With the help of PFF grades and advanced statistics — which are now available to PFF’s CFB Premium Stats+ Subscribers — we present to you the PFF 2020 All-Conference USA team.
First-Team: Austin Aune, North Texas
Both Aune and Jason Bean saw substantial time at quarterback for the Mean Green in 2020, but there's no question that the former was the most efficient passer in the C-USA.
Aune's 87.1 passing grade led the conference by over eight grading points, and he made the most of North Texas' aggressive approach. His 14.1-yard average depth of target was the third-highest in all of college football, and he paired that with the best big-time throw rate in the country (10.8%).
First-Team: DeAndre Torrey, North Texas
Torrey had a huge breakout year in 2020, earning a Group of 5-leading 92.1 rushing grade on the season. The 5-foot-7 back was at his best running between the guards; he finished first in the FBS in rushing grade on such runs while ranking eighth in yards per attempt (7.0) and sixth in percentage of runs that picked up a first down or touchdown (36.9%).
First-Team: Frank Gore Jr., Southern Miss
After a slow start, Frank Gore Jr. — the son of longtime NFL running back and current New York Jet Frank Gore — received a much larger role in this Southern Miss offense, and the true freshman hit the ground running. From Week 5 on, Gore was the eighth-highest-graded running back in the entire FBS. Overall, he edged out Tank Bigsby of Auburn and Deuce Vaughn of Kansas State to lead all first-year backs in rushing grade.
I think it’s safe to say he has a pretty bright future ahead of him.
First-Team: Jaelon Darden, North Texas
Darden was a big-time explosive and shifty slot weapon for the Mean Green in 2020. He ranked in the top five in the entire FBS in slot receiving grade (87.6), broken tackles after the catch (19), explosive plays of 15-plus yards (18) and yards per route run (3.91).
He didn’t see a huge amount of single coverage, as he predominantly resided in the slot, but we saw a lot of open targets and explosive plays when he did. Over 34% of his targets against single coverage resulted in a 15-plus-yard gain, the ninth-best rate in the entire FBS.
First-Team: Tim Jones, Southern Miss
Jones was limited to only six games this year due to an injury, but he still managed to produce an 87.5 receiving grade that ranked 11th in the FBS. He handles contact with ease, and he showed that after the catch this year by breaking nine tackles on 30 receptions.
First-Team: Jacob Cowing, UTEP
His hands may have been a little on the inconsistent side this year, but Cowing still managed to be productive. He trailed only Darden and Jones in the conference in yards per route run (2.94). Cowing was the Miners’ go-to deep target, with 40% of his targets coming via the deep ball (passes thrown 20 or more yards in the air downfield), the fifth-highest rate in the FBS.
First-Team: Xavier Gaines, Marshall
Gaines was the only tight end in the conference to generate over two yards per route run, and he led his peers in PFF receiving grade on the year. The Marshall tight end brought value after the catch on the underneath route tree and was a reliable target downfield, too, as he tied for the most 10-plus-yard catches at the position in the C-USA, with nine.
First-Team: Cole Spencer, Western Kentucky
This was a close battle for the first-team spot, but the honor ultimately falls to Western Kentucky’s Cole Spencer, thanks to his stout pass protection. Spencer's 83.9 pass-blocking grade came in at No. 1 in the conference and 11th among all FBS left tackles.
First-Team: Alex Mollette, Marshall
There has not been a better pass-protecting guard than Mollette in the FBS this year. He has yet to allow a pressure this year, the only guard with at least 150 pass-blocking snaps to accomplish that feat. That has helped him pick up an 89.1 pass-blocking grade this year.
First-Team: Alex Salguero, Marshall
Salguero logged just 52 snaps in his four seasons with the Thundering Herd before 2020. And with the previous starting center exhausting his eligibility, Salguero was finally called on to be a starter on this line. He surpassed expectations, leading all C-USA centers in PFF grade this year and even finishing among the FBS's top 25 players at the position.
First-Team: Cain Madden, Marshall
Madden's pass blocking has been great, with zero sacks and hits allowed this season, but his run-blocking has been on another level. Madden’s 93.4 run-blocking grade is nearly five grading points higher than that of any other FBS guard.
