Around the Conference: Standouts of week one
After beating the No. 3 University of Oklahoma Sooners last weekend, many Cougar fans feel the rest of the season will be a breeze. This could prove to be false, as the American Athletic Conference has no shortage of talented players.
The conference’s teams fared well in week one, collectively going 10-2 as a conference. Although many of the team has played sub-par opponents, the conference’s talent was still on display.
Here are some of the conference’s top performers from week one.
- Chris High, The United States Naval Academy
- Philip Nelson, East Carolina University
- Eric Wilson, University of Cincinnati
- Justin Lawler, Southern Methodist University
- Zay Jones, East Carolina University
The fullback was one of the biggest surprises in the NCAA in week one.
Navy always keeps a plethora of running backs on their roster, so it’s usually hard to gauge who will be the standout rusher in each year. After last week’s performance, it is clear that Chris High will likely receive a majority of the rushes in the team’s triple-option offense.
In Navy’s 52-16 trouncing of the Fordham University Bulls, High accumulated 176 yards on just 10 rushing attempts. His 17.6 yards per carry is good for second in the nation after the first week, an unusual mark for a fullback. In addition to his yards, High also found the end zone twice.
High’s huge performance comes as a surprise because the junior picked up just 31 yards last season with no touchdowns. With a 6-foot and 224-pound frame and no shortage of opportunities coming his way, watch out for High to punish even the conference’s top defenses all season.
The ECU Pirates found their first win of the season against Western Carolina University last Saturday. The 52-7 blowout was only close at the opening kickoff, and quarterback Philip Nelson is the reason for that.
Nelson had just four incompletions the entire game on his way to accumulating 398 yards and five touchdowns.
The Rutgers University transfer was virtually flawless as he picked apart the WCU defense, never throwing an interception. Despite rushing for just seven yards, Nelson also found the end zone on foot to bring his week one touchdown total to six.
Obviously, playing WCU is no hard task for an established Division-1 program, but Nelson’s numbers catch your attention nonetheless. After one game, Nelson is a top-10 passer in the nation and ranks third in the NCAA in passer rating at 243.5.
The linebacker made a statement in the opening game of his senior year.
After accumulating 106 tackles in 2015, Eric Wilson anchored the Bearcats defense by earning 15 total tackles against University of Tennessee at Martin. In addition to his tackles, Wilson also recorded two sacks and deflected a pass.
It was Wilson’s all-around effort that helped his team to a 28-7 win over UTM. Overall, the Bearcats had a lackluster performance over a far inferior opponent, but the Wilson-led defense did their job. Cincinnati is expected to be a conference title contender this season, but after one game it appears the defense will play a major role in achieving their goals.
Expect Wilson will be a force on the Bearcat defense all season and a player that opposing offenses must game plan around.
SMU earned their first win of the season against the University of North Texas Mean Green on Saturday in a game they were expected to win.
The Mustangs have struggled for the better part of this decade, even against the lowest of competition, so don’t disregard the eye opening performance that defensive end Justin Lawler had last weekend.
Winning by a score of just 31-24, the Mustangs needed a stellar defensive performance to squeeze out the victory.
They got the performance they needed from Lawler.
The junior defensive end registered eight tackles, four of which were for a loss. Lawler managed five sacks in all of 2015, but last week against UNT he found the quarterback 3.5 times. Although the UNT offensive line will likely not stop many opposing defenders this season, Lawler’s showing on Saturday is still a cause for concern among many conference opponents.
With Nelson’s impressive performance last weekend, you would expect that an ECU receiver also had a notable game and that game came from Zay Jones.
The senior receiver caught 10 passes for 180 yards and scored a touchdown. Jones’ speed played a big role is dismantling the WCU defense.
Jones’ showing puts him in third in the NCAA for total receiving yards.
The Stephen F. Austin University transfer has been impressive in each of his previous three seasons, so his remarkable performance does not come as a surprise to many. Jones will attempt to build on his 2015 season, that saw him score five touchdowns and earn more than 1,000 yards.
Opposing defenses’ only shot at containing the speedy receiver will be to put their best cornerback on him. But that may not be enough.