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. Here’s our top-10.
10. Rico Bussey Jr.: WR - UNT
First-team All-Conference USA, ranking eighth in FBS football in touchdown catches, and being named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list are just a few of the accolades that North Texas’ Rico Bussey Jr. racked up in 2018.
In 2019, with the departure of Jalen Guyton, the playmaking wideout may be even more relied upon for the success of the Mean Green’s aerial attack.
In three seasons in Denton, Bussey Jr. ranks fifth in program history in career receiving touchdowns (20) and in 100-yard receiving games (8).
He led UNT in all receiving categories last year with 68 catches for 1,017 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Now that stars like Travis Fulgham, Jon Duhart and Tyre Brady are no longer part of the conference, look for Bussey Jr. to be in the top-three of Conference USA’s wideouts next season.
9. Cameron Clark: OL - Charlotte
It’s the opinion of this writer, that if Charlotte can get consistent play from the quarterback position in 2019, they have a chance to sneak up on teams in the East division.
The team isn't lacking talent, landing three players in the top-10 of this list.
However, left tackle Cameron Clark might be the most crucial to their chances at success in 2019. Yes, Benny Lemay is a superstar in the backfield and Alex Highsmith wreaked havoc on opposing offenses last year.
What makes Clark of the utmost importance, is, by virtue of protecting the QB’s blindside (both Brett Kean and Chris Reynolds are right-handed passers), the passing game depends just as much on the play of Clark, as it does whoever is behind center.
The success of the 49ers aside, Clark is the real deal on the offensive line. Among returning C-USA tackles, the 6-5, 300-pound redshirt senior is the highest-rated by Pro Football Focus.
While he may have been overshadowed by the play of Nate Davis, Clark has been a reliable player in Charlotte, starting 18 straight games and 22 overall in 36 career contests.
8. Amik Robertson: DB - La Tech
What’s a telltale sign that a player should be considered elite?
When your peers go out of their way to shower you with praise - by name. Louisiana Tech’s Amik Robertson is recognized by some of the best players in C-USA as a shutdown corner.
“Amik was always flying around the ball and his motor never stopped,” said North Texas quarterback Mason Fine to Cory Diaz of Monroe News Star.
The junior cornerback has started every game since arriving in Ruston and is a force in the defensive backfield.
He has nine interceptions and 18 passes defended in two seasons, and despite his 5-9, 175-pound frame isn’t afraid to make a tackle when the play comes his way.
Robertson has 124 tackles and equally impressive 15 tackles for loss from his cornerback spot.
7. Adrian Hardy: WR - La Tech
In March of 2015, Adrian Hardy gave his verbal commitment to play for Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners. However, shortly after arriving on campus in Norman, Hardy decided to withdraw.
The Big-12’s loss was Conference USA’s gain, as the three-star recruit landed in Ruston with the Bulldogs.
After redshirting in 2016, and battling injuries in 2017, the dynamic wideout found his stride and has propelled himself to the upper echelon of C-USA receivers.
The Houston native had 75 catches for 1,145 yards and six scores last season, with his biggest output coming in Death Valley, against LSU. Hardy snagged 10 passes for 181 yards and two scores, as Tech pushed the Tigers late into the second half.
Look for Hardy, with another year playing alongside quarterback J’Mar Smith, to have even bigger numbers for Skip Holtz’s team in 2019.
6. Alex Highsmith: LB/DE - Charlotte
Not many college football walk-ons make it to be a top-10 player in their conference. But, after a dominating 2018 season, Alex Highsmith may be poised to take his place as the top defensive lineman in C-USA.
The senior hybrid DE/LB is coming off a monster junior season, in which he compiled 60 tackles and 17.5 tackles for loss. He’s third all-time in program history with a career 20 TFL’s for the 49ers.
What makes you take notice, is the fact that he’s played well against solid competition. He had 4.5 TFL’s against FAU and four, plus a sack against an SEC opponent in Tennessee.
Yes, Glenn Spencer is no longer there as defensive coordinator, however, there’s no denying that Highsmith has worked his way into one of the premier players in the league, and there’s no reason to think that will change in 2019.
5. Ben Lemay: RB - Charlotte
The numbers don’t tell the entire story when it comes to just how productive Benny Lemay was in 2018.
There weren’t many times when opposing defenses weren’t keying on the 5-9, 215-pound back. Despite facing seven- and eight-man fronts, Lemay rushed for 1,243 yards and 11 scores, en route to being named to the C-USA All-Conference second team.
His signature performance came against FIU in a late-season matchup. With bowl-eligibility on the line, he had a career-high 30 carries for 159 yards and a program-record four rushing touchdowns.
Although Charlotte lost that game, Lemay showed that he can play his best when the stakes are the highest.
4. Reed Blankenship: S - MTSU
In a conference filled with talented defensive backs, Reed Blankenship is arguably the best in C-USA.
Since arriving in Murfreesboro, he’s racked up 175 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, two sacks, six interceptions and seven passes defensed.
He’s been the definition of an all-around safety.
With Brent Stockstill having graduated, the “other” number 12 is now the unquestioned leader for MTSU.
His best performance of 2018 came against Old Dominion. Blankenship had 17 tackles, three TFL’s including a sack and a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown.
3. Spencer Brown: RB - UAB
In 2017, UAB returned to the college football landscape after a three-year absence because of financial constraints.
It was unknown how the new-look Blazers would fare in their second act. In large part because of our number three player on this list, they’ve become a powerhouse in Conference USA.
Back-to-back 1,200-plus yard seasons, 26 touchdowns, and widely being recognized as the best running back in C-USA is what Spencer Brown has accomplished in two seasons.
The 6-0, 225-pound junior from Kimberly, Alabama is the motor that runs the UAB offense.
He was C-USA freshman of the year in 2017 and he followed that up with being named to the all-conference first team and MVP of the C-USA Conference Championship game in 2018.
What makes Brown so special is his ability to have sustained success throughout the game, especially when teams know he’s getting the football.
2. Sage Lewis: LB - FIU
Entering 2018, Sage Lewis was tasked with acclimating to a new position and filling the shoes of veteran LB’s Treyvon Williams and Anthony Wint.
He would remove any doubt after his week one performance against a Big Ten opponent in Indiana. Lewis had 18 tackles in FIU’s first game of the season and never looked back.
The 6-1, 245-pound senior from Opa-Locka, FL set program records for tackles in a season (132), solo tackles (83) and most pass breakups in a game (4).
In FIU’s game versus Charlotte, with the Niners driving to go-ahead by two scores, Lewis recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown, giving FIU the lead. They would go on to win by a score.
1. Mason Fine: QB - UNT
Our number one spot on this list goes to the reigning two-time Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year in Mason Fine.
At 5-11, 185-pounds, it’s unquestioned that Fine is at UNT because he’s short in stature. After three seasons as an FBS quarterback, there’s plenty of programs who wish they had a signal-caller with his capabilities.
In three seasons, he’s become the Mean Green’s all-time leader in passing yards (9,417), in addition to leading the team to back-to-back nine-win seasons and three bowl appearances.
His success shouldn’t come as a surprise. In his high school career, Fine passed for over 13,000 yards and 166 touchdowns, which ranked him in the top-10 nationally in both categories at the time of his graduation.
He’s also extremely accurate, especially for a quarterback who has 980 passing attempts in the previous two seasons. With multiple weapons at his disposal, UNT’s chances to contend for a conference title will rest on the right arm of Fine.