Yesterday, Athlon Sports released its preseason All-Mountain West Conference team. Boise State led all teams with 11 selections, followed by Colorado State with 10, Utah State and Fresno State with eight and Wyoming with seven. SDSU is tied for fifth with San Jose State, Nevada and UNLV with six.
Let's start with the first-team members:
RB Donnel Pumphrey (5'9", 170 pounds) Sophomore
Pumphrey is the "the guy" in the backfield after an impressive 2013 running in tandem with Adam Muema. He ran it 125 times for 752 yards and eight touchdowns. He's too small to run effectively between the tackles, but his breakaway speed helps him create big plays. Clearly, those at Athlon Sports believe his big-play capabilities warrant a first-team selection. One wonders, then, why Phil Steele didn't select Pumphrey for any of his All-MWC teams. Pumphrey joins Boise State running back Jay Ajayi in the first-team backfield.
CB J.J. Whittaker (5'10", 180 pounds) Senior
Whittaker asserted himself as one of the best secondary defenders in the MWC last year, recording 34 tackles and breaking up 11 of 14 passes thrown his way. He also intercepted three passes, including his late pick-six in SDSU's final home game against Boise State--arguably the SDSU's play of the year. Now a senior on a secondary missing its two safeties from the last two years, Whittaker will be the unquestioned leader and is poised to have another big year. Whittaker was also a first-team selection by Phil Steele. Boise State's Donte Deayon is the other first-team cornerback.
Now SDSU's three second-team selections:
OT Terry Poole (6'5", 310 pounds) Senior
Poole started 12 of 13 games last year in his first year as starter at the NCAA Division I level. In his 492 dropbacks on the season, he allowed just two sacks--that's a 0.4 percent clip. The Aztecs will rely on Poole's leadership on the O-line with Bryce Quigley now a member of the Detroit Lions. Phil Steele also put Poole on his second-team. Poole joins Utah State's Kevin Whimpey as the two second-team offensive tackles.
DT Sam Meredith (6'4", 290 pounds) Senior
Meredith sustained a torn labrum muscle last year and was only able to play in eight of 13 games, but he still recorded 16 tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries and a blocked kick. Now healthy and ready to go, Meredith will lead a strong defensive line (allowed the 21st fewest rushing yards per game in 2013) that returns all but one starter. Phil Steele didn't select Meredith for any of his All-MWC teams. Meredith is joined by Hawaii's Beau Yap on the second-team defensive tackle squad.
LB Jake Fely (5'10", 215 pounds) Senior
Fely earned preseason first-team honors last year, but a broken right foot in SDSU's fourth game kept Fely out the rest of the season. He still finished the year with 20 tackles, one sack and one pass broken up. Fely has first-team level talent, but his shortened 2013 season led to this second-team selection. Phil Steele also picked Fely as a second-team member. Fely's linebacking partner on the second-team is Colorado State's Cory James.
And now SDSU's third-team selection:
WR Ezell Ruffin (6'1", 210 pounds) Senior
Ruffin could have declared for the NFL and been drafted after his breakout junior season, but he elected to return to play his senior year with the Aztecs. The senior receiver came out of nowhere last year to grab 68 passes for 1,136 yards and three touchdowns. He became the first Aztec receiver since 2010 to record 1,000-plus yards on receptions. Ruffin isn't the tallest receiver, but his athletic skills allow him to make acrobatic catches that make you hum SportsCenter's "da-da-da, da-da-da." The other third-team wide receiver is Wyoming's Dominic Rufran. Phil Steele pegged Ruffin as a second-team selection.