Continuing with the theme of the week, the Peak Perspective Column will detail which teams have the best position units in the Mountain West. Voted on by our team, the results can be seen below.
Jordan Love is far and away the best returning quarterback in the Mountain West. He passed for over 3,500 yards and tossed 32 touchdowns in a stellar campaign leading one of the most exciting offenses in the conference last year. Other teams may be “deeper” at the position or may have more talented QB rooms, but none have the production at the starter spot like the Aggies have with Love.
San Diego State
The Aztecs are almost always the front runners for this spot and this year is no different. A fully healthy Juwan Washington should lead this group and figures to be one of, if not the best, tailback in the entire conference. However, SDSU usually has quite the stable of running backs. Also expect to see Chase Jasmin, Zidane Thomas, and Jordan Byrd. This is a deep group.
Perhaps one of the deepest positions in all of the MWC, the Bronco receiver unit figures to put up big numbers as a group despite losing their two most productive WRs from 2018. CT Thomas and John Hightower figure to form a new dynamic duo as they both went for over 500 yards last season and combined for 9 TDs. Khalil Shakir seems poised for a breakout year after a solid showing as a freshman and Octavious Evans was supposed to breakout last season but he could also do it this year now that he’s healthy. Plus, guys like Akilian Butler, Stefan Cobbs, Billy Butler, and perhaps Khyheed Waleed. Even if no one guy puts up dominating numbers, the unit as a whole should be a force to be reckoned with.
Jared Rice will get the lion’s share of the snaps for the Bulldogs as the starter and easily the most productive returning tight end in the Mountain West (after three got drafted last year!). Rice hauled in 55 passes, good for 664 yards and a solid 12.1 yards per catch. He wasn’t a huge target in the redzone (mainly because of KeeSean Johnson and other talented targets), but still found the endzone three times. Look for that to increase this year. Also, the Bulldogs have quite the group at tight end, bringing in two highly-ranked JUCO recruits in Juan Rodriguez and Raymond Pauwels. Expect them to see the field and put up some solid production as well.
San Diego State
The Aztecs seem to have a solid offensive line year in and year out and the 2019 edition is no exception. Anchored by Keith Ismael and grad-transfer Jacob Capra, they should have no problems opening up holes for their running backs. Keith Spalding is being discussed as the starting left tackle, despite being a converted tight end and having yet to start a game at that spot. But he will be flanked by veteran stalwart Daishawn Dixon, a two-year starter. A few other players have starting experience and there are some intriguing young players, included the younger Capra brother, true freshman Joey. It’s a deep group.
The Broncos are stacked with their starting front four. The star of the group is Curtis Weaver, who has 20.5 sacks over the past two seasons and that’s as a part-time player. He should command lots of double teams and still find ways to put up solid numbers. The unsung hero of the group is one who may not be a household name, but Sonatane Lui does what every good nose tackle should do; take up space, eat up blocks so others can cause havoc, and make a play when the opportunity comes. His backup Scale Igiehon figures to see a lot of snaps too after an impressive freshman debut. Those two, along with a now healthy 6th year DT David Moa will be an imposing force on the inside. Chase Hatada rounds out the group and plays solid, assignment football.
David Woodward is the best linebacker in the entire conference entering the 2019 season and he leads a solid unit. 134 tackles, 12.5 for loss to go along with 5 sacks and two interceptions and two forced fumbles. That’s an incredible stat line and could look even more impressive after this year. Kevin Meitzenheimer looks to step into a starting role and should do just fine with Woodward next to him. Also, don’t count out true freshman Christinan LaValle, who was a force in high school.
The Cowboys have a veteran-heavy secondary. A pair of senior cornerbacks, Tyler Hall and Antonio Hull, are one of the most experienced DB duos in the conference, with a combined 48 starts. The primary backup is CJ Colden who started a few games last year as well. A senior and junior project to start in the safety spots. Alijah Halliburton started most of the second half of the season, which correlates with the best stretch the Cowboys played in 2018. Braden Smith looks to step into a bigger role this year after a lower number of snaps last year. Rome Weber and Keyon Blackenbaker are key backups who will see snaps as well, with the latter bringing starting experience and versatility.
Can you say Savon Scarver? He’s the most electric return man in the entire Mountain West and one of the top returners in the nation. He’s getting a lot of hype and it’s deserved after the numbers he put up last season. He amassed 742 kickoff return yards (33.7 average per return) and scored two touchdowns on those returns. It will be interesting to see if teams kick to him this season. Then add in steady kicker Dominik Eberle, who last year was perfect in extra points and an impressive 77.8% in field goals. The Aggies has special teams covered from all angles.
- Utah State: 3
- San Diego State: 2
- Boise State: 2
- Fresno State: 1
- Wyoming: 1
- As seen in the team totals, our team of voters felt the top teams in the conference mostly had the best individual units as well.
- Defensive Line was the only unanimous selection. Running back, Tight End, and Special Teams were all one vote short.
- Offensive Line, Linebacker and Defensive Back were the two positions that had the closest races.
There it is. So let’s hear it. Who did we snub? Who did we put on here that shouldn’t be? Let’s hear you feedback in the comments section.
Coming tomorrow: Our Kickoff Week continues as we debut the 2019 Preseason All Coach Team.