The Pirates have the talent to stay in games and occasionally pull off upsets, but a series of poorly timed miscues haunted the team last season. East Carolina has to find a reliable starting quarterback, kick the turnover bug and play tougher defense to contend for an Eastern Division title.
2011 record: 13-1 (8-1 in Conference USA, first in Western Division)
and successful coach Kevin Sumlin have left the program, but the Cougars are still in a strong position to avenge last season's C-USA title game loss. Quarterback David Piland, who started when Keenum suffered a season-ending injury earlier in his career, will lead what should still be a high-powered Houston offensive attack.
2011 record: 7-6 (5-3 in Conference USA, second place in Eastern Division)
Marshall is one of the few C-USA teams to returning its starting quarterback and coach. The combination of returning talent and newcomers should help the Herd compete for another bowl bid. Marshall is looking forward to hosting the Oct. 27 showdown with rival
that will likely have a major impact on the division title race.
2011 record: 2-10 (1-7 in C-USA, sixth in the East Division)
New head coach Justin Fuente inherited a tough rebuilding project. The Tigers lack clear, experienced leaders on both sides of the ball. Memphis' nonconference schedule is relatively favorable and the team should be able to surpass last season's two-win total.
2011 record: 4-8 (3-5 in Conference USA, fourth in Western Division)
Rice is working to get back to the success it had during the 2008 season, posting a 10-3 record and winning the
. The Owls followed it up with losing seasons, going 2-10 in 2009, 4-8 in 2010 and 4-8 in 2011. With a challenging schedule, a quarterback who has yet to prove he can take care of the football and new faces in the trenches, it will be tough for Rice to snap out of the slump and post a winning record in 2012.
2011 record: 8-5 (5-3 in Conference USA, third in Western Division)
SMU has thrived during coach June Jones' tenure. Jones said he believes the program has the talent needed on both sides of the ball to compete for a C-USA title. The Mustangs should get a big boost from Texas transfer quarterback Garrett Gilbert, the latest athlete expected to put up big numbers running Jones' high-flying offense.
2011 record: 12-2 (7-2 in Conference USA, C-USA champion)
The Golden Eagles lost head coach Larry Fedora and starting quarterback Austin Davis, who both contributed heavily to the team's 2011 C-USA title run. The team still returns strong athletes capable of propelling the program to its 19th consecutive winning season. The list includes senior Tracey Lampley, who is close to becoming the first player in school history to earn more than 1,000 yards apiece in the receiving, rushing, punt return and kickoff return categories.
2011 record: 2-11 (1-7 in C-USA, sixth in Western Division)
There has been considerable transition at C-USA schools, opening the door for teams to move up from the cellar of the league's standings. However, Tulane plays a relatively tough nonconference schedule, and it will likely take more time for new head coach C.J. Johnson jump start the struggling program.
2011 record: 8-5 (7-1 in C-USA, second place in Western Division)
While it will be tough to replace prolific quarterback G.J. Kinne, he was part of an elite crop of C-USA quarterbacks who exhausted their eligibility in 2011, and most teams are in rebuilding mode. Tulsa's new starting quarterback will be surrounded by talented playmakers, and the team should still be able to compete for a C-USA title and a bowl invitation.
2011 record: 3-9 (3-5 in C-USA, fourth in Eastern Division)
UAB always seems to have the potential to be a spoiler, but it lacks all the pieces needed to truly compete with the league's top teams. First-year head coach Garrick McGee must address the Blazers' weak defense, which ranked No.117 out of 120 teams in the nation last season.
2011 record: 5-7 (3-5 in C-USA, fifth in Eastern Division)
UCF plays a tough nonconference schedule, including big games at Ohio State and at home against
. The Knights, who can play for a C-USA title and bowl while the
considers their postseason ban appeal, have the talent and unprecedented depth to compete for a championship and bowl win.
2011 record: 5-7 (2-6 in Conference USA, fifth in West Division)
UTEP coach Mike Price is excited about the talented lineup of players who return this season, including preseason All-Conference USA quarterback Nick Lamaison. However, the Miners have a brutal schedule that includes a home game against Oklahoma, a road game at Ole Miss and another road game at Wisconsin.