The Comeback’s lead up to the 2017 college football season continues, as our conference previews move on to Conference USA this week. I’ll kick things off by taking a look at the league’s quarterbacks, who put up some monster numbers a year ago.
Q. Who are the league’s top returning quarterbacks?
3. Chase Litton, QB, Marshall – In a league loaded with great passers, it’s easy to overlook Litton. However, opposing defensive coordinators won’t make that mistake. He’s one of the most experienced signal callers in the league, starting 21 games for the Thundering Herd over the past two seasons. During that span, he has thrown for 5,217 yards with a respectable 47/17 TD-to-INT ratio. Litton was especially tough on fourth down, completing 8-of-10 passes for 176 yards (tops in the nation) and four touchdowns. If he’s able to remain healthy – something that Marshall as a team was unable to do last year – he could push for first-team all-conference honors.
2. Brent Stockstill, QB, Middle Tennessee State – Looking at the numbers, you could make a case that Stockstill is the top returning quarterback in the league. After all, he did finish 5th nationally in passing yards per game. His average (323.3 ypg) would have been a lot higher if he hadn’t broken his collarbone in the second quarter against UTEP. Regardless, Stockstill has been one of the most productive quarterbacks in Conference USA over the last two seasons, throwing for 7,238 yards and 61 TDs during that time. Those totals include a 399-yard outing against bowl-bound Vanderbilt and a 356-yard effort against Louisiana Tech. He should pickup right where he left off last season (a 432-yard performance versus Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl), and eclipse the 4,000-yard barrier for the second time in his career.
1. Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky – Last season, Hilltoppers fans wondered if the offense would struggle without all-world QB Brandon Doughty. White calmed their fears right away, completing 25 of 31 passes (80.6%) for 517 yards and three touchdowns against Rice in the season opener. Although he would struggle against Alabama the following week, White had a fantastic year, ranking in the top 10 nationally in completion percentage (eighth), passing yards per game (eighth), touchdown passes (eighth), passer rating (third), and yards per attempt (second). It’ll be interesting to see if he posts the same type of numbers again this year under the leadership of new head coach Mike Sanford. Even if he doesn’t, he’ll still be one of the top players in the league.
Q. Which quarterback will have a breakout season?
I’ll go with J’Mar Smith from Louisiana Tech. He played well when his number was called last year, completing 19 of 31 passes for 212 yards in the Bulldogs near-upset of Arkansas in the season opener. Although he didn’t play much when Ryan Higgins returned to the lineup, Smith still managed to complete 69.8% of his throws and averaged 9.6 yards per pass attempt. Now that the job is his, I expect him to post huge numbers in Skip Holtz’s offense – which has thrown for over 4,000 yards in each of the last two seasons.
Q. Who is a newcomer to keep an eye on?
Although there are a couple of new quarterbacks to watch out for this fall, I’ll say Kwadra Griggs of Southern Mississippi. Sure, he’s still battling Keon Howard for the starting job, but I expect him to win it since he won the backup job last year before academic issues curtailed his season. Griggs looked sharp in the spring game, connecting on 15 of 25 passes for 207 yards. He also played well in junior college, throwing for 3,200 yards and 27 touchdowns in two seasons for Itawamba CC. While he might not post the type of numbers that Nick Mullens did, he’ll have a great season, and have the Eagles in position to return to the conference championship game.
Q. What is the most intriguing quarterback situation?
Without question, it’s Florida Atlantic. Lane Kiffin and Kendall Briles have done a great job developing quarterbacks throughout their careers. This season, they’ll work with returning starter Jason Driskel – who completed 61.2% of his passes in 2016 – as well as Florida State transfer De’Andre Johnson. It’ll be interesting to see who wins the job, and whether the new scheme can jump start an FAU aerial attack that hasn’t finished higher than ninth in the league in passing yards since joining C-USA in 2013.