Men's preview: Conference USA

UCF's Jose Joia (left) and Ricardo Gouveia

Men's Rankings »

RankNameSchoolRating
1Casey FernandezSo. Miss.  66.31 
2Tomasz AndersonJ'Ville St  67.12 
3Chase KoepkaUSF-Bulls  67.27 
4Hunter StewartVanderbilt  67.27 
5Maverick McNealyStanford  67.32 

Men's Team Rankings »

RankNameRatingEvents
1South Florida 68.18 
2Illinois 68.90 
3SE Louisiana 69.66 
4Florida State 69.78 
5Baylor 69.89 

In December 2010, Central Florida coach Bryce Wallor received a tip from senior Nuno Henriques, who had heard a few students at NCAA Division II Lynn University were interested in playing for the Knights.

“They sort of fell into my lap,” Wallor said.

And now, behind the remarkable play of newcomers Ricardo Gouveia and Jose Joia, the Knights this fall cracked the top 20 nationally and have established themselves as the class of Conference USA.

Dedicated college golf followers will know the names. At Lynn, Gouveia won the Phil Mickelson Award as the most outstanding freshman in Division II, and Joia earned first-team All-American honors in his lone season at the Boca Raton, Fla., school.

“They want to be good,” Wallor said of Gouveia (41) and Joia (78), both of whom are inside the top 80 in Golfweek’s rankings. “They want to set team records and play the best golf they can.”

UCF won twice in the fall but may be even better in the spring, when sophomore Greg Eason is expected to return after sitting out two events (wrist injury). Brad Schneider (No. 59) won medalist honors at the season-opener. Gouveia followed that up with a win in the Knights’ next event, the Adams Cup. And then Joia, playing in one of the toughest events of the fall, tied for 10th at Isleworth.

Asked his projection for the spring season, Wallor said: “I think the sky might be the limit for this team. They’re capable of doing anything they want to do.”

• • •

Top of the class: Central Florida

Best player this fall: Ricardo Gouveia, UCF

• • •

Past champions

2007: Tulsa

2008: UAB

2009: Central Florida

2010: Central Florida

2011: Central Florida

• • •

Conference capsules

Central Florida (Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: No. 19)

Victories at their first two events were encouraging, but the Knights finished no better than eighth at top-tier events. A healthy Greg Eason could initiate that jump to the next level.

UAB (No. 28)

Four different players have finished fifth or better individually in an event this season, helping the Blazers to a surprising start.

Tulsa (No. 36)

After an auspicious start -- second in the season-opener -- the Hurricane hasn’t finished better than fifth in four starts.

Memphis (No. 38)

Impressive victory at the Wolfpack Intercollegiate, in which three Tigers finished in the top 10, set the tone for a decent fall.

East Carolina (No. 44)

The only thing missing from the Pirates’ resume so far is a win; senior Harold Varner, meanwhile, picked up his second individual title.

SMU (No. 55)

Up-and-down fall for the Mustangs. Need more consistency from Max Buckley and Harry Higgs, who have played relatively well in spots.

Houston (No. 69)

Won Notre Dame’s event, but also had three other finishes outside the top 8. That may be a better indicator.

Southern Miss (No. 108)

Poor finishes sandwiched around a team title at the 13-team Squire Creek Invite. That title was school’s first since ’05.

Marshall (No. 150)

The Herd ended the fall poorly, with a 10th and 13th in their past two events.

Rice (No. 218)

Rough start for the Owls; no finish inside the top 11 in four starts last fall.

Texas-El Paso (No. 221)

Ninth-place finish at their last event this fall, the Herb Wimberly, was the lone highlight for the Miners.

Conference championship

Conference USA, April 22-24, Texarkana Country Club, Texarkana, Ark.

Lance Ringler's prediction

Tulsa. Going with what looks like an upset at this point in the season. Tulsa underachieved this past fall and should close the gap on UCF this spring. Don’t be surprised if UAB hangs around as well as Memphis.

• • •

Complete coverage

Wondering how your favorite conference is shaping up headed into the spring season? Who is our favorite to pick up the automatic qualifier? Check out our conference-by-conference break down with our complete coverage page here.

• • •

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