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College Football: PFF's 2020 Preseason All-Conference USA Team

No year in college football will be more memorable than the one we are experiencing now, as the impact of COVID-19 has forced most colleges to cancel the 2020 fall football season with the hope of trying to play in the spring.

We aren't here to give you our opinion on whether they should or should not have played in the fall, nor are we going to do that with their attempt to play in the spring. Instead, we want to shine a light on the players who deserve credit for the performances they have put forth over their college careers.

Without further ado, we present to you what would have been the 2020 PFF College Preseason All-Conference USA Team.

QUARTERBACK

FIRST TEAM: ASHER O’HARA, MIDDLE TENNESSEE

O’Hara’s mobility is Middle Tennessee’s greatest asset. No current QB produced a higher rushing grade in 2019 than O’Hara. You really do have to get a square shot on him — he ranked fifth in the entire FBS (including RBs) in total runs with 10-plus yards after contact.

Second Team: Chris Reynolds, Charlotte
Third Team: Tyler Johnston III, UAB
Honorable Mention: Jack Abraham, Southern Miss

RUNNING BACK

FIRST TEAM: MALCOLM DAVIDSON, FLORIDA ATLANTIC

More opportunities could solidify Davidson as one of the best backs in the FBS. He’s not only shifty with the ball (0.3 broken tackles per attempt, tied 17th in the FBS), but he's also a breakaway threat (25% of carries in 2019 were 10-plus yard gains, best in the FBS).

Second Team: Tre Harbison, Charlotte
Third Team: Jermaine Brown Jr., UAB
Honorable Mention: DeAndre Torrey, North Texas

RUNNING BACK

Dec 23, 2019; Tampa, Florida, USA; Marshall Thundering Herd running back Brenden Knox (20) runs the ball during the second quarter against the Central Florida Knights at Raymond James Stadium. Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
FIRST TEAM: BRENDEN KNOX, MARSHALL

Knox really took off down the stretch of the 2019 season, making his name known as one of the top backs in the conference. From Week 8 on, Knox produced the 12th-most explosive rushes of 10-plus yards in the FBS, with 26.

Second Team: Tre Siggers, North Texas
Third Team: Kevin Perkins, Southern Miss
Honorable Mention: Elijah “Lala” Davis, Old Dominion

WIDE RECEIVER

FIRST TEAM: AUSTIN WATKINS, UAB

Watkins is one of college football’s best receivers in contested situations. In fact, his grade on such targets ranked seventh in the entire FBS. He’s a legitimate deep threat, too, as he led the FBS in 20-plus-yard targets while tying for 14th in the FBS in deep-receiving grade.

Second Team: Austin Trammell, Rice
Third Team: Zakhari Franklin, UTSA
Honorable Mention: Jimmy Marshall, Middle Tennessee

WIDE RECEIVER

FIRST TEAM: VICTOR TUCKER, CHARLOTTE

Tucker earned an 84.5 receiving grade in 2019, the second-best grade in the C-USA. He dropped only two of his 58 catchable targets and recorded an 89.2 grade on contested targets, too.

Second Team: Tim Jones, Southern Miss
Third Team: Cee Jay Powell, LA Tech
Honorable Mention: Jaylond Adams, Southern Miss*

WIDE RECEIVER

FIRST TEAM: JAELON DARDEN, NORTH TEXAS

Darden is electric with the ball in his hands, and that makes him a huge weapon underneath. Only four current FBS wide receivers have produced a higher receiving grade on underneath targets since 2018.

Second Team: Jahcour Pearson, Western Kentucky
Third Team: Justin Garrett, UTEP
Honorable Mention: Brad Rozner, Rice

TIGHT END

Marshall tight end Xavier Gaines (11) runs the ball as MTSU safety Decorian Patterson (33) moves in for a tackle. Credit: HELEN COMER/DNJ, Murfreesboro Daily News Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC
FIRST TEAM: XAVIER GAINES, MARSHALL

Gaines is far from a polished tight end, but he is the best one in the C-USA right now. He has more than proved that he can produce after the catch, though, as he has broken 12 tackles on 40 career catches while averaging over 7 yards after the catch per reception.

