A combination of Storm Johnson declaring for the draft, Paul James and Rutgers moving to the Big Ten, and Lyle McCombs' recent dismissal from Connecticut cleared the way for Hayes to take the top spot.
Entering his NCAA-approved sixth year, the former walk-on is the lone bright spot for one of the worst units in college football. Hayes ran for 860 yards (third-best in the AAC) and five touchdowns on 201 carries in 2013. Those numbers were all the more impressive considering that Memphis' passing game was painfully anemic. Expounding upon that point, Hayes also tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions with two.
Still, despite the woes surrounding the Memphis offense, Hayes is the conference's top dog. Against the AAC's best four teams in 2013 (UCF, Louisville, Cincinnati and Houston), he compiled 63 carries for 307 yards and two touchdowns. Carrying that production into 2014 is a top priority for an otherwise lifeless offensive unit. Hayes wil be key to Houston staying out of the conference cellar.