Jacksonville State QB Zion Webb - photo courtesy Jacksonville State Athletics

C-USA Preseason QBs: Top 5 Includes Bailey Zappe Successor

The 2023 college football season preview continues this week. We at FanBuzz kicked things off last week with the top 5 quarterbacks in the American Athletic Conference. This week, we will take a look at the five best QBs from Conference USA.

Here are our rankings and our opinions of its top 5 preseason starting signal-callers (in alphabetical order).

Johnathan Bennett, Liberty

Liberty quarterback Johnathan Bennett should have a strong 2023 season. (Photo credit: Liberty Athletics)

Probably one of the hottest teams to cover in the C-USA, the Liberty Flames, will need to figure out who is the sure-fire starter at quarterback who won't be extinguished by opposing defenses.

Both starters, Johnathan Bennett and Kaidon Salter, will be learning under new head coach and quarterback whisperer Jamey Chadwell. Coach Chadwell also worked his magic at Coastal Carolina with star quarterback Grayson McCall.

Chadwell will hope to build an instant marriage between one of the quarterbacks and himself, as he was able to bring in the No. 1 quarterback recruit to a school that, back in 2022, had Malik Willis drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the third round.

So, is the fire still hot at Liberty University? Or could it be put out already by a potentially unsuccessful pairing between the coach and his quarterback? That is the late-summer's burning question that fans at the university will be asking, as the Chadwell era is set to begin in less than a month.

Gavin Hardison, UTEP Miners

UTEP quarterback Gavin Hardison. (Photo courtesy of UTEP Athletics)

As a hard -working JUCO transfer from New Mexico Military Institute, Gavin Hardison is probably the most buttoned-down, no-nonsense type of quarterback who likes to lead his team.

Last season, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound signal-caller started in nine out of 10 games before a season-ending injury kept him sidelined and off the field. Hardison is now healthy and ready to have a productive redshirt senior year in the C-USA.

Back in 2021, Hardison was named as an honorable-mention All C-USA performer as a first-time starter in just his second redshirt sophomore year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic giving players extra eligibility.

We at FanBuzz can't wait to see what he brings in his final season of college football as a member of the University of Texas at El Paso Miners.

Grayson James, FIU Panthers

Florida International University quarterback Grayson James. (Photo courtesy of FIU Athletics)

As a bench player turned full-time starter last year at Florida International University, Grayson James showed his great size, arm strength and impressive passing ability. But don't let that fool you, as he's also a threat to use his legs.

In 11 games played, James started in 10 of them and led the team with 1,962 yards through the air. He also recorded 11 touchdowns and showed off his running capability with 223 yards on the ground.

In his upcoming junior season, the Texas high school football prodigy will look to show scouts why Florida International University recruited him to be the team's quarterback. Despite that initial three-star recruit ranking, James has the potential to be a gem college player if he can stay healthy, knowing he's the incumbent starter heading into Week 1.

Diego Pavia, New Mexico State 

Diego Pavia

New Mexico State quarterback Diego Pavia looks to throw a TD pass in 2022. (Photo credit: NMSU Athletics)

Diego Pavia is an underrated passer and probably the one to watch for in C-USA this season. After two years of JUCO football — in which he and his team, New Mexico Military Institute, won the 2021 NJCAA National Championship — Pavia transferred to New Mexico State.

The 6-foot, 200-pound dual-threat quarterback has found New Mexico State to be a welcoming home. Last season, he made eight starts in 12 games, for which he threw for 1,450 yards and 13 touchdowns.

At the end of the year, he won many accolades including the 2022 Quick Lane Bowl MVP, Manning Award Quarterback of the Week, and Manning Award Star of the Week.

This season, he enters as a 2023 Phil Steele Preseason All-Conference USA first-teamer and a 2023 Athlon Sports Preseason All-Conference USA third-team member.

We at FanBuzz Sports think he's a sleeper pick for the 2023 AP All-Conference USA first team, as it's potentially his last hurrah in college football before his next aspirations.

Austin Reed, Western Kentucky

Austin Reed

Western Kentucky quarterback Austin Reed is expected to have a great season in the league. (Photo credit: WKU Athletics)

Last season, Austin Reed had objectively one of the best seasons by a C-USA quarterback this level has ever seen. He followed a 2021 record-breaking season — held by now-current New England Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe — with a record-breaking season of his own last year.

The 6-2, 230-pound baller threw for 4,744 passing yards, which led all passers in the country and gave the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers the leading passer in back-to-back years. He also passed for 40 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while only starting in 14 games.