The bulk of Conference USA's starting quarterbacks return in 2022, but there are some notable battles set to unfold this fall at WKU, Middle Tennessee and North Texas. UTSA's Frank Harris is the clear No. 1 quarterback in Conference USA for this season, followed by Charlotte's Chris Reynolds and UAB's Dylan Hopkins. FAU's N'Kosi Perry and UTEP's Gavin Hardison could play their way into that top tier, while a couple of transfers - Jarret Doege at WKU and Grant Gunnell at North Texas - could add even more depth to the quarterback position.
Ranking the quarterbacks by conference or nationally is no easy task. To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2022. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors — pure talent, supporting cast, having a clear hold on the No. 1 position, previous production, 2022 projection, and scheme changes (just to name a few) — were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in Conference USA for 2022.
Ranking the Conference USA Quarterbacks for 2022
11. TJ McMahon, Rice
Getting to a bowl game would be a good step forward for Rice in coach Mike Bloomgren's fifth year. But in order to reach that goal, the Owls need major improvement on offense. Since Bloomgren's arrival, Rice has not ranked higher than eighth in Conference USA in scoring and no quarterback has produced more than 10 touchdown passes. Three signal-callers - Luke McCaffrey, Wiley Green and Jake Constantine - started under center last fall, while McMahon played in 11 games as a backup. McCaffrey was moved to receiver, and Constantine finished his eligibility, leaving Green and McMahon to battle for the job this fall. McMahon - a JUCO transfer from Cerritos College - completed 12 of 21 throws for 191 yards and two touchdowns in his limited action in '21.
10. Matthew Downing, Louisiana Tech
Three players - Austin Kendall, Aaron Allen and JD Head - threw passes for Louisiana Tech in 2021. However, all three departed after last season. New coach Sonny Cumbie looked into his past (and the portal) for help. Downing played under Cumbie at TCU in '20 and completed 17 of 30 throws for 168 yards and a touchdown that year. Parker McNeil, who played at Texas Tech under Cumbie in '21, was also added to the roster this offseason. True freshman Landry Lyddy's development is worth monitoring this fall.
9. Gunnar Holmberg, FIU
New coach Mike MacIntyre has a major rebuilding effort on his hands at FIU, but that process was aided some by a couple of additions through the portal this offseason. One of those pickups was Holmberg, who arrives in Miami after playing in 18 games (and 11 starts) at Duke. The North Carolina native received the bulk of his playing time last year, connecting on 67 percent of his passes for 2,358 yards and seven touchdowns and rushing for 167 yards over 88 attempts. Holmberg has displayed good accuracy (67.3 percent), but he connected on just five plays of 40-plus yards and didn't stretch the field with his arm (7.3 ypa).
8. Grant Gunnell, North Texas
Gunnell is listed here for North Texas, but the former Arizona and Memphis signal-caller has to beat Austin Aune for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. Fall practice is Gunnell's first opportunity for snaps in the Mean Green uniform after spending the 2021 season and '22 spring at Memphis. Gunnell did not record a snap of playing time with the Tigers due to injury, but he previously played in 12 games at Arizona (2019-20) and threw for 1,864 yards and 15 touchdowns to only three picks over 248 attempts. The sample size is still relatively small, but Gunnell's accuracy has been on point (66.5 percent for his career). North Texas averaged under 200 passing yards a game last fall, but coach Seth Littrell hopes for Gunnell to be the missing piece and spark the downfield attack.
7. Chase Cunningham, Middle Tennessee
A combination of factors forced Middle Tennessee to use four quarterbacks last season, but the offense still finished fourth in Conference USA in scoring (29.8 ppg). NC State transfer Bailey Hockman opened 2021 as the starter but opted to retire from football after the fourth game. Cunningham replaced Hockman in the starting lineup on Sept. 24 against Charlotte and proceeded to torch the 49ers for 379 yards and five scores through the air. Cunningham later threw for four touchdowns against UConn to up his season totals to 1,318 yards and 16 scores through October. However, Cunningham was lost for the year after tearing his ACL against Southern Miss on Oct. 30, forcing Nicholas Vattiato into the lineup. Vattiato threw for 1,047 yards and seven touchdowns in the final six games, showing the Blue Raiders had another capable option if Cunningham isn't ready by the opener.
