The United Athletic Conference was formerly known as the ASUN-WAC, which was originally supposed to be two new and separate FCS-playing conferences, then changed its joint conference name to the UAC this offseason, but is not recognized by the NCAA as an official conference, but will still get an auto-bid into the NCAA D1 football playoffs.
For how messy this has all been, coupled with changing its tune on FBS aspirations, the on-field product for the UAC should be solid this fall.
ASUN — Austin Peay, Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, North Alabama
WAC — Abilene Christian, Southern Utah, Stephen F. Austin, Tarleton State, Utah Tech
How’s the newly-named league looking in 2023? Here are the top returning players and our predicted order of finish.
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Returning All-Conference Players
From last season’s All-ASUN, All-WAC Teams
Stephen F. Austin — 10: TE Chad Aune (1st Team All-WAC), OL Justice Guillory (1st Team All-WAC), K Chris Campos (1st Team All-WAC), DB Bruce Harmon (2nd Team All-WAC), DL Edward Bobino (2nd Team All-WAC), DL Amad Murray (2nd Team All-WAC), LB Jermaine Brown (2nd Team All-WAC), OL Daniel Keys (2nd Team All-WAC), OL Jaret Porterfield (2nd Team All-WAC), P Max Quick (2nd Team All-WAC)
Central Arkansas — 8: DB Cameron Godfrey (1st Team All-ASUN), DB Tamuarion Wilson (1st Team All-ASUN), DL Logan Jessup (1st Team All-ASUN), DL David Walker (1st Team All-ASUN), P Chandler Caughron (1st Team All-ASUN), RB Darius Hale (1st Team All-ASUN), WR Jarrod Barnes (1st Team All-ASUN), RB ShunDerrick Powell (1st Team All-ASUN)
Abilene Christian — 6: RB Jermiah Dobbins (1st Team All-WAC), OL Reese Moore (1st Team All-WAC), DB Patrick Jolly (2nd Team All-WAC), DB Elijah Moffett (2nd Team All-WAC), LS Dustin Inness (2nd Team All-WAC), TE Noah Caldwell (2nd Team All-WAC)
Tarleton State — 6: WR Darius Cooper (1st Team All-WAC), LB Patrick Jones (2nd Team All-WAC), LB Qua’Shawn Washington (2nd Team All-WAC), OL Layton Ernst (2nd Team All-WAC), RB Derrel Kelley III (2nd Team All-WAC), WR Jaden Smith (2nd Team All-WAC)
Southern Utah — 5: QB Justin Miller (1st Team All-WAC), OL Lyle Santos (1st Team All-WAC), LB Kohner Cullimore (1st Team All-WAC), DL Payton Payne (2nd Team All-WAC), WR Isaiah Wooden (2nd Team All-WAC)
Austin Peay — 2: K Maddux Trujillo (1st Team All-ASUN), OL Chandler Kirton (1st Team All-ASUN)
Eastern Kentucky — 2: OL Payton Collins (1st Team All-ASUN), QB Parker McKinney (1st Team All-ASUN)
Utah Tech — 2: DL Syrus Webster (1st Team All-WAC), LB Will Leota (1st Team All-WAC)
North Alabama — 1: OL Fau Tai’Vai (1st Team All-ASUN)
Teams Bringing In The Most D1 Transfers
Abilene Christian — 15 (14 FBS, 1 FCS)
North Alabama — 13 (10 FBS, 3 FCS)
Tarleton State — 13 (4 FBS, 9 FCS)
Eastern Kentucky — 12 (5 FBS, 7 FCS)
Austin Peay — 11 (5 FBS, 6 FCS)
Stephen F. Austin — 10 (7 FBS, 3 FCS)
Names To Know
TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Parker McKinney, Eastern Kentucky QB — In McKinney’s EKU career that goes back to 2018, he has thrown for 9,718 yards, 74 touchdowns, and 32 interceptions while running for 1,446 yards and 20 TDs. Last year, he completed 69% of his passes for 3,956 yards, 33 touchdowns, and eight interceptions, adding eight scores on the ground.
TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER: David Walker, Central Arkansas DE — Walker had a breakout debut season last year after transferring from D2 Southern Arkansas University. The 6-foot-3, 265-pounder totaled 66 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, and 12 sacks. Walker finished third in the Buck Buchanan Award voting.
TOP NFL PROSPECT: Josiah Ezirim, Eastern Kentucky OT — Josh Buchanan ranks Ezirim as the No. 3 small-school prospect for the 2024 NFL Draft. Ezirim is a massive 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds. He ended the 2022 season strong, starting the final eight games at right tackle.
HERO Sports’ Predicted Order of Finish
1. Eastern Kentucky
2. Central Arkansas
3. Abilene Christian
4. Stephen F. Austin
5. Austin Peay
6. Southern Utah
7. Tarleton State
8. Utah Tech
9. North Alabama
The UAC should be fun and competitive this season. There’s plenty to like about the top five teams, and even the next two.
EKU made the playoffs last year and has one of the best FCS quarterbacks in Parker McKinney, plus leading pass-catcher Jaden Smith and leading rusher Braedon Sloan.
UCA has a ton of talent and returning experience. David Walker and Logan Jessup form a great defensive pair. And UCA returns All-American running back Darius Hale along with adding All-American RB ShunDerrick Powell from North Alabama.
ACU has loaded up on FBS transfers, hoping to continue its program ascension. The Wildcats went from 1-5 in 2020 to 5-6 in 2021 to 7-4 last year.
SFA returns 10 All-Conference players, hoping to reset after not meeting high expectations last season. QB is a question, although the overall roster is looking solid.
Austin Peay has seen a dramatic program turnaround compared to the early 2010s. We’ve seen the Govs in the playoffs, and they were on the bubble last year. They lose some talent to the portal but return standout QB Mike DiLiello.
SUU hasn’t been all too relevant nationally for a handful of years now, but the Thunderbirds were competitive last year, finishing 5-6 overall with four of the losses by seven points or less. All-Conference quarterback Justin Miller is back.
Tarleton is funding its football team well as it transitions from D2. There are some great skilled position players on the 2023 squad, including WRs Darius Cooper and Jaden Smith, 1,000-yard rusher Derrel Kelley III, and All-American transfer RB Kayvon Britten from Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Utah Tech and North Alabama are two other programs relatively new to D1. They have been battle-tested in their transition and look to compete better in the coming years.
The UAC doesn’t have any Tier 1 FCS teams, and may not have any Tier 2 teams either. Only one team was ranked in HERO Sports’ FCS Preseason Top 25 (No. 21 EKU). But there are several solid program names in the league, with multiple teams we’ve seen in the playoffs in recent years.
The potential is there to grow into a multi-bid league.