Spring Practice Preview: Conference USA

Spring Practice Preview: Conference USA

This article is part of our Spring Practice Preview series.

With spring practices leaping into action around college football, it's time to delve into some notable news and position battles around the assorted conferences. Right here, right now, I'm focusing on Conference USA. It's not the most exciting conference, I know. With the rise of the Sun Belt, Conference USA may be the overall weakest conference in the FBS. Do not let that deter you from gathering information on the conference's teams. Last year Bailey Zappe showed up at Western Kentucky and threw for 5,967 yards and 62 touchdowns, both FBS records.

Before I get into the battles that will impact fantasy college football, there's a bigger battle that involves Conference USA. The conference is getting ripped apart. Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB, and UTSA are all headed to the AAC soon. Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss are headed to Conference USA. In fact, Marshall has filed suit against Conference USA to try and leave sooner and has filed a restraining order against the conference.

Basically, it's a mess, but as of right now the conference's teams are no different than last year. Plus, if the Herd and company are able to leave the conference sooner than expected, that won't change the position battles. Let's get to it.

Florida Atlantic Wide Receiver

N'Kosi Perry will likely be starting under center for the Owls, but who will he be throwing the ball to? Lajohntay Wester is a safe bet, having led the team in receptions and receiving yards

With spring practices leaping into action around college football, it's time to delve into some notable news and position battles around the assorted conferences. Right here, right now, I'm focusing on Conference USA. It's not the most exciting conference, I know. With the rise of the Sun Belt, Conference USA may be the overall weakest conference in the FBS. Do not let that deter you from gathering information on the conference's teams. Last year Bailey Zappe showed up at Western Kentucky and threw for 5,967 yards and 62 touchdowns, both FBS records.

Before I get into the battles that will impact fantasy college football, there's a bigger battle that involves Conference USA. The conference is getting ripped apart. Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB, and UTSA are all headed to the AAC soon. Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss are headed to Conference USA. In fact, Marshall has filed suit against Conference USA to try and leave sooner and has filed a restraining order against the conference.

Basically, it's a mess, but as of right now the conference's teams are no different than last year. Plus, if the Herd and company are able to leave the conference sooner than expected, that won't change the position battles. Let's get to it.

Florida Atlantic Wide Receiver

N'Kosi Perry will likely be starting under center for the Owls, but who will he be throwing the ball to? Lajohntay Wester is a safe bet, having led the team in receptions and receiving yards in 2021. Je'Quan Burton transferred over from Southern Illinois and had two games with seven catches. However, he had 27 receptions total. 

Florida International Running Back

Florida International was woeful in 2021. Its only win was against LIU, a school relatively new to competing at the FCS level. The Panthers have a new head coach in Mike McIntyre, who managed to win at San Jose State, not a school where that is easy. However, McIntyre won't have the services of D'vonte Price, who had more than double the carries of his closest teammate. Lexington Joseph, Shaun Peterson, and EJ Wilson all had between 42 and 58 carries, but Wilson averaged 5.7 yards per carry. Based on play last season he's the early favorite but there's a lot of offseason left for that carry rotation to settle.

Louisiana Tech : Quarterback

In 2020, Luke Anthony threw for 16 touchdowns against five interceptions in nine games for the Bulldogs. He then proceeded to miss all of 2021 with an ankle injury. Sonny Cumbie has taken over as head coach for La Tech, and he has no ties to Anthony. Matthew Downing has followed Cumbie from TCU as a transfer, and Parker McNeil is a new transfer as well, though he has no ties to Cumbie.

Marshall Quarterback

The Thundering Herd return their leading running back, wide receiver, and tight end. The closest thing to a battle they have is at quarterback. Although, I don't know how much of a "battle" it will actually be. Grant Wells is gone. In comes Texas Tech transfer Henry Colombi. Joining him are some freshman and Luke Zban, who was Wells' backup in 2021. This job is Colombi's to lose, and he has some real weapons around him.

MTSU : Wide Receiver

Assuming Chase Cunningham is healed from his leg injury he will be the quarterback. Rick Stockstill's teams with the Blue Raiders have been characterized by like a dozen running backs getting 20 carries in a season and none of them breaking out. That leaves the wide receiver position, where I am wondering if somebody will emerge. MTSU's top-four receivers in 2021, Jarrin Pierce, Jimmy Marshall, Yusuf Ali, and Jaylin Lane, are all back. They each had between 42 and 45 catches and between 466 and 523 yards. Will somebody from that quartet become the go-to receiver? Or will they be sharing the wealth again?