Second Team: Jordan Myers, Rice
Third Team: Hayden Pittman, UAB
Honorable Mention: Jason Pirtle, North Texas

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

FIRST TEAM: COLE SPENCER, WESTERN KENTUCKY

Spencer is one of the most reliable pass-protecting tackles in the Group of 5. He’s fresh off a year in which he produced an 87.4 pass-block grade, 13th in the FBS, and he allowed just nine pressures (none of which were a sack) on 468 pass-blocking snaps.

Second Team: D’Mitri Emmanuel, Charlotte
Third Team: Will Ulmer, Marshall
Honorable Mention: D’Antne Demery, FIU

OFFENSIVE GUARD

FIRST TEAM: JORDAN MEREDITH, WESTERN KENTUCKY

Meredith took his play to new heights in 2019. After performing at a relatively average level in his first year starting for Western Kentucky in 2018, Meredith came back in 2019 to produce the second-best pass-block grade among all FBS guards.

Second Team: Alex Mollette, Marshall
Third Team: Mershawn Miller, FIU
Honorable Mention: Joshua Mote, LA Tech

CENTER

FIRST TEAM: KODY RUSSEY, LA Tech

Russey is the best center in C-USA, and it isn’t particularly close. He was one of 15 centers to produce a 74.0-plus grade in both pass protection and as a run-blocker. If you don’t have an all-star on the line, you’re likely not making many plays against Russey.

Second Team: Seth Joest, Western Kentucky
Third Team: Shane McGough, FIU
Honorable Mention: Trace Clopton, Southern Miss

OFFENSIVE GUARD

FIRST TEAM: CAIN MADDEN, MARSHALL

Once the 338-pound Madden gets his hands on you, you’re not escaping. He also moves exceptionally well for a guy of his size, and he looks like a bulldozer in the run game. These skills helped him earn the second-highest grade in the conference in 2019.

Second Team: Tyler Witt, Western Kentucky
Third Team: Bobby Deharo, UTEP
Honorable Mention: Kevin Davis, UTSA

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

FIRST TEAM: JOSH BALL, MARSHALL

At 6-foot-8, 350 pounds, Ball isn’t going to lose often in a phone booth. He had the best true pass set grade of any C-USA tackle in 2019, which also ranked eighth in the entire FBS. Ball’s run- block grade was also first in the conference.

Second Team: Robert Jones, Middle Tennessee
Third Team: Willie Allen, LA Tech
Honorable Mention: Jacob Brammer, North Texas

 


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INTERIOR DEFENDER

FIRST TEAM: DION NOVIL, NORTH TEXAS

Novil has no issue at all when it comes to shedding blocks. He’s a force at heads-up nose, where he played over 76% of his snaps (third-most snaps in the FBS). Novil was also just one of eight FBS nose tackles to produce 75.0-plus grades versus the run and in the pass rush.

Second Team: Jaylon Haynes, UTSA
Third Team: Dayton LeBlanc, North Texas
Honorable Mention: Tony Fair, UAB

INTERIOR DEFENDER

FIRST TEAM: JEREMY MEISER, OLD DOMINION

Meiser was always good against the run, but he entered the 2019 season quite unrefined as a pass-rusher. All that changed last season. Meiser finished the year with a PFF pass-rush grade of 88.1, making him college football’s sixth-highest-graded pass-rusher.

Second Team: Jeremy Darvin, Western Kentucky
Third Team: Elijah Garcia, Rice
Honorable Mention: De’Braylon Carroll, Rice

EDGE DEFENDER

FIRST TEAM: JORDAN SMITH, UAB

The former four-star Florida Gators recruit (2016 class) came to UAB in 2019 and proved that he’s one of college football’s top edge rushers by finishing the year as the fourth-most valuable player at the position.

Second Team: Keion White, Old Dominion
Third Team: Darius Hodge, Marshall
Honorable Mention: Marcus Haynes, Old Dominion

EDGE DEFENDER

Nov 10, 2018; Boca Raton, FL, USA; Western Kentucky Hilltoppers defensive lineman DeAngelo Malone (10) tackles Florida Atlantic Owls wide receiver Jovon Durante (7) during the second half at FAU Football Stadium. Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
FIRST TEAM: DEANGELO MALONE, WESTERN KENTUCKY

If the last three years are any indication, WKU is getting a solid pass-rusher in Malone this year. In that span, he has generated an 86.1 pass-rush grade and a 16.8% win rate — both of which crack the 70th percentile among FBS edge players with 600 or more pass-rush snaps.

