The top three quarterbacks remain unchanged in our Conference USA QB Rankings as Austin Reed, Kaidon Salter, and Diego Pavia have proven their worth. However, a surging Nicholas Vattiato and Middle Tennessee are ready to make waves.
Our weekly iteration of our 2023 Conference USA QB Rankings is here, taking a look at where they stack up through seven weeks of the season.
2023 Conference USA QB Rankings
As with all of our conference rankings and our national quarterback evaluations, the C USA QB rankings below consider everything involved with quarterbacking at the major college football level.
While statistics will be mentioned, they were not the lone deciding factor in ranking the athletes. The list below prefers programs with a solidified quarterback situation and one signal-caller who plays significant snaps against top-tier competition. Two-quarterback systems will always be looked down upon, especially in those cases where an answer has not yet been provided for the long term.
Other factors in these rankings include but are not limited to game film, injury history, play-calling, offensive system knowledge and continuity, general quarterbacking mechanics, level of competition, the elevation of supporting casts, and several other influential factors.
All QB Rankings: 1-133 | ACC | B1G | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC | AAC | C-USA | MAC | MWC | Sun Belt | FBS Ind.
Reminder – we also released our Midseason All-Conference USA Team and Midseason All-Americans this past week.
Tier 1: The Elite Conference USA QBs
1) Austin Reed | Western Kentucky
Last Week’s Ranking: 1st (no change)
Yards: 1,665 | TDs: 14 | INT: 3 | Comp. %: 61.0% | YPA: 6.8
After a bye week, Austin Reed and Western Kentucky welcome back to Conference USA midweek action with two straight against conference leaders in Jacksonville State and Liberty.
Reed will need to bring his A-game against both opponents, but with the way he’s been rounding into form (seven touchdowns in his last three starts), we’re sure he’ll be up for the challenge.
2) Kaidon Salter | Liberty
Last Week’s Ranking: 2nd (no change)
Yards: 1,353 | TDs: 14 | INT: 2 | Comp. %: 57.6% | YPA: 10.3
Despite some offensive issues to start the game, the Liberty offense and Kaidon Salter got things going against Jacksonville State in Week 7. Salter threw for two touchdowns and accumulated over 200 yards of total offense in the process.
He displayed his elite touch on the football with some downfield throws that looked effortless, and he commanded a great second half of football. Avoiding those slow starts will be crucial as they play some top-tier offenses and stalwart defenses over the next few weeks.
Tier 2: Well-Above-Average Conference USA QBs
3) Diego Pavia | New Mexico State
Last Week’s Ranking: 4th (+1)
Yards: 1,615 | TDs: 14 | INT: 5 | Comp. %: 62.2% | YPA: 9.8
For years now, Diego Pavia has been nationally underrated. After dotting the field with some impressive passing and even better dual-threat abilities over the past few weeks, Pavia’s stock is rising. Pavia threw for 286 yards and ran for 115 yards against Sam Houston in Week 7 and now has 14 scores against just five interceptions on the year.
The New Mexico State offensive scheme works to get their receivers open downfield on play-action passing, and Pavia has been able to exploit that with accuracy and poise this season. The Aggies are two wins away from a bowl game, and Pavia is a big reason why.
4) Nicholas Vattiato | Middle Tennessee
Last Week’s Ranking: 5th (+1)
Yards: 1,824 | TDs: 11 | INT: 6 | Comp. %: 68.6% | YPA: 7.1
The Conference USA leader in total passing yards, Nicholas Vattiato has been a revelation this year for Middle Tennessee. It took him a few games to truly get rolling — matchups against Alabama and Missouri to start the year didn’t help — but he’s moving now.
Vattiato has thrown for at least 240 yards in each of his last four starts and has thrown four touchdowns over his last two. The defense has done him no favors (nor have his receivers), but Vattiato is fighting to give his team a chance all the same.
Tier 3: Above-Average Conference USA QBs
5) Keyone Jenkins | Florida International
Last Week’s Ranking: 4th (-1)
Yards: 1,474 | TDs: 5 | INT: 7 | Comp. %: 57.8% | YPA: 8.9
There was going to be a boom-or-bust nature with Keyone Jenkins starting for FIU this season. You’d better belive the FIU coaching staff was willing to put up with those busts for how much of a boom Jenkins could bring, until UTEP in Week 7 that is.
Jenkins made way for Haden Carlson against the Miners in Week 7, but it’s apparent that he’s the future of this program and the player that makes them more than one-dimensional. Cleaning up his decision-making and learning to live to play another down rather than forcing throws will be key to his growth.
6) Gavin Hardison, Cade McConnell | UTEP
Last Week’s Ranking: 8th (+2)
Yards: 947 | TDs: 5 | INT: 7 | Comp. %: 56.6% | YPA: 7.3
In the absence of Gavin Hardison, the Miners may have found something with Cade McConnell. Dropping immaculate passes to every level, McConnell led UTEP to a win and did so by finding Kelly Akharaiyi all over the field.
McConnell trusted his arm and placed footballs in accurate places all night long. The job may still be Hardison’s but we’ve seen this before where an underdog story is written with a dominant road win. We’re cautiously optimistic that Hardison can return to form once he’s healthy, but what a spark it was to see McConnell lighting the field up in Week 7.
Tier 4: Average Conference USA QBs
7) Keegan Shoemaker | Sam Houston
Last Week’s Ranking: 9th (+2)
Yards: 1,016 | TDs: 6 | INT: 5 | Comp. %: 61.5% | YPA: 5.8
Finally, the Sam Houston offense has gotten off their backsides and started moving the ball in 2023. Keegan Shoemaker has thrown for at least 255 yards in each of his last three starts and put scares into each of their last three opponents in doing so.
The errors are still there and ultimately some inconsistent decisions have plagued this offense in the second half of each of their last three games, but Shoemaker has started off hot. Finding their rhythm and keeping on schedule in the unscripted portion of their offense will be key the rest of the way.
Tier 5: Work-To-Be-Done Conference USA QBs
8) Jack Turner, Hank Bachmeier | Louisiana Tech
Last Week’s Ranking: 6th (-2)
Yards: 1,011 | TDs: 5 | INT: 5 | Comp. %: 58.0% | YPA: 7.1
Re-entering the lineup for the first time since Week 3, Hank Bachmeier came in for Jack Turner against Middle Tennessee, but it didn’t matter. The Louisiana Tech offense has been sluggish, to say the least, the last few weeks, marred by inconsistency and untimely turnovers.
There is plenty of talent in both Hachmeier and Turner, but this offense may not pit to both of their strengths.
9) Logan Smothers, Zion Webb | Jacksonville State
Last Week’s Ranking: 7th (-2)
Yards: 638 | TDs: 5 | INT: 2 | Comp. %: 56.9% | YPA: 6.3
The Jacksonville State Gamecocks are one of the fastest offenses in the country and they’re a surprise team at 5-2 on the season. However, you can bank the majority of those wins on their defense, offensive line, and ground game as the quarterback sistuation has yet to be figured out.
Both quarterbacks — Logan Smothers and Zion Webb — have had their moments, but they’re far too limited as passers to warrant anything other than the bottom of the barrel of our Conference USA QB rankings. They’ll need to get them clean in the pocket and working on their progressions as the Conference USA schedule continues.