The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

August 8, 2013

Tulsa, ECU chance to exit C-USA with another title

— Tulsa and East Carolina get one more chance to win another Conference USA title before moving to a new league.

Or maybe a newcomer like Louisiana Tech or Middle Tennessee can get started with a championship in C-USA, which still has plenty of teams coming and going.

The Bulldogs and Blue Raiders are among six new teams this season in Conference USA, those additions more than offsetting the four that left. Tulane joins Tulsa and East Carolina as schools in their final season in the league — and that trio will be fully replaced over the next two years.

"Honestly, it's exciting to me. I think that having the fact that it's already out there that there's going to be transition when the year's over, it takes away the concern," said Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship. "What I'm more excited about is getting to play Texas-San Antonio and Larry Coker, and North Texas and Dan McCarney, and Skip Holtz and Louisiana Tech."

Defending C-USA champion Tulsa lost eight starters from the league's top defense but is still the West Division favorite. The Golden Hurricane also won the league's first championship game in 2005. East Carolina, which has also won two titles in that span, returns eight starters on both offense and defense and is favored in the East on its way out.

"It's not that awkward and being picked always just makes it a real challenge, but it shows great respect for your program," Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill said.

McNeill is in his fourth season at East Carolina, where he replaced Skip Holtz, who is back in C-USA in his first season at Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs didn't play in a bowl last season even after going 9-3 while averaging 51 points and 578 yards per game. Sonny Dykes, another son of a well-known head coach, left for California and there are also 32 seniors gone from that squad.

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