The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

July 25, 2013

Still-changing C-USA bigger at 14 teams for 2013

(Continued)

Tulsa was the unanimous pick by the coaches in their preseason poll to win the West Division in its last C-USA season. East Carolina, another soon-departing school, is favored in the East after getting 11 of 14 first-place votes.

East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said it's a bit different but "not that awkward" getting ready to play a final season before changing leagues.

"Honestly, it's exciting to me," Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said. "What I'm more excited about is getting to play Texas-San Antonio and Larry Coker and North Texas in Dan McCarney, and Skip Holtz at Louisiana Tech, schools we haven't had a lot to do with recently. That makes it a lot more exciting for us."

The six newcomers were split equally among the two divisions, with former Sun Belt teams Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic and Florida International in the East. In the West are North Texas, also from the Sun Belt, and former WAC teams Louisiana Tech and UTSA.

Louisiana Tech has a lot of changes after going 9-3 last season while averaging 51 points and 578 total yards per game. The Bulldogs lost 32 seniors and coach Sonny Dykes left to become head coach at California.

New Bulldogs coach Skip Holtz, who won consecutive Conference USA titles at East Carolina in 2008 and 2009 before going to South Florida, is excited to be back in the league and for Louisiana Tech to have a chance to build more natural conference rivalries.

"I know for us being in Northern Louisiana and having Southern Miss, North Texas, Rice, UTSA, Tulsa, all of a sudden you've got car-ride trips for your fan base, where people get in the car and put the flag in the window, and they can go to a game," Holtz said. "Their fans can also come to our place, which I think is going to be a completely different atmosphere for Louisiana Tech, because being in the WAC, every trip's been a plane ride."

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