6. Gavin Hardison, UTEP
Hardison made noticeable improvement in his second season as UTEP's No. 1 quarterback. In the abbreviated 2020 campaign, the former JUCO signal-caller threw for 1,419 yards and five touchdowns. A year later, Hardison started all 13 games for the Miners and threw for 3,223 yards and 18 scores. The New Mexico native did toss 13 picks but raised his completion rate to 55.2 percent from 54.3 the previous season. Hardison ranked second among C-USA signal-callers with 19 completions of 40-plus yards and finished third nationally with an average of 16.3 yards per completion. The Miners won't have big-play receiver Jacob Cowing on the outside anymore, but another step forward is expected from Hardison in '22.
5. Jarret Doege, WKU
Replicating last year's high-powered offense (44.2 points a game and 433.7 passing yards a contest) won't be easy for WKU with quarterback Bailey Zappe off to the NFL, and coordinator Zach Kittley calling the plays at Texas Tech. Coach Tyson Helton promoted a couple of assistants - including Ben Arbuckle to call plays - to ensure continuity in scheme. Doege arrived on campus with five years of experience and should be a capable distributor in this offense. The Texas native started his career at Bowling Green (29 TDs, 15 picks over 19 games) and worked as West Virginia's No. 1 quarterback for the last three years. Doege threw for 6,453 yards and 40 scores and completed 65 percent of his throws in 27 appearances (26 starts). The senior averages only 7.1 yards per pass attempt, but his accuracy (64 percent) should work well for getting a talented group of WKU playmakers the ball in space. West Florida transfer Austin Reed will push Doege for the job.
4. N'Kosi Perry, FAU
After a solid debut in Boca Raton last year, hopes are high Perry can take another step forward with more overall consistency under new play-caller Brent Dearmon in 2022. Perry - a former four-star prospect - started his career at Miami and redshirted in '17 before playing 25 games over the next three years. During that stint, Perry threw for 2,484 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 10 picks while running for 217 yards and three scores on the ground. However, his accuracy (52.4 percent) showed a quarterback still in need of development. With D'Eriq King entrenched as the starter at Miami going into '21, Perry transferred to FAU and started all 13 games. The Florida native accounted for 2,762 yards and 20 touchdowns through the air and ran for 149 yards and four scores on the ground. Perry showed his progression with a 64.1 percent completion rate and a solid 8.7 yards per pass attempt in league play. More improvement (and better play against the top teams in the conference) is needed. However, Perry seems to be on the right track going into his second season as the starter.
3. Dylan Hopkins, UAB
The Blazers have a deep quarterback room with Baylor transfer Jacob Zeno and Bryson Lucero in the mix, but Hopkins is expected to start for the second year in a row after going 7-3 in the role in '21. The Tennessee native threw for 2,275 yards in UAB's run-first offense and added 18 touchdowns to just seven picks on 235 attempts. Hopkins connected on 66 percent of his throws and averaged 9.7 yards per pass attempt (the best mark among Conference USA quarterbacks last year). Also, Hopkins ranked second in quarterback rating (166.6). The senior wasn't asked to throw a ton (18.1 attempts a game), but he ran the offense effectively and made the most of the opportunities.
2. Chris Reynolds, Charlotte
Reynolds returns for his sixth year at Charlotte with a chance to add to an already prolific career. The former walk-on is already the program's all-time passing leader (7,751 yards in 36 games) and has tossed 62 touchdowns in that span, including 22 in '19 and 26 last fall. Reynolds' career completion percentage is also over 60 percent (62), while he ranked fourth in Conference USA in quarterback rating (150.8) last fall. The North Carolina native has a chance to close out his career with more than 1,000 rushing yards (927) and has scored 11 times on the ground. Reynolds has one of Conference USA's top receiving corps to throw to this fall, so another standout year should be expected in '22.
Related: Conference USA 2022 Predictions
1. Frank Harris, UTSA
There's no debate at the top of the Conference USA: Harris is clearly the league's top signal-caller and is among the top Group of 5 quarterbacks going into '22. With running back Sincere McCormick no longer on the roster, the Roadrunners will ask for more out of Harris to win another C-USA crown. And the Texas native is more than up to that task after ranking third in the conference in total yardage (265.9 a game) in his best year on campus. Harris threw for 3,177 yards (a single-season UTSA record) and 27 touchdowns (66 percent completion rate) and ran for 566 yards and nine scores on the ground. The senior ranked third in the conference in completions of 10-plus yards (117), quarterback rating (151.8), and yards per play (7.3) last year.