Conference Preview: Conference USA

Conference Preview: Conference USA

This article is part of our Conference Preview series.

Every conference went through chaos in 2020. Conference USA was hit particularly hard, though. Old Dominion sat out the entire season. UTSA got to play 12 games, while Florida International played all of five games (and lost all five). Hopefully this season with be smoother sailing. That way, this preview of Conference USA will be more helpful.

ALL-CONFERENCE USA FANTASY TEAM

First Team

QB: Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky (19)

RB: Sincere McCormick, UTSA (3)

RB: DeWayne McBride, UAB (18)

WR:  Jerreth Sterns, Western Kentucky (29)

WR: Josh Sterns, Western Kentucky (31)

TE: Joshua Simon, Western Kentucky (30)

Second Team

QB: Jace Ruder, North Texas (64)

RB: Oscar Adaway, North Texas (65)

RB: DeAndre Torrey (71)

WR: Jyaire Shorter, North Texas (42)

WR: Ben Ratzlaff, Western Kentucky (53)

TE: Jason Pirtle, North Texas (46)

Third Team

QB: Tyler Johnston, UAB (69)

RB: Jakairi Moses, Western Kentucky (99)

RB: Adam Cofield, Western Kentucky (112)

WR: Deonte Simpson, North Texas (71)

WR: Trea Shropshire, UAB (89)

TE: Jordan Myers, Rice (NR)

SLEEPERS

Bailey Hockman, QB, Middle Tennessee State

The year 2021 is a big one for quarterbacks transferring into Conference USA. Last year Hockman got a chance to start for NC State, completing 64.3 percent of his passes. He threw for 13 touchdowns (and ran for three) but did have 11 interceptions. That was playing in the ACC, though. Now Hockman is a grad transfer stepping into the starting role for the Blue Raiders. He's got a lot of experience under center, and the level of competition is a step down. Hockman wouldn't be the first quarterback to transfer to a Group of Five team and see his numbers soar.

Chris Reynolds, QB, Charlotte

Reynolds saw games canceled repeatedly in 2020, only getting to play in six games. He did play well in those six contests, though, throwing eight touchdowns against two interceptions. Plus, both of those picks came in his first start, which is even more forgivable. Reynolds had enjoyed a career year the season before, tossing 22 touchdowns to 11 interceptions and rushing for 791 yards and six scores as well. It looked like Reynolds might be the top quarterback in the conference in 2020. That could be the case in 2021 instead.

Frank Gore, RB, Southern Mississippi

Gore got more attention than your average freshman running back in Conference USA last year, given who his father is. He was more than just a guy with a famous name, though, as he finished fourth in the conference in 2020 with 708 yards. Granted, the teams in the conference played different numbers of games, but Gore also averaged 5.9 yards per carry. Encouragingly, his numbers got better as his season went on, and he ended his campaign with 111 yards and a touchdown. The only negative from Gore's freshman campaign is that he only found the end zone twice. Touchdowns can fluctuate quite a bit, though. More scoring in 2021 could boost Gore's fantasy value quite a bit.

Deion Hankins, RB, UTEP

Hankins was on the flip side of Gore in his redshirt freshman season. He rushed for nine touchdowns in only seven games. Hankins rushed for over 100 yards three times and also had one game with 99 yards. Now, he had one catch all season, so he's not helping there. Additionally, it's fair to wonder if Hankins' nine touchdowns were a bit of a fluke. Regression toward the mean goes both ways. Then again, maybe Hankins is just a back with a nose for the end zone, or at least a back who will get plenty of opportunities. If that's the case, Hankins is going to be one of the best backs in the conference.

Austin Trammell, WR, Rice

Trammell really packed a punch in the three games he played in 2020. He had 16 catches for 335 yards and a whopping six touchdowns. It's not like those numbers came totally out of the blue, though they were a step up. In his first season, he had 62 catches for 632 yards and in his second campaign, he notched 60 receptions for 726 yards. The one question is the quarterback situation with the Owls. Mike Collins looked good in limited action last year, but Luke McCaffrey transferred to Rice as well. Honestly, McCaffrey might be a step down from Collins, but he has the pedigree. That could complicate the picture for Trammell.

Zakhari Franklin, WR, UTSA

Jaelon Darden was the dominant receiver in Conference USA last year. He caught 74 passes for 1,190 yards and 19 touchdowns. Somebody had to finish as the runner-up to Darden, though, even if it was a distant second. That spot fell to Franklin. He was second in the conference with 691 receiving yards and seven receiving touchdowns. While UTSA did play a full 12 games, Franklin only played 10. That was still more than a lot of receivers. Those are also numbers you wouldn't complain about in a fantasy lineup. UTSA's quarterback Frank Harris is back, so his connection with Franklin should remain strong.

BUSTS

N'Kosi Perry, QB, FAU

Perry is another quarterback transfer to Conference USA. He comes to the conference from Miami (FL) with three years of experience to his name. Perry never really worked out for the Hurricanes, though. In particular, he's always struggled with his accuracy, never having completed more than 55.3 percent of his passes in a season. The Owls had a poor passing offense last year, and the wide receiver corps does not look impressive. They also have a few running backs worthy of carries. It feels like Perry could end up disappointing in spite of his pedigree.

Austin Aune, QB, North Texas

Aune finished third in passing yards in the conference in 2020. He also ended the year banged up. Why is he on this list? You may notice that we have Jace Ruder higher in our projections for 2021. Ruder has transferred in from North Carolina. He couldn't beat out Sam Howell – which is nothing to be ashamed about – but he could easily beat out Aune. After all, last year Aune ended up sharing snaps with Jason Bean, and Ruder has a better pedigree than Bean.

Israel Tucker, RB, Lousiana Tech

Tucker is one of those "super seniors" we're getting in 2021, but he's actually a guy who was a redshirt senior in 2020. That was his first season where he got over 100 carries, getting the ball 149 times for 648 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games. That may be his ceiling, though. After all, if you don't get over 100 carries until you are a redshirt senior, that doesn't usually bode well, especially at the Group of Five level. I just don't see any upside here.

Jakairi Moses, RB, Western Kentucky

Moses is likely to get the chance to step into the lead back role for the Hilltoppers now that Gaej Walker has graduated. Maybe he will finally score a rushing touchdown now. This offense could be completely different in 2021, though. Western Kentucky hired Houston Baptist's offensive coordinator Zach Kittley in the offseason. This led to HBU's starting quarterback and three HBU receivers transferring to WKU. This could be Houston Baptist East in 2021, which could leave Moses an afterthought.

Jason Brownlee, WR, Southern Mississippi

Brownlee was hot early in the 2020 season. He had four games in a row with a touchdown, and he went over 100 yards in three of those games. Then, he slowed down considerably. Some of that was likely because of quarterback injuries for the Golden Eagles. That doesn't bode well for 2021, though. Trey Lowe is on top of the depth chart now. He was the third-string quarterback in 2020 and threw two touchdowns against three picks in four games. Brownlee could be in for a step down this season if Lowe doesn't step it up.

Trea Shropshire, WR, UAB

Shropshire's projections are based on the idea he is going to step into a vacuum. Austin Watkins and Myron Mitchell are both gone, and somebody is likely to catch those passes. The expectation is that Shropshire could be that guy. That being said, he had 14 catches for 310 yards in 2020. Five of those catches and 180 of those yards came in the season finale against Marshall. He may have gotten the second spot on our third team, but by the end of the season a few guys could have easily surpassed him. Heck, it might even be a guy on his own team.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Morgan
Chris Morgan is a writer of sports, pop culture, and humor articles, a book author, a podcaster, and a fan of all Detroit sports teams.
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