Welcome in everyone! We are in the beautiful month of May, and spring football is officially over. It’ll be a long three months as we enter the dog days of summer and patiently await for Labor Day weekend to arrive.
To help all of you loyal Fun Belt fans pass some time and prepare for this next season, we will be starting our preview series here at UDD.
Just like last year, we will be going over every position over the next few weeks as we get you ready for the 2018 season. Buckle up!
Top of the Food Chain
Justice Hansen (Arkansas State)
6-foot-4, 218 pounds, Redshirt Senior
2017 stats: 305/487, 3,967 passing yards, 62.6% completions, 8.1 yards per attempt, 44 total touchdowns (37 passing, 7 rushing), 16 interceptions, 423 rushing yards, 3.2 yards per carry
Arkansas State was the top offense in the conference last season as the Red Wolves put up 37.8 points per game and Hansen was a big reason why. The former Oklahoma Sooner was the Sun Belt player of the year as Blake Anderson’s offense had a resurgence as they were in conference title contention all season. Hansen returns for his senior season in 2018 and will be a third-year starter. With his top running back and three of his top five wideouts returning, we could see even better numbers from Hansen this fall but he’ll need to cut back on the interceptions. He will be one of the top five quarterbacks in the Group of Five.
Caleb Evans (ULM)
6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Junior
2017 stats: 211/344, 2,868 passing yards, 61.3% completions, 8.3 yards per attempt, 30 total touchdowns (17 passing, 13 rushing), six interceptions, 579 rushing yards, 4.2 yards per carry
It was another 4-8 season in Monroe, but for the first time since Kolton Browning was taking snaps this program has some hope and Evans is a huge reason why. The Texas native was outstanding when given the opportunity to start as he put up monster numbers in upset wins over UL-Lafayette and Appalachian State. The Warhawks will have one of the most exciting offenses in the Group of Five and has a chance to reach bowl eligibility for only the second time in program history. Evans may be the main reason why.
Room For Improvement
Shai Werts (Georgia Southern)
5-foot-11, 200 pounds, Sophomore
2017 stats: 85/152, 929 passing yards, 55.9% completions, 6.1 yards per attempt, 10 total touchdowns (seven passing, three rushing), five interceptions, 722 rushing yards, 3.5 yards per carry
It was a brutal season in Statesboro as the Tyson Summers era came to an end and a big contributor to that was the play behind center. Werts earned the starting gig as a redshirt freshmen and went through some major growing pains. It was a roller coaster ride for Werts and he did some things you can build on. With offensive coordinator Bob DeBeese taking over, Werts appears to be a perfect fit for his shotgun option attack. Werts must improve his decision making, but he has the tools to be a really good option quarterback.
Willie Jones III (Texas State)
6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Sophomore
2017 stats: 18/37, 281 passing yards, 48.6% completions, 7.6 yards per attempt, one interception, 168 rushing yards, 3.9 yards per carry
The rebuild in San Marcos is moving at a very slow pace for Everett Withers but the Bobcats may have their quarterback of the future in Jones. The Beaumont, Texas native received sparse playing time but did flash some potential play-making ability. He has a long way to go as a passer but the dual-threat prospect has the ability to develop into the best quarterback in the Sun Belt come 2020.
Levi Lewis and Andre Nunez (UL-Lafayette)
Lewis: 28/54, 377 passing yards, 51.9% completions, 7.0 yards per attempt, three total touchdowns (two passing, one rushing), one interception 175 rushing yards, 4.7 yards per carry
Nunez: 61/99, 783 passing yards, 61.6% completions, 7.9 yards per attempt, five total touchdowns (four passing, one rushing), two interceptions
In a surprise move, senior Jordan Davis decided to transfer after spring practice and the Cajuns immediately lost their most experienced quarterback as the Billy Napier era begins. However, both Lewis and Nunez received their fair share of reps in a rough 2017 season. In the spring game, Nunez split reps with Davis on the ones but Lewis was the star as he tossed for 275 yards while running with the twos. With a rebuild ahead, the future may be brighter for the Cajuns with the sophomore Lewis behind center.
A Change Could Be Coming
Kilton Anderson (Coastal Carolina)
2017 stats: 49/109, 743 passing yards, 45% completions, 6.8 yards per attempt, seven passing touchdowns, three interceptions
After not playing in the first five games, Anderson emerged as the top quarterback for the Chants in the final month of the season as they collected their only conference wins in the last two weeks. The former Fresno State quarterback was the primary quarterback during spring ball but his ceiling may not be very high. That completion percentage will need to take a big jump if Coastal is to compete for bowl eligibility.
Taylor Lamb is finally out of eligibility and big shoes must be filled in Boone. The favorite right now to land the gig is redshirt sophomore Zac Thomas who played in four games last season. Redshirt sophomore Jacob Huesman, and freshmen Stephon Brown and Peyton Derrick are also in the mix. With the opening game occurring at Penn State, the new man better be ready to roll early.
Down in Mobile, Steve Campbell takes over this program and it appears he’s immediately shaking things up. Cole Garvin started multiple games for this program over the last two seasons but he wasn’t the the guy that took the field with the ones. The answer there would be redshirt freshman Cephus Johnson who tossed for 126 yards on 12 attempts with two scores in the scrimmage. We could be seeing the emergence of a future star.
Entering the spring, junior Kaleb Barker and redshirt sophomore Sawyer Smith were tied for the QB1 spot and after the spring it is still the same. Barker served as the primary backup to Brandon Silvers last season as he averaged over eight yards per carry and completed over 60% of his pass attempts while Smith completed over 70% of his attempt as the main backup in 2016. Barker’s running ability figures to give him an edge but I expect we’ll see both play this fall.
It appears to be a two-horse race in Atlanta as Shawn Elliott is looking for a replacement for Conner Manning. Aaron Winchester served as the primary backup last season and brings a serious run element to the position. However, junior college transfer Dan Ellington appears to be the most talented. The dual-threat lit up the defense in the spring and can hurt the defense with his legs. It’s another wide open competition in the Sun Belt.