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Conference USA Preview: There are many fantasy targets to be had in C-USA.

Elliott Pohnl

Elliott Pohnl

Elliott Pohnl writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Conference USA featured high-powered offenses dominating significantly undermanned defenses last season. Expect more of the same in what should be an entertaining 2010 campaign.

C-USA boasts a talented collection of skill players, including some of the nationís top wideouts. Houstonís triple-threat of James Cleveland, Patrick Edwards and Tyron Carrier all recorded at least 1,000 yards receiving last season. Although Cleveland had shoulder surgery in the offseason, he appears primed for another outstanding campaign. Houston quarterback Case Keenum will be a fantasy star again this season after throwing for more than 5,600 yards and 44 touchdowns in 2009.

Tulsaís Damaris Johnson returns for his junior campaign and is poised for an enormous season. One of the most explosive players in C-USA, Johnson leads a potent offense that will need to put up points for the Golden Hurricane to make a bowl this season. Tulsaís defense struggled mightily against the pass last year and probably wonít be much better in 2010.

June Jones has resurrected Southern Methodist with his patented run-and-shoot offense. The Mustangs are coming off a C-USA Western Division co-championship and the schoolís first postseason appearance in 25 years. An impressive 45-10 throttling of Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl showed that the embattled program is back. Speedy wide receiver Aldrick Robinson anchors a strong offense quarterbacked by sophomore Kyle Padron.

Southern Mississippi looks to replace four starters on the offensive line but is loaded at the skill positions. The Golden Eagles have a dynamic quarterback duo featuring Austin Davis and Martevious Young. Receiver DeAndre Brown will be the focal point of opposing defenses but should have another huge season. Like many of its C-USA counterparts, Southern Miss has struggled on defense in recent years. It could be more of the same this season. Winnable non-conference games against South Carolina and Kansas have the Golden Eagles set up for a solid season.

Central Florida could be the surprise of C-USA in 2010 if it gets reliable quarterback play. Wide receivers Kamar Aiken and A.J. Guyton have game-breaking ability but might not get many chances in what figures to be a run-heavy attack. Former big-time recruit Jonathan Davis and Iowa transfer Jeff Brinson are the favorites to replace Brynn Harve if he redshirts due to a knee injury he suffered in the spring. Central Florida has arguably the best defense in C-USA, led by Josh Robinson, the latest terrific cornerback to surface for the Golden Knights. Robinson recorded six interceptions in 2009 and was named a freshman All-American.

Time is running out for Mike Price in El Paso. The Miners have talent but were victimized by a horrendous defense last season, leading to a disappointing 4-8 campaign. The defense has a new look after it allowed more than 33 points per game in 2009. Running back Donald Buckram exploded for more than 1,500 yards and 21 touchdowns and should approach those numbers in his senior season. Trevor Vittatoe struggled as a junior after two sensational seasons under center, leading to a decline in the production of talented receiver Kris Adams. The Miners should be an improved team, but it might not translate to victories, with a brutal road schedule including trips to Arkansas, Tulsa and New Mexico.

Marshall fired coach Mark Snyder after a 7-6 season and hired former West Virginia assistant Doc Holliday. The veteran coach has some nice weapons on offense, led by Antavious Wilson, who caught 60 passes for 724 yards as a freshman. Aaron Dobso and Lee Smith provide additional targets for quarterback Brian Anderson.

East Carolina just needs a quarterback. First-year head coach Ruffin McNeill has a defensive background but brings with him the circus offense from Texas Tech. The Pirates have two impressive weapons on the perimeter, with the versatile Dwayne Harris and Darryl Freeney. Harris racked up more than 1,000 yards of total offense in 2009 and could have a huge year. Life after Patrick Pinkney isnít going to be easy. Dominique Davie, a Boston College transfer, might be the best candidate to take over at quarterback.

