C-USA notebook: Season of transitions
IRVING, Texas — Conference USA is accustomed to changes. The league has practically had a revolving door since it was founded in 1995 as a merger of the Metro and Great Midwest Conferences.
The 2012 football season may be the most transitional year of all.
Not only are current members Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and SMU headed to the Big East next season, C-USA introduced five new coaches at its media day Wednesday in a Dallas-area hotel.
The newcomers are Tony Levine at Houston, Ellis Johnson at Southern Miss, Justin Fuente at Memphis, Curtis Johnson at Tulane and Garrick McGee at UAB.
C-USA will also look to replace five quarterbacks who passed for more than 3,000 yards each last season.
And while four schools are moving on, C-USA will welcome new members starting next year with North Texas, UT-San Antonio, Louisiana Tech and Florida International. Charlotte and Old Dominion join in 2015.
As if that wasn't enough, C-USA had been in discussions on a merger with the Mountain West, but that proposal has stalled.
No easy start for Southern Miss
The glow from winning C-USA last year won't last long for Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles open the season Sept. 1 at Nebraska.
They also have non-conference games with Louisville and Boise State.
"They're going to get tested and they're going to get tested often," new coach Ellis Johnson, a former South Carolina assistant, said of his team. "It's a heck of a motivator in the offseason program because they know they're going to have to go out and compete with those guys."
Former Texas QB Gilbert to start for SMU
SMU coach June Jones said Garrett Gilbert, a transfer from Texas, will be SMU's starting quarterback when practices begin.
Gilbert, a top national recruit when he came out of Austin's Lake Travis High School, did not go through spring practice at SMU in order to finish his degree at Texas. Players who complete their degrees can become immediately eligible to play.
Gilbert started for Texas the last two seasons, although his 2011 season was cut short by a shoulder injury that required surgery.
Not only has Gilbert not taken a practice snap at SMU, NCAA rules don't allow Jones to observe Gilbert's workouts.
"It is a scary thought," Jones said. "But he comes in the office daily. He says he's 100 percent. He just started throwing again about the 1st of June from his shoulder operation, but he says he's feeling good."
Jones said he has been through this once before with Colt Brennan, who became Hawaii's starting quarterback without going through a spring practice after transferring.
Familiar face replaces Houston's Keenum
Houston fans should already be familiar with the player taking over for record-setting quarterback Case Keenum. Sophomore David Piland started eight games as a true freshman in place of an injured Keenum in 2010.
Piland redshirted last season and will have three years of eligibility. He is a product of Carroll High in Southlake, Texas, which has produced a number of collegiate quarterbacks including Chase Daniel at Missouri and Greg McElroy at Alabama.
Piland was named the starter near the end of spring practice.
"He's got a tremendous arm, he's got great vision, great leadership qualities, everything you need to have to be a successful quarterback," said Levine, who was promoted from the staff to replace Kevin Sumlin. "I don't like comparing young men, but he brings his own set of attributes to the table, so to speak, and I think he's going to have a tremendous season."
Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire