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The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: Mountain West Running Backs

The Mountain West produced some NFL talent this season

NCAA Football: Washington State at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to this week’s edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.” For the next few weeks, we are going to focus on how teams performed at various positions. Up this week, running backs.

The Good:

Boise State

Boise State narrowly makes it here. The only reason I put them in the good category was because of first-team running back Alexander Mattison. The running game for the Broncos was the tale of two halves. They could not effectively run the ball early in the season; once the Bronco offensive line found their stride, so did Mattison. He was easily the best running back in the league the second half of the season, as his strong finish resulted in him leading the conference in rushing yards. It will be interesting to see how his running style translates to the NFL and where/if he will get drafted.


Honestly, with how horrific the Cowboy passing attack was, they were fortunate to have a competent running game. Nico Evans was the other first-team running back in the conference. He went from being a running back that received very few carries early in his career to the most consistent running back in the conference this season. The Cowboys averaged nearly five yards per rush this season.

Air Force

Once again, the Falcons led the conference in rushing. With over 3400 yards rushing, Air Force proved to once again have a potent rushing attack. As a true triple option team, Air Force always needs to be on the good side of the argument, or their season will be an epic fail.


The Rebels were really bad through the air this year. Really bad. They were able to stay competitive in the majority of their games because they developed a strong running game. The Rebels were second in the conference in total rushing yards and second in yards per carry. UNLV will have to replace their dynamic senior running back, Lexington Thomas, who finished the year with over one thousand yards. They do return their dynamic dual threat quarterback, Armani Rogers, who finished the season with 565 yards on the ground in only five games.

Utah State

The Aggies had the most dynamic offense in the conference; their blistering pace created opportunities for their shifty backs. The Aggies led the conference in yards per carry and finished third in total yards. Darwin Thompson and Gerald Bright were the best running tandem in the conference, combining for over 1900 yards. Bright will carry the load next season, as Thompson has declared for the NFL draft.

The Bad:


We all knew going into the season that the Rainbow Warriors were going to live and die by their passing attack. Hawaii had some decent performances on the ground but finished the season 10th in rushing yards. Coach Rolovich will have to develop a stronger running game if they are going to build on this season’s success.


Similar to Hawaii, we knew that the Wolf Pack were going to rely heavily on their air attack. The team has gone away from their traditional running attack and more toward the air raid. Nevada finished the season eighth in total rushing yards, but freshman running back Toa Taua has a bright future ahead of him.

Fresno State

The Bulldogs were really good at a lot of things this season, but their running game was mediocre at best. Fresno State’s offense was limited because of an offensive line that struggled to open holes at times. Out of all of the teams in the “bad” category, the Bulldogs are the only team that I could justify moving up. However, the team just wasn’t consistent enough on the ground, and their leading rusher, Ronnie Rivers, finished the season with only 743 yards. However, I do expect the Bulldogs to have an improved running attack in 2019.

San Diego State

It feels really weird to put the Aztecs here. In recent years, the Aztecs have been the “RBU” (running back university) of the Mountain West. This year it was different. Electric running back Juwan Washington was injured early in the season, and a team traditionally known for their depth at the position, struggled to recover. The Aztecs finished the year seventh in the conference in rushing. I never thought I would see a Rocky Long team finish the year in the bottom half of the conference in rushing yards.

The Ugly:

San Jose State

738 yards rushing. 2.1 yards per carry. Do I need to say anything else?

Colorado State

The Rams played from behind the majority of the season, and the running game suffered as a result. Izzy Matthews was expected to have a strong season, but the Rams could never develop a strong running attack and finished the season eleventh in total rushing yards. The Rams have plenty to work on this off-season.

New Mexico

You can put this in the category of “didn’t see that coming.” We all knew that the Lobos were going to have a hard time winning games this season, but I did not expect them to finish the year ranked ninth in the conference in total rushing yards. Bob Davie went away from the traditional triple option and it didn’t end well for the Lobos.

Stay tuned. Next week’s edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly” will feature the wide receivers of the Mountain West.