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Six Mountain West centers named to Rimington Trophy watch list

The men at the heart of every offensive attack are first up in the annual summer roll-out.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

After releasing the first draft of its watch list in May, the Rimington Trophy, given annually to the nation's top center, updated and released its initial (and official) list of athletes to watch today.

The Mountain West fared better this time than it did last summer, putting six players among the nominees. Utah State's Austin Stephens headlines the list, having been named to the Rimington list last season, as well. The senior comes into 2016 with twenty-seven starts under his belt, and he was quietly instrumental in both Devante Mays's breakout campaign and in allowing just 21 sacks as an offensive line unit last year.

Colorado State's Jake Bennett is the other center from the Mountain division to earn a nod. He started all 13 games for the Rams and spearheaded a run game in Fort Collins that improved throughout the year, averaging 5.51 yards per carry in six games across November and December.

Perhaps surprisingly, three centers hail from the West. Hawaii's Asotui Eli played in twelve games in 2015 and will clear holes for what could be a surprisingly effective 1-2 running back punch in Paul Harris and Diocemy St. Juste. The Warriors, despite struggles at quarterback, averaged 5.16 yards per carry in November.

Nevada's Nathan Goltry will be part of a very experience Wolf Pack line. He started 13 games and was integral to the 1,000-yard campaigns enjoyed by both Don Jackson and James Butler.

If offseason buzz is any indication, the player to watch is San Diego State's Arthur Flores. The conference champion Aztecs pounded opponents with the ground game to the tune of 4.84 yards per carry, propelling Donnel Pumphrey to MWC Offensive Player of the Year honors, and figure to do more of the same in 2016.

Will Kreitler, the UNLV center, was a critical component of the Rebels' surprising 2015, as they finished sixth in the conference in yards per carry on the ground (4.65). If he can help the line improve on their passing numbers from last year -- they were next to last in sacks allowed and just eighth in team quarterback rating -- Krietler could earn some consideration.

It's likely, however, that all of these MWC athletes will be longshots to bring home the hardware once the season kicks off in late August. Each of the three Rimington finalists in 2015 hailed from Power 5 teams, including winner Ryan Kelly of Alabama.