Philadelphia, PA – UCF has been up and down since George O'Leary took over as head coach. The Knights finished 0-11 in 2004 but rallied for eight wins the following season. In 2006, the club dipped back down to 4-8 but zoomed forward the next year with a 10-win campaign.
UCF missed out on postseason play last year as the team finished below .500 for the first time since 2008. Count on the Knights to turn things around this year and win the league title. Unfortunately, they are the heavy favorites to do so.
Time now to take a team-by-team look at the league with predicted SU overall and conference records for those wagering on over/unders for total victories.
6) UAB (25-1 - All odds courtesy of 5Dimes) - The Blazers are 7-13 ATS as home favorites but 9-5 as home underdogs the last seven years
Offense - The Blazers averaged just 20 ppg last season with an experienced offensive line. This year, only one lineman has ever started a collegiate game.
Defense - UAB ranked last inside the conference in scoring and total defense last season while finishing 119th nationally in tackles for loss. The secondary loses all four starters so another putrid defensive effort is in the cards.
Prediction - The Blazers will have a difficult time winning two games this season. Take under 3.5 victories at +145 (2-9, 1-7).
5) MEMPHIS (40-1) - The Tigers are 4-11 as home underdogs the last three years.
Offense - The Tigers have finished as one of the bottom 10 teams nationally in scoring the last two years. Seven starters return but they do lose their starting quarterback along with their leading rusher and receiver. However, former Texas Tech QB Jacob Karam has a chance to lead the offense back to respectability.
Defense - This year's defense is more experienced than last year's despite the loss of first-round draft choice Dontari Poe. This unit will not be confused with UCF's defense but it might not be as bad as it has been of late.
Prediction - The Tigers were 8-3 to the under in 2011. Look for many more overs this season (4-8, 2-6).
4) MARSHALL (10-1) - The Thundering Herd is 11-22 as a road underdog the last six years.
Offense - This group was tied for fourth in league play in scoring but 10th in total offense. With eight starters back, the offense will improve in yards gained but might not take a big jump in scoring.
Defense - Marshall finished fifth nationally in tackles for loss last year. Nonetheless, eight of the top nine team leaders in that category are no longer with the team.
Prediction - Marshall is 22-13 to the under in its last 35 games. That 63 percent winning percentage will be flipped upside down in 2012 (4-8, 3-5).
3) EAST CAROLINA (8-1) - The Pirates are 4-8 as road underdogs the last three years.
Offense - This year's offense is the most experienced one Ruffin McNeill has had since becoming head coach at East Carolina in 2010. The only question mark is finding a quarterback to replace Dominique Davis.
Defense - The Pirates' defense moved from last to fourth in league play last season allowing 370 yards per game compared to 473 the year before. More improvement is expected with a much stronger front seven.
Prediction - The Pirates will have more ATS wins than losses for the first time since the 2009 season (7-5, 5-3).
2) SOUTHERN MISS (5-1) - The Golden Eagles are 8-4 as road underdogs the last four years.
Offense - Even though they averaged one half-yard more per play inside C-USA last season, the Golden Eagles averaged 10 fewer points per game compared to 2010. This year the passing game takes a huge hit with the loss of Austin Davis and his top two receivers.
Defense - Southern Miss loses 10 of its top 16 tacklers which will make it difficult to match last year's success.
Prediction - The Golden Eagles had a phenomenal year in 2011 winning 12 games and covering eight. Both numbers will be down in 2012 so take under 8.5 wins at +115 (7-5, 6-2).
1) UCF (5-2) - The Knights are 12-5 as home favorites the last three years.
Offense - The Knights averaged over two touchdowns less per game in league play last year (compared to 2010) even though they averaged just nine fewer yards per game. The major reason was an inability to score touchdowns in the red zone. Look for much-improved numbers all across the board in 2012.
Defense - Even though last year's defense lost seven starters, the unit allowed just one point per game more than in 2010. The defense will be even better this season with eight starters back.
Prediction - UCF will rebound after a disappointing campaign and dominate as it did back in 2010 (10-2, 7-1).
6) RICE (25-1) - The Owls are 7-16 as road underdogs the last four years.
Offense - The offensive line has been ravaged by graduation which will limit the effectiveness of the entire offense.
Defense - The Owls gave up nine fewer points per game in conference play last year (compared to 2010) but they allowed only 28 fewer yards per game. They have not allowed fewer than 33 ppg since the 2003 campaign and this year will be no exception.
Prediction - Rice's ATS record will eclipse its SU mark for a fourth consecutive season (2-9, 1-7).
5) TEXAS-EL PASO (15-1) - The Miners ended last year with a five-game ATS losing streak.
Offense - It's not often an offense loses almost every single starter and sees its numbers improve but that's what took place in El Paso last season. This year's crew is much more experienced but the schedule also is more demanding.
Defense - Last year's defense allowed a full touchdown more per game inside the league than in 2010. This year's unit will take a step forward, especially since the majority of the Miners' opponents have new starting quarterbacks.
Prediction - Four wins seems to be the limit so go with under 4.5 wins at -130 (3-9, 2-6).
4) TULANE (30-1) - The Green Wave is 3-9 as a home underdog the last three years.
Offense - This year's offense should demolish last season's putrid numbers. Remember, the Green Wave played seven road games last year and the 2012 schedule is much more manageable.
Defense - Tulane had its best run defense since 2007 last year but three- quarters of the line depart. On the other hand, the back seven shows a lot of promise so the defense has the potential to surprise.
Prediction - One of this year's best bets is taking over 2.5 wins for Tulane at -150. The Green Wave will have its best season since 2002 (6-6, 4-4).
3) SMU (5-1) - The Mustangs are 4-11 as home favorites the last three years.
Offense - After averaging 34 ppg the first half of the season, the Mustangs averaged just 19 ppg the rest of the way. Former Texas signal caller Garrett Gilbert takes over at quarterback but he will have to work behind a line that loses all five starters.
Defense - The defense has been the strength of this team the last few seasons and five of the top six tacklers come back in 2012.
Prediction - Another solid play is to take under 6.5 wins for SMU at +115 (5-7, 4-4).
2) HOUSTON (9-2) - The Cougars are 13-5 as home favorites the last four years.
Offense - "Down but not out" should be Houston's motto this season. The loss of Case Keenum and the top three receivers is devastating, but David Piland (8- game starter in 2010) returns. This offense looks very similar to 2008 when the Cougars lost all of their top receivers and still averaged over 40 ppg.
Defense - Due to the quick-strike offensive attack, the defense was on the field for more plays than any other team in the league. Still, the group allowed just 20 ppg in Conference USA play. Expect more of the same in 2012.
Prediction - Houston will not average 57 ppg in league play but the Cougars should finish with an above .500 ATS mark for a second straight season (9-3, 6-2).
1) TULSA (5-1) - The Golden Hurricane is 14-4 ATS in conference play the last two years.
Offense - Tulsa finished second inside Conference USA in both scoring and total offense last season. Quarterback G.J. Kinne leaves along with three offensive line starters but there is enough talent on board to keep Tulsa chugging along.
Defense - After allowing between 29 and 30 ppg in league play in both 2009 and 2010, the defense held conference opponents to just 20 ppg in 2011. There is a very good chance for that number to remain the same in 2012.
Prediction - The Golden Hurricanes went 9-4 to the under last year. Expect more of the same this season (9-3, 7-1).