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Conference USA's Most Underrated Players for 2016

Jeffery Wilson

Jeffery Wilson

Every college football team has players most would consider underrated. However, defining underrated players is no easy assignment, as that term varies in meaning between fans and experts. With the 2016 season approaching, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look at some players deserving of more preseason accolades or discussion. In an effort to get to 13 names, we tried to stick to players that had yet to earn all-conference honors in their career. However, a few exceptions were made.

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WKU center Max Halpin, UTSA running back Jarveon Williams and Louisiana Tech receiver Carlos Henderson are just a few of the players flying under the radar in Conference USA for 2016. Here's a look at one underrated player from each team: 

Conference USA's Most Underrated Players for 2016

Dylan Bradley, DE, Southern Miss

New coach Jay Hopson has a few holes to fill on both sides of the ball this offseason, but the Golden Eagles’ defense has a good foundation in place with six returning starters. One of those starters is Bradley, who anchors the line after a strong junior campaign. In 14 appearances, Bradley recorded 45 tackles (12.5 for a loss), 6.5 sacks and two pass breakups. Despite the huge 2015 season, Bradley only recorded honorable mention All-Conference USA honors. Expect the senior to rank as one of Conference USA’s top defenders this fall.

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Jerome Daniels, OL, UTEP

Considering coach Sean Kugler’s background as a former offensive lineman, it’s no surprise UTEP has boasted one of Conference USA’s top lines over the last two seasons. The Miners allowed only 11 sacks last year and cleared the way for rushers to average 4.7 yards per carry in 2014. Daniels is one of the unsung heroes for this group and has quietly emerged as one of Conference USA’s best offensive linemen. Daniels started one game as a redshirt freshman in 2013 and has earned 24 starts over the last two seasons.

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Dillon DeBoer, OL, FAU

DeBoer has been a key cog in FAU’s offensive line over the last three seasons and is poised to close out his career with a strong senior campaign. DeBoer started six games as a redshirt freshmen in 2013, followed by 11 in 2014. And in 2015, DeBoer started all 12 games for the Owls, including 10 at center after anchoring the right tackle spot in the first two matchups. DeBoer should be one of the leaders for an improved FAU offense in 2016.

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Max Halpin, C, WKU

With all five starters returning, WKU’s front five has a strong case as the best offensive line from the Group of 5 ranks in 2016. Left tackle Forrest Lamp is a candidate for All-America honors, but center Max Halpin shouldn’t be overlooked this preseason. The Kentucky native started seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2013 but suffered a season-ending back injury after three starts in 2014. However, Halpin rebounded in a big way last year, starting all 14 games for the Hilltoppers and helping to anchor a line that gave up only 16 sacks in 2015.

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Carlos Henderson, WR, Louisiana Tech

Trent Taylor (99 catches) is one of Conference USA’s top skill players returning in 2016, but he will have plenty of help in the receiving corps from Henderson. While Taylor garnered most of the attention (and rightfully so) at the end of last year, Henderson showcased his big-play ability by catching 36 passes for 774 yards and five scores. He also averaged 22.1 yards on 21 kickoff returns. Henderson’s 21.5 per-catch average ranked sixth nationally among all receivers.

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Alex Lyons, LB, Rice

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Rice’s streak of seasons with a bowl trip was snapped at three last year, but the Owls are in good position to rebound in 2016. With eight starters returning, a defense gave up 35.8 points a game in 2015 should show improvement and help bolster an offense breaking in a new quarterback. Lyons is one of the leaders on defense for coach David Bailiff after collecting 148 tackles over the last two seasons. Additionally, Lyons has 10.5 tackles for a loss in that span and collected 1.5 sacks in 2015. He should be one of the top linebackers in Conference USA this season. Teammate Zach Wright (wide receiver) is another good candidate from Rice as an underrated player in 2016.

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Thomas Owens, WR, FIU

With the return of nine starters – including quarterback Alex McGough – hopes are high for improvement on FIU’s offense this fall. The Panthers averaged 25.5 points a game in 2015 but recorded only 5.1 yards per play. Owens was McGough’s preferred target last season, grabbing 51 passes for 638 yards and eight scores. With another offseason to work with McGough under his belt, Owens should push for All-Conference USA honors in 2016.

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Zach Pascal, WR, Old Dominion

Old Dominion’s offense struggled to find its footing in the post-Taylor Heinicke era last season. However, there are signs of optimism for coach Bobby Wilder, as the Monarchs now have two proven quarterbacks in David Washington and Shuler Bentley, while the ground game is in good hands with Ray Lawry. Despite the inconsistent quarterback play in 2015, Pascal quietly posted solid totals last fall. In 12 games, Pascal caught 69 passes for 975 yards and eight scores. 

Kalif Phillips, RB, Charlotte

The 49ers took their share of lumps in 2015, which was the program’s first at the FBS level. While the long-term future at Charlotte is bright, 2016 could be another transition year for this program. Phillips is an underrated star for the 49ers, as he nearly eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark (961) in 11 appearances. In his career, Phillips has rushed for 3,113 yards and 37 scores.  

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Daniel Stephens, C, MTSU

Quarterback Brent Stockstill and receiver Richie James are the headliners for MTSU’s standout offense, but don’t overlook the steady play of Stephens up front. The Georgia native started all 13 games for the Blue Raiders last season and enters 2016 with 25 career starts. Stephens will help anchor a line that must replace two starters from last year’s group.  

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Jarveon Williams, RB, UTSA

New coach Frank Wilson has worked with plenty of talented running backs during his 11 years as an assistant at the collegiate level. And the first-year coach inherits one of Conference USA’s top backs to utilize in 2016, as Williams returns after posting 1,042 rushing yards and eight scores on just 173 attempts in 2015. In league games, Williams ranked fourth among C-USA rushers with an average of 96 yards per contest.

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Jeffrey Wilson, RB, North Texas

Wilson was one of the few bright spots from a North Texas team that finished 1-11 last season. After rushing for 224 yards as a freshman in 2014, Wilson showcased his talent with 830 yards (in 10 games) and one score on just 155 attempts. He also recorded three 100-yard games in league play. Wilson should eclipse 1,000 rushing yards and is the Mean Green’s top playmaker in 2016 under new coach Seth Littrell.

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Ryan Yurachek, TE, Marshall

Conference USA had its share of talented tight ends last year, which is a big reason why Yuracheck only earned honorable mention All-Conference USA honors. However, with Davonte Allen and Deandre Reaves departing the Marshall receiving corps, Yurachek is poised to take on a bigger role in Marshall’s offense. As a sophomore in 2015, Yurachek grabbed 44 passes for 417 yards and nine scores. He also closed out the year on a high note, catching a touchdown pass in each of the Thundering Herd’s last five games. 

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