Although the balance of power in Conference USA still tilts eastward, the most potent team in the league actually hails from the West Division. Tulsa, coached by Mesquite native Todd Graham, returns nine starters from an offense that led the nation with 543.9 total yards per game.

Central Florida, East Carolina and Southern Miss have become constants on the bowl scene since C-USA expanded to 12 teams in 2005 and should make the East Division race a thriller once again.

Conference breakdown

Projected order of finish with comments from staff writer Bobbi Roquemore:

East Division forecast
School Coach ’07 rec. Ret. starters
Central Florida George O’Leary 10-4, 5 off., 9 def.
Comment: Enough talent to make up for loss of RB Kevin Smith
Southern Miss Larry Fedora 8-5 6 off, 4 def.
Comment: New coach has gems in RB Fletcher, LB McRath
East Carolina Skip Holtz 8-5 6 off., 9 def.
Comment: Tough schedule might drain Pirates
Memphis Tommy West 7-6 7 off, 9 def.
Comment: Mediocrity reigns in land of Tigers
Marshall Mark Snyder 3-9 8 off, 8 def.
Comment: Has talent at skill slots but can new QB deliver?
UAB Neil Callaway 2-10 8 off., 9 def.
Comment: Not much to work with, but experience may help some
West Division forecast
School Coach ’07 rec. Ret. starters
Tulsa Todd Graham 10-4 9 off, 5 def.
Comment: Steamroller offense too much for C-USA foes to handle
Houston Kevin Sumlin 8-5 6 off., 7 def.
Comment: Lost most of firepower, but West isn’t that strong
UTEP Mike Price 4-8 5 off, 8 def.
Comment: Revamped defensive staff might not be enough
SMU June Jones 1-11 7 off., 6 def.
Comment: Jones brings energy, but streaky play inevitable
Tulane Bob Toledo 4-8 8 off., 7 def.
Comment: Not enough experienced skill players to crack .500
Rice David Bailiff 3-9 8 off, 6 def.
Comment: Offense generates fireworks, but that’s about it

Dallas Morning News