First-Team: Mason Brooks, Western Kentucky
Not only was Brooks the highest-graded right tackle in the conference, but he was also one of the few Group of 5 players to rank among the top 15 in the entire FBS. There were only six right tackles in college football to earn a grade above 80.0 as both a pass-blocker and run-blocker in 2020, and Brooks was one of them.
INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE
First-Team: Keenan Stewart, UTEP
Stewart may be the biggest surprise of the entire Group of 5 this year. The JUCO transfer got off to a rough start in his first two games for UTEP this season, but he was a straight-up monster in his six games after that. Stewart recorded an astounding 93.0 PFF grade and 94.8 run-defense grade over his last six games. Even including those first two games, Stewart was the highest-graded interior defensive lineman in the FBS.
First-Team: Milton Williams, Louisiana Tech
Williams was one of the few bright spots on this Louisiana Tech team this year; he was also one of few at his position to earn elite PFF grade against the run and as a pass-rusher. He’s the only interior defensive lineman in the FBS with a grade above 85.0 in those two facets.
First-Team: Jordan Smith, UAB
Smith hasn’t just been the best pass-rusher in the C-USA; he has been one of the best pass-rushers in all of college football. The once-Florida Gator and four-star recruit tore up his first season at the FBS level in 2019 and ended up as one of the five most valuable edge rushers in the country, according to PFF WAA. It has been no different this year, as he once again posted an elite pass-rush grade above 90.0.
First-Team: Alex Wright, UAB
Wright flashed a little bit as a true freshman in 2019 and continued to show a lot of promise as a starter this year. Wright and teammate Jordan Smith are the only edge defenders in the conference who have PFF grades above 80.0. The UAB edge defender recorded a double-digit win rate in all of the seven games in which he saw substantial work as a pass-rusher.
First-Team: Eli Neal, Marshall
Neal went from barely contributing as a true freshman in 2019, with only 50 snaps played, to excelling in a starting role in 2020. The Marshall backer posted a top-20 PFF grade among all FBS off-ball linebackers this season.
First-Team: Tavante Beckett, Marshall
It didn't matter if it was run defense, tackling, pass-rushing or coverage play — Beckett stood out in every facet. He was one of just nine FBS off-ball linebackers to earn a grade above 70.0 in each of those four areas this year. His overall grade of 80.6 ranks third among C-USA linebackers, behind only Eli Neal and Abraham Beauplan.
First-Team: Cam Johnson, North Texas
Fortunately for Johnson and North Texas, the move from the outside into the slot really elevated his play. Johnson finished 2020 as one of the 10 highest-graded slot corners, allowing only four first downs on 229 slot coverage snaps.
First-Team: Trae Meadows, Western Kentucky
Meadows got off to a bit of a rough start, earning sub-60.0 coverage grades in each of his first four games, but he turned a hard corner after that. From Week 7 on, the Western Kentucky slot corner earned a conference-best 87.9 coverage grade, with just 21 yards allowed in coverage.
First-Team: Nazeeh Johnson, Marshall
Johnson has been one of the best slot defenders in the Group of 5 this season. He owns the fifth-best slot coverage grade in the Group of 5, and he ranks fourth in passing stops with seven. That’s nearly as many passing stops as he recorded in his previous three seasons combined, and his 2020 slot coverage grade was over 13 grading points better than his mark over the last three years.
First-Team: Ben DeLuca, Charlotte
DeLuca had a big bounce-back season in 2020 after missing almost the entire 2019 season due to injury. The Charlotte 49er earned PFF grades of 75.7, 84.7 and 85.0 in his first three years before the 2019 injury. This year, he has come back to that form, earning a PFF grade of 82.5.
First-Team: Damon Miller, UAB
Miller took the bull by the horns in his first year as a starter, producing an impressive 87.8 coverage grade. He broke up six passes this year while allowing just seven total first downs.
Miller has thrived, no matter if he was playing deep safety or coming down to man the slot. He was tested when down in the slot with 12 targets on 72 coverage snaps, but he allowed just two first downs all year.