most likely guy to fill in for 2011 based on game experience, but the competition for starting rights in 2012 is wide open, with 4 or 5 legit contenders to go along with Wornick, so keeper fans hold off on stashing one away until the backup battle becomes a little clearer.
The WR corps is loaded, despite the loss of Harris. #1a should be Lance Lewis, but he is currently trying to get his grades in order. Things look good but aren’t final yet, so if you take him high you should try and get an insurance policy. Mike Bowman is most likely the #1b guy, but will sit out the opening game, serving a 1-week suspension for a bar fight over the summer. #1c looks to be Justin Jones, who only had 5 TDs in only 21 grabs (being 6-8 probably had something to do with that). Also keep an eye on true frosh wideout Dan Webster, who was in for spring and drew rave reviews from the staff.
At RB watch out for the potential breakout of a superstar: Reggie Bullock was the national offensive JuCo POY in 2010, and it appears as if he has won the starting gig over a crowded backfield. Despite playing in a pass-first, pass-second offense, and with the dreaded RBBC threat looming like a Sword of Damocles until they show otherwise, he has the potential to pile up crazy numbers assuming he gets the lion’s share of the carries with all those running lanes sure to be wiiiiiide open. Plus, a running game might actually be ECU’s best defense considering their actual team defensive unit finish dead last in the nation in 2010 by just about every metric. Getting up big with the passing game then trying to drain clock with the ground game might be their only hope. Also keep an eye on electric true frosh Chevelle Buie at RB. He was a very highly touted APB with great wheels, hands, vision, and balance. He could end up RSing, but will be one to watch for 2012, especially if Bullock blows the eff up and cashes in his chips.
The schedule is tough to start, South Carolina and Virginia Tech in back-2-back weeks to kick things off, then a BYE in W3, then North Carolina in W5, but it is smooth sailing from there, do watch out for UCF in Week 12, right in the middle of your playoff run.
Even though only 4 starters return on D, they are really the only school in the division who can actually play defense, translation: 4 Knights back on D = 11 starters back from ECU. The D should once again be good enough to slow down opposing offenses just enough to eek out another division title. And with sophomore QB Jeff Godfrey back as the unquestioned starter after winning the job early last season, the offense should be able to more than hold its own. But outside of the QB and the DEF, there might not be much going on of fantasy interest with the Knights, who tend to really spread the passes out to a number of targets rather than focus on one or two guys. At RB it becomes a little clearer, but still not great fantasy news: Latavius Murray, Ronnie Weaver, and the returning Brynn Harvey (missed all of 2010 with a knee) should form easily the best RB corps in the conference, but none are likely to crack 1,000 yards individually. The OL returns 4 starters so Godfrey should stay clean and whoever ends up running the ball should have plenty of holes. NOTE: do keep an eye on Miami transfer Storm Johnson at RB for 2012.
Generally speaking, the schedule is nice. Only BC in Week 2 and BYU in Week 4 should provide pause, and watch out for @SMU in week 7 (the Mustangs should have the best D in the conference this season). Playoff schedule is nice and squishy with Southern Miss (not your daddy’s Eagle team last year, finished #100 against the pass), ECU, and UTEP.
There is really nothing to get excited about here, fantasy-wise. Marshall is thoroughly average all around. The D is pretty good by CUSA standards, but probably not draftable-good, more like matchup-good. The O is steady but completely unspectacular. Starting QB battle appears to be over, with AJ Graham coming out on top, but the debate isn’t 100% finalized yet. The Heard didn’t have a running back crack 500 yards last year and might not have one turn that trick this season either. Starting WR Aaron Dobson has been tabbed by some as a potential breakout candidate with the departure of TE Lee Smith, but those departed catches could just as easily go to the new starting TE Jamie Hatten.
Austin Davis is back in his 4th season as starting QB, and you know that means he is a savvy vet ready to feast on opposing CUSA Ds. He is always good for 3,000+, with WRs Kevin Bolden and Quentin Pierce being the main beneficiaries. Bolden is more of the deep threat and could approach 1,000 yards and 10 scores. RB Kendrick Hardy should provide some pop in the ground game and should also go over 1,000 yards, but will likely split carries with Desmond Johnson who is more of a pass-catching threat.
Only 2 OL return though…The schedule has a W7 BYE but really has no must-sits, with only SMU in W8 and @UCF in W11 as opponents that should make you think (Phil Steele says SOS #117 of 120). The playoff run is just about as sweet as it gets with UAB in W12 and Memphis in W13.
The D is putrid, but the O should excite. RB Pat Shed is a sneaky play to potentially crack 1,200 yards on the ground, but his value increases considerably in a PPR league as he had 47 grabs in 2010 for almost 500 yards. When it is all said and done in January, don’t be surprised to see Shed in the top 10 of APY for RBs. He isn’t your prototypical RB but he is a great fit for the offense, and helping his cause: the other ball carriers from last season have both graduated. QB Bryan Ellis finish last year just a hair under 3,000 yards passing, and should be in store for more of the same, his key will be cutting down on the 25-12 TD-INT ratio. Patrick Hearn figures to be the #1 WR and was the star of the spring game, but you have to take that with a grain of salt since he was going against the UAB defense…Despite the great spring and being the most experienced returning pass catcher, the Blazers will most likely instead return to the committee approach they had in 2010, with 4 guys each getting 30+ grabs, expect more of the same in 2011 until proven otherwise.
Oddly, the Blazers open with a BYE IN WEEK 1, then play the Gators in W2. But after that things are CUSA-soft outside of a visit from Mississippi State in W6.
Memphis is switching up to the face-pace-no-huddle offense are starting to show signs of life, but they have so far to go all around before they are merely bad, if you are risk-averse it might be best to avoid all Tigers on draft day. Do keep an eye on RB Jerrell Rhodes - The one-time Miami commit has star written all over him, and after splitting time in 2010 the job is all his, but the offense returns only 3 starters and will be breaking in 4 new faces on an OL that wasn’t very good last year anyway. And the D might force the Tigers is to catchup-mode for most of the season, which will also limit the carries. JuCo record-writer Andy Summerlin is going to be the QB, so he might be a sneak pick for you, and his main target will be Marcus Rucker @ WR, but there aren’t a lot of options after Rucker, which is potentially good fantasy news and at the same time potentially a bummer: unless a viable #2 target steps up, Ds will be able to easily key on the passing game.
The Tigers open with Mississippi State and then the coast is clear until a Week 10 BYE, watch out for SMU in W4 and @ UCF in W9.