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. Let’s start with numbers 50-41.
Honorable Mention: Here’s five players who just missed the cut, but deserve mentioning.
Quez Watkins: WR - Southern Miss
There’s no two ways about it, if Watkins’ academic status didn’t have his 2019 eligibility in question, he would be among the top-20 players on this list. The 6-2, 195-pound dynamic receiver opened 2018 with a statement, hauling in three scores through the air and adding a fourth on a punt return. He finished the season with 72 receptions for 889 yards and nine touchdowns.
Anthony Jones: RB - FIU
The title of Anthony Jones’ biography would be Trials and Tribulations. While the same can be said for many CFB players, it’s especially fitting for the Miami native. After a breakout sophomore season where he accounted for 980 total yards as a backup running back and kick returner, he missed all of 2017 with an injury.
In the 2018 opener, he looked to be back to 100 percent, rushing for 88 yards and two touchdowns. Three days later, he (along with teammate Mershawn Miller) would be the victims of a drive-by shooting.
After spending time in a medically-induced coma, Jones returned eight weeks later and finished the season with a three-touchdown performance in the Panthers’ bowl win against Toledo.
Garrett Marino: DT - UAB
Marino has been a model of consistency for Bill Clark’s UAB Blazers. In two seasons, he’s totaled 14 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks as one of the more unheralded members of the UAB defense. Now, with the graduations of stars like Jamell Garcia-Williams and Chris Woolbright, Marino will be tasked with playing a bigger role for UAB.
Lorenzo Dantzler: DL - UTSA
UTSA is facing an uphill climb in getting back into contention for a C-USA West crown. While other pieces of the team may be in flux, they have a great building block in Dantzler. The 6-2, 245-pound defensive lineman began his career at Southern Miss, before landing in San Antonio. In his first season with the Roadrunners, he recorded 8.5 TFL’s and 3.5 sacks.
Willie Wright: WR - FAU
The diminutive Wright just missed making the top-50. After a 56-catch, 657-yard season as a freshman in 2017, his numbers dipped somewhat in 2018. Part of that was due to the up and down play at the QB position for Lane Kiffin’s Owls, but there’s no denying that for FAU to get back into bowl contention in 2019, Wright will be a major factor. During his two seasons in Boca, he has 148 touches as a receiver, rusher and returner.
50. Blaze Alldredge: LB - Rice
Number 50 on this list may be a head scratcher for some.
However, few players were as highly-regarded as a potential breakout star, than Rice linebacker Blaze Allredge. The JUCO transfer didn’t become a full-time starter till midway through the season.
But, he finished second on the team in tackles (65) and third in TFL’s (4.5). He made a last-minute start against Southern Miss in week two, and responded with nine tackles and an interception.
The Orlando, Florida native had 31 tackles in the final three contests of the year, including eight and a sack against LSU.
49. Fermin Silva: DE/LB - Marshall
The inclusion of Silva on the list may be a controversial pick.
However, when Fermin Silva is healthy and on the field, the numbers speak for themselves. The Panthers’ fourth all-time leader in sacks was a force in 2017, recording 14.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and 50 tackles.
Entering 2018, he was chosen to the C-USA preseason all-conference team. But, 2018 would be his last season at FIU.
Four days post his two-sack performance against Miami, his season ended due to triceps surgery. After entering the transfer portal, the Miami native has landed in Huntington with the Herd. If he can regain his form from his sophomore and junior seasons, it may very well come down to Marshall and FIU for the East crown in the final week of the season.
48. Manase Mose: OL - North Texas
Mose had an excellent 2018 in Denton.
After redshirting in 2017, he was a fixture at right guard for the Mean Green, starting all 13 contests and being named to both the conference All-Freshman and All-Conference honorable mention teams.
Along with his older brother Sosaia, the duo are key in keeping UNT’s star QB Mason Fine upright and able to facilitate Seth Littrell’s dangerous offensive attack.
47. Quadraiz Wadley: RB - UTEP
It’s been tough sledding for the Miners over the past few seasons, as they’re in the process of a rebuild under second-year HC Dana Dimel.
