Notes, Quotes and Slants
Notebook No. 123
Wednesday, April 30, 2003
By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist
Time for C-USA to revisit
With Tulane now mulling a step back to I-AA and the ACC seriously
considering a significant increase in membership, Conference USA's number
one priority should be abundantly clear.
The bottom line: Unless first-year commissioner Britton Banowsky moves
expansion to the top of his agenda, the adolescent league could get lost in
"(Expansion) probably would be a good idea," Southern Miss coach Jeff
Bower said last summer. "Just looking at the number, if you're sitting at
11, it looks like the intent is to go to 12 and have a championship game.
"That's going to generate a lot of revenue and more exposure for our
league. Who you add to the league, I don't know. I'm not sure how it will
How is no longer the important question for presidents of the league's
schools to ponder it's why.
In addition to the obvious reasons bigger paydays and increased
television exposure an even better motive has emerged. Without the
addition of another respectable gridiron member, C-USA will have no chance
of convincing the BCS cartel that it deserves consideration for inclusion.
Until C-USA can get a slice of the BCS pie, it can expect the gap between
itself and the power leagues to widen, a notion which recent history
Ideally, this wouldn't be a topic for debate right now, but former
commissioner Mike Slive fumbled his touchdown opportunity last year. Instead
of extending an invitation to ready-and-willing Central Florida, Slive
flirted heavily with Marshall, which seemed perfectly content playing
As a result, C-USA must deal with the side effects of not capitalizing on
the one true benefit of its television agreement with ESPN a guaranteed
nationally televised championship game on ABC which would have
significantly enhanced the league's image to viewers.
By and large, network television has become a barometer for measuring a
conference's credibility, and that alone should be enough to propel
Add to that the potential free-for-all that may commence if the Big East
is raided and the C-USA office shouldn't have to do much arm-twisting to get
the league presidents to unite on the expansion issue.
The question then becomes who and how many. After all, it's not just
Tulane that may fall by the wayside. The cloudy financial futures of both
Houston and UAB far from guarantee their long-term existence as Division I-A
In the more immediate future, C-USA would benefit greatly by adding a
school which boasts a respectable program with the potential for growth,
preferably one which fits geographically while bringing a solid fan base and
large television market to the table.
Given that criteria, Central Florida would have to be the all-out
favorite, and adding the Knights before any potential shake-ups in the Big
East could help position C-USA position itself for a BCS spot when all the
conference shuffling begins.
Adding UCF would also create an instantaneous mega-rivalry between the
Knights and current C-USA member South Florida. Heated in-state rivalries of
this sort have been severely lacking since the league's inception.
Make no mistake, though, it will take a lot more than Central Florida to
propel C-USA into the BCS fraternity, with much of the maneuvering out of
the league's control. A breakup of the Big East and a fusion with a couple
of its members West Virginia and Virginia Tech, for example would almost
have to occur.
Meanwhile, league presidents should begin seriously addressing the
relevant issues that are within their grasp.
Otherwise, C-USA will almost certainly remain in its current position
on the outside looking in.
Former East Carolina defensive back Kevin Monroe often compared his
position to being on an island. Throughout Brandon Rainer's first three
seasons, his island has been a popular one for opposing offenses to invade.
Rainer, a rising senior from Laurinburg, has spent much of his career
trying to shed the image of a guy who can't finish plays. Against North
Carolina in 2001, his near-interception of an errant Ronald Curry pass
landed in the waiting arms of Tar Heels tight end Zach Hilton for a
touchdown, proving costly in a heartbreaking 24-21 loss.
However, this spring proved prosperous for Rainer, who appears to have
again solidified his spot in the Pirates' starting lineup. First-year coach
John Thompson has sung his praises and will be counting on him to help turn
around the much-maligned East Carolina secondary.
"Brandon Rainer has really had a good spring," Thompson said. "Nobody's
noticed him because he's a corner. That's good when you don't notice them
Rainer would second that.
Garrard facing tough road
Jacksonville made a major statement about its quarterback future
Saturday. Former Marshall standout Byron Leftwich is the city's new favorite
East Carolina all-time leading passer David Garrard was being groomed
last year as the heir apparent to longtime Jaguars starter Mark Brunell and
had gained favor with then-Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin. However a
coaching change following the season altered that equation, despite a solid
performance by Garrard in mini-camp.
Though Garrard isn't about to concede his spot on the depth chart, he
faces an uphill fight. By drafting Leftwich seventh overall, the Jaguars
have no choice but to give most of the repetitions in practice to their
A fierce competitor, Garrard must widely separate himself from Leftwich
this summer in order to keep the No. 2 job. If so, the Durham native could
potentially see plenty of action next season, especially considering
Brunell's medical history.
The best-case scenario would have Garrard performing well enough to
attract trade interest from a franchise in need of a budding field general
with plenty of upside. If not, the road to NFL stardom could get longer.
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02/23/2007 01:51:25 AM