Players to watch in Conference USA for 2015

It’s Wednesday and that means it’s time for to start talking college football as we dig into each conference. TSS Associate Editors Bart Doan and Terry Johnson join staff writer Kevin Causey and special rotating guests in our weekly roundtables discussing all things college football.

Last week we talked about the wide open Sun Belt Conference. Today we start to dig into the Conference USA as we are joined by Joe Suhoski.

Question: Who are the players to watch this year in Conference USA?

Joe Suhoski

On Twitter @VaBeachRep

If there’s one player in Conference USA who hasn’t gotten the accolades that he should, it’s Aaron Jones of UTEP. A rising junior from El Paso, this running back led the Miners last year as a true sophomore in rushing yards (1,321), rushing attempts (242), rushing touchdowns (eleven) and total touchdowns (14). Those three other touchdowns came as receptions, which also led UTEP. Despite this production as a true sophomore last year, he received only Third Team All Conference USA preseason recognition by Phil Steele. If there’s one player whose skills fit that of his head coach, it is Aaron Jones running for Miners’ head coach Sean Kugler.

Bart Doan:

On Twitter @TheCoachBart

Southern Miss’ 2015 season sounds a lot like a relationship conversation we’ve all had where one person says, “I know I love you, but I don’t necessarily show it enough.” The Golden Eagles should be much improved, but it might not show up from a record standpoint because of the scathing schedule that sees them visit conference power houses Louisiana Tech, Rice, and Marshall. They also get to rodeo with Nebraska and Mississippi State early on, so if they can either not get flogged or learn from said floggings, that could go a long way later on.

Right there, you’re looking at 5 games they’ll be heavy underdogs in. But there’s intriguing stuff going on under Todd Monken. The program was at horrid lows when he took over, and the rise back to respectability has been slow. What could end up being the key could be TCU transfer Tyler Matthews, who was recruited by several successful Big 12 outfits out of high school. If he can help jump start USM’s moribund offense and help cut down on the turnovers (last in the league in turnover margin in 2014), behind four returning offensive line starters, I think USM has a shot to shock some folks, and at the very list, hang one of those 5 skins on the wall that they’re not supposed to win. They’re coming back, it just takes time. Matthews could be one of those dudes you find out a whole lot about here in mid-October or so and say, “how did this guy slip through the cracks?”

Kevin Causey:

On Twitter @CFBZ

My pick is a player that was a consensus five-star QB coming out of high school and was the number one ranked QB in the recruiting class of 2011. This player went on to play for four injury-riddled years at Florida throwing 23 TD against 20 INT and rushing for 9 TDs.

The players name is Jeff Driskel and he’s the new QB for Louisiana Tech. As a fifth-year senior, Driskel has one chance to resurrect his reputation. Skip Holtz and the Bulldogs made a lot of progress from year one to year two and now Holtz will put a lot of trust in a player that quite frankly has had a very suspect career.

America loves a good redemption story. Will they find one with Driskel or will he finish his college career by never living up to the hype?

Terry Johnson:

On Twitter @SectionTPJ

The player I’m keeping an eye on is Western Kentucky QB Brandon Doughty, who captured Conference USA’s MVP Award last season.

Make no mistake about it: Doughty has what it takes to play at the next level. He thrived under former NFL QB Jeff Brohm’s pass-happy attack, leading the nation in passing yards (4,830) and TD passes (49). He also ranked in the top 10 in passing efficiency (3rd), completion percentage (6th), and yards per attempt (8th).

He was virtually unstoppable at the end of the season. After a rough outing against Louisiana Tech (40% completion percentage, 4 INT’s), Doughty took his play to another level. Over the final 5 games, Doughty completed 69.9% of his passes for 1,825 yards and 24 TD’s, including an 8-TD performance against then-unbeaten Marshall.

It’s tough to argue with those results.