North Texas Quarterback

Last season the Mean Green were characterized by musical chairs under center. They couldn't land on Jace Ruder or Austin Aune. A big part of that was probably the fact neither was very good. Aune threw nine touchdowns against nine picks and completed only 51.2 percent of his passes. Ruder completed 54.1 percent of his passes but had five interceptions against three touchdowns. Don't count out Louisiana Tech transfer JD Head. It has already been reported he'll see snaps this spring.

Old Dominion : Wide Receiver

The only place I see a real battle is at the secondary receiver spot behind Ali Jennings. However, tight end Zack Kuntz will likely be getting more targets and catches than any receiver other than Jennings, and that could be a battle. Isiah Paige returns, but the name that intrigues me is Stone Smartt. Smartt is a former quarterback who was moved to receiver last season. He responded with 17 catches for 167 yards with limited. I'm definitely keeping an eye on Smartt in spring practices. There is opportunity here.

Rice Quarterback

Last season four different players saw time under center for the Owls. Luke McCaffrey is officially a receiver now, but Jake Constantine, Wiley Green, and TJ McMahon are all back. So is JoVoni Johnson, who didn't play in 2021 but was a starter in 2020. Top receiver Jake Bailey's younger brother Joshua is a true freshman quarterback for the team now as well. They can't all see significant snaps in spring.

Southern Miss Quarterback

Here's how bleak things got for the Golden Eagles in 2021 under center: By the end of the year running back Frank Gore and wide receiver Antavious Willis were playing quarterback and basically running the option. After Trey Lowe and Ty Keyes were lost for the season, true freshman Jake Lange looked overwhelmed. Nobody is expecting Gore to be an option quarterback for Southern Miss this season. Lower, Keyes, and Lange will likely battle for the role, and it's anybody's to win.

UAB Wide Receiver

The Blazers' leading returning receiver is Jermaine Brown, who is a running back. Next up is Hayden Pittman, who is a tight end. There is nothing but opportunity here. The top returning wide receiver is Ryan Davis, who had 13 catches for 161 yards. Their only notable transfer is Dexter Boykin, who had 50 catches for 712 yards and five touchdowns for North Alabama, an FCS school, in 2021.

UNC Charlotte Running Back

I feel like we know what the 49ers will do under center and who the top receivers are. I'm curious about the running back duo of Calvin Camp and Shadrick Byrd, who were a true tandem in 2021. Camp rushed for 635 yards and four touchdowns, while Byrd rushed for 583 yards and three touchdowns. Byrd had 248 receiving yards and two touchdowns, while Camp had 130 receiving yards and a touchdown. Having said that, Camp had 113 carries to Byrd's 132. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry to Byrd's 4.4. Will the 49ers tilt that distribution in 2022? If so, that could change the landscape for fantasy purposes.

UTEP Wide Receiver

The Miners came out of nowhere to actually make a bowl game in 2021, a rare occurrence for the school. However, they now need to replace Jacob Cowing, who had 69 catches for 1,354 yards and seven touchdowns in 2021. Now, my first thought was that the role will be Justin Garrett's. He had 50 catches for 685 yards and four touchdowns last season. Then, Tyrin Smith decided to not transfer. While Smith only had 33 receptions, they went for 570 yards and four touchdowns. Smith showed more big-play ability. Who will emerge as the top receiver in 2022?

UTSA Running Back

Frank Harris is back under center. The Roadrunners have three very good receivers, and they all returned as well. The big question: Who replaces Sincere McCormick? McCormick was vital for UTSA's offense for three seasons. He rushed for over 1,400 yards in each of his last two campaigns, and he had 15 rushing scores in 2021. That's a lot of production to replace. It's been reported that Kaedric Cobbs is getting the first look with the first team, but he's competing with Tye Edwards. The JUCO transfer is going to give Cobbs a run for his money, though I don't see anybody replacing what McCormick could do.

Western Kentucky Quarterback

Honestly, the bigger story is the new offensive coordinator. Zach Kittley joined Western Kentucky from Houston Baptist and in one season earned himself a promotion to Texas Tech. Ty Helton decided to promote from within, naming Ben Arbuckle and Josh Crawford co-offensive coordinators. The philosophy will remain the same, but what about the performance? Also, how much of that was about Bailey Zappe? The Hilltoppers got a nice grad transfer in Jarret Doege, who has played a ton and likely wouldn't have come down to WKU if he didn't expect to start. However, he'll have to hold off freshman Darius Ocean and Chance McDonald.

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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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