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The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: Mountain West Special Teams

Defense might win championships, but special teams can cost them

Mountain West Championship - Fresno State v Boise State Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

The unit we don’t talk enough about. Special teams played a major role in determining the successes and failures of Mountain West teams this year. They can cost you games; they can cost you championships. They can even cost you your job. Let’s take a look at the 2018 Mountain West special teams units and how they stacked up.

The Good:

Utah State

The Aggies had the best kickoff returner in the conference and were solid on field goals and kickoffs. The one area the Aggies struggled with was punting, but the overall solid play of their special teams unit lands them in the “good” category.

Fresno State

Jeff Tedford teams always seem to do the “little things” well. They had a great punt returner in Ronnie Rivers and had the best punt coverage unit in the Mountain West. Kicking was a bit of an adventure, as they missed 8 of 22 attempts. But, like the Aggies, one rough area was not enough to keep them out of the “good” category.

New Mexico

Prepare yourself. I have something positive to say about the New Mexico football team. The Lobos had the best punt returner in the conference, led the conference in punt return average, missed only one field goal, and was second in the conference in kickoff average. New Mexico had a solid special teams unit. You could even argue it might have been the best in the conference.

The Bad:

San Jose State

The Spartans were pretty much middle of the road in almost every special teams category, which is not too bad considering how poor their offense and defense played. I think San Jose State showed some signs of improvement late in the season and should be better in 2019.


The Cowboys were great at kicking fields goals and PATs, but they struggled in almost every other area of special teams. They were in the bottom half of the conference in kickoff and punt returns. They were also eighth in net punting and eleventh in net kickoffs.

Air Force

The Falcons led the conference in net kickoffs but were in the bottom half in almost every other special teams category.

San Diego State

The Aztecs are usually known for having a stellar return game. That was not the case in 2018, as San Diego State ranked in the bottom half in both kickoff and punt returns. A healthy Juwan Washington should help in 2019.


They were last in the conference in net kickoffs coverage, seventh in net punting, and an average return game. It wasn’t awful, but it definitely wasn’t good.


The Wolf Pack was one of the hardest teams to place. They were solid in punt returns, awful on kick returns. Solid punt unit, shaky kick unit. There is definitely some room for improvement.

The Ugly:

Boise State

This was the easiest placement of any team. Special teams cost the Broncos the Mountain West championship and gave them no chance of hanging with Oklahoma State. They had blocked PAT’s, missed field goals, and had the worst net punt average in the conference. It was not a recipe for success. Kent Riddle is no longer coaching special teams for Boise State, and those responsibilities now rest with Lee Marks and Jeff Schmedding.


Eleventh in kickoff returns, last in punt returns, last in field goal kicking. As I am finishing up this series of articles, I am realizing that UNLV had quite a few issues this past season. Tony Sanchez has to be on the hot seat, right?

Colorado State

The Rams were middle to bottom of the pack in every special teams category. Punt returning was almost non-existent, and they had one of the worst kickoff coverage units in the conference.

Well, that does it for my unit recaps of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.” Next week, I will begin breaking down some of the most important games of the 2018 Mountain West football season.