The MWC Recruiting Roundup is back! Each Friday from now until fall camps begin, our team of writers will answer a different question related to something in the world of the Mountain West or general college football.
Back in February, SB Nation’s Bill Connelly released his preseason S&P+ projections, including rankings for returning production on offense and defense for every FBS team, including our Mountain West programs. Reviewing these rankings under the lens of the team you cover, what do you think the returning production stats mean? Are they spot on? Misleading? What does it mean for 2019 expectations?
Our own Jeremy built on his article to speak on what this means for the 12 Mountain West Conference teams to serve as a reference for this discussion.
Jeremy - HAWAII - Preseason ranking: 94 - Returning offensive production ranking: 34 - Returning defensive production ranking: 9
Hawaii is coming off a 8-6 season in 2018, a mild surprise considering the heavy losses on offense and defense coming into last fall. As a result of finding success with a young roster, Hawaii ranks well in returning production on offense and defense. That said, the preseason ranking of 94 illustrates that returning production isn’t everything. Sure, ranking 9th in returning production on defense looks fantastic with no context! While that experience will be relied upon, the Warriors ranked 100th in total defense in 2018, so clearly there is much to improve on.
The ranking of 34th on offense is actually surprising, considering the Warriors don’t lose much of anything on offense. Both quarterbacks return, the entire offensive line is back, receivers Byrd and Ward are back. So why 34th and not say a top 10 ranking? That’s the John Ursua factor, the all-conference performer electing the enter the draft early. His exit is the likely reason for that dent in an otherwise completely intact unit.
The rankings are correct across the board. Hawaii will be as experienced as any team in the Mountain West. That said, not all experience is good experience. The defense needs to make a big step forward, and the offense needs to find consistency and success against tougher competition if that preseason ranking of 94th is to be proven inaccurate (in a good way) come December.
Zach-Boise State- Preseason ranking 24- Returning offensive production 120- Returning defensive production 22
Boise State is coming off of a 10-3 season, which was disappointing to a large chunk of the fan base that had NY6 dreams. The preseason ranking of 24 goes to show the strength of the Boise State brand. The have proven in recent years that they are capable of reloading not rebuilding. So much of the Broncos success will depend on their ability to stay healthy. Defensive injuries killed the Broncos. Boise State has plenty of questions on the offensive side of the ball after losing their starting quarterback, running back, and two wide receiver.
Boise State ranks 120 in returning offensive production. This is not a surprise considering the departures of Brett Rypien and Alexander Mattison. The Broncos do return their entire offensive line and that should be an asset to the new quarterback and running back. The offense will look a bit different this year, whoever wins the quarterback race will be more mobile than Rypien and bring a different dynamic to the offense. The Broncos should have even more talent at wide receiver, with the anticipated return of Octavius Evans and the continued development of guys like Stefan Cobbs and Khalil Shakir.
The 22 ranking on defense was actually a bit lower than I expected, the Broncos will have a healthy DeAndre Pierce and the best defensive pro prospect in the Mountain West in Curtis Weaver. There are some questions at cornerback and linebacker, but the defense should be the strength of this Boise State squad. The biggest thing to keep an eye on, is how the Broncos respond to the loss of defensive coordinator Andy Avalos. If the spring game was any indication, I expect the Broncos to be more aggressive this season.
The 24 ranking is fair. Boise State has a manageable schedule this season, but with the questions. on the offensive side of the ball, it is hard to justify a higher ranking.
Alex - Utah State - SB Nation preseason ranking 42 - Returning offensive production 110 - Returning defensive production ranking 68
After a season that saw the Aggies match their best record ever at 11-2, there is a very positive vibe within the Utah State realm. However, there is much to be discovered about this team. New(ish) coaching staff, tougher schedule, and big losses from last years electric offense.
The squad loses their top rusher (Darwin Thompson), their top receiver (Ron’Quavion Tarver), their best tight end target (Dax Raymond), and most of their Offensive Line. It’s not all doom and gloom, however, as QB Jordan Love is back for his junior year. Alongside him are WR Savon Scarver, and RB Gerold Bright. All of these players were key to an offense that was one of the best in the nation, alongside Oklahoma and Alabama. The returning production ranking is very low and that is understandable. The offense only returns two starters as a whole. It will be interesting to see what this offense can do with a new HC in GA and OC/QBs Coach in Mike Sanford.
