We continue our Conference USA Preseason Position Reviews by looking at the wide receivers in the conference. The grading categories: “Great Shape,” “Good Shape,” and “We’ll See.”
To elaborate on the grades, “We’ll See” means exactly what it means. We have no idea if that position is going to turn out to be a plus due to a lack of proven contributors and questionable depth. At this time, there’s no way to know.
“Good Shape” means known commodities are at the position, but there’s room for this unit to improve. Depth is above average to good, with a player or two having the potential to make an All-C-USA Team.
“Great Shape” means All-C-USA performers are at this position or there is good-to-great depth across the board. You want your team to be here.
1. Louisiana Tech: I was torn between each of the three teams listed in the great shape category as to who should take the number one spot. Tech won out in the end, due to their depth at receiver. Adrian Hardy had a down season last year, but when he’s right, he’s arguably the top receiver in C-USA. Couple that with Griffin Hebert, CeeJay Powell, and Smoke Harris returning, each of which had at least 30 catches last season. While the QB spot is a question, whoever replaces J’Mar Smith will have plenty of options to throw to.
2. Southern Miss: Yes, Quez Watkins is gone. However, Tim Jones led the Golden Eagles in receptions last season (72), and Jaylond Adams showed what he’s capable of last season in an 11-catch, 180-yard performance against Troy. Although the position is used sparingly as a receiver, tight end Ray Ladner caught two touchdowns last season. The duo of Jones and Adams should excel, as they’re paired with quarterback Jack Abraham, who has the potential to be a top signal-caller in C-USA.
3. Charlotte: For the record, I believe Charlotte’s Victor Tucker is the top receiver in Conference USA, and the duo of he and quarterback Chris Reynolds are the best QB-WR tandem. The key will be the depth at receiver. Cam Dollar is a solid player who’s overshadowed by Tucker, Rico Arnold is back from injury, and Tyler Ringwood provides a big target at 6-2, 220-pounds. Tight ends combined for 12 catches last season, six of which came from returner, Jacob Hunt.
4. Rice: I’m incredibly high on the duo of Brad Rozner and Austin Trammell. Quite frankly, if Trammell played four hours north on I-45 in Denton over the past two seasons, he would've had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. After spending two seasons in the JUCO ranks, Rozner burst onto the scene with 100-yard receiving games against Power Five opponents in Wake Forest and Baylor. His 6-5 frame provides a big-bodied target that contrasts well with the 5-10, 180-pound Trammell. Tight end Jordan Myers has all-conference potential with his career 42 receptions entering 2020. If Rice can find consistency at the QB spot (something they’ve been seeking for two seasons), this group will give C-USA secondaries a fit.
5. UAB: Austin Watkins is one of the top big-play receivers in the entire nation. The 6-3, 210-pound wideout hauled in 57 catches for 1,092 yards and six TD’s last season, and his 19.2 yards per catch is tops among C-USA returners. Kendall Parham departs, but Myron Mitchell is more than capable of filling his role as Mitchell averaged 16.3 yards per grab last year. Keep an eye on Markus Grossman to potentially step in as the WR3 and tight end Hayden Pittman is a more than capable option when called upon.
6. North Texas: Jaelon Darden and Jyaire Shorter were enough for me to put the Mean Green this category, barely. Seth Littrell’s club loses the most prolific passer in the conference over the past three years. How will that affect the wideouts - time will tell. They do have some excellent depth with Deonte Simpson and Greg White, also. Jason Pirtle provides versatility as a tight end/receiver and has the most receiving touchdowns of any returning tight end with five.
7. Western Kentucky: Jahcour Pearson is capable of being an all-conference performer at the end of the season. That almost got the Tops into the good shape section. But the quarterback spot is a question mark, so we’ll see (pun intended). Jacquez Sloan is a versatile and talented slot receiver. Can returners like Garland LaFrance and Xavier Lane provide depth is another question. Tight end Joshua Simon should be the preseason all-conference pick at the position after an excellent true freshman season. With Kyle Fourtenbary’s departure, Steven Witchoskey should assume the TE2 duties.
8. FIU: Of the teams in this category, it’s Florida’s contributions to C-USA who have the highest ceiling, in my opinion. Starting with the Panthers, Shemar Thornton stepped up in a major way last season. He deserves recognition, especially because Georgia transfer JJ Holloman may overshadow him given Holloman's credentials. The 6-2, 200-pound redshirt junior started five games for the SEC powerhouse and has the ability to be the most dynamic player in Conference USA. If the highly-gifted Bryce Singleton can return from injury, FIU could be lethal at wideout. As expected from a Butch Davis-coached team, the Panthers have talent at tight end. Sterling Palmer and Kamareon Williams will see the targets, while David O’Meara plays significantly as a blocker.
9. Florida Atlantic: The Owls, on paper, appear to be in for a significant drop in production. However, FAU has added a pair of Power Five transfers in Aaron Young from Duke, and T.J. Chase from Clemson. John Mitchell is a very solid receiver, but the wildcard is Willie Wright. If 2018 was a subpar season for Wright, 2019 was underwhelming, to say the least. Additionally, the team has Rashaan Lewis (son of Ray Lewis) and Terique Owens (son of Terrell Owens) on the roster. Harrison Bryant was equal parts tight end and receiver during his record-setting C-USA career. Reserve John Raine is in Evanston as a grad transfer, so it will be worth watching who takes over for Bryant.
10. Middle Tennessee: The duo of Jimmy Marshall and Jarrin Pierce reminds me of Rice’s tandem and it wouldn’t shock me to see them excel in 2020. I expect Asher O’Hara to take a step forward as a passer, with these two being the biggest beneficiaries. CJ Windham provides a big target, and Zack Dobson is still a jack-of-all-trades out of the slot.
11. Marshall: Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? That is how I would feel if I were in Huntington. Obi Obialo transferred in from Oklahoma State - tantalized Herd fans with his talent in three seasons at Marshall - and left for Oklahoma in the offseason. It’ll be up to a slew of unproven talents like Broc Thompson, Talik Keaton, and veteran Willie Johnson to fill out the receiving corps. The tight end position is a different story. 73 receptions (36.5% of Marshall’s total receptions) came from the TE spot. Xavier Gaines’ 27 catches and three touchdowns return, while Devin Miller is a strong candidate to slide into the backup role.
12. Old Dominion: The Monarchs deserve an incomplete grade for last season. Until Hayden Wolff was named the starting quarterback for the final three games of last season, ODU’s passing attack was downright abysmal. Former Virginia Tech wideout Eric Kumah figures to be the number one wideout in Norfolk, followed by last year’s leading receiver in Aaron Moore and former starting QB Steven Williams returns at wideout. While it remains to be seen what role the tight end position will play under Ricky Rahne at ODU, it was significantly used during his time as Penn State’s offensive coordinator. Marcus Joyner and Donta Anthony Jr. return at the position.
13. UTSA: Another team that is hard to tell is UTSA. Three signal-callers started games last season, which makes it hard to develop any consistency. Zakhari Franklin is the leading returning receiver (38-491-3). Tykee Ogle-Kellogg has the size at 6-4, 225-pounds, but hasn’t put it all together yet, and Joshua Cephus is an excellent athlete. The tight end position (Carlos Strickland) accounted for the team’s leading receiver last season. Look for Gavin Sharp to take over with Strickland’s graduation.
14. UTEP: It’s continuing to be an uphill climb for Dana Dimel and the Miners. Tre’Shon Wolf had a chance to be the WR1, but he’s entered the transfer portal. The team does return Justin Garrett, who led the team in receptions (40) and Jacob Cowing, who topped the Miners in receiving yards (550).