Conference USA could be a fantasy goldmine in 2010 thanks to overmatched defenses and a handful of teams that simply wonít be very good.
Players to Target

Case Keenum, QB, Houston

Keenum posted career highs across the board in 2009, and his 2008 numbers weren't too shabby to begin with. The 6-foot-2, 210, gunslinger completed 70.3 percent of his passes last season for 5,671 yards and 44 touchdowns. He threw 15 interceptions, but that will happen when you attempt 700 passes. All in all, there's no reason to believe that Keenum won't repeat his performances of the last two seasons; that means 5,000 yards and 40 TDs for the Cougar.

Kyle Padron, QB, Southern Methodist

Padron played so well over the last seven games of the 2009 campaign, that original Mustangs quarterback, Bo Levi Mitchell, who missed time during the second half of the season with a dislocated shoulder, actually decided to transfer. Padron punctuated a standout end to the season with a 32-for-41, 460-yard, two-touchdown thrashing of Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl. The spread offense could produce some gaudy numbers for Padron, who racked up nearly 2,000 passing yards and 10 touchdowns in half a season last year.

G.J. Kinne , QB, Tulsa

Last year was supposed to be Jacob Bower's season to shine in Tulsa's spread offense. Instead, Kinne took the job and never let go, passing for 2,732 yards and 22 touchdowns while rushing for 399 yards and five more scores last season. With nine returning offensive starters and 1,000-yard receiver Damaris Johnson lining up on the outside again, Kinne should find more success with the high-octane Golden Hurricane attack - 3,500 total yards and 30 total scores are within reach.

Austin Davis/Martevious Young, QBs, Southern Mississippi

Head coach Larry Fedora hasnít decided how he will handle his two talented quarterbacks in 2010. Young took over after Davis suffered a season-ending injury last season and threw 16 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Davis has a slight edge in talent, but Young is a senior and has improved dramatically as a passer. Be wary of a two-quarterback system, which would limit the fantasy value of both players.

Donald Buckram, RB, UTEP

Buckram went from relative anonymity to superstardom in 2009, posting more than 2,000 total yards and 21 touchdowns. Buckram averaged 6.2 yards per carry en route to 1,594 yards and 18 scores on the ground, ranking fourth in the nation with 132.8 yards per game. What's more, he added 453 yards and three scores through the air. Quarterback Trevor Vittatoe is back, along with stud WR Kris Adams, so Buckram will have some friends to lean on and take some pressure off in the high-octane UTEP offense. Expecting 21 touchdowns again could be foolish, but Buckram should still be in the neighborhood of 1,500 rushing yards and fine the end zone a bunch.

Bryce Beall, RB, Houston

With Charles Sims ineligible for 2010, Beall is in line for a huge season. He started as a freshman in 2008 and totaled 1,761 yards from scrimmage while scoring 17 times. His numbers dropped last year in a timeshare with Sims, but 2010 should mark a return to stardom for Beall, whose elusiveness and receiving ability make him a perfect fit for the Houston offense.

Aldrick Robinson, WR, Southern Methodist

The cat-quick Robinson saw his numbers drop-off a bit in 2009, but should easily pass the 1,000-yard mark this season. June Jones throws the ball all over the field but tends to run in the red-zone, which somewhat limits Robinsonís potential for touchdowns. Nonetheless, he is a game-breaker and a valuable fantasy asset.

Dwayne Harris WR, East Carolina

A versatile athlete who has settled in at wide receiver, Harris amassed more than 900 yards with 12 touchdowns last season. Those numbers could get even better in 2010 in what again will be a pass-happy ECU offense. Harris is also an incredible kick returner, returning three for touchdowns last year.

DeAndre Brown WR, Southern Miss

Coming off a 1,000-yard freshman season, much was expected from Brown last year. While his final numbers Ė 47 receptions, 785 yards, nine touchdowns Ė were disappointing for a top-ranked receiver last season, considering the circumstances they were actually fairly impressive. Leg and shoulder injuries cost Brown two games and limited him throughout the year. As a result, he topped 100 yards just twice, both coming in the final two regular season games. Brown is a beast of an athlete at 6-6 with excellent speed, and coach Larry Fedora said he enters 2010 bigger, stronger and faster.

James Cleveland, WR, Houston

Cleveland had offseason shoulder surgery, but he played last season with a torn labrum and still finished with 104 receptions for 1,214 yards and 14 touchdowns. Yes, he has to share targets with a stable of quality receivers, but with quarterback Case Keenum set to challenge 6,000 yards passing, there will be more than enough to go around. The 6-2 Cleveland, who missed two games to injury last year, has as much upside as any receiver option.

Tyron Carrier, WR, Houston

Carrier took a backseat to James Cleveland last season Ė but just barely. Carrier posted 1,000 yards for the second straight season, catching 91 passes for 1,029 yards and seven touchdowns. Just 5-8, Carrier isn't much of a red-zone threat and likely won't get into the end-zone as often as Cleveland, but his receiving numbers should again be among the nation's best in Houston's prolific passing attack, especially in PPR leagues. For leagues that count return stats, bump up Carrier on your cheatsheets. In addition to his receiving production, Carrier returned four kickoffs for touchdowns last season.

Patrick Edwards, WR, Houston

Houston became the fourth team in NCAA history to have three receivers with more than 1,000 yards receiving last season as Edwards joined James Cleveland and Tyron Carrier with 1,021 yards on 85 receptions. The 5-9 Edwards only found the end-zone six times last season. A few more scores would help his ranking, but Edwards remains a good fantasy play as a product of the Houston system.

Damaris Johnson, WR, Tulsa

Johnson is a tiny receiver with game-breaking ability. His numbers should improve significantly from last season Ė expect about 90 receptions and at least 1,000 yards. His touchdown numbers need to improve for his value to rise dramatically. At 5-8, he isnít much of a target in the red-zone but certainly has the potential to go the distance whenever he touches the ball.

Antavious Wilson, WR, Marshall

One of the better freshman receivers in college football last season, Wilson should have a strong season for one of Conference USAís best teams. The Thundering Herd are loaded at receiver and will spread the ball around in 2010. Wilson is clearly the best of the bunch and should produce about 70 receptions.

Kris Adams, WR, Texas-El Paso

Adams caught 14 touchdowns in 2008, but inconsistent quarterback play derailed his 2009 season. He should rebound in Mike Priceís explosive offense and is a valuable commodity in the red-zone. Even though Adams will face double-teams throughout the season, he is an attractive fantasy option thanks to Conference USAís poor secondary play.

Top Sleepers

Martin Ward, RB, Marshall

Ward showed flashes in a reserve role behind Darius Marshall last season and is expected to be the featured back for Marshallís solid offense. The stocky sophomore is a nice option around the goal line and should score at least 10 touchdowns in 2010. It would be a good idea to stay away from Ward until conference play begins; Marshall opens the season with games against Ohio State and West Virginia.

Charles Ross, RB, Rice

Rice went from 10 wins in 2008 to 10 losses in 2009. The Owls should improve a bit in 2010, led by Ross, who rushed for nearly 500 yards as a freshman. He would put up huge numbers if it werenít for the arrival of Michigan transfer Sam McGuffie.

Biggest Bust

Trevor Vittatoe, QB, Texas-El Paso

In his first two seasons at UTEP, Vittatoe threw 58 touchdowns. His junior season was a total disaster by comparison. His yardage ndeclined sharply and he threw just 17 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. The emergence of Donald Buckram had a lot to do with the decrease in production, but Vittatoe simply made too many mistakes. UTEP will most likely be a running team again this season, limiting his opportunities in 2010.

Top Newcomers

Jeff Brinson, RB, Central Florida

Brinson was considered to be a star in waiting early in his career at Iowa before injuries buried him on the depth chart. The St. Petersburg, Fla., native returns to his home state and should see action early and often for the Golden Knights, who might be without last yearís starting running Brynn Harvey for at least the first month of the 2010 season, if not longer.

Darnell Williams, WR, Alabama-Birmingham

The JUCO transfer is expected to be a top target for UAB, which is extremely thin and inexperienced at wide receiver. He should produce immediately, assuming the Blazers are able to get productive play from the quarterback position.

Darryl Fields, RB, Southern Methodist

Fields spurned offers from Arkansas and Oklahoma State to sign with the Mustangs. The departure of 1,000-yard rusher Shawnbrey McNeal opens the door for the 6-2 Oklahoma native to play immediately.

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