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C-USA coaches pick Herd 4th

Marshall SID Report

IRVING, Texas - As Conference USA moves to a two divisional format in 2005, Southern Miss and UTEP have been chosen to win their divisions, according to the league's head coaches

The Golden Eagles were picked to win the East Division crown, garnering 64 of a possible 72 points, while the Miners were picked to win the West, posting 68 total points. The Marshall Thundering Herd was picked to finish fourth in the East Division behind the Golden Eagles, UAB, and Memphis.

Southern Miss finished 7-5 last season, closing out the year with a victory in the Wyndham New Orleans Bowl. The Golden Eagles enter 2005 as one of only eight Division I-A programs to post 11 consecutive winning seasons as USM welcomes back 17 returning starters.

Senior quarterback Dustin Almond engineers the offense, while linebacker Trevis Coley and cornerback John Eubanks, also one of the nation's top kick returners, anchor the defense.

UAB was picked to finish second in the East Division. The Blazers made their first bowl trip last season, earning a spot in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, and look to build on that success this fall.

Senior quarterback Darrell Hackney (3,070 yards and 26 TDs in 2004) owns virtually every UAB passing record and will lead a highly-charged Blazer offense. Junior pass rushing specialist Larry McSwain (C-USA-high 13 sacks) tops the players on the UAB defense.

Memphis, slated to finish third in the East, is coming off back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time in school history and runs into 2005 with a Heisman Trophy candidate in tailback DeAngelo Williams, the preseason Offensive Player of the Year.

Williams led the nation last season in rushing touchdowns with 22 and was second nationally in rushing yards with 1,948 as he looks to pick up his third straight C-USA offensive Player of the Year award. The Tigers special teams unit boasts one of the nation's most productive kickers in Stephen Gostkowski (20-of-24 on field goal attempts and 108 total points).

Following Memphis is Marshall, a school that is changing more than just conferences this fall. Former Ohio State defensive coordinator Mark Snyder takes over for Bob Pruett as head coach and the Thundering Herd will have at least 16 new starters this fall.

Sophomore running back Ahmad Bradshaw showed a great deal of promise last season while safeties Curtis Keyes (108 tackles) and Chris Royal (six INTs) headline the defense.

East Carolina and UCF round out the selections in the East, tying for fifth place. Skip Holtz takes over the reigns of the Pirates ship this

season and will look to talented players such as sophomore running back Chris Johnson and senior linebacker Richard Koonce to lead a resurgence of the East Carolina program.

UCF opens its second campaign under George O'Leary, the man who engineered a turnaround at Georgia Tech several years ago.

The Golden Knights were one of the nation's youngest teams last season and will look to players such a senior wide receiver Brandon

Marshall and senior linebacker James Cook for improvement in UCF's first year in Conference USA.

UTEP was the nation's most improved team under Mike Price in 2004 and this fall they join C-USA seeking a conference title.

The West Division favorites according to the league's coaches, the Miners welcome back junior quarterback Jordan Palmer (2,818 yards, 26 TDs) as well as their top seven receivers from last season. Defensively, UTEP has five returning starters, led by senior linebacker Thomas Howard (62 tackles).

Houston, which possesses one of the top offenses in the league, was picked to finish second in the West.

Junior quarterback Kevin Kolb and senior running back Anthony Evans (788 yards in seven games) are just two of the offensive stars on the Cougar squad. Free safety Will Gulley (71 tackles and four interceptions) is a playmaker and leads UH on the defensive side of the ball.

Tulane, picked third in the West, has established itself as an offensive power in recent years and this year should be no exception. Three straight Green Wave quarterbacks have gone on to start in the NFL and junior Lester Ricard (1,881 yards and 21 TDs in 2004) could be on the

road to being the fourth. Senior linebacker Anthony Cannon has topped the 100-tackle mark in each of his first three seasons in a Tulane uniform.

New C-USA member Tulsa was chosen to finish fourth in the West according to the coaches.

The Golden Hurricane feature the nation's most explosive kick returner last season in Ashlan Davis. The preseason Special Teams Player of the Year, Davis set a new NCAA record for kickoff returns for touchdowns with five.

On offense, Uril Parrish topped the 1,000-yard mark last season, becoming the first Tulsa player in seven years to accomplish that feat.

Rounding out the selections in the West are Rice and SMU.

The Owls have one of the nation's top ground attacks, having led the nation in rushing offense last season. On the other side of the ball, preseason Defensive Player of the Year John Syptak heads up the Rice defense. Syptak was a first team All-Conference selection last year after registering 69 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and eight sacks.

SMU fielded the nation's youngest team in 2004, with 57 freshmen and 28 sophomores on last season's roster. The Mustangs return 20 starters this fall, including all 11 on offense. Tight end Ryan Kennedy was one of the squad's top offensive performers in 2004, while defensive back Alvin Nnabuife (team-high 80 tackles) led the defense.