While wins have been hard to come by, they have a great building block in senior running back Quadraiz Wadley. UTEP’s passing game was inconsistent (at best) last season. Miner QBs accounted for 2,186 passing yards on just a 49.6 completion percentage.
That makes Wadley’s 627 rushing yards and over five yards a carry, that much more outstanding. Among returning C-USA backs, the 6-0, 200-pound Texas native is among the top-five in yards after contact and missed tackles forced per rushing attempt.
46. Channing Hames: DT - Marshall
The Herd arguably have C-USA’s best returning defensive line and that unit is spearheaded by Hames. In his 28 career games, he’s been a constant in opposing teams’ backfields, racking up 21.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks from his defensive tackle spot.
He earned Defensive MVP of the 2018 New Mexico Bowl honors after a dominating eight tackle, 1.5 sack performance and will be in contention for an all-conference spot in 2019.
45. Stantley Thomas-Oliver III: CB - FIU
Thomas-Oliver gets the nod here for a simple reason.
In his three seasons being in C-USA, whenever he’s been on the field, he’s been one of the better performers in the league.
He burst onto the scene in 2016, then as WR Stantley Thomas, hauling in 35 passes for 485 yards and being named to the all-freshman team. Then, in 2017, with the arrival of Butch Davis, he was moved to the secondary.
After only playing in four games the previous season, Thomas-Oliver earned a starting corner spot for FIU three games into 2018, and finished fifth in C-USA in passes defensed (10).
44. Collin Scott: LB - La Tech
After two seasons in a reserve role, Scott had an excellent first season as a starter for Skip Holtz’ Bulldogs. He totaled 87 tackles, 9.5. TFL’s and four sacks in 2018.
The 6-0, 225-pound outside linebacker played his best against the top competition, recording 22 stops, with 2.5 TFL’s against SEC powerhouse LSU and C-USA heavyweight UNT. In addition to playing at the line of scrimmage, Scott was just as effective in pass coverage.
He had two interceptions and was one of C-USA’s top graded LB’s in pass coverage according to Pro Football Focus.
43. Prudy Calderon: S - Rice
“What a player, I mean he was an absolute beast last season,” said Glynn Hill of the Houston Chronicle, during his appearance on the Underdog Pawdcast.
Hill’s assessment of Calderon’s debut season for the Owls is the impression that most around C-USA echo.
The San Marcos, Texas native totaled 38 tackles and four interceptions for Mike Bloomgren’s club last season and will be looked upon to head the rebuilding efforts in Houston.
I had a chance to see Calderon first-hand when Rice visited FIU and he didn’t disappoint, with a season-high eight tackles and a TFL in their 36-17 loss to the Panthers.
The most impressive thing about the sophomore safety was his energy and effort for four quarters, which never dwindled, regardless of it being a six-point game at halftime, or when FIU pulled away in the second half.
42. Richard Dames: S - FIU
“I’m not huge on making comparisons, but Richard Dames really reminds me of Edward Reed when I had him at the University of Miami,” said FIU head coach Butch Davis.
One of the first major signees for Davis at FIU, Richard Dames has exceeded expectations since joining the Panthers in 2017.
The South Florida native, along with his twin brother Rishard have helped spearhead the turnaround of the program, and Richard has taken his place among the best defensive backs in the conference.
He’s the third-highest graded returning safety, behind Charlotte’s Ben DeLuca and his backfield mate in Dorian Hall, according to Pro Football Focus.
In two seasons, he’s racked up 82 tackles, three interceptions and six passes defended from his safety/nickel corner spot, and like Reed, can always be found where ever the ball is.
41. Lawrence Garner: LB - Old Dominion
2018 was a lost season for Bobby Wilder’s Monarchs in the win-loss column. However, the program gained a major building block in Lawrence Garner.
In just nine games, he recorded the fourth 100-tackle season in ODU history. The former three-star recruit out of Columbus, New Jersey, led all C-USA linebackers with 58 defensive stops and nine tackles for loss.
No returning CUSA linebacker had more defensive stops than Lawrence Garner. pic.twitter.com/7PhPhIrROw— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 11, 2019
Look for Garner to contend for an All-Conference spot in 2019.