During the offseason we took the task of breaking down Conference USA position-by-position in our Conference USA Preseason Position Reviews. Now that the 2017 season is over I figured it’d be fun to go back and review the assessments that stood out and see what we whiffed on and what we got right.
My assessment of the quarterbacks turned out to be spot on for the most part. I was a bit overzealous in thinking J’Mar Smith was the third best quarterback in C-USA. However, I was right in placing the duo of Brent Stockstill and Mike White as the two best quarterbacks in C-USA. The most glaring “miss” was Mason Fine.
9. North Texas: As a true freshman last year Mason Fine looked to be in over his head as he passed for 1,572 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions. He completed 59 percent of his passes with a sack rate of 12 percent. Those are some pretty bad numbers in an air raid offense. Listed at 5’11 and 173 pounds, Fine’s size is no doubt a concern as he suffered a shoulder injury late last season which caused him to miss the bowl game. Seth Littrell said junior Quinn Shanbour is competing with Fine in fall camp to be the starter. Shanbour has attempted just one pass in his college career.
I thought Mason Fine would take some steps forward. I did not foresee a breakout season though. FIne passed for 4,052 yards with 31 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Fine was named Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year and was a first-team All-Conference USA selection. Safe to say he’ll be in the “Great Shape” category next year.
The best position group in C-USA entering the season lived up to the hype. I’ll pat myself on the back for picking FAU to have the best running backs in C-USA.
1. FAU: The Owls have one of the best rushing duos in the country in Devin “Motor” Singletary and Greg “Buddy” Howell. As a true freshman Singletary bursted onto the scene, averaging 6.7 yards per carry with 1,016 yards and 12 touchdowns. The fact Singletary played sparingly the first four games - just 14 carries for 36 yards - makes his numbers all the more impressive. Howell has been a mainstay in FAU’s backfield for three years now and rushed for 833 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2016. Both ran behind an offensive line that was ravaged by injuries so 1,000 yards each isn’t too far out of the question this season if FAU’s line stays healthy.
Devin Singletary was so good Greg Howell didn’t see the amount of carries I thought he would get. Singletary rushed for 1,920 yards and 32 touchdowns. Motor broke just about every FAU record, was named an AP All-American, and won the Conference USA Most Valuable Player award. He’ll be a junior next year.
I should have trusted my instincts and put UAB in the “Good Shape” category without knowing who would be the lead back.
13. UAB: James Noble, Donnie Lee and Kalin Heath all looked good during the spring game. Considering how the Blazers have been a run-first team under Bill Clark and produced Jordan Howard I think UAB will be just fine here.
Turned out to be Spencer Brown in the end. Brown was named the Conference USA Freshman of the Year and rushed for 1,329 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The receiver position was kind of hit or miss production wise. Middle Tennessee and Old Dominion were wrecked by injuries at the top so I’m not gonna be too hard on myself. Near the bottom of the rankings I saw a lot of potential in Louisiana Tech and North Texas. Pulled the trigger on La Tech being in “Good Shape” but as I did throughout the series, I put North Texas below the cut-off line and placed them in “We’ll See”.
9. Louisiana Tech: The Bulldogs must replace 3,354 yards and 31 touchdowns worth of production from Carlos Henderson and Trent Taylor. Alfred Smith and Tulane transfer Teddy Veal are talented prospects and should be able to hold their own once the season starts. Veal especially, as he was a standout wide receiver for Tulane. Not to mention a ton of three-star receivers await. I’m giving Tech the benefit of the doubt by placing them here as the potential is obvious and their recent history for reloading at the skill positions suggests they’ll be fine.
Teddy Veal was named C-USA co-Newcomer of the Year. Veal finished the season with 74 catches for 950 yards and seven touchdowns. He shared the award with North Texas’ Jalen Guyton, who finished the season with 49 catches for 775 yards and nine touchdowns.
11. North Texas: North Texas’ air raid offense will rely on new contributors this season as senior Turner Smiley returns as the only familiar face. Sophomore Tyler Wilson had two touchdowns last year and due to his speed, he appears destined to be the quick slot receiver. Three-star JUCO Jalen Guyton was the best recruit in this year’s class per 247 and he had a nice spring. In this offense there’s catches to go around, we just don’t know who’s gonna do the catching.
Old Dominion started strong but as we all know, injuries proved to be too much for them. I recall UTSA fans letting me know that the Roadrunners should have been placed in the “Great Shape” category and they were right. I put UTSA in “Good Shape.”
4. UTSA: Marcus Davenport is the face of a unit that ranked 53rd in DL Havoc Rate in 2016. The Roadrunners need to find an end opposite Davenport with Ben Kane’s graduation, and Kevin Strong Jr. seems to be the guy (6.5 TFLs, one sack, and two forced fumbles last year). Nose tackle is a question mark but two freshmen played last year and Wilson brought in two three-star tackles this year to join them.
Marcus Davenport was named the 2017 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year as he finished with 8.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. Kevin Strong was great too, posting 7.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks.
Conference USA East
1. Old Dominion
2. Western Kentucky
3. Middle Tennessee
Conference USA West
2. Louisiana Tech
3. Southern Miss
6. North Texas
The biggest misses were North Texas and Old Dominion. Throughout the series Old Dominion kept landing in “Great Shape.” If they weren’t wrecked by injuries they might have played to their potential and been a factor in C-USA East.
As for North Texas, I just didn’t pull the trigger on putting them in “Good Shape.” Several times I placed them just below the cut off line. Another miss was UTSA, as the Runners were killed by injuries on the offensive line.
All in all though when going back I didn’t find myself committing too many oversights. During the offseason we’ll definitely be bringing the Conference USA Preseason Position Reviews, with hopefully more accuracy in 2018.