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 2018 season is over, it’s time to go back and review the assessments that stood out and see what we got right, and what we got wrong.
In the preseason the two best QBs in C-USA were obvious: Mason Fine. Brent Stockstill. Stockstill made the All-C-USA First Team and Fine made the Second Team. No other QB came close to them. The QBs I placed in the second-tier all met expectations except for one glaring miss.
6. FAU: For the third straight season FAU has a quarterback competition. Jason Driskel’s surprise decision to retire has opened the door for former P5 quarterbacks De’Andre Johnson (Florida State) and Chris Robison (Oklahoma) to win the job. They exited spring camp in a dead heat to be named the starter. While both lack the amount of game experience compared to the QBs ranked above them, I feel confident that whoever earns the starting role will be effective.
Maybe De’Andre Johnson would have been effective in the same run-first offense Jason Driskel thrived in. Chris Robison had some solid moments at home and was terribly inconsistent on the road. For what it’s worth, I did put FAU just above the cut-off line of the “We’ll See” teams, but a miss is a miss.
Just about everything I said in the preseason about the RBs in C-USA I got right. FAU, UAB, Marshall and FIU all met expectations to warrant a Great Shape here. The teams in We’ll See (WKU, UTEP, Louisiana Tech) didn’t have a lot on paper entering the season and didn’t necessarily perform on a high level for me to think I missed on them.
I did have a bad read on two teams though.
6. UTSA: Jalen Rhodes didn’t quite pop as I thought he would. For the second straight season he shared carries with another back and finished with 659 yards and five touchdowns for 4.9 yards per carry, numbers lower than what he produced in 2017. Injuries to the line certainly played a factor but I was expecting more. In two years Frank Wilson has preferred a time-share here so expect sophomore B.J. Daniels to become a fixture this season.
11. Southern Miss: Placing USM here could be seen as a reach but I really like this group’s potential. With Ito Smith gone, seniors Tez Parks, George Payne and T’Rod Daniels will each have an opportunity to go out with a bang. Daniels saw limited action in 2017 as a JUCO transfer but had a solid spring game. Payne will come off an injury but has rushed for 940 yards in his career. Parks has flashed great potential in limited touches over the years and possesses terrific speed. I like Parks more than the other two backs and believe he’ll have a breakout season.
I went out on a limb in thinking Southern Miss belonged in the “Good Shape” tier and I was wrong. Really wrong. USM had one of the worst rushing attacks in the conference, averaging 123.4 rushing yards per game. None of the senior RBs listed above rushed for over 200 yards as freshman Trivenskey Mosley led the team with 494 rushing yards.
Of course, I was even more wrong about the Roadrunners. UTSA finished last in rushing offense, averaging 87.7 rushing yards per game. B.J. Daniels and Jalen Rhodes combined to rush for 590 yards and four touchdowns.
FAU underwhelmed here but I’m not going to be too hard on myself after the Owls lost their leader Azeez Al-Shaair in the middle of the season. I hedged on UAB getting solid production here and put them above the cut-off line in “Good Shape.”
9. UAB: There’s huge shoes that need to be filled as Tevin Crews and Shaq Jones were fantastic last season. Former four-star recruit Thomas Johnston will have ample opportunities to live up to the hype this season as a sophomore. Fitzgerald Mofor and Chris Woolbright saw the field and were solid, though they weren’t too great at causing havoc plays.
On the best scoring defense in C-USA, Fitzgerald Mofor and Chris Woolbright didn’t make an all-conference team. Only Woolbright received an Honorable Mention. While Johnston didn’t make much of a splash this season, Mofor, Woolbright, and sophomore Kristopher Moll, combined for 28.5 TFLs this season as the Blazers finished second in the country in LB Havoc Rate.
Just like everyone else, I was all-in on FAU and boy was I wrong.
1. FAU: The Owls led the conference with 20 interceptions and return all but one player (Raekwon Williams). Corners Shelton Lewis and Chris Tooley combined for 8 INTs, 13 breakups and 2 forced fumbles. Jalen Young, who led the team with 7 INTs, holds the safety spot. Andrew Soroh and Herb Miller combined for 15 run stuffs, 2 INTs and 6 breakups. This is easily the deepest secondary in C-USA.
The “deepest secondary in C-USA” finished 9th in passing yards allowed per game, allowed the 5th most passing touchdowns in C-USA with 22, and allowed the 3rd highest completion percentage in C-USA at 63.6 percent. If you might be wondering why FAU will have a new defensive coordinator next season, this is why.
12. Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles will rely on a ton of sophomores as Tarvarius Moore, Jomez Applewhite, Curtis Mikell, Cornell Armstrong and Kevin Williams Jr. (combined 18 TFLs and 9 INTs) are all gone. USM has recruited well as former three-star recruits will step into leadership roles but there’s a lot of uncertainty here.
I had valid reasons to be concerned and don’t see this as a terrible read, but I think it might be time to start giving the “Nasty Bunch” the benefit of the doubt. Southern Miss had the second best scoring defense in C-USA. They finished 10th in the country in DB Havoc Rate with Ky’el Hemby making Second Team All C-USA with 5 INTs. Picasso Nelson led the team with 45 tackles with 4.5 TFLs and received an Honorable Mention. All of this was achieved with first-year defensive coordinator Tim Billings.
Conference USA East
3. Middle Tennessee
4. Old Dominion
Conference USA West
2. North Texas
2. Southern Miss
4. Louisiana Tech
For the first time since I’ve started doing Conference USA Preseason Position Reviews, the series correctly picked not only a division champ, but the team who won it all. The Blazers finished with a conference-best 21 points, two more than “runner-up” FAU.
The biggest misses were FAU and Charlotte. The 49ers were in the bottom in just about every position review. They surpassed expectations primarily due to their defense as first-year defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer really turned things around. Spencer is now the DC at FAU, so we’ll see if he can turn around another C-USA defense.
Southern Miss, La Tech and North Texas all finished within a point of each other and that translated into the 2018 season as they all finished tied for 2nd in C-USA West with a 5-3 record. Tech beat UNT, UNT beat Southern Miss, and Southern Miss beat Tech.
Though FAU was seen by many as a potential dark horse to represent the Group of Five in the New Year’s Six, this series didn’t see them as a huge favorite in large part due to not recording a point on special teams. The Owls finished with one of the worst special teams units in the country.
At the end of the series, FAU tied with Marshall at 19 points, Middle Tennessee was right there with 18 points and FIU wasn’t that far behind with 17 points. The series correctly predicted C-USA East coming down to the wire, but just had the wrong South Florida twin being in the hunt near the end of the season.
When doing Conference USA Preseason Position Reviews, my mission is to offer some accurate insight on how things might play out for the season. There’s always going to be something I get wrong. I just hope I don’t have a gross oversight. This year I think I fared much better than the first go-round.
In 2019 when the Conference USA Preseason Position Reviews come back, I look forward to continuing the trend of providing more accuracy for how this crazy conference might pan out.