In a complete 180 from last year, the defense looks to be the more solid half of the team. It returns seven starts, one of which being LB David Woodward, who was a third team All-American.
Matt- Fresno State- SB Nation preseason ranking- 51- Returning Production- LOL
Well, now we really get to see what Jeff Tedford and his staff can do. After coming in and completely rehabbing the Fresno State program into Mountain West champions, they enter 2019 with the 129th ranked returning production in the country. They sit at 127th on the offensive production side, losing QB Marcus McMaryion, 7 different receivers including all-time leader receiver Keesean Johnson, 3 starters from the offensive line, and backup running back/returner Dejonte O’Neal. That’s a whole lot to lose, especially for a team that has been known for offense in the past. Not to mention offensive coordinator Kalen Deboer is off to Indiana. A lot now rests of the shoulders of Ryan Grubb and the returning players. The good thing is that there is more production there than meets the eye. The staff rotated players a lot, and there was enough blowout games for presumptive starter Jorge Reyna to get work.
Netane Muti will be back from injury, and Syrus Tuitele will be alongside him in a rebuilt O-Line. Dontae Bull, Nick Abbs, Quiero Woodley, and Nick Aibuedefe all got playing time last year. Not to mention that both Jordan Mims and Ronnie Rivers will be back behind QB.
For receivers, the cupboard might be a bit bare. Yes, Derrion Grim is back from last year. As are Jared Rice and Cam Sutton. But past that, it’s going to be a lot of inexperience. Lot of redshirt freshman that learned under the staff and seniors last year, and star recruit Jalen Cropper will be coming in. Along with two of the best JuCo tight ends in the country that are already on campus for Spring football in Raymond Pauwels and Juan Rodriguez.
The defense is slightly better, at 121st returning production. But there’s a massive hole in the middle with the entire line-backing corps gone to graduation and the NFL. Mykal Walker is moving to linebacker to help fill the gap, as is Josh Hokit. Justin Rice is now ready to start, and every Fresno State fan is ready for Aaron Mosby to be a star. Luckily, Jaron Bryant, Wylan Free, and Juju Hughes all return in the secondary. But they will need to fill that last DB spot.
I think the Bulldogs will take a bit of a step back this year. Not as extreme as the drops we saw under the last staff, but maybe only 9 wins instead of 12. The defense will probably be the anchor again, as Bert Watts has been a revelation there at DC.
Mike- San Diego State - SB Nation preseason ranking 54 - Returning offensive production 57 - Returning defensive production ranking 51
I’ll jump in here on behalf of the Aztecs. Rocky and his crew are coming off a very disappointing finish to the season, losing their last four games including being shut out by Ohio in the Frisco Bowl. The obvious loss on offense is graduating QB Christian Chapman, who was a multi-year starter, although he was hurt for part of the year last year. He accounted for 4 touchdowns and 782 passing yards. They shouldn’t have much of an adjustment with Ryan Agnew stepping in, as he starter last year. The biggest loss may be OL Ryan Pope, and while it is hard to account for his production, it should make some kind of difference in the run game.
The bigger losses may on the defensive and special teams side of things. John Baron II leaves a huge role to fill, as he made 17 field goals and 27 PATs. Noble Hall exited from the defensive line, accounting for 35 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, an interception and eight QB hurries. Then, Ronley Lakalaka leaves quite the void in the linebacker corps. In his senior season, he amassed 50 total tackles, 5.5 for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception, 9 QB hurries and 4 PBUs. Another linebacker will definitely need to step up next year.
The good news is San Diego State returns quite a bit of production. The bad news the team had poor on the field results. To make things even more unpredictable, the Aztec offense will be switching things up a bit by going to a spread formation while still trying to establish the run game first and foremost. It will be very interesting to see how they utilize their production and who will fill the holes left by the names mentioned above.
Isaiah- Nevada- SB Nation Preseason Ranking: 83 - Returning Offensive Production Ranking: 40 - Returning Defensive Production Ranking: 98
Coming off their first eight-win season since joining the Mountain West Conference, Nevada is on the upswing after two disastrous years. But, this season is a bit of murkiness for the Pack. It all starts under center with expected starting quarterback Cristian Solano, who will look to take over the role Ty Gangi left the past two seasons. Salano’s mobility can keep the defense on its heels, but he hasn’t been able to step up in the pocket and throw accurate strikes down the field on a consistent basis. Luckily for Solano, much of the returning cast of skill positions will be returning for the silver and blue.
