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Who is the best running back in the Mountain West?

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Here is a snapshot of each of the best running backs for each team in the conference. Who do you think is the best?

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

There are several very talented back in our conference. Everyone knows names such as Donnel Pumphrey, Jeremy McNichols, Brian Hill and Tyler Ervin. One people may not be as familiar with, however, is Utah State's Devante Mays. Mays has been an under-the-radar star for the Aggies this season, but his star is beginning to rise, and he just may be the best back of the group.

Of course, no one from SDSU, Boise St, Wyoming, or SJSU will take kindly to that statement, so we will need to provide the context for the claim. To do so, I will present the stats from the best back of each team in the conference.

First stat, which is the one everyone will point to right away to naysay the idea, is total yards. Here are the results (btw, just to explain the Nevada backs, their stats were so close that they were nearly identical, so I cut them a break and used the best stat of either Butler OR Jackson. You're welcome, Nevada):

School

Player

Total Yards

1

Wyoming

Brian Hill

1262

2

SJSU

Tyler Ervin

1159

3

SDSU

Donnel Pumphrey

1031

4

Boise St

Jeremy McNichols

773

5

Nevada

James Butler/Don Jackson

756

6

Fresno St

Marteze Waller

660

7

Utah St

Devante Mays

586

8

Air Force

Jacobi Owens

578

9

CSU

Jasen Odin, Jr

574

10

New Mexico

Teriyon Gipson

502

11

UNLV

Keith Whitely

500

12

Hawaii

Paul Harris

482


You'll be saying right about now, "Mays has less than half as many yards as the top RBs. He's sitting in 7th place in the conference, so how can you possibly say that he may be the best?" Of course, you are smart enough to know that total yards only tells part of the story, so let's look at yards per game.

School

Player

Yards/Game

1

SJSU

Tyler Ervin

144.88

2

Wyoming

Brian Hill

140.22

3

SDSU

Donnel Pumphrey

114.56

4

Boise St

Jeremy McNichols

96.63

5

Nevada

James Butler/Don Jackson

84.25

6

Fresno St

Marteze Waller

82.50

7

Utah St

Devante Mays

73.25

8

Air Force

Jacobi Owens

72.25

9

CSU

Jasen Odin, Jr

71.75

10

New Mexico

Teriyon Gipson

71.71

11

UNLV

Keith Whitely

62.50

12

Hawaii

Paul Harris

60.25


"Ha! That didn't change anything. Mays is still suffering from severe lack of impressiveness!" Yes, I know, hold your horses. "But we haven't looked at the RBs with the most touchdown carries! That'll prove his mediocrity!"

School

Player

Total TDs

1

Boise St

Jeremy McNichols

14

2

SJSU

Tyler Ervin

12

2

SDSU

Donnel Pumphrey

12

4

Nevada

James Butler/Don Jackson

7

4

Utah St

Devante Mays

7

6

New Mexico

Teriyon Gipson

5

7

Wyoming

Brian Hill

4

7

Fresno St

Marteze Waller

4

7

Air Force

Jacobi Owens

4

7

CSU

Jasen Odin, Jr

4

11

Hawaii

Paul Harris

3

12

UNLV

Keith Whitely

2


"Well, okay... he did jump up to 4th in that category... but he's still only producing half what the top backs are able to do. This still doesn't prove anything!" Right you are! But now we get to the material point, my good sir (or ma'am...), which is this: how many touches is each of these backs actually getting?

School

Player

Attempts/Game

1

SJSU

Tyler Ervin

24.13

2

Wyoming

Brian Hill

22.78

3

SDSU

Donnel Pumphrey

22.44

4

Boise St

Jeremy McNichols

19.38

5

Fresno St

Marteze Waller

19.13

6

CSU

Jasen Odin, Jr

16.25

7

Nevada

James Butler/Don Jackson

15.63

8

Air Force

Jacobi Owens

14.25

9

UNLV

Keith Whitely

13.13

10

Hawaii

Paul Harris

12.13

11

New Mexico

Teriyon Gipson

11.14

12

Utah St

Devante Mays

10.38


"Wait a moment... you mean that the backs with the most attempts are getting the most total yards, yards per game, and touchdowns?! What kind of wizardry is this?!!" Precisely my point. Mays was getting reps as a second string back behind USU's LaJuan Hunt for most of the season. Only over the last couple games has he really been allowed to showcase his talent. Given that context, let's now look at the same stats, but adjust them for actual attempts! First, instead of total yards or yards per game, let's look at yards per carry.

School

Player

Yards/Attempt

1

Utah St

Devante Mays

7.06

2

New Mexico

Teriyon Gipson

6.44

3

Wyoming

Brian Hill

6.16

4

Nevada

James Butler/Don Jackson

6.05

5

SJSU

Tyler Ervin

6.01

6

SDSU

Donnel Pumphrey

5.10

7

Air Force

Jacobi Owens

5.07

8

Boise St

Jeremy McNichols

4.99

9

Hawaii

Paul Harris

4.97

10

UNLV

Keith Whitely

4.76

11

CSU

Jasen Odin, Jr

4.42

12

Fresno St

Marteze Waller

4.31


"Alright, but that's immaterial! Of course the backs with higher reps are getting lower yards per carry; they're more tired on their later reps (except Brian Hill, whose stamina is unfathomable)!" True, no arguments from me there. There will certainly be some drop off if Mays starts consistently getting 20~ carries per game.  But the fact that his average is that much higher is impressive. In fact, Mays has the 14th highest average in the nation of backs with at least 500 rushing yards.

"But-!" And now let's look at touchdowns per attempt.

School

Player

TDs/Attempt

1

Boise St

Jeremy McNichols

0.090

2

Utah St

Devante Mays

0.084

3

New Mexico

Teriyon Gipson

0.064

4

SJSU

Tyler Ervin

0.062

5

SDSU

Donnel Pumphrey

0.059

6

Nevada

James Butler/Don Jackson

0.051

7

Air Force

Jacobi Owens

0.035

8

CSU

Jasen Odin, Jr

0.031

9

Hawaii

Paul Harris

0.031

10

Fresno St

Marteze Waller

0.026

11

Wyoming

Brian Hill

0.020

12

UNLV

Keith Whitely

0.019


"Wow, that's impressive... But he's still not as high as McNichols!" That's is also true. Which is why I will now refer you back to the first paragraph of the article, where I explicitly stated that Mays "just may be (emphasis on the may) the best back..." I don't really know if Mays is as good as any of the more well-known backs in the conference. He's good, certainly, and he may be great. Without getting more reps, we may never know, although he is starting to get those reps- last game vs. Wyoming he matched Brian Hill rep for rep.

School

Player

Yards

TDs

Attemps

Yds/Att

TDs/Att

Utah St

Devante Mays

176

2

22.00

8.00

0.091

Wyoming

Brian Hill

201

1

26.00

7.73

0.038


The point is, Mays is very, very good. Thank goodness we'll get to see him for another year so that we can find out just how good that really is.