During the month of January, Golfweek will preview the 2014 spring season for each conference. Check out all of the previews here.
Today, we look at Conference USA:
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5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
• Top of the class: Alabama-Birmingham
• Player to watch: Wilson McDonald, Alabama-Birmingham. McDonald finished the fall ranked 31st in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings and if his sub-70 scoring average is any indication, he’s poised for a big spring.
• Freshman to watch: Kevin Reilly, Rice: The Owls won’t win the conference team title, but the freshman from Oviedo, Fla., showed during the fall he has the game to challenge for an individual title.
• Conference championship: April 27-29, Oak Tree Country Club, Edmond, Okla.
• Past champions (since 2009): Houston (2013), Memphis (2012), Central Florida (2009-11)
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(Golfweek/Sagarin rank in parentheses)
- Alabama-Birmingham (10): The Blazers won the Georgetown Intercollegiate and posted three other finishes of third or better during the fall. UAB boasts arguably the best top 5 in the conference with five players posting 12 rounds and a sub-72 scoring average. This team is led by senior Wilson McDonald, who led the team in scoring average (69.8) and won medalist honors at the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate. Sam Love, Golfweek’s 72nd-ranked individual, is also a senior. The Blazers have a tough spring schedule that includes trips to the Schenkel Invitational and Stanford U.S. Intercollegiate.
- Charlotte (66): Three sixth-place finishes and two eighth-place showings comprised the 49ers’ fall. They also finished behind UAB at both the Topy Cup and Jerry Pate. But Charlotte challenged itself with the 19th toughest fall schedule, and that could pay dividends this spring. Senior Franco Castro led the team with a 71.47 scoring average and also had one of the team’s two top-5 individual finishes in the fall.
- East Carolina (81): The Pirates didn’t finish better than fourth in four fall events while no player had a scoring average below 73. But give the Pirates credit for playing one of the more competitive schedules in the conference (106th in the country). Eric Brady led the team with one top 10 and five rounds of par or better.
- Middle Tennessee State (84): Like East Carolina, the Blue Raiders played a tough fall schedule and didn’t get ideal results, finishing sixth twice, at the Rees Jones and Warrior Princeville Makai invitationals, eighth at the Carpet Capital, and 12th at the David Toms. No player finished the fall ranked better than 220th, meaning someone will need to step up if this team wants to have more success this spring. Junior Brett Patterson is the most likely to be that guy.
- North Texas (94): It’s tough replacing the likes of Carlos Ortiz and Rodolfo Cazaubon, but the Mean Green have managed. North Texas played four formidable events during the fall and despite not finishing better than sixth, it still finished inside the top 10 in all four of them. Sophomore Gonzalo Rubio was the team’s standout during the fall with a 71.44 scoring average and a victory at the Jim Rivers. He also finished the fall ranked 69th by Golfweek.
- Tulsa (95): The Golden Hurricanes bookended the fall with top-5 finishes, but they didn’t finish better than 11th in three other fall starts. Trips to the John Hayt and Arizona State Thunderbird Invitational will give this squad a couple good tests this spring.
- Southern Mississippi (99): The Golden Eagles won the Jim Rivers Intercollegiate, but also were 10th at the Fighting Irish Gridiron Classic. Eight players competed in at least two of the team’s three fall events, so Southern Miss has plenty of pieces; it’s just a matter now of choosing the right ones.
- Texas-El Paso (105): The Miners managed two runner-up finishes in five fall events, but were also 10th at the William H. Tucker Invitational. Martin Simonsen finished the fall ranked 317th by Golfweek and was the only UTEP player ranked inside the top 500.
- Louisiana Tech (119): Began the fall with last-place finish at Golfweek Conference Challenge, but things got a little better as Louisiana Tech finished eighth at the David Toms, third at the Jim Rivers and sixth at the ASU Fall Beach Classic to close the fall.
- Marshall (125): The Thundering Heard won twice during the fall, at the John Piper and Patriot intercollegiates, but also had the 227th hardest fall schedule in the country.
- Old Dominion (126): The Monarchs were fifth three times in four fall events. Jamison Randall makes this team go and is ranked 299th by Golfweek – that’s nearly 400 spots higher than his closest teammate.
- Rice (142): Freshman Kevin Reilly had a nice fall, posting two top 10s and a 72 scoring average. As a team, Rice had just two top 10s in four fall starts.
- Texas-San Antonio (147): The Roadrunners may have a cool nickname, but their fall season left much to be desired – just one top 10 and a last-place finish at the William H. Tucker Intercollegiate stands out.
- Florida Atlantic (180): The Owls finished fifth, second and third in its three fall events, but the level of competition wasn’t there – FAU played the 244th toughest fall schedule in the country.