Welcome back to our annual offseason series, Conference USA Preseason Position Reviews. This year will be the fourth installment of the series in which we try to determine who has the best roster in C-USA on paper.
In 2017, the series concluded with Old Dominion having the best roster in C-USA. ODU finished 5-7. We had a lot better luck in 2018 as the series believed UAB had the best roster entering the season. The Blazers went on to win C-USA with a school best 11 wins. Last year FIU earned the title of having the best roster in C-USA. The Panthers finished 6-7.
For those who are new around here the format is quite simple. There are three 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 entering the season. At this time, there’s no way to know if this position will be a positive.
“Good Shape” means known commodities are at the position but there’s still room for this unit to improve. Depth is above average to good, with a player or two having the potential to make an appearance on the all-conference team.
“Great Shape” means All-C-USA performers are at this position or there is good-to-great depth across the board. You obviously want your team to be here.
I’lll be keeping track of the grades as each team will receive points based on the category their position groups were placed in. “Great Shape” will result in three points, “Good Shape” two points, “We’ll See” one point.
At the end of the series, there will be a final tally of which teams appear good enough on paper to contend for the conference title.
1. FAU: The Owls will start the Taggart era with the best quarterback in the conference in Chris Robison. After an uneven freshman season, last year Robison had an incredible 2019 campaign as he passed for 3,701 yards and 28 touchdowns, while adding 3 touchdowns on the ground. Robison was the C-USA Championship Game MVP for the Owls and made first-team All C-USA.
2. Charlotte: Another QB who took enormous steps after an up and down freshman season was Chris Reynolds. Reynolds passed for 2,564 yards with 22 TDs through the air in 2019. After showing glimpses of being a dual-threat QB in 2018, Reynolds lived up to the potential by adding 767 yards on the ground with 6 TDs. Entering the 2020 season Reynolds should be viewed as one of the best dual-threat QBs in the nation.
3. Southern Miss: In two years as a starter, Jack Abraham has passed for nearly 6,000 yards with 34 TDs. He’s an experienced senior who has had a different offensive coordinator each year as a Golden Eagle. This year he will have a new OC once again in Matt Kubik. Abraham has had flashes of being the best QB in C-USA but has yet to prove he’s capable of staying away from turnovers. In his career Abraham has thrown 25 interceptions with 7 fumbles lost.
4. Middle Tennessee: It’s always tough to follow a school legend such as Brent Stockstill, but in his first year as a starter Asher O’Hara did just about everything you could have asked and then some. In 2019 O’Hara passed for 2,616 yards with 20 TDs while also adding over 1,000 rushing yards with 9 TDs. The next step for O’Hara is to perform well on a game-to-game basis as he struggled with consistency against teams who finished with a winning record.
5. UAB: After a promising freshman season, Tyler Johnston III didn’t burst on to the scene like I thought he would last year. Johnston had 17 TDs and 15 INTs with a completion percentage below 60 percent in 209. Johnston wasn’t the runner I thought he would be either, adding just 247 yards on the ground with 1 TD. The Blazers are going to be the heavy favorite to win C-USA West this season. Johnston’s play will determine if UAB can live up to the hype.
6. Marshall: In three different games last season, Isaiah Green didn’t pass for over 100 yards. In four different games Green failed to have more than 10 completions. In two seasons Green’s career completion percentage is 56 percent. That’s simply not good enough. He has the benefit of having continuity at offensive coordinator with Tim Cramsey back for a third year but needs to become much more accurate as a passer if C-USA defenses are going to respect Marshall’s passing offense.
7. WKU: Steven Duncan started 2019 as the starter but was eventually benched for Ty Storey. Storey played well but he has exhausted his eligibility. Duncan likely would’ve been QB1 entering spring ball and perhaps fall camp, but he has entered the transfer portal. Former prized recruit Kevaris Thomas, and veteran Davis Shanley, who started a few games in 2018, will compete for the job.
Another name to watch is former four-star recruit and Miami Hurricanes QB Jarren Williams, who has been liked to WKU and could be eligible this season. The Tops added a grad transfer to the mix with a surprise commit from former Maryland QB Tyrrell Pigrome.
8. UTSA: The Roadrunners will enter 2020 with a lot of questions at QB once again. They might have an answer in Frank Harris, but the former star recruit has been injured often in his career. With a new head coach in Jeff Traylor, I’m sure he’ll give an opportunity to Jordan Weeks, Lowell Narcisse, and every other QB on the roster to re-energize the passing offense.
9. Louisiana Tech: After passing for over 9,500 career yards J’Mar Smith is now gone which means Tech will have a new starter at QB. Former three-star dual-thereat QB out of Missouri City, Texas, Aaron Allen, is the favorite. The sophomore was put in a tough spot last season as he started Tech’s final 2 games after Smith got suspended. Against UAB and Marshall, Allen passed for a combined 332 yards and 2 TDs. The offense struggled mightily under his direction as Tech failed to score over 14 points in either game. We’ll see how he fares in 2020 with much more experience under his belt.
10. FIU: Butch Davis produced another draft pick at QB as James Morgan now joins Alex McGough in the NFL. Who Davis will tap next is a mystery. Junior Kaylan Wiggins has been the backup QB for the past 2 seasons and started a game against New Hampshire last year. Against UNH he went 12-18 for 127 yards but racked up 323 yards on the ground. Wiggins is more of a runner than a passer. Redshirt freshman and former three-star recruit Stone Norton is more of a passer than a runner.
11. North Texas: Mason Fine, one of the best QBs in conference history, is gone. Seth Littrell will have his pick of former three-star QBs to replace him in Jason Bean or Austin Aune.
12. Rice: Mike Bloomgren has laid the foundation for 2020 to be a breakthrough season for the Owls but they desperately need to find an answer at QB to make that happen. The starting QB could be anyone. Sophomore Wiley Green? JUCO transfer TJ McMahon? TCU transfer Mike Collins?
13. UTEP: The Miners haven’t had good QB play in years. Dana Dimel signed himself a good one two years ago in redshirt freshman TJ Goodwin out of Houston. With what looks to be another rebuilding year on the way my money is on Goodwin to win the job over junior Gavin Hardison.
14. Old Dominion: Stone Smartt, Messiah deWeaver and Hayden Wolff each saw significant playing time last season and neither played well. First year head coach Ricky Rahne has a lot of options to choose from but there’s a lot of improvement to be had in this QB room.