Southern Miss

C-USA Top 5: Who are the top offensive skill players for 2017?

Southern Miss running back Ito Smith rushes for a first down against Marshall on Oct. 29, 2016, at M. M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg.
Southern Miss running back Ito Smith rushes for a first down against Marshall on Oct. 29, 2016, at M. M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg. ttisbell@sunherald.com File

There’s never a shortage on offensive skill position talent in Conference USA.

Some of the league’s top offensive players are lost to graduation each season, only to be replaced by new names putting up gaudy numbers.

With the season set to begin a little over two months from now on Aug. 26, here’s a breakdown of the top offensive players set to take the field in C-USA in 2017:

Receivers

1. MTSU redshirt junior Richie James: The Sarasota, Florida, native already ranks second all-time in MTSU history in receptions and receiving yardage. If he’s not the best offensive player in C-USA for 2017, he certainly has to be considered the most versatile. In a 77-56 win over FAU last year, he completed 5-of-6 passes for 76 yards, ran 22 times for 207 yards and three touchdowns while also catching four passes for 120 yards and a score. In just two years, he has a total of 213 catches for 2,971 yards and 20 touchdowns.

2. Southern Miss senior Allenzae Staggers: Staggers has the potential to be the most explosive receiver in C-USA this season. He caught 63 passes for 1,165 yards and seven touchdowns last year. He had a total of 17 catches for 552 and four touchdowns in just two games, wins over Rice and Louisiana-Lafayette. As long as he has a quarterback who can find him, Staggers is due another big year as a senior.

3. WKU senior Nacarius Fant: With Mike White back at quarterback, Fant should see his numbers dramatically increase after pulling in 29 catches for 407 yards and two scores last season.

4. ODU senior Jonathan Duhart: The Monarchs have to settle on a new quarterback, but this 6-foot-3, 221-pound receiver is sure to be a major weapon after catching 48 passes for 735 yards and nine touchdowns last year.

5. FAU redshirt senior Kalib Woods: New FAU head coach Lane Kiffin will have some toys to play with in Boca Raton this season. The 6-foot-3 Woods had 68 catches for 934 yards and one score last season.

Quarterbacks

1. WKU redshirt senior Mike White: Jeff Brohm has moved on to become the Purdue head coach and many of the top playmakers are lost from last year’s impressive offense, but White has a chance to keep the ball rolling in Bowling Green. He passed for 4,363 yards, 37 touchdowns and only seven interceptions a year ago.

2. MTSU redshirt junior Brent Stockstill: The son of MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill has a shot to surpass White this season as the top passer in C-USA. Despite missing three games due to injury, Stockstill threw for 3,233 yards, 31 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season.

3. Louisiana Tech redshirt sophomore J’mar Smith: Of the teams losing their starter from a year ago, La. Tech may be in the best position. Smith nearly led Tech to an upset win at Arkansas last year when Ryan Higgins was suspended for the opener. The Meridian native could be the breakout star of 2017 in C-USA.

4. UTSA senior Dalton Sturm: He’s looked raw at times behind center, but Sturm is one of the more impressive athletes at the position in C-USA. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Sturm threw for 2,170 yards, 20 touchdowns and six interceptions while also running for four scores in 2016.

5. Marshall junior Chase Litton: The 6-6 Litton endured somewhat of a sophomore slump in 2016, but we’ll chalk that up to simply not having enough talent surrounding him. He already has 47 passing touchdowns compared to 17 interceptions through two seasons.

Running backs

1. Southern Miss senior Ito Smith: Discount “Judge Ito” at your own risk. He may be a little on the small side at 5-foot-9, 195 pounds, but the Mobile native packs a punch and is extremely elusive. After sharing the load with Jalen Richard in 2015, Smith broke through with 265 carries for 1,459 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. Always a threat on the screen play, Smith has 100 career receptions for 1,050 yards and five touchdowns.

2. Old Dominion senior Ray Lawry: With ODU breaking in a new quarterback, Lawry can close out a solid career with a big senior season. He has 528 career carries for 3,338 yards and 38 touchdowns.

3. FAU sophomore Devin Singletary: Following an impressive freshman campaign of 152 carries for 1,021 yards and 12 touchdowns, Singletary should become a major part of Kiffin’s offense in 2017.

4. Louisiana Tech senior Jarred Craft: He slowed down a little late last year, but the 6-foot-1, 213-pound Craft put up some solid numbers. He rushed 191 times for 1,074 yards and nine touchdowns while catching 42 passes for 340 yards and four scores.

5. North Texas senior Jeffrey Wilson: The senior was well on his way to a 1,000-yard season a year ago before an injury kept him out of a couple of games late in the season. He finished with 169 carries, 936 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee

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