So far we’ve taken a peek at what to expect from the quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers of the Mountain West. This week we are going to preview the guys who make the skill positions look good. Let’s take a peek at the big guys up front: the offensive lines of the Mountain West.
I was hesitant to put Air Force in the “Good” category considering they are replacing three starters. But if there is one thing that the Falcons always do well, it is that they run block as well as any team in the country. The new starters should have some experience, and I am confident that Calhoun and his coaching staff will have the big dogs ready to go.
This is the unit that will allow the Cowboys to contend for a Mountain West title. They will have one of the most experienced units in the conference. It helps that they will also have an all conference running back and a dual threat quarterback. Will this be the year that the Cowboys finally have a consistent offense?
San Diego State
This is a bit of risky pick. The Aztecs are known for being a run first team with an elite offensive line. Last season was one of the worst offensive lines I can remember. The Aztecs will have more experience this year and should take a major step forward. The West will be wide open this year, and with solid offensive line play, the Aztecs will have an excellent chance of playing in the Mountain West championship game.
The Wolf Pack are in a similar position to the Aztecs. They were both expected to have top tier running backs and dependable offensive lines; both failed to meet expectations and were forced to rely on mediocre quarterback play. Like the Aztecs, I expect Nevada to be in the thick of the West Division race, but it all hinges on the play of the offensive line.
The Rebels might have the most underrated running game in the Mountain West, but ultimately, they have been plagued by poor quarterback play and a poor defense. I expect the running game under a solid offensive line and a great running back in Charles Williams to be the lone bright spot under new head coach Marcus Arroyo.
The Bulldogs endured quite a few injuries along the offensive line in 2019. If there is one bright spot in an otherwise poor season, it is the fact that the Bulldogs gained plenty of experience in the trenches. I expect that experience to pay off in 2020, and the Bulldogs have some nice depth at the running back position that should help.
The Broncos have a ton of questions to answer on the offensive line. They lost three seniors and junior Ezra Cleveland declared early and is projected to be a first round pick. Right tackle John Ojukwu will be moving to the left side of the line and will anchor a young line with a ton of potential. The offensive line endured a lot of injuries which allowed the young reserves to gain plenty of experience. Hopefully some fresh blood will prevent the Broncos from starting slowly again.
It is really hard to gauge the offensive line play of the Lobos. They were a mess last season and had plenty of issues both on and off the field. New Mexico made a great hire in Danny Gonzales, but it is going to take years and resources (that the Lobos don’t have) to get this program back on its feet. The Lobos will be running a more traditional offense this year, and pass protection will likely be a major issue.
Colorado State was really a puzzling team to watch last year. Heading into the 2019 season, the offense was considered to be their strength, while the defense was expected to be a major liability. Well, the defense ended up being decent ,and the offense struggled more than expected. The last two years, the running game has been nearly nonexistent for the Rams. That rests mainly on the poor play of the offensