First, there was the Heisman Trophy.
Then, there was the Piesman Trophy.
Now, we have the Group of Fivesman Trophy.
Or, at least, we had that hypothetical award, but the name didn't test well with focus groups (read: Chris Hondros), so we scrapped it and went in a different direction. In collaboration with Hustle Belt and Underdog Dynasty, we at Mountain West Connection are proud to present the first edition of...
THE MOUNTAINDOG BELT WATCH LIST
The premise behind the idea is simple. When the regular season has concluded, we want to formally recognize one player from a Group of 5 team as the *best* player from the Group of 5. In theory, the award would be an actual championship belt, because championship belts are hella sweet, though artist's renditions are pending.
Regardless, at the conclusion of each week, you can expect a traditional "stock up/stock down" watch list post and, of course, feel free to yell at me for ranking so-and-so too high or too low. At the conclusion of championship week, a small committee of writers at each of the three blogs will determine four finalists from each conference in their purview, which will then be put to a fan vote to determine the overall finalists (one each from the AAC, C-USA, MAC, MWC and Sun Belt).
Those finalists will then be put through one last fan vote, presumably sometime around New Year's Day, to determine who takes home the Belt.
The only question that remains, at least for now, is who has the inside track within the Mountain West at the season's halfway point?
Lurking outside the top five: Ejiro Ederaine, Tanner Gentry, Thomas Sperbeck, Darian Thompson, Nick Vigil
5. Donte Deayon, CB, Boise State
Pass defense was expected to be one of the Broncos' biggest strengths and the defensive backfield hasn't disappointed. As a unit, Boise currently ranks 8th nationally in opponents' quarterback rating and is tied for first in interceptions, and Deayon is arguably the biggest reason for their lofty standing.
The senior cornerback has grabbed four interceptions and defended seven more passes, both figures being among the nation's best. Unfortunately, his standing here will be short-lived, after news broke that he'll miss the next month recovering from knee surgery.
4. Jeremy McNichols, RB, Boise State
It's pretty difficult to ignore the guy who, to this point, leads the Mountain West (and is tied for 2nd in the FBS ranks) with 14 touchdowns and, arguably, owns its coolest nickname. McNichols did not play in Friday's blowout loss to Utah State, though, which is unfortunate because the Broncos could have used the 6.2 yards per play he's averaged on his touches so far in 2015.
If he can get healthy, the next few weeks feature Wyoming, UNLV and New Mexico, so if McNichols can continue to find the end zone at the torrid pace he's set, there's no reason to think he can't climb in these rankings.
3. Calvin Munson, LB, San Diego State
The Aztecs' defense has quietly propelled SDSU to a 3-0 start in conference play, and few in the conference are playing better right now than Munson. He racked up three sacks in Saturday's big win against San Jose State, which gives him a MWC-best 4.5 in three games and seven altogether, tied for 8th in the FBS. If that weren't enough, he's also tied for 10th nationally in tackles for loss.
You can be forgiven for not paying attention to his strong performance thus far but, with a critical interdivision matchup against Utah State next Friday, now would be a good time to pay attention to the West division's best defender.
2. Brian Hill, RB, Wyoming
The Pokes may have a long way to go to be a complete contender, but Hill has taken a dramatic step forward in his sophomore campaign despite Wyoming's overall struggles. He's run for 100 yards five times in seven games, including two 200-yard efforts, and currently ranks 4th in the FBS with 985 yards, more than highly regarded NFL prospects like Derrick Henry and Devontae Booker.
The next two weeks up the difficulty level, as Boise State and Utah State own the second and third-best run defenses in conference play thus far, but that has rarely stopped Hill from being productive in the past.
1. Tyler Ervin, RB, San Jose State
Saturday's slog against the SDSU defense was the first time we'd seen anyone slow the Spartans' star back all season long: 17 carries for 22 yards. SJSU hasn't been shy about handing him a substantial workload, and he's more than answered the bell, ranking fifth in the FBS in yards from scrimmage and scoring 13 touchdowns.
Despite the setback last weekend, Ervin and the Spartans are still contenders in the division race, and with winnable games against New Mexico, Nevada and Hawaii in the next month, he might have more opportunity than anyone to separate himself from the pack.