EDIT: We are re-running our five posts from Kickoff Week, which originally debuted in July. We are running all posts as they originally were, regardless of changes due to players opting-out, transferring, or declaring for the NFL draft.
Continuing with the week’s theme, today’s post will detail which teams have the best position units in the Mountain West. Voted on by our team, the results can be seen below.
In case you missed the first two days, you can see the All-MWC team and Awards and Predictions from Monday and Tuesday, respectively.
The Broncos arguably have the best quarterback in the conference, but they definitely have the best group of quarterbacks in the Mountain West. Hank Bachmeier returns as the starter after bursting on the scene as a true freshman. His numbers aren’t eye-popping, but he did have a strong showing in eight games, with 1879 passing yards to go along with 9 TDs. Chase Cord has 9 passing TDs of his own and made several plays with his legs. When healthy, he is a talented change of pace option, and one teams have to game plan for, as he has a role even as a backup. Transfer and former 4-star QB Jack Sears is another dual-threat type who figures to get a package of RPO, and short passing plays when he sees the field. All three have started D1 football games and looked good doing it.
Right off the bat, the Cowboys have one of the best running back in the conference returning with junior Xazavian Valladay. He rushed for 1265 yards in 2019, which led the conference. Valladay was also good for 5.1 yards per carry and added six touchdowns for good measures. He should carry the load again for a team that likes to run the ball a substantial amount. He will be flanked by promising sophomore Titus Swen, who amassed 337 yards in only six games. Look for his production to take a step forward. Trey Smith only played in four games in 2019 before suffering an injury. But he made them count with 227 yards and three touchdowns.
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 NFL draft pick, John Hightower. They return two starters in CT Thomas and Khalil Shakir. Thomas had 522 yards with 5 TDs while Shakir tallied 938 yards from scrimmage with a combined 9 TDs (rushing and receiving). Both looked poised to increase those numbers with the departure of Hightower. Octavius Evans was finally healthy last year and had modest contributions, but this year he should step into the open starting spot with little problem. Plus, guys like Stefan Cobbs, Shea Whiting, and perhaps Khyheed Waleed will contribute. Even if no one guy puts up dominating numbers, the unit should be a force to be reckoned with.
Could this spot belong to anyone but the Rams? Trey McBride returns as the consensus top tight end in all the Mountain West after just one season in a starting role. He should build on last year’s numbers of 560 receiving yards and 4 TDs. His 12.4 yards per reception displays his ability to run after the catch. Although his plays in an offense filled with talented wide receivers, McBride distinguishes himself catching passes down the seam, being a target on third downs and the red-zone. Simply put, he is head and shoulders above the rest of the conference.
The Falcons boast an excellent offensive line, returning two all-conference caliber starters. Those two would be Parker Ferguson at tackle and Nolan Laufenberg at guard; the duo should form the best left side of the OL in the entire Mountain West. Filling out the rest of the line looks to be three more seniors, Nicholas Noyen at center, Kyle Krepsz at guard, and Adam Jewell at tackle. They all bring a variety of experience and abilities, and all should help the tried and true Falcon rushing attack for another year.
This unit is headlined by sophomore Solomon Byrd, who enters the season as one of the best defensive ends in the conference. Byrd tallied 45 tackles last year, but more impressive was the 9.5 TFLs and 6.5 sacks. On the other side of the line is senior Garrett Crall, who put up formidable numbers (55 tackles, 6 TFLs, 4.5 sacks) to compliment Byrd. In the middle of the line, Wyoming did lose all-conference caliber defensive tackle, Javaree Jackson. Instead, the d-line will likely feature Ravontae Holt, who missed 2019 with an injury, and Mario Mora, who found his way into a starting role as a redshirt freshman.
While not a dominating unit last season, the Bronco linebackers did their job and providing reliable, although unspectacular, production. WILL Riley Whimpey showed no signs of rust from an ACL injury the year before and lead the team in tackles with 80, to go along with seven tackles for loss, two sacks, and seven passes defended. Next to him was middle linebacker Ezekiel Noa, who was on pace to have a fine season until he had an ACL injury of his own. That tandem, if healthy, should form a formidable duo. Add in NC State grad transfer Brock Miller, who had 40 tackles and 7 TFLs a year ago, plus reserves Benton Wickersham (63 tackles), Bruno DeRose (18 tackles), and Brandon Hawkins (8 tackles) and the unit should be deep even if there is no true star among them.
San Diego State
The Aztecs secondary is extremely talented, with three all-MWC types of players among their five positions. Tariq Thompson is somehow already a senior and was all over the field to the tune of 55 tackles, 3 TFLs, one sack, 4 INTs, eight passes defended, and two forced fumbles. He is the star of their defense. Junior Dwayne Johnson Jr is the returning leading tackles, as he had 92 total last season in his first year as a starter. Junior Darren Hall is primed for a big year after two years as a starter. They’ll be joined by senior Trenton Thomas, and there should be a nice competition to replace Luq Barcoo.
The Wolf Pack special teams unit is headlined by Brandon Talton, who is coming off as good of a freshman year as a kicker could have. He went from walk-on to scholarship kicker and team hero after kicking the game-winning FG against Purdue. For the year, Talton made 84% of his field goals with a long of 56 yards and was 27 of 29 on extra points. Romeo Doubs had a 10.8 return average on punts and should be the primary option back there in 2020. Austin Ortega got some experience at long-snapping last year and figures to step into the primary role this year while Eric Fellenzer or Charlie Pollock will do the same as the punter.
- Boise State: 3
- Wyoming: 2
- Air Force: 1
- Colorado State: 1
- Nevada: 1
- San Diego State: 1
- The unanimous position votes were quarterback, tight end, and special teams. Three other positions were either one or two votes away from being unanimous.
- Wide receiver and defensive line were the two positions that had the closest races.
- Running back and linebacker were the positions with the greatest diversity of votes, with three different teams being considered.
- Looking at the team totals, the Broncos led the way followed closely by the Cowboys. Six teams overall received votes, and considering there were nine positions, that displays balance in the conference.
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 your feedback in the comments section.
Coming tomorrow: Our Kickoff Week continues as we debut the 2019 Preseason All Coach Team.