Second Team: Jacques Turner, Southern Miss*
Third Team: Alex Wright, UAB
Honorable Mention: Lorenzo Dantzler, UTSA

LINEBACKER

FIRST TEAM: AKILEIS LEROY, FAU*

Leroy is one of the few linebackers in the country who can execute in any role at a high level. Last year, he produced 74.0-plus grade in every facet (run defense, pass rush, coverage and tackling), which is something only four other FBS off-ball linebackers did.

*Future with FAU is uncertain.

Second Team: Santrell Latham, Southern Miss
Third Team: Kristopher Moll, UAB
Honorable Mention: Ezekiel Barnett, LA Tech

LINEBACKER

FIRST TEAM: KYLE BAILEY, WESTERN KENTUCKY

Bailey is coming off a season in which he produced a 90.4 coverage grade, tied for the best in the FBS. He made several impressive plays on the ball in the process.

Second Team: Tyreke Davis, North Texas
Third Team: Racheem Boothe, Southern Miss*
Honorable Mention: Jordan Young, Old Dominion

CORNERBACK

UTEP wide receiver Warren Redix, left, gets wrapped up with UAB's Brontae Harris, 33, while going for a pass. Credit: Rudy Gutierrez, Imagn
FIRST TEAM: BRONTAE HARRIS, UAB

People often forget what Harris did before missing all of 2019 through injury, but we sure as heck didn’t. Back in 2017 and 2018, Harris combined for a coverage grade that ranked fifth among Group of 5 cornerbacks; he allowed a 40% catch rate and made 25 plays on the ball.

Second Team: Rishard Dames, FIU
Third Team: Steven Gilmore, Marshall
Honorable Mention: Duron Lowe, UTEP

CORNERBACK

FIRST TEAM: KALEB FORD-DEMENT, OLD DOMINION

Ford-Dement’s feel for zone is excellent. He made 12 plays on the ball in zone coverage in 2019, tying for the fifth-most among FBS cornerbacks.

Second Team: Nafees Lyon, Charlotte
Third Team: Rachuan Mitchell, Southern Miss
Honorable Mention: TD Marshall, UAB

SAFETY

FIRST TEAM: ANTWON KINCADE, WESTERN KENTUCKY

Kincade has quick read-and-react ability wherever he is on the field. We routinely saw it at free safety in 2019 when he led C-USA in passing stops. He also had the third-best grade when covering the slot, where he allowed only three catches on 11 targets.

Second Team: Will Boler, UAB
Third Team: Devon Key, Western Kentucky
Honorable Mention: Richard Dames, FIU

SAFETY

FIRST TEAM: DORIAN HALL, FIU

Hall is a playmaker on the back end. He has made impressive reads to put himself exactly where he needed to be to make a play on the ball. A free safety since 2018, Hall intercepted three passes (two more were negated by penalty) and forced two incompletions.

Second Team: Reed Blankenship, Middle Tennessee
Third Team: Nazeeh Johnson, Marshall
Honorable Mention: Kylan Stribling, Middle Tennessee

FLEX DEFENSE

FIRST TEAM: DY’JONN TURNER, UAB

Turner is the best player in C-USA, and the only players sniffing him in that regard are his own teammates. He produced the highest slot-coverage grade among Group of 5 defensive backs last year and had three more plays on ball (10) than the number of first downs he allowed.

Second Team: Rashad Wisdom, UTSA
Third Team: Micrah Abraham, Marshall
Honorable Mention: George Kyakwol, Rice

KICKER

First Team: Gavin Baechle, UTEP
Second Team: Ethan Mooney, North Texas
Third Team: Hunter Duplessis, UTSA
Honorable Mention: Nick Rice, Old Dominion

PUNTER

First Team: John Haggerty, Western Kentucky
Second Team: Matt Hayball, FAU
Third Team: Kyle Greenwell, UAB
Honorable Mention: Tommy Heatherly, FIU

KICK RETURNER

First Team: Blake Watson, Old Dominion
Second Team: Deion Hair-Griffin, North Texas
Third Team: Jaylond Adams, Southern Miss*
Honorable Mention: DeAndre Torrey, North Texas

PUNT RETURNER

First Team: Talik Keaton, Marshall
Second Team: Jaylond Adams, Southern Miss*
Third Team: Jaelon Darden, North Texas
Honorable Mention: Austin Trammell, Rice

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