USM has five named conference; team picked to finish second

By FROM CONFERENCE USA,

DALLAS – Southern Miss has been chosen to finish second in Conference USA’s West Division in a preseason vote conducted by a panel of media members that cover C-USA schools and released today by the league office.

Marshall and North Texas, which each won nine games and played in a bowl game last season, have been forecasted as the two schools that will meet in the C-USA Championship Game this December, as the Thundering Herd were picked to win the East Division title, while North Texas was selected to be crowned West Division champions.

Following North Texas and Southern Miss in the West Division voting included Louisiana Tech, UAB, UTSA, Rice and UTEP.

FIU was picked to finish second in the East, followed by Florida Atlantic, Middle Tennessee, WKU, Old Dominion and Charlotte.

The 15th annual Conference USA Football Championship Game, pitting the champions of the East and West Divisions, will be held Saturday, Dec. 7.  The 2019 C-USA Football season kicks off Thursday, Aug. 29.

C-USA MEDIA MEMBERS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

EAST DIVISION

1.  Marshall (14)

2.  FIU (9)

3.  Florida Atlantic (3)

4.  Middle Tennessee

5.  WKU

6.  Old Dominion

7.  Charlotte

WEST DIVISION

1.  North Texas (20)

2.  Southern Miss (4)

3.  Louisiana Tech

4.  UAB (2)

5.  UTSA

6.  Rice

7.  UTEP

(first place votes in parentheses)

A vote of the league’s 14 coaches produced five Southern Miss football players chosen to the 2019 Conference USA preseason team released Monday afternoon.

Southern Miss, along with North Texas, had the most overall preseason selections with five, while Marshall placed four and Charlotte produced players comprising four spots.  Nine schools had multiple players named to the squad.

The Golden Eagles enjoyed one offensive preseason selection in redshirt junior wide receiver Quez Watkins, while the defensive side includes linemen senior Demarrio Smith and redshirt junior Jacques Turner, redshirt junior linebacker Racheem Boothe and redshirt junior defensive back Ky’el Hemby.

Watkins led the Golden Eagles last season with 72 catches for 889 yards and nine receiving touchdowns in 11 games, while also leading C-USA in receptions per game at 6.5. He earned first-team C-USA honors following last season.

Hemby highlights the defensive returners for the Golden Eagles as the top returning tackler from a season ago. Hemby finished second in 2018 in total tackles for the Golden Eagles defense that ended the year No. 3 nationally in total defense (278.4) with 51 stops. He also added a team-best six interceptions, which tied for the league lead.

The next highest tackler returning from a season ago, Boothe, finished with 48 stops of which 10 were for loss and four sacks. He added a team-high two fumble recoveries, five quarterback hurries and three pass breakups.

Turner, who was first-team selection following last fall, returns with the most tackles among Southern Miss lineman this season with 33 tackles. He posted 10 of those for loss and five sacks among that total. He added two forced fumbles during the year which was tied for second in C-USA per game.

Smith registered 17 tackles with one tackle for loss, one sack and blocked a field goal attempt at Auburn last September.

The 2019 preseason Conference USA Football award winners included North Texas senior quarterback Mason Fine as the favorite to win his third straight C-USA Offensive Player of the Year award, FIU senior linebacker Sage Lewis as the preseason Defensive Player of the Year, while Charlotte sophomore kicker Jonathan Cruz earned Special Teams Player of the Year accolades.

The league’s 24th football season begins on Thursday, August 29.  The 15th annual Conference USA Football Championship Game, pitting the champions of the East and West Divisions, will be held Saturday, Dec. 7.

The C-USA Media Poll (Predicted Order of Finish) will be released on Tuesday.

2019 C-USA FOOTBALL COACHES PRESEASON AWARDS

Offensive Player of the Year

Mason Fine, Sr., QB, North Texas

Defensive Player of the Year

Sage Lewis, Sr., LB, FIU

Special Teams Players of the Year

Jonathan Cruz, So., K, Charlotte

Offense

QB -Mason Fine, Sr., North Texas

RB - Spencer Brown, Jr., UAB

RB - Benny LeMay, Sr., Charlotte

OL - Levi Brown, Sr., Marshall

OL  - Josh Dunlop, Sr., UTSA

OL - Derron Gatewood, Sr., UTEP

OL - Sosaia Mose, Sr., North Texas

OL - Miles Pate, Sr., WKU

TE - Harrison Bryant, Sr., Florida Atlantic

WR - Rico Bussey, Jr., Sr., North Texas

WR - Adrian Hardy, Jr., Louisiana Tech

WR - Quez Watkins, Jr., Southern Miss

Defense

DL - Channing Hames, Sr., Marshall

DL - LaDarius Hamilton, Sr., North Texas

DL - Alex Highsmith, Sr., Charlotte

DL - Garrett Marino, Sr., UAB

DL - DeMarrio Smith, Sr., Southern Miss

DL - Jacques Turner, Jr., Southern Miss

LB - Khalil Brooks, Sr., Middle Tennessee

LB - Sage Lewis, Sr., FIU

LB - Racheem Boothe, Jr., Southern Miss

DB - Reed Blankenship, Jr., Middle Tennessee

DB - Ky’el Hemby, Jr., Southern Miss

DB - Amik Robertson, Jr., Louisiana Tech

DB - Chris Jackson, Sr., Marshall

Special Teams

K - Jonathan Cruz, So., Charlotte

P - Alvin Kenworthy, Sr., North Texas

KR - Brett Winnegan, Sr., UTSA

PR - Maurice Alexander, Sr., FIU

LS - Matt Beardall, Sr., Marshall