Last week we named a breakout player on each side of the ball for each team. This week, we ask the question: Who is the best player on each team, regardless of position?
Also like last week, for those who don’t primarily cover a team, feel free to do an at-large type of selection by picking a player on any of the 12 teams you want to highlight.
Bruce (San Jose State): For a player that can be a leader once again for a team this coming season, I decided to go with LB Ethan Aguayo. Last season, Aguayo was fifth in the Mountain West in tackles per game (9.6 tackes), had a personal single-game best 20 tackles against Nevada back on November, and was fourth on the Spartans with five pass break-ups. If the linebacker can keep up these kind of statistics for this coming season, there will be a great chance for the senior to be a first or second round draft pick next NFL season. This is a great opportunity for the Mission Viejo native to give his final shot in his senior year (5th year) to show the Mountain West that he can be one of the top linebackers in the conference.
Zach (Boise State): This one is easy, Curtis Weaver. Weaver is the best pass rusher in the conference and is likely entering his final season at Boise State as a junior. He has 20.5 sacks in two years and is already sixth in program history. Weaver has the potential to break records this year. If we are looking at the offensive side of the ball, I would go with Ezra Cleveland. The left tackle has started every game in his career as a Bronco and is also a candidate to enter the draft early.
Jacob McNeil (Utah State): No surprises here, folks. Jordan Love is the best player on the offensive side of the ball for the Aggies. The most interesting storyline for the MWC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year (for both MW Connection and the official MWC team) will be whether he can bring along a new offensive line and receiving corps early in the season with challenging road games against Wake Forest and San Diego State.
On defense, David Woodward narrowly edges out Tipa Galeai for best Utah State Aggie. Woodward exploded onto the scene last year, amassing an impressive stat line for the Aggies (134 total tackles, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions) on the road to an 11-2 season. With the majority of contributors returning along the USU front seven, look for Woodward to repeat or improve upon last season.
FatDuckUW (Wyoming): Logan Wilson. Wilson goes into 2019 as the leader of the defense as a senior at LB. Wilson has started since 2016 when Logan was named the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year. Wilson has 316 career tackles and could challenge the MWC career tackles record with a big senior year. Cooper Rothe deserves an honorable mention as well as he enters 2019 for his senior season as one of the best kickers in the country.
Alex Wright (UNLV): For the Rebels, it is clearly junior quarterback Armani Rogers. UNLV’s quarterback is a dynamic playmaker who can breakout for a big run and throw one deep. Rogers holds the UNLV Records for most rushing yards by a freshman and most rushing yards by a quarterback (780 yards in 2017). Even though he might not be the best or most consistent passer, Rogers a quarterback gives UNLV the best chance to win. Last season, we saw the struggles UNLV faced without Rogers. The Rebels went 1-5 without him, a fair share of the blame lands on the defense, but have no Rogers did not help UNLV. For UNLV to get to their goal of reaching a bowl game, Rogers is going to need help around him. He’ll need to find a connection with his new receivers and running backs to help take some of the load off of his shoulders. The defense must play better as well.
The 2017 Mountain West freshman of the year must also stay healthy. Last year he got injured against Arkansas State, and it wasn’t from a risky running play. Rogers got injured on a miss step, which could happen to anyone at anytime. UNLV must do all they can to keep him healthy. Rogers will not have offensive coordinator Barney Cotton on the sidelines as he has resigned from coaching while awaiting a heart transplant. However, Garin Justice, who is entering his second year as the offensive line coach will guide the Rebel offense. UNLV will go as far as Rogers can take them. If he plays to his full potential, stays healthy, and gets help around him, UNLV will be packing their bags to a bowl game.
Austin (San Jose State): I think Bruce nailed it up above with Ethan Aguayo, so I’ll give a bit of a wild card answer: Bailey Gaither. Yes, he’s coming off of an achilles tear. It’s entirely possible that he won’t be the same player he was last season. But if he does, he could be one of the best receivers in the entire conference.
Gaither’s speed paired with his size (6-foot-1 at 171 pounds) makes him both a deep threat and key end-zone target. In just four games last season, he racked up 327 yards and three scores on only 16 catches. He was a real difference-maker in a receiving corps which contained Josh Oliver, a third-round draft pick. It’s clear that he had a real rapport with Josh Love, and with Oliver gone Gaither should be Love’s top target this season. As the season went on without Gaither, Brent Brennan opened up the playbook as he started to trust Love. With an expanded offense suiting his playstyle, Gaither should thrive. There’s a lot of risk with Gaither of course, but when he’s at 100 percent health he is an X-factor for the SJSU offense.
Mike (Air Force): I don’t cover a team but I’ll pick one that hasn’t gotten talked about above.
For the Falcons, I really like Jeremy Fejedelem. The senior safety may have flew under the radar last year, but he had a monster year. 104 total tackles in 12 games, including 54 solo. 2.5 of these tackles went for loss and for good measure, he had three interceptions. If Fejedelem got even better over the offseason and anchors the kind of defense Air Force had a few years ago the way Weston Steelhammer did in a similar role, watch out for the Falcons.
Matt: (Fresno State): Well, this isn’t a tough decision, it has to be Mykal Walker. After absolutely exploding onto the scene last year after transferring from Asuza Pacific, Walker became a wrecking ball of the edge of the defense. He had only 87 tackles, but he had 14 tackles for loss to go along with 4.5 sacks. He also had a pick-six, 2 fumbles forced and recovered, as well as 2 blocks and 7 passes defended. All of those skills earned him 1st team All-MWC honors, and he was the Defensive MVP of the MWC Championship Game. Now the real challenge comes with a change in position. After losing all three starting LBs to graduation/the NFL, Walker has moved to his initial position at MLB. Now these means more responsibility in the passing game, while still giving him the ability to clog the lane and provide tons of run pressure. PFF said that he had the most run blocks in the MWC last season, so I’m sure he’s looking to add more to that list. He so far has been noticed by the national media, being put on the watchlist for the Nagurski, Butkus, and Lott Trophies. Not to mention a pre-season all-conference selection at the 2019 media days.
Alex Valle (San Diego State): Although an offensive linemen isn’t the sexiest pick for the best player on a team, I believe junior Keith Ismael takes this spot for the Aztecs. Going into his third year with San Diego State, Ismael has already earned Second-Team All-Mountain West during his freshman year and then First-Team All-Mountain West last season. If Ismael continues this growth then he will have no problem being the best player on this team. Already considered a top offensive linemen in the Mountain West, Ismael will help quarterback Ryan Agnew get the time he needs to make the best football play every snap.