Conference USA teams with experienced starters like Western Kentucky (Doughty), Louisiana Tech (Driskell), and Southern Miss (Mullens) have played at or above expectations this fall. There are exceptions to the rule with Rice and Florida International getting up and down play from experienced starters, while Marshall and MTSU have gotten excellent play from freshman quarterbacks.
As a whole, Conference USA has seen seven teams give significant and important minutes to quarterbacks that are either true or redshirt freshmen. Let’s take a look at all seven teams and how they have handled giving the keys to an inexperienced and young starter.
UTEP: The Miners thought that had their quarterback when sophomore Mack Leftwich won the job heading into camp. Redshirt freshman Ryan Metz and true freshman Kavika Johnson were not even expected to be part of the equation heading into the season with junior Garrett Simpson expected to handle backup duties.
All of those plans fell to the wayside due to injuries and unexpected good and bad play. Metz has started multiple games, looking good with three 200+ yard games, but looking overwhelmed versus UTSA and FIU. Kavika Johnson saw his first extended duty at quarterback in the FIU game, going 10-20 for 107 yards and a touchdown. Both should see extended playing time in the second half of the schedule. Team record: 2-4. Record under Metz and Johnson: 2-2.
UTSA: Redshirt freshman Blake Bogenschutz is a little different from any other freshman quarterback on this list. He appeared in three game in 2014 before sustaining a season-ending injury. He was the expected starter heading into the 2015 season and has struggled, along with the entire UTSA offense. Bogenschutz looked excellent versus Arizona with 332 yards in the air, but has been unable to duplicate that feat.
An injury sustained in the UTEP game has caused him to miss the last two games. He should be the starter moving forward. Team Record: 1-6. Record under Bogenschutz: 1-4.
Charlotte: The 49ers, playing their first year as a FBS program, have played three quarterbacks this season with limited results. Matt Johnson started the opener, redshirt freshman Brooks Barden started games two and three, while junior Lee McNeill has started the last three games.
Barden, while making two starts, only attempted 32 total passes for 111 total yards. He looked solid under center versus FCS foe Presbyterian, but struggled in the MTSU game. He cannot be blamed for the loss as the entire team short circuited in the 73-14 loss.
The future has the chance to be bright with Barden under center in the future, but the 49ers will experience significant growing pains. Team Record: 2-4. Record under Barden: 1-1.
Florida Atlantic: The Owls were one team that headed into the 2015 season with an established starter at quarterback in senior Jaquez Johnson. Johnson has struggled with injuries, forcing redshirt freshman Jason Driskel into action. Driskel, brother of Louisiana Tech quarterback Jeff Driskel, has shown signs of brilliance versus Miami (FL), but has also shown inaccuracy that is to be expected from a freshman, true or redshirt.
Driskel with compete with Daniel Parr for the starting job in 2016. Team Record: 1-5. Record under Driskel: 0-3. (Driskel only made starts versus Buffalo and Marshall, but played most of the game versus Miami)
Old Dominion: The Monarchs made the decision early in camp to go with the former 4-star recruit, redshirt freshman Shuler Bentley. As expected with any young player thrust into a tough situation, Bentley has struggled so far this season. Bentley has completed only 49.7% of his passes for 693 total yards in the air.
Old Dominion started Bentley versus Charlotte, but pulled him after the first series, a three and out, for wide receiver David Washington. The ODU coaching staff has already committed to Washington at quarterback for the Western Kentucky game as well. We may end up seeing Bentley transfer out of the situation at ODU and get a new start elsewhere. Still too early to tell. Team Record: 3-3. Record under Bentley: 2-3.
Marshall: For a team needing to replace Rakeem Cato at quarterback, the coaching staff went with experience over youth in starting James Madison transfer Michael Birdsong. Some of the fan base wanted to see true freshman Chase Litton get the call. A Birdsong injury forced the coaching staff to go with Litton versus Norfolk State and it has been all Litton since.
Litton is 5-0 as a starter with two games of 200+ yards during that stretch. He is still showing signs of being a freshman quarterback, but has done a great job at quarterback. Litton is the quarterback of the present and future for Marshall. Team Record: 6-1. Record under Litton: 5-0.
MTSU: For the Blue Raiders, one of the hottest contested quarterback races in all of the nation ended with redshirt freshman Brent Stockstill getting the nod over returning starter Austin Grammer. Stockstill, the head coach’s son, has been excellent during his time at quarterback with a 67.1% completion rate, 2,064 passing yards, and 16 touchdown passes.
Stockstill is already one of the top five quarterbacks in Conference USA and should easily win several honors during his time in Murfreesboro. Team Record: 3-4. Record under Stockstill: 3-4.