Conference USA is one of our favorite conferences to watch during the football season. The football is always exciting, the games are often some high scoring, but they still play very disciplined and sound defensive football. The CUSA produces a ton of playmakers every year who many non-CUSA fans don’t find out about until the season is already over. Here are 24 names you need to know for the 2012 season.
DE Toby Jackson
6’5, 257 lbs.
Jackson saw limited time last year for the Knights defense after signing with them out of the JUCO ranks. He is expected to play a prominent role this season in rushing the passer. He is at his best when he’s asked to simply get after the QB, utilizing his size, speed, and athletic ability. He was a terror to block at Navarro College and the Knights are hoping to see Jackson replicate that success in 2012.
CB AJ Bouye
6’0, 186 lbs.
A long and athletic CB with a knack for making big plays, Bouye will step into the #1 CB spot vacated by early draft entrant Josh Robinson. Bouye will be asked to shut down a number of top WR prospects including inter-division foe Aaron Dobson on October 27th, and freshman phenom Dorial Green-Beckham in a massive week four out of conference game. Bouye will have to improve on his 13 career pass breakups and two career INT’s.
WR Quentin Pierce
5’11, 193 lbs.
The key to the Golden Eagles this season will be the ability of senior WR Quentin Pierce to quickly develop a bond with new QB Chris Campbell. Defenses will look to load the box to pressure Campbell and shut down RB Kendrick Hardy so it will be up to Pierce to help bail his QB and his running game out by making defenses pay. The silky smooth outside WR runs good routes, has the speed to beat defenses beat, and is one of the more natural pass catchers in this conference.
SAF Matez Thompson
6’0, 201 lbs.
The star of this year’s defense is going to be Jamie Collins who we like as well as much, if not more, than our colleague Mike Loyko who wrote about Collins yesterday. However it’s important to note that it won’t just be Collins blowing up the highlight reel this season, make sure you all keep your eyes on number six in the defensive backfield. Thompson is an athletic downhill safety who should be good for quite a few de-cleaters this season.
WR Lance Ray*
In this high flying ECU attack that OC Lincoln Riley likes to run expect first year player Lance Ray to see plenty of passes. He will step into the role vacated by the now graduated Lance Lewis. Ray combines size and speed into a combination that was near dominant at the JUCO level. Ray averaged over 19 yards a catch and scored 12 TD’s last year after leaving Arkansas. Ray should fit right in next to rising Sophomore Justin Hardy who led the team in receiving last year.
DE Justin Dixon*
We first saw Dixon two years ago in his freshman year, back then he was much skinnier but we knew from that moment he was a player to watch. Dixon flies all over the field with incredible athletic ability and knack for finding the football. He’s struggled throughout his entire career thus far after failing to qualify in 2009 to being banged up the last two season. He’s finally healthy though and will be looking to assert his dominance.
DE Jeremiah Taylor*
6’4, 250 lbs.
Marshall lost six of its top seven defensive players from last year’s squad and that included top notch NFL prospect Vinny Curry. It is Curry’s role that Taylor will find himself filling as he flips sides this year. Taylor actually led the Thundering Heard in QB Hurries last season with 11 to go along with 45 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 4 TFL. With Curry gone Taylor will see a lot more attention and it will be up to him to beat it.
LB Devin Arrington
Arrington is the lone returning starting LB from a year ago and he has to find a way to fill a 208 tackle void that Omar Brown and Tyson Gale left behind. Arrington who is no slouch himself contributed 77 tackles of his own and showed up some nice pass coverage skills as he picked off two passes and was able to deflect away four more. While he may not offer the behind the LOS playmaking ability of Gale, he will be an asset in coverage.
WR Jackie Williams*
5’11, 190 lbs.
There isn’t a ton to be excited about for the Blazers this year, they have a new HC in Garrick McGee and fans are praying he can get the team to at least show some signs of life on offense. Williams has had two good years for the Blazers but will need to be great this year if they hope to improve on their 3-9 record. Expect McGee (who is from Arkansas) to utilize Wilson similarly to how he utilized Joe Adams and Jarius Wright. We expect Wilson to get lots of touches with space to make a play happen.
LB Marvin Burdette
5’11, 230 lbs.
The do everything leader of the Blazer defense will once again be asked to do…well everything. Burdette makes the play calls, he positions his teammates, he calls out checks and audibles, and oh yea he also makes plays. He is the team’s top returning tackler and will once again be counted on to be the rock in the middle of this defense.
OT Jordan Dewey
6’7, 315 lbs.
The massive and versatile Dewey seems to have finally found his niche as the Tigers LT. He spent time last year at RT, RG, and LT but first year coach Justin Fuente likes the length and athletic ability of Dewey at LT. Dewey will be counted on heavily to block as much as possible because the Tigers will need all the room and time they can get if they hope to be successful this season.
LB Akeem Davis
6’1, 200 lbs.
Despite looking more like a SAF than a LB at times Davis still finds a way to continually make plays all over the field. He does a good job slipping blocks and slithering into the hole. He showed a knack for getting into the backfield last year making eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage along with deflecting four passes and picking off another three. The versatile Davis has to be a leader on this Memphis defense.