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Conference USA Football: Top Five Quarterbacks Entering 2023

With spring ball in full swing, let’s take a look at our top five returning signal callers.

NCAA Football: New Orleans Bowl-Western Kentucky at South Alabama Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The last decade of Conference USA football has provided fans with memorable moments and numerous standout athletes who have been among the players in college football at their respective positions.

This upcoming season sees four new programs enter the league as the latest incarnation of C-USA football will kickoff with FIU versus Louisiana Tech in a week zero matchup on August 26.

As six programs depart for the American, over 70% of last season’s all-conference performers are no longer part of the league — opening the door for several returning and new players to take spots among C-USA’s best. Additionally, four of the six quarterbacks with year-end recognitions in 2022 are no longer part of the league, due to graduation or realignment.

With five months until the start of the 2023 season, we begin our annual rundown of the top players at each position in Conference USA — starting with the quarterbacks.

5. Diego Pavia — NM State

Quick Lane Bowl - Bowling Green v New Mexico State Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

Through his first six outings of 2022, New Mexico State’s Diego Pavia looked like he was on his way to being replaced full-time by rising freshman Gavin Frakes. The Albuquerque native hadn’t thrown a touchdown pass and was completing less than 40 percent of his passes.

However, following the team’s upset loss to Florida International, Pavia rebounded in the last six games of the year, throwing 13 touchdown passes and just one interception, including a two-TD performance in a bowl game victory over Bowling Green.

The 6-0, 200-pounder is a legit dual-threat, rushing for 508 yards and six touchdowns on the ground last year. He’ll have to compete for the job with Frakes and incoming Texas A&M transfer Eli Stowers, but has proven that he can lead the Aggies to success.

4. Grayson James — FIU

Grayson James looks to build on his first season as a starter.
Michael Berlfein/FIU Athletics

A former three-star recruit from Duncanville, TX, FIU quarterback Grayson James didn’t open last season as the Panthers’ starter — but ended up starting 10 of 12 contests in 2022. In his sophomore season, the 6-3, 230-pounder threw for just under 2,000 yards with 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, while adding 223 yards and three scores on the ground.

James is in the midst of a spring quarterback competition, however, if he does start 2023 as the starter, he’ll look to be a more consistent player and have more success pushing the ball downfield in offensive coordinator David Yost’s offense.

At his best, James had a two-week stretch against Charlotte and Louisiana Tech that saw him go 57-of-82 passing for 625 yards with four touchdowns and one interception, plus 56 yards and two touchdowns rushing. The final three contests of last season are what he will look to bounce back from, throwing no touchdowns and five interceptions with just 242 yards passing.

3. Gavin Hardison — UTEP

UTEP v New Mexico Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images

The curious case of Gavin Hardison leads us to year four of the New Mexico native being the starting quarterback in El Paso. In 2020, he beat out the more highly-recruited T.J. Goodwin to win the job, showing promise with 1,419 yards and five touchdowns.

His 2021 campaign saw a jump in production and wins for the Miners, leading the team to their first bowl berth in almost a decade, throwing for 3,218 yards with 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Last season is where the 6-3, 225-pounder took a step back, throwing for 2,044 yards with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

A career 53.3% passer, it appears at this point that Hardison’s accuracy is more the norm than an outlier. That aside, his arm strength and ability to push the ball downfield still makes him a dangerous player and he’ll look to lead the Miners back to a bowl berth in 2023.

2. Hank Bachmeier — Louisiana Tech

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 17 UT Martin at Boise State Photo by Tyler Ingham/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hank Bachmeier is and has been one of the top signal-callers among the Group of Five ranks since his arrival in 2019. In his first three seasons at Boise State, he knocked off Florida State on the road in his first collegiate start, led the program to two Mountain West Conference Championship games and threw for over 6,000 yards with 35 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

However, 2022 saw his tenure in Boise come to an abrupt end, starting the first four contests before choosing to enter the transfer portal when it became clear that the program was turning to Sophomore Taylen Green.

Now in Ruston and playing in Sonny Cumbie’s Air Raid offense, look for Bachmeier to again light up opposing defenses in his first year in Conference USA.

1. Austin Reed — Western Kentucky

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl - Western Kentucky v South Alabama Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Having the unenviable task of following Bailey Zappe’s record-breaking 2021 season, Division II transfer Austin Reed had a stellar first year on the hill for Western Kentucky. The 6-2, 230-pound Florida native threw for 4,746 yards with 40 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions on over 600 attempts in 2022.

After leading West Florida to a Division II national championship, Reed beat out the more decorated FBS player in former West Virginia signal-caller Jarret Doege to win the job and led the Tops to a nine-win season with a New Orleans Bowl victory.

In his second season with Western Kentucky, Reed has a legit opportunity to be not only the top quarterback in Conference USA, but one of the top signal-callers in the nation.