Last week we took a peek at the quarterback position in the Mountain West where experience is thin for many schools. This week we are previewing the running backs in the Mountain West, a position of strength for many teams in the conference. Let’s take a look at who has the strongest running back units in the Mountain West.
The Falcons will almost always land in this category, but this year their running attack could be even better. The triple option offense will be lethal with Donald Hammond III back at the helm and leading rusher Kadin Remsberg back for his senior season. Both players have a chance to be first team All-Conference performers. Air Force did lose some solid fullbacks, but they always replenish that system. The Falcons should lead the nation in rushing in 2020.
You know your running back room is in good shape when you don’t have to sign a running back in your most recent recruiting class. Boise State is loaded with two four-star recruits and a proven senior running back. George Holani led the Broncos in rushing as a true freshman and should encounter a similar workload this Fall. He will have plenty of talent behind him in Andrew Van Buren who will see significant work in short yardage situations. Robert Mahone also had his moments in 2019 before battling injuries over the course of the season.
The Cowboys might be bringing back the most talented running back in the conference with Xazavian Valladay who finished the year with over 1200 yards rushing. Wyoming also has the luxury of having two quarterbacks that can run the ball in Sean Chambers and Levi Williams. There might be some concerns about depth at the running back positions, but Valladay will be an All-Conference performer if he stays healthy.
I’m not sure what Marcus Arroyo is going to bring to Las Vegas, and the brutal schedule to start the season had me questioning where I should place the Rebels. But Charles Williams is one of the most efficient running backs in the Mountain West and should be poised for a big senior season. I’m not exactly sure how his running style will fit into Arroyo’s offense, but the talented running back has the skill to lead the UNLV rushing attack.
Danny Gonzales is a smart guy, and he is fully aware of the fact that New Mexico will need to be great on the ground if they are going to be competitive. The late season injury to Ahmari Davis leaves a question mark at the running back position. Davis should be back to full strength by the time the season begins, and he should get the majority of the carries for the Lobos. Davis was well on his way to a 1,000 yard season before going down with an injury.
Ronnie Rivers did not have the season that many expected from him in 2019. The Bulldogs were a team searching for an offensive identity for the majority of the 2019 campaign. Rivers was clearly impacted by the inconsistencies in the Bulldog passing attack, as teams often sold out to stop the run. I anticipate Rivers and the Bulldog rushing attack returning to form in 2020 with the return of Kalen DeBoer.
Entering the 2019 season, I thought Toa Taua was a lock to be an all-conference running back. However, Toa barely managed to crack the Top 10 in the conference and finished the season averaging only 4.1 yards per carry. Taua was clearly impacted by the inconsistent play at the quarterback position. I think he will have a bounceback season, and the Wolf Pack should be competitive in the wide open West Division. This is a bold prediction, because Nevada finished 2019 averaging only 3.4 yards per carry.
The Aggies were middle of the road in rushing last season, finishing 7th in the conference in yards per game. With Gerold Bright graduating and breaking in a new quarterback, the Aggies will need to establish the run early and often. I don’t think they have the players in place to take the next step.
San Diego State
I know I’m going to get a lot of flack from Aztec fans for this one, but let’s look at the facts. The leading rusher for the Aztecs had only 500 yards and averaged 3.3 yards per carry. Juwan Washington is now gone, and Chance Bell will probably be the featured back. Bell did show some promise, but I’m not sure if he is ready to be the next great Aztec running back. SDSU will have plenty to prove on the offensive side of the ball this year and will need to be more efficient running the ball if they want to contend for a championship.
This is another one that is nearly impossible to predict with Todd Graham now at the helm. Will he run the more than his predecessor? Or will he go full air raid? The Rainbow Warriors have a talented running back in Miles Reed, but he isn’t in the same league as the conference’s star running backs. I expect Hawaii to struggle to run the ball this year and to take a step back with McDonald off to the NFL.
The leading rusher for the Rams was Marcus McElroy who finished the season with only 370 yards. That total was far and away the lowest of any leading rusher in the conference. The Rams are lacking depth at the running back position and will need to show significant improvement in 2020. Addazio’s offense will likely feature the running back more than Bobo’s did, so there is some opportunity for growth in this department.
San Jose State
As bad as Colorado State was on the ground, the Spartans were even worse. The Spartans barely cracked 1,000 yards as a team and managed only 3.5 yards per carry. San Jose State relied heavily on the arm of Josh Love; they won’t have that luxury this Fall.
That’s it for this edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.” Next week we will preview the receiving corps of the Mountain West.