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More conferences at a glance

By Times Staff
Published September 1, 2006


CONFERENCE USA

PREDICTED FINISH: East - UCF, Southern Miss, East Carolina, Marshall, Memphis, UAB; West - Tulsa, Houston, UTEP, SMU, Rice, Tulane

NOTABLE: UCF returns nine starters on both offense and defense from last year's 8-5 team that won the initial East Division title in the expanded conference. The Golden Knights were among six C-USA newcomers. ... Tulsa junior QB Paul Smith threw for 2,847 yards and 20 touchdowns - with only six interceptions - last season. He is among seven returning starters on an offense that averaged 33 points and 402 yards per game. ... Kevin Kolb has already surpassed Andre Ware and David Klingler on Houston's career passing list with 9,155 yards, the most among active I-A quarterbacks.

MID-AMERICAN

PREDICTED FINISH: East - Akron, Miami (Ohio), Bowling Green, Ohio, Kent State, Buffalo; West - Northern Illinois, Toledo, W. Michigan, Central Michigan, Ball State, E. Michigan

NOTABLE: Akron (7-6, 5-3) won its first league championship after nearly two decades of disappointment since moving up from I-AA in 1987. Akron won three games decided by six or fewer points. ... Northern Illinois returns the MAC's two-time defending rushing leader in Garrett Wolfe (1,580 yards, 17 TDs). ... Kent State was the worst rushing team in the nation. Memphis' DeAngelo Williams rushed for 130 yards more per game by himself than Kent's meager 46 yards per game. ... Former Nebraska QB Turner Gill is the new coach at Buffalo.

MOUNTAIN WEST

PREDICTED FINISH: TCU, Utah, BYU, Colorado State, San Diego State, New Mexico, Air Force, Wyoming, UNLV

NOTABLE: TCU was 11-1 last season and finished ranked 11th. The team has 10 starters back on offense, seven on defense and four specialists. The defense led the nation in turnover margin (plus-21), interceptions (26) and takeaways (30).... Utah returns Eric Weddle, the MWC Defensive Player of the Year. ... QB John Beck (3,709 yards, 27 TDs) has started 26 games, and only Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer started more at BYU entering his senior season.

 

SUN BELT

PREDICTED FINISH: Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas State, Troy, North Texas, Louisiana-Monroe, Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic, Florida International

NOTABLE: North Texas, which had won four Sun Belt titles, fell to a tie for last in the league last season. All five of its conference losses were by a touchdown or less. ... Louisiana-Lafayette's Jerry Babb is returning for his fourth year as starting quarterback. ... Nine starters are back for Arkansas State's defense, including DB Tyrell Johnson (25 tackles, two INT) and linebacker Devrett Wade (87 tackles, 41/2 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries). ... Middle Tennessee has a new coach in Rick Stockstill, a longtime assistant most recently at South Carolina.

WESTERN ATHLETIC

PREDICTED FINISH: Boise State, Nevada, Fresno State, Hawaii, Louisiana Tech, San Jose State, Idaho, New Mexico State, Utah State

NOTABLE: Dan Hawkins left Boise State for Colorado. New coach Chris Petersen is a head coach for the first time since leading the freshman team at UC Davis in the 1980s. ... Nevada, which shared last year's title with Boise State, has star quarterback Jeff Rowe back. ... Idaho is optimistic Dennis Erickson, who won two national titles at Miami, can turn around the Vandals. ... Along with Erickson, the league has several other accomplished coaches, including Hawaii's June Jones, who coached in the NFL, and San Jose State's Dick Tomey, the winningest coach at Hawaii and Arizona.

INDEPENDENTS

NOTABLE: Notre Dame is picked by many for the national championship. The Irish were 9-3 last season and finished in the Top 10 for the first time since 1993. The biggest challenge is improving the defense. In their three losses, the Irish gave up an average of 37 points and 527 yards a game. Overall, Notre Dame gave up an average of 397 yards a game - the most in school history. ... Eighteen starters return for a Navy team that has won consecutive bowl games and dominated Army. ... New coach Al Golden has a young staff and is trying to change the culture at Temple.

 

Information from the Associated Press and Times staff writers Greg Auman, Antonya English and Brian Landman was used in this report.