C-USA POWER RANKINGS: Battle for Pirates’ gold

1. East Carolina Pirates (8-4, 7-1 C-USA)

The Pirates warrant the No. 1 overall spot because they have the best record in Conference USA and are hosting the conference championship. ECU has a proven playmaker in Patrick Pinkney and the experience of being the reigning C-USA champs. They should give the Cougars all they can handle Saturday as they seek to unseat the Pirates.

2. UH Cougars (10-2, 6-2 C-USA)

While the Cougars stumbled on more than one occasion this year, they handled their business after each loss and by no coincidence find themselves traveling to Greenville, N.C., to play for the C-USA title. UH will have to limit its mistakes against ECU and have quarterback Case Keenum put up his usual numbers to have a chance at winning.

3. Central Florida Knights (8-4, 6-2 C-USA)

The Knights finished the season at 8-4 overall and 6-2 in C-USA, and would be in the title game had they been part of the West division. After starting the year alternating wins and losses, UCF won five of its final six games with UH suffering one of those losses. An invitation to the St. Petersburg Bowl in Florida was a nice cap to its successful season.

4. SMU Mustangs (7-5, 6-2 C-USA)

Head coach June Jones has returned respectability to a once-woeful program in dire need of salvation. The Mustangs controlled their fate in the race for the West after UH’s stumble at UCF, but a three-point loss at Marshall the following week opened the door for UH. Jones will now return to Hawaii for the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, the first bowl berth for SMU since 1984.

5. Southern Miss Golden Eagles (7-5, 5-3 C-USA)

The Golden Eagles overcame a mid-season three-game losing streak to vie for the C-USA East title entering the final regular season game. Southern Miss dropped a 25-20 decision at ECU to seal its fate, but with a 7-5 overall record will receive a bowl invite.

6. Marshall Thundering Herd (6-6, 4-4 C-USA)

Even a 6-6 record wasn’t enough to save Marshall head coach Mark Snyder’s job, as he resigned Sunday. The Thundering Herd is still bowl eligible, but losing four of their final six games quickly erased any memories of their 4-2 start. The 52-21 season-ending loss at UTEP was the final straw in Snyder and the university’s divorce.

7. UAB Blazers (5-7, 4-4 C-USA)

Even quarterback Joe Webb’s record-setting arm and legs were not enough to save the Blazer’s season, as UAB stumbled to a 5-7 finish. Webb became the only player in NCAA history to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, and although the Blazers had a shot at the postseason entering their final two games, they fell in both, including a 34-27 home loss to UCF.

8. UTEP Miners (4-8, 3-5 C-USA)

The Miners probably deserve to be lower on this list because of their inexplicable tendency to play Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from week to week. After knocking off an undefeated UH squad in El Paso, UTEP followed up with a 35-20 loss to Memphis. The Miners also followed a home win over Tulsa with a four-game losing streak to eliminate themselves from the postseason.

9. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (5-7, 3-5 C-USA)

The Golden Hurricane was supposed to provide UH with its biggest challenge, but by the time the teams faced off, Tulsa was already in the middle of a six-game losing streak. Tulsa, playing at home, needed a fourth-quarter comeback and overtime in the season finale to defeat a Memphis team with two wins.

10. Tulane Green Wave (3-9, 1-7 C-USA)

The Green Wave should not be surprised to find itself in the bottom three, as it resided there for the majority of the season. After starting the season at 2-2, Tulane went on to lose seven of its final eight games with its only win coming in overtime against UTEP.

11. Rice Owls (2-10, 2-6 C-USA)

The Owls were in for a struggle after losing almost all of their offensive production from a year ago, and they did not disappoint. Rice lost its first nine games and was not competitive in any of them, losing by an average of 27.5 points. Help is on the way in the form of running back Sam McGuffie and quarterback Taylor Cook, but for Owls fans, next year can’t come soon enough.

12. Memphis Tigers (2-10, 1-7 C-USA)

The Tigers may not have been expected to do much this season, but even the biggest critic of the program didn’t see their level of futility being so great. The highlight of Memphis’ season was a 35-20 home win over UTEP, and its players should be commended for not rolling over in the season finale and taking Tulsa to overtime before falling 33-30. Hope is around the corner with LSU assistant Larry Porter taking over for Tommy West at head coach next season.

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