Heading into 2019, Conference USA is littered with talent across the league’s 14 member programs. While only 25 will be recognized at the end of the season as an All-Conference performer, we at UDD decided to profile our choices for the top-50 players heading into the 2019 season. Here’s numbers 40-31.
40. Issac Weaver: LT - Old Dominion
Weaver has been a fixture at the most important position on the offensive line for ODU the past two seasons.
After redshirting in 2016, he went on to miss only one offensive play in 2017 (by rule because his helmet came off during a play against Marshall), then followed that up by starting 12 games last season.
The aspiring doctor and self-taught guitarist, will be counted on to protect the winner of the quarterback competition to replace outgoing starter Blake LaRussa.
39. Aaron Cephus: WR - Rice
The 6-4, 200-pound wideout is a bit of an engima in Conference USA circles.
His talent is endless. Consistency, however, has been an issue during his first two seasons of college football.
What’s undeniable is the fact that he’s been one of the top big-play threats in the league from day one.
As a freshman, he averaged 24.9 yards per reception and followed that up with a 40-catch, 565-yard season as a sophomore in 2018.
The case for Cephus can be made that inconsistent quarterback play has played a factor in his success, as well. 2019 will certainly serve as a show and prove year for the Owls dynamic playmaker.
38. Devon Key: S - WKU
The past two seasons of Western Kentucky football have been frustrating for Tops’ fans and players alike. However, one of the bright spots without a doubt has been safety Devon Key.
He was named to the 2017 conference all-freshman team after recording 94 stops with 4.5 tackles for loss.
That was followed up by being a ballhawk in 2018, picking off three passes, while defending nine and still being a force as a tackler, making 71 tackles.
37. Victor Tucker: WR - Charlotte
Coming out of a football hotbed in Miami, Florida, one would think that Victor Tucker would have had his fair share of offers as a three-star prospect.
Instead, the 5-11, 175-pound wideout had just one FBS offer out of high school - from Charlotte.
After redshirting in 2017, Tucker more than repaid the 49ers investing in him, with 54 catches for 712 yards in 2018.
The Carol City High School product exploded onto the C-USA scene with 26 catches and 369 yards in his first four games. If Charlotte can manage more consistent quarterback play in 2019, expect Tucker to be one of the league’s top pass-catchers.
36. Maurice Alexander: WR - FIU
For three seasons, Maurice Alexander looked like a really good football player, who may just get lost in the midst of the FIU quarterback shuffle.
Then, after Spring practice, he approached the Panther coaching staff and asked to be switched to receiver. One year later, he’s one of the most dynamic players in college football.
The Florida City, Florida native seamlessly made the switch from backup QB, where he appeared in 13 contests, to slot receiver and punt returner. In the latter position, he was named to the conference first-team as a returner, and racked up 589 total yards and seven scores through the air and on the ground.
In fact, Alexander was one of two players in FBS football last season to score as a rusher, receiver and returner.
35. Willie Baker: DE - La Tech
Baker’s ranking on this list is part production and part projection. Let’s start with the production.
After playing sparingly as a freshman, he made the most out of his backup position to Jaylon Ferguson’s star role. Baker had 32 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and six sacks. Four of which came in Tech’s Hawaii Bowl 31-14 victory.
While it might be speculated that his production could take a hit with Ferguson onto the NFL, it should be noted that Baker primarily played as Ferguson’s backup, so he has experience on the field without the NCAA’s all-time leader in sacks.
The former four-star recruit was a surprise signee for the Bulldogs and 2019 will be his opportunity to show what he can do as a full-time starter.
34. James Pierre: DB - FAU
Judging a defensive back by his numbers can only tell half the story.
For some players, it’s the lack of passes coming their way, that shows the true sign of their talents.
FAU’s James Pierre is starting to become one of those players. The junior out of Deerfield Beach, Florida is one of the conference’s fastest rising players and his peers are taking notice.
He was named to the 2019 preseason all-conference team by Athlon Sports and Phil Steele, and was recognized by FAU as the most improved defensive player on their roster.
After seeing action as a reserve in 12 games as a freshman, he moved into a starting role and recorded 55 tackles and nine pass breakups from his safety position.
Look for Pierre to take the next step with standout Jalen Young’s graduation and become a major force in C-USA.
33. Dallas Connell: Guard - FIU
“Dallas Connell is one of the toughest SOB’s I’ve ever coached.”
Those words from Bryant University offensive line coach and former FIU assistant Steven Ciocci are a common refrain when asking others around the league to describe the 6-3, 305-pound senior.
Connell has worked his way into one of the better offensive linemen in Conference USA.
After coming in as a lightly-recruited two-star prospect from Jacksonville, through sheer grit and determination, he’s become a versatile anchor on one of C-USA’s top O-Line units.
His leadership in the offensive line room and on the practice field have been noted by many with the Panther program.
He’s started 24 games in the past two seasons, and is capable of playing both guard and center. Connell was named to the honorable mention C-USA team last season and is projected to make the second-team in 2019.
32. Jeff Gemmell: LB - Charlotte
The Charlotte 49ers’ defense was one of the most improved in FBS football last season. Jeff Gemmell played a large part in that improvement.
The 6-3, 230-pound redshirt senior from Wake Forest, NC, has racked up 16.5 tackles for loss and five sacks, to go along with 220 tackles in three seasons.
His most consistent trait is that wherever the ball-carrier is, he’s not too far away.
Gemmell returns in 2019 as a team captain and has a chance to break the program record for tackles in a career.
31. Chris Jackson: CB - Marshall
As a high school wide receiver coming out of Tallahassee, Florida, Jackson had offers from Florida A&M, Appalachian State, Troy, Kent State and Marshall. It’s safe to say, joining Doc Holliday’s Thundering Herd worked out well.
He’s been named to all-conference teams every season that he’s been in C-USA, with the latest being his selection to the 2018 all C-USA second team.
What he’s shown in three seasons in the conference are great ball skills, which have resulted in six interceptions, to pair with 34 pass breakups, and the ability to tackle as a defensive back.
164 tackles (93 solo) are credited to the senior defensive leader for Marshall.