This article is part of our Conference Preview series.
Change has come to Conference USA, and it did not come complacently. Marshall, Southern Miss, and Old Dominion strong-armed their way into the Sun Belt for the start of the 2022 season. Their eventual move was inevitable, but the immediacy of it was not to the conference's liking. More change is coming in the near future, but for the 2022 campaign, we are left with 11 teams currently calling Conference USA home. Here are some fantasy insights for the new-look conference.
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All-Conference USA Fantasy Teams
QB: Frank Harris, UTSA (8)
RB: DeWayne McBride, UAB (17)
RB: Isaiah Johnson, North Texas (51)
WR: Zakhari Franklin, UTSA (17)
WR: Roderic Burns, North Texas (45)
TE: Hayden Pittman, North Texas (21)
QB: Jarret Doege, Western Kentucky
RB: Trelon Smith, UTSA
RB: Ronald Awatt, UTEP
WR: Malachi Corley, Western Kentucky
WR: Justin Garrett, UTEP
TE: Jake Roberts, North Texas
QB: N'Kosi Perry, FAU
RB: Johnny Ford, FAU
RB: Shadrick Byrd, Charlotte
WR: Joshua Cephus, UTSA
WR: Lajohntay Wester, FAU
TE: Jack Bradley, Rice
Conference USA Fantasy Sleepers
QB: Jarret Doege, Western Kentucky
Obviously, last year was a whirlwind for the Hilltoppers. They brought over Zach Kittley to be the offensive coordinator, and he brought over his quarterback at Houston Baptist, Bailey Zappe. Zappe then proceeded to set FBS records under center. Zappe is gone, but so is Kittley, who moved onto Texas Tech. That being said, Western Kentucky is likely going to try to do a worthy imitation of last season's offense. Doege has transferred in from West Virginia, where he started the last two years. The step down in competition should play into Doege's hands. I expect big numbers.
QB: Matthew Downing, Louisiana Tech
The Bulldogs have a new head coach in Sonny Cumbie. He is reunited with former Georgia recruit and TCU quarterback Downing. Cumbie comes from the Mike Leach tree, and Downing stepped into a situation where he had the chance to grab the starting gig without much competition. There's familiarity between quarterback and head coach, and that gives Downing real upside.
RB: Trelon Smith, UTSA
For three seasons, Sincere McCormick put up big numbers at running back for the Roadrunners. How much of that was the offense, and how much of that was McCormick's skills? We may be about to find out. Smith transferred to UTSA to step into McCormick's shoes. He comes from Arkansas, where he rushed for 1,308 yards and 10 touchdowns in 253 carries across two seasons. Doing that in the SEC is impressive. I think Smith can run all over Conference USA.
RB: Oscar Adaway, North Texas
This is a swing on injury luck giving Adaway an opportunity that he runs with. In 2020, Adaway rushed 99 times for 572 yards and three touchdowns. Then, he missed all of 2021 with an ACL injury. If Adaway is healthy, how many carries will he get? Could he be the number-two back behind Isaiah Johnson? Last season DeAndre Torrey had 248 carries for the Mean Green, and those carries have to be replaced by some combination of backs. Adaway could easily be a back who gets 600 or 700 yards and six or seven touchdowns with enough of a role.
WR: Daewood Davis, Western Kentucky
Davis was the slot receiver for the Hilltoppers last year. He finished with 43 catches for 763 yards and eight touchdowns. Now, with the Western Kentucky passing game, that left him third on the team in receiving yards, but that speaks to the offense's upside last season. Even if that upside is tamped down without Kittley and Zappe, even if Davis can replicate his 2021 that would be impressive.
Conference-USA Fantasy Busts
QB: Dylan Hopkins, UAB
Hopkins is recovering from offseason surgery that cost him spring practice. Then, head coach Bill Clark had to retire for his health. Jacob Zeno transferred in from Baylor, and that's putting pressure on Hopkins. There are a lot of elements to Hopkins' situation that could go awry, and that gives him bust potential.
QB: Gavin Hardison, UTEP
Hardison is the top returning passer in Conference USA in terms of yardage. However, he was not careful with the ball. The Miners quarterback had 13 interceptions and three lost fumbles. He's also lost his top receiver Jacob Cowing, who transferred to Arizona. If nobody steps up, that's a problem for Hardison.
RB: Deion Hankins, UTEP
In 2020, Hankins emerged with 121 carries for 592 yards and nine touchdowns. He had 121 carries in 2021 as well, but they went for 458 yards and six touchdowns. Hankins only averaged 3.8 yards per carry, and he opened the door for Ronald Awatt. On top of that, Hankins missed spring practices recovering from injury.
RB: Greg Garner, Louisiana Tech
Last year Marcus Williams rushed 194 times, but he has graduated. Garner is atop the depth chart, but I don't think he merely replaces Williams' production. The back is entering his third season with the Bulldogs, and he's never had more than 54 carries in a campaign. I don't think he goes from 216 yards and three touchdowns to big numbers just because of added opportunity.
WR: Roderic Burns, North Texas
I don't trust the quarterback situation for the Mean Green. Austin Aune and Jace Ruder are both back, but neither grabbed the role last season. Then, transfer Grant Gunnell threw himself into the mix as well. There's also the fact Jyaire Shorter is back and could cut into Burns' targets. Burns may not get 105 targets again, and I question the QBs who will be targeting him.
WR: Jarrin Pierce, MTSU
Pierce came up big in MTSU's bowl game, which left us with a positive impression of him. On the other hand, in the prior five games, he had 11 catches for 117 yards. Chase Cunningham is expected back from injury to start at quarterback, but if he's unable to stay on the field or take care of business, the depth chart is pretty bleak for the Blue Raiders.