Spring football is finally here and with that come more than a few players to watch in Conference USA.
Some are in the midst of position battles, while others are recovering from injury or looking to have a breakout season.
Here a few names to keep an eye on during the spring.
FIU: Tayland Humphrey-DT
Humphrey sent shock waves throughout the recruiting landscape by choosing FIU over Power-five heavyweights such as Alabama, Florida State and LSU in 2017.
The 6-5, 350-pound defensive tackle was the highest rated recruit in the composite ranking era to ever sign with the Panthers.
However, his first season in blue and gold was somewhat up and down.
He began the season closer to the 375-pound mark and finished the season with 13 tackles and only one tackle for loss.
For the Panthers to take the next step, they’ll need an improved effort from their run defense, which finished 12th in C-USA and 92nd among FBS teams in rushing yards allowed.
The level of talent Humphrey possesses is unquestionable.
What remains to be seen, is if he’ll be able to actualize that potential, in his final collegiate football campaign.
If he’s able to, all roads to the C-USA title game may lead through Riccardo Silva Stadium.
FAU: Willie Wright-WR
With the departure of Devin Singletary and Kerrith Whyte Jr., Wright’s play will have to advance to another level.
The Owls’ slot receiver led the team in receiving as a freshman, but his numbers took a dip in 2018, with the emergence of Jovon Durante and Harrison Bryant.
With Durante headed to the NFL, Wright will once again be the top threat among the wideouts.
Especially with the uncertainty around starting quarterback Chris Robison’s status (suspended through spring practice), Wright’s role in the slot will be key in helping whoever may be behind center have a reliable target.
MTSU: Asher O’Hara-QB
Five years, 106 passing touchdowns and over 12,000 passing yards later, the Brent Stockstill era is over in Murfreesboro.
Now, the keys to the Blue Raider offense may squarely be in the hands of Asher O’Hara.
The JUCO product out of suburban Chicago had a gutsy outing against FIU.
In relief of an injured Stockstill, O’Hara went 9-20 passing for 114 yards, but added 85 yards rushing on 21 carries, in a 24-21 loss to the Panthers.
If he can improve as a passer, he has similar athletic ability to his predecessor, that will lend itself well to helping Rick Stockstill’s club compete for another bowl appearance in 2019.
Charlotte: QB Competition
First-year head coach Will Healy is sitting on a proverbial gold mine (pun intended) with the 49ers.
Here are the facts: Charlotte flirted with a bowl game last year (5-7), had one of the top defenses in the conference and they possess arguably C-USA’s top running back in Benny Lemay.
One of the major factors that kept them from qualifying for a bowl was the inconsistent quarterback play.
Evan Shirreffs and Hasaan Klugh combined for four passing touchdowns and six interceptions, while former walk-on Chris Reynolds showed flashes of being the answer, before suffering a season-ending injury.
Heading into 2019, Shirreffs returns as a graduate, Reynolds is back from injury and Healy has added former USF quarterback Brett Kean as a grad transfer.
The Niners have one of the toughest schedules in C-USA, but if they can get consistency from the quarterback position, they have a shot to a be surprise team in the East.
Old Dominion: QB Competition
Anyone who watched ODU play during the 2018 season knows that they massively underachieved.
With talent like Oshane Ximines, Jon Duhart and Travis Fulgham, there’s no reason that the Monarchs should have been a four-win team.
While that type of disappointment doesn’t just lie squarely with the quarterbacks, it’s going to be a huge focus in the spring, quite frankly, because Bobby Wilder has made it one, by adding two JUCO players and a true freshman.
Former Michigan State quarterback Messiah deWeaver arrives from East Mississippi CC, Stone Smartt was a first-team JUCO All-American last season, and Hayden Wolff is a three-star recruit from Venice, Florida.
Then, there’s the wily veteran of the group.
19-year-old redshirt sophomore Steven Williams, who’s the Monarchs’ one-time quarterback of the future.
It’ll be worth watching to see who can emerge from the four-man race.
Marshall: Obi Obialo-WR
The Herd have more than enough talent to be in title contention come December, and a huge part of that is wideout Obi Obialo.
The former Oklahoma State Cowboy was the number two receiver to Tyre Brady’s starring role in 2018.
He hauled in 42 receptions for 508 yards and four touchdowns in 12 starts, but with Brady gone, look for those numbers to increase.
Obialo brings a physical presence similar to Brady, at 6-3, 210-pounds.
He, along with a healthy Isaiah Green, look to be one of the conference’s most dynamic quarterback-receiver tandems in 2019.
WKU: DeAngelo Malone-DL & QB Competition
Western Kentucky is another team that didn’t live up to expectations in 2018.
The result of that, was Mike Sanford being dismissed after an underwhelming 9-16 record during his two years as head coach.
New head coach Tyson Helton inherits a team with some pieces and a few question marks.
A solid building block is Malone, who recorded 60 tackles, nine tackles for loss, six sacks and an interception for the Tops last season.
After being named to the C-USA All-Conference honorable mention team last season, he has a chance to make the first or second team in 2019.
As for the quarterbacks, it’s another crowded room.
Davis Shanley was the most efficient of the signal-callers last season, before suffering a concussion against FIU.
Steven Duncan led the team in passing yards, while highly-touted prospect Kevaris Thomas will be in the mix, along with former Arkansas Razorback starter in Ty Story.
It’ll be another four-way battle to see who can open the season against Central Arkansas.