Running back Toa Taua will look to build off a tremendous freshman season where he was named Mountain West Freshman of the Year and led Nevada with 872 rushing yards. Kelton Moore and Devonte Lee–when healthy– will look to back him up. Wide receivers Kaleb Fossum, Brendan O’Leary Orange, Romeo Doubs, Elijah Cooks and Ben Putman will provide a spark for Solano down the field and Taua’s presence in the receiving game is nothing to sneeze at. Overall, the offense may return to the same production as last season and may even take a step up, potentially.
Glaring holes at defensive line and linebacker will be tough for the Pack to overcome defensively. Seniors Korey Rush, Adam Lopez and Malik Reed are gone due to graduation and Reed may be picked in the later rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft. The two of them created so much pressure in Nevada’s 3-3-5 scheme, and their presence will be greatly missed in the trenches. Nevada has plenty of defensive backs, but it will be a transition to fill the voids of Dameon Barber, Justin Brent and Jomon Dotson in the secondary.
Overall, this season may be a bit of a mixed bag for Nevada. They are missing key starters from last season on the defensive end, but several returning members still makes the team strong in some areas. It will be tough for them to replicate their success from last season, where they went 4-1 to finish off the year before the Arizona Bowl.
Terrance - Colorado State (Preseason Ranking: 109, Returning Offensive Production: 126, Returning Defensive Production: 96)
Colorado State is coming off its worse season since 2011. They were also one of the youngest teams in FBS. It was a season that spelled trouble before it even started when incumbent starting quarterback Collin Hill tore his ACL again while playing pick up basketball. The season got off to a rough start when the Rams took on a conference opponent in Week 0 and couldn’t get things going from there. There was too much uncertainty for a Rams team last year that needed consistency. The offense will be losing quite a bit of production as Olabisi Johnson, Izzy Matthews and Preston Williams are key losses to an offense that had times of explosiveness.
Adam- New Mexico- Preseason Rank- 115- Returning Offensive Production- 80- Returning
Defensive Production- 117
The 2019 season will be a make or break season for Bob Davie and staff. The Lobos are coming off back-to-back 3-9 seasons, and in both they finished 1-7 in conference. The Lobos will also have to break in another new offensive coordinator after Calvin Magee left to go to Ole Miss, Joe Dailey will be the new OC, being hired from Liberty University. UNM will also have a new defensive coordinator with Jordan Peterson filling the role left by the demoted Kevin Cosgrove.
Offensively the Lobos will return several key players from last season and get some players back from injury. Of note Tevaka Tuioti is returning from an injury plagued 2018 to challenge Sheriron Jones for the role of starting quarterback this season. Wide receiver Q’Drennan also returns after missing much of 2018 with a dislocated hip.
Other key players that return offensively from last season are Jay Griffin IV, the speedster who will need to get a ton of touches if the Lobos want to be successful on offense, and Elijah Lilly who was the second leading receiver on the team last season, and was tied for the most receiving touchdowns with five.
The big question mark on offense will be at running back with the now departed Tyrone Owens leaving big shoes to fill. Daevon Vigilante is one of the returning players in the backfield, but he saw just 43 carries a year ago. Ahmari Davis will look to get some carries, he had four touchdown runs on 51 carries last season. Bryson Carroll also returns, but he only had 12 carries last season.
Defense might be the biggest question mark on the whole squad. A newly promoted Jordan Peterson hopes that some players coming back from injury and some newcomers will be the right combination to turn around a defense that gave up over 36 points a game last year. Alex Hart returns this season after being out most of 2018 with a knee injury. Hart was the third leading tackler on the team in 2017 with 58 tackles. He will be the featured player on the defense this season.
Helping out Hart at the linebacker position will be Brandon Shook. Shook had 40 tackles last season and two forced fumbles.
In the defensive backfield there are several JUCO’s that will be vying for playing time. Among those is Eric Cuffee who spent two seasons at Texas before going the JUCO route. Cuffee was a four star recruit out of Waco for the Longhorns.
Defense will again be the achilles heel for the Lobos this season on whether they will be a team with a winning record, or suffer a third straight losing season.
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