The Mountain West Conference had four 1,000 yard rushers in 2010, and four again last year in 2011---five, if we could count Fresno State's WAC record. In looking over the teams for the upcoming season, there is every hope the MWC will field a bigger crop of thousand-yarders at the end of the 2012 season. Let's take a look at the standouts:
San Diego State's junior RB, Ronnie Hillman, was easily the most prolific runner in the MWC with 311 carries for 1,711 yards and a 5.5 yard average per run. That makes two years in a row the Aztec work horse has run wild. Why should we doubt this season will be any different? He's one of only two MWC thousand-yarders to return to the ranks this year.
The other returnee is Colorado State's Chris Nwoke, a 6-1, 214 pound junior who muscled his way to 1,130 yards on 200 attemps last season, averaging 5.7 yards a carry. He's back in the Falcon lineup this year to build on those stats.The other two thousand-yarders have graduated and moved on to possible careers in the NFL. Boise State's Doug Martin was one of those. He chalked up 1,299 yards on 263 carries last season, averaging 4.9 yards a touch. Add in 16 TD's to round out his efforts and you know why the Broncos are looking hard for a high impact replacement for a ground game and especailly now that the passing attack led by QB Kellen Moore is also gone. But luckily for the Broncos, they have another star RB returning for 2012 in senior DJ Harper, 5-9, 210 lbs, one of the most explosive RB's to find a place on a Boise State roster. The bigger question is can he stay healthy for his final year? The fourth MWC thousand-yarder for 2011 was Air Force's Asher Clark. Last season Clark put up 1,110 yards on 163 attempts, giving him an average of 6.8 yards a carry. He leaves some big cleats to fill---to be sure---but RB Mike Dewitt is one of the Falcons determined to put them on and getting the job done. Last year the 6-1, 220 pound junior put up 567 yards on 117 carries, which burned the MWC defenses for an average of 4.8 yards a play. But Hillman, Nwoje, Harper and Dewitt are not the only runners looking to make a big impact this year and move up and into the ranks of the elite. There are a few others on other teams in the MWC who have the confidence and potential to make the jump. UNLV has two or three Rebels eager to churn and burn. Junior Tim Cornett, 6-1, 200 lbs, ran for 671 yards last year, averaging 5.6 a carry, and sophomore Dionza Bradford, 6-1, 210 lbs, ran for another 615 yards. Both are eye-balling the thousand yard marker this year. If either of them make it, it will be the first Rebel thousand-yarder since Dominique Dorsey burned up the field back in 2004. Cowboy head coach Dave Christensen has his hands full again this season. He needs to fill three starting positions on the offense, including a biggie in the backfield. Champion RB Alvester Alexander, a three-year starter who put up huge numbers left early to enter the NFL draft. Right now it looks like if anyone on the Wyoming team might join the four-digit runners it may be the quarterback, sophomore QB Brett Smith, 6-3, 195 lbs. No, really. Smith had 710 yards on 139 carries last season, and actually smoked Alexander, who was right behind him with 695 yards on 153 carries. Wouldn't that be interesting? Down in the southwest New Mexico's new head coach, Bob Davie, has a potential RB who could bust out for some big yardage this year: sophomore RB Crusoe Gongbay, 6-1, 196 lbs. It depends on how new offensive coordinator, Bob DeBesse, utilizes the "DeBesse Pistol" offense. Anyone who thinks New Mexico is going to be the MWC doormat again this year might want to think again, especially if Gongbay can live up to his potential. Last year, as a freshman he put up 500 hard, tough yards on 108 carries under Locksley's Lobos. This guy can get it done on the field if DeBesse's line can open a hole long enough to let him slip through. Surprisingly, TCU didn't have a thousand-yarder last year. But they did have three great rushers in Waymon James, Ed Wesley, and Matthew Tucker who were close. Just no cigar. The Horned Frogs are long gone now, so they won't figure into the 2012 action anyway. Which brings us to the new MWC members led by Fresno State. Last year in the WAC the Bulldogs had a thousand-yard runner in senior RB Robbie House, 5-7, 185 lb. House is a one of those junkyard dogs who likes to chew up good defensive lines. In 2010, he punched his way through offensive lines to the tune of 1,129 yards with an average of 5.5 yards a pop. He gets better with age. As a junior last year he followed up by romping and rolling his way through 2011, by gaining 1,549 yards on 329 carries. He's the rare playmaker who gives defensive linemen everywhere bad dreams. Can Nevada bring it this year with a thousand-yarder? Maybe. With Mark Lampford gone, senior Mike Ball, 5-10, 215 lbs, should be ready to make his move to the thousand yard ranks. Last year Ball burned up the field for 704 yards on 135 touches that averaged 5.2 yards. Wolf Pack QB, Cody Fajardo, 6-2, 205 lbs, likes to carry the ball as well, and put up 694 yards himself on 128 carries. Out in the Pacific Hawaii is a whole other animal right now. The Warriors are in disarray again with the point-shaving scandal still in their rear view mirror and the arrest last week of their starting QB, Cayman Shutter. But if anyone on the team can rise to the occasion and reach the four digit numbers RB Joey Iosefa, 6-1, 245 lbs, can do it. Last year as a freshman the Pago Pago, American Samoan native carried 110 times for 548 yards averaging 5 yards a carry. You have to think this guy is destined to chalk up some big numbers in the Mountain West Conference over the next three years. So there you have it. These are the MWC rushers who have shown the most potential. There are two or three others I could mention, sure, but not many. It is, afterall, a very small field of elite players. And a very, very, very small club of thousand-yarders.