Conference USA QB Rankings 2023: Kaidon Salter, Diego Pavia Square Off In Title Game

    The Conference USA QB Rankings feature the top two QBs -- Kaidon Salter, Diego Pavia -- squaring off for all the marbles.

    Our weekly iteration of our 2023 Conference USA QB Rankings is here, taking a look at where they stack up through 13 weeks of the season. Kaidon Salter tore through the CUSA in 2023 and led the Flames to an undefeated record and a Championship Game appearance. The second-ranked quarterback — Diego Pavia — awaited him.

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    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 are listed, 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. 

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    Tier 1: The Elite Conference USA QBs

    1) Kaidon Salter | Liberty

    Last Week’s Ranking: 1st (no change)
    Yards: 2,431 | TDs: 29 | INT: 5 | Comp. %: 58.9% | YPA: 10.1

    What a season it turned out to be for Kaidon Salter and he’s not quite done just yet. Salter put forth another dominant day at the office with his legs against UTEP in the regular season finale, needing to do very little with his arm against the Miners.

    He ran for nearly 100 yards and threw for a score, but the rushing game quite literally ran over UTEP. That wasn’t always the case for the Flames in 2023 as Salter was surely called upon enough to defeat teams with his arm talent.

    He’ll coast into the CUSA Championship Game after throwing for 29 touchdowns and rushing for another 11. Salter flashed his elite arm talent on multiple occasions and was typically the best dual-threat quarterback performance of the week.

    2) Diego Pavia | New Mexico State

    Last Week’s Ranking: 2nd (no change)
    Yards: 2,727 | TDs: 23 | INT: 8 | Comp. %: 61.2% | YPA: 8.4

    The New Mexico State Aggies are in the Conference USA Championship because of Diego Pavia. The star dual-threat quarterback continues to be overlooked by the national media and that’s probably fine for the Aggie faithful.

    Coming off a two-interception performance against Jacksonville State, however, Pavia will have to tone down his ‘yolo’ balls over the middle of the field and learn to play another down against a ball-hawking Liberty defense.

    Still, Pavia gives his team a chance to win any game they play in, just ask Auburn (who then turned around and gave Alabama a scare). He broke contain and recorded some crucial first downs against Jacksonville State in clutch situations, something he’s done all year long for the Aggies.

    Pavia will have to bring his A-game in both facets against Liberty, however, but if there’s anyone who can rally his troops, it’s Diego Pavia.

    3) Austin Reed | Western Kentucky

    Last Week’s Ranking: 4th (+1)
    Yards: 3,340 | TDs: 31 | INT: 11 | Comp. %: 61.5% | YPA: 7.1

    A week after tossing nearly a handful of interceptions in an ugly performance, Austin Reed closed out his Western Kentucky chapter on the right note, convincingly defeating FIU. Reed threw for four touchdowns and reached over 3,300 yards for the season in the process.

    Those four touchdowns pushed Reed’s total to 31 passing scores this year and gave him 71 total touchdowns in just two seasons at the helm of the Hilltoppers.

    The 2023 season wasn’t without its flaws for Reed and Co., in fact, it was largely seen as a bit of a disappointment given their preseason expectations. Still, after any poor outing, Reed rebounded nicely and continually showed his arm talent and proven ability to put the ball anywhere on the field he wanted to.

    He ends his WKU career with a bowl game and likely makes the jump to the NFL because of that aforementioned arm talent.

    Tier 2: Well-Above-Average Conference USA QBs

    4) Nicholas Vattiato | Middle Tennessee

    Last Week’s Ranking: 3rd (-1)
    Yards: 3,092 | TDs: 23 | INT: 13 | Comp. %: 66.8% | YPA: 7.2

    Slinging it all around the field in 2023, Nicholas Vattiato proved something this past season. Vattiato proved that the offense at MTSU fit his skill set while proving he was fully capable of taking the reigns and exceeding expectations.

    Sure, the season ended with an unfortunate ending and the subsequent relieving of longtime head coach Rick Stockstill, but it wasn’t all bad in 2023. For Vattiato, it was a career year of 3,000-plus yards and 23 touchdowns.

    Whether he stays at MTSU or ventures to another program, he showed that he’s more than capable as a leader of a program with plus talent in his arm. Under new leadership in 2024, however, will Vattiato be able to grasp a new playbook quickly enough to make inroads toward success next fall?

    Fortunately, Vattiato is also an underrated dual-threat quarterback and has his legs to bank on in the process of learning a new scheme and likely a new roster in 2024.

    Tier 3: Above-Average Conference USA QBs

    5) Keegan Shoemaker | Sam Houston

    Last Week’s Ranking: 5th (no change)
    Yards: 2,507 | TDs: 15 | INT: 11 | Comp. %: 63.0% | YPA: 6.0

    Call it an upset to end the season, if you will, but it’s clear that this Sam Houston team finally cleared the proverbial hump in their way of winning games at the FBS level. Keegan Shoemaker and the potentially high-flying offense took a bit out of their air game against Middle Tennessee and it worked.

    They found themselves in rhythm and found their offense on the field much more than their defense, a solid thing to do against this season’s MTSU team.

    Shoemaker was just shy of 200 yards in the season finale, but he paced the offense with some crucial first-down throws and put them in a position to win the game in the end.

    That’s not the season went for Sam Houston, however. They were on the end of some unfortunate breaks and a few points away from a handful of wins. Ending the season on a high note, however, will be good for morale and perhaps even better for recruiting, as this team has the bones to make a run in the Conference USA, even if Shoemaker isn’t in the picture.

    6) Logan Smothers, Zion Webb | Jacksonville State

    Last Week’s Ranking: 6th (no change)
    Yards: 1,281 | TDs: 5 | INT: 6 | Comp. %: 50.0% | YPA: 6.6

    At times, it wasn’t pretty for Jacksonville State in 2023. Yet, the quarterback situation somehow got better as games went on and as the season progressed. Zion Webb turned back into the quarterback that we saw at the FCS level as they became accustomed to the speed and rigors of an FBS schedule.

    They won more games than anticipated and certainly have their defense and quarterbacks to thank for that. When they were on top of their game, both QBs brought something different to the table.

    Webb, the better passer of the two, was no slouch on the ground. Logan Smothers excelled with his feet, and the duo ran for over 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns combined. Consistency was the only facet lacking within this two-quarterback system, but it worked for them, in the long run, to have both players ready to go at a moment’s notice with some suspect offensive line play.

    Webb and Smothers exceeded expectations in 2023 and are arguably the biggest reason they’re going bowling in their first season at the FBS level.

    Tier 4: Average Conference USA QBs

    7) Keyone Jenkins, Grayson James | Florida International

    Last Week’s Ranking: 8th (+1)
    Yards: 2,422 | TDs: 11 | INT: 11 | Comp. %: 58.4% | YPA: 7.3

    The future of the FIU program is either Keyone Jenkins or a QB-to-be-named after Grayson James hit the portal following their regular season finale. Jenkins got the start and it was apparent that his electric play is part of the long-haul future for the program in 2023.

    He certainly has boom-or-bust in his game, but as a true freshman, Jenkins flashed some high-level ability and his mistakes are often correctable. An offseason in the lab can cut down on some of his ill-fated decisions as his accuracy, power, and willingness to take shots to his receivers paid off in huge dividends this past season.

    Jenkins can take the FIU program to new heights under head coach Mike MacIntyre if he can harness his gunslinging mentality. He already showed that he can grasp the offense quickly, and the speed of the FBS level has not been a match for Jenkins’s overall talent.

    Tier 5: Work-To-Be-Done Conference USA QBs

    8) Gavin Hardison, Cade McConnell | UTEP

    Last Week’s Ranking: 8th (no change)
    Yards: 1,437 | TDs: 6 | INT: 4 | Comp. %: 53.5% | YPA: 8.4

    There is some serious work to do for this UTEP offense in the offseason. Head coach Dana Dimel is out, and the Miners will most likely be searching for a new identity and some new blood in the backfield as their signal-caller.

    Gavin Hardison had a tumultuous career as the quarterback for UTEP, slinging it deep with precision and accuracy at times only to follow up the good with equally as bad decisions and inaccuracy. He was welcomed back as the starter in 2023 and certainly flashed brilliance at times, but similar to the 2022 season, injuries and subsequent poor decision-making led to his exit and lackluster play from the offense.

    Cade McConnell gave the Miners a boost with his downfield throwing, proving he wasn’t afraid to test the deep waters. McConnell clearly had a good rapport with WR Kelly Akharaiyi but was plagued by similar inaccuracies and decision-making throughout his starts.

    The Miners have a robust area they can recruit from, and you’d have to expect the new staff will certainly look to bring in some new talent at quarterback to sustain some solid play in the Conference USA.

    9) Hank Bachmeier | Louisiana Tech

    Last Week’s Ranking: 9th (no change)
    Yards: 2,058 | TDs: 10 | INT: 5 | Comp. %: 67.7% | YPA: 7.7

    What could have been was not meant to be in Ruston as Hank Bachmeier struggled through injuries and it never quite clicked for the Bulldogs in 2023. Bachmeier has since hit the portal following their season’s culmination, having done so after throwing 10 touchdowns against five interceptions over his eight starts.

    For Bachmeier, the scheme in which he was forced to play in at La Tech certainly didn’t fit his strengths. On the surface, it appeared like it could work out as he’s a proven leader capable of hitting on-time throws to every level of the field.

    But Bachmeier’s game is predicated on standing tall in the pocket and letting his receivers get open downfield where he can use that power and downfield accuracy. He didn’t get a chance to showcase that regularly at Louisiana Tech and is now looking for greener pastures in his final year of eligibility.

    Jack Turner flashed, at times, for the Bulldogs in 2023, but his big-play antics were often followed up by worse decision-making and troubled accuracy. This program needs an answer for Sonny Cumbie at the quarterback position moving forward.

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