The Watch List: C-USA Preview

Updated: July 23rd 2017

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players, storylines and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  Check back throughout the Summer for previews on each conference and my preseason Heisman predictions.  During the regular season, The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Players to Watch

  • Ray Lawry, RB, Old Dominion: Lawry wasn’t the first player I researched from C-USA but something about his running style caught my eye.  He doesn’t have much wiggle, but he has a low center of gravity and is always moving forward.  Size wise, he compares to Paul Perkins and Theo Riddick.  He will be a senior and four year contributor (528 carries, 3,338 yards, 38 rushing TDs, 49 receptions, 441 yards, 2 receiving TDs so far) who will likely stay under the radar.  Keep an eye on him and I’ll bet he’ll be available late in your 2018 rookie draft.
  • Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky: White has prototypical NFL quarterback size at 6’4″ and 215lb, although in reality his height is probably exaggerated as most college media guide measurables are.  White is a pocket passer, out of the gun, who does not offer anything on the ground.  Ironically, the highlight of his that stood out came against North Texas when he scrambled, making multiple defenders miss, and had the presence to find an open receiver streaking through the middle for a long gain.  He’s a former USF transfer who moved to Western Kentucky to start.  In 2016, his TD:INT ratio was spectacular (37:7) and if he can repeat that type of production without Taywan Taylor then he could get some mid-round NFL consideration.
  • Ito Smith, RB, Southern Miss: Smith is small and I couldn’t avoid the inevitable Darren Sproles comparison while taking notes.  In the right offense, he could offer some great PPR value.  He has good lateral quickness, he loves to jump cut and even has a cool looking jump-cut-swim-move he uses occasionally to avoid a tackle.  That lateral quickness lets him keep his pads parallel to the line and find holes – which don’t have to be that big for him to fit through.  I can’t imagine he gets much draft buzz but depending on landing spot he could have some limited fantasy value early in his career.

Storylines to Watch

  • Lane Kiffin and Butch Davis rebooting their careers in the C-USA.  Even casual college football fans likely know the names Lane Kiffin and Butch Davis.  Kiffin has managed to get jobs at the highest level – USC, Oakland Raiders, Alabama – but seems to always find a way to run himself out of town.  Meanwhile, Davis won three conference championships with the Miami Hurricanes in the early aughts, flamed out with the Cleveland Browns after promisingly making the playoffs in his second year and then found himself in the middle of an academic scandal at UNC.  Scandal or not, Davis was mostly mediocre at UNC and might have been let go soon anyway (28-23 regular season record if you count the vacated wins and a 1-2 bowl record).  Both coaches are seeking a chance to rebuild their careers with low level jobs in Florida: Kiffin at Florida Atlantic and Davis at Florida International.  If I had to guess which one gets another chance at a big job I would go with Kiffin mostly because he’s younger and will inevitably convince another AD (or NFL owner) that he’s worth the shot.  If nothing else, it’s going to be a boon for Florida high school players because recruiting is going to ratchet up.

Games to Watch

  • October 20, Western Kentucky at Old Dominion:  This game will be a good measuring stick for two of my players mentioned above.  ODU back Ray Lawry was shut out last year against Western Kentucky, rushing eight times for 27 yards and catching two passes for -2 yards.  If he can put up a respectable game against what should be the top conference foe, it will speak wonders to his pro prospects.  WKU QB Mike White lit up the Monarchs for 378 yards and 4 TDs last season; he also had a season-high completion percentage of 87.5%.  ODU could challenge in the division but no matter, these are the types of games a hopeful pro quarterback needs to excel in.
  • November 18, Florida International at Florida Atlantic: Call it the Reboot Bowl.  Kiffin vs Davis.  Chances are that come November 18, none of us will be able to name a single player on either team but this one should still be entertaining.  Over/under on the number of graphics showing each coach’s previous jobs?  Both coaches are working mostly with the previous regime’s players but in a year or two this might really be a game to watch – assuming both coaches are still there.

Thanks for reading!  Check back soon for the MAC preview.


Note: When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast, draftek.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

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