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 30-21.
30. Tyler King: RB - Marshall
King’s inclusion on this list could divide C-USA fans into three camps. Those who feel this ranking is correct, those who feel it’s too high and those who question why he’s on this list at all.
I’ll address all three of those factions.
Yes, the Fort Meade, Florida product has had injury and consistency issues. However, what’s not up for debate is his talent and production when he’s 100 percent.
He burst onto the college football landscape with a 100-yard performance in his first game for the Herd and finished his freshman season with 820 yards on the ground.
King’s 2018 got off to a slow start and soon as he started to hit his stride with three straight 100-yard rushing performances, he missed the final six games of the season.
Brenden Knox came on strong towards the end of last year and King will split reps with him, but if King can start quickly and play a full season, he’s a top-three back in C-USA.
29. Ben DeLuca: S - Charlotte
Very few players in Conference USA have as complete of a game as Charlotte’s Ben DeLuca.
As is the case with many players on this list, DeLuca was lightly recruited coming out of Orlando’s Bishop Moore High School. The only programs to offer him were Charlotte, Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina and Cincinnati.
Like his teammate Victor Tucker, the sure-tackling safety has more than repaid the 49ers investment in him.
In three seasons, he’s amassed 261 tackles, four interceptions and 14 passes defensed. Additionally, he’s forced seven fumbles, which include his five in 2017. That effort was good enough to lead all players in FBS football during the season.
28. J’Mar Smith: QB - La Tech
Heading into the 2017 season, J’Mar Smith had massive shoes to fill.
The prior two seasons of Bulldog football produced 68 touchdown passes and 8,643 passing yards from starters Jeff Driskel and Ryan Higgins.
While he hasn’t reached the level of success as his predecessors, Smith has led Tech to two straight bowl victories in as many seasons as the starter and has the talent to put together a 4,000-yard season in 2019.
The 6-1, 230-pound signal-caller is the third best quarterback in the conference behind James Morgan and Mason Fine, but, in my opinion, he’s the head of the pack of the group that sits directly behind those two.
His 56.5 completion percentage will need to improve, however, what he brings is the rushing dynamic from the QB position.
Smith has 592 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns in his Bulldog career.
27. D.Q. Thomas: LB - MTSU
While Brent Stockstill and the offense have garnered most of the headlines for the Blue Raiders, D.Q. Thomas has quietly become one of the better defenders in Conference USA.
In a season where Rick Stockstill’s club persevered through injuries to win the East division, Thomas racked up 70 tackles, including 14.5 behind the line of scrimmage and eight sacks.
Heading into 2019, he’s put himself in position to be considered among the best pass rushers and linebackers in the entire league.
26. DeAngelo Malone: DE - WKU
In the 2017 recruiting cycle, Delta State, Morgan State and Presbyterian were among the programs who sought the services of DeAngelo Malone. Fast forward two seasons later, Malone is one of the best defensive linemen in C-USA.
The 6-4, 230-pound Atlanta native has been a bright spot, for what has been an otherwise forgettable two seasons of Western Kentucky football.
In his first seasons as a full-time starter, Malone had 60 tackles, six sacks, nine tackles for loss and an interception.
Overall, he has 85 tackles and 11 TFL’s in two seasons for the Tops.
25. Ky’el Hemby: S - Southern Miss
Southern Miss hit the JUCO jackpot when they picked up Ky’el Hemby from Iowa Western Community College in 2018.
In his first season in C-USA, the 6-1, 200-pound safety snagged six interceptions, which led the entire conference.
In addition to the takeaways, Hemby proved his worth as a tackler, recording 51 stops (38 solo) and defended two passes.
24. DeAndre Torrey RB - UNT
The Mean Green rushing attack was back-by-committee for the early part of last season.
Then, DeAndre Torrey emerged from the pack and by the end of the seasons, he was one of the most dynamic weapons in all of Conference USA.
The 5-7, 190-pound back only had a trio of offers despite being a three-star prospect coming out of Gulf Coast Junior College. He chose UNT over Troy and South Alabama and hasn’t looked back since.
One of the most special characteristics about Torrey as a running back, is his ability to force missed tackles and pick up yards after contact, despite being a “smaller” back.
He was third in yards after contact per attempt and first in missed tackles forced per attempt according to Pro Football Focus.
The Gautier, Mississippi native finished his first season in Denton with over 1,500 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns.
23. Jacques Turner: DE - Southern Miss
Turner has made an impact during his time in Hattiesburg. A member of the C-USA All-Freshmen team in 2017, followed by first-team all-conference campaign in 2018, the redshirt junior is one of the best pass-rushers in the nation.
In 19 games, he’s racked up 17.5 tackles for loss, which include nine sacks.
One of Turner’s biggest strengths is that he’s been able to play his best against the top competition.
He had two sacks against an SEC opponent in Auburn and a sack with an additional TFL versus conference champion UAB.
22. Miles Pate: OL - WKU
Tyson Helton’s first season at Western Kentucky will include a quarterback competition and a challenge to rejuvenate a fanbase that has become disenchanted after the Mike Sanford era.
One of the biggest building blocks he’ll inherit is the versatile 6-2, 315-pound Miles Pate.
Heading into his redshirt senior season, Pate has played both guard positions and tackle for the Hilltoppers.
He’s started 18 games and was named to the conference second-team at the end of last season.
21. Racheem Boothe: LB - Southern Miss
C-USA is filled with talented linebackers, which makes Boothe’s being rated as the best in C-USA be Pro Football Focus even more noteworthy.
While he may not be the best statistically, there’s no denying that when he’s on the field, he’s making his presence known.
The 6-0, 215-pounder from Bassfield, Mississippi has racked up 126 tackles in two seasons.
In the Golden Eagles' bowl loss versus Florida State, he had nine stops and against UAB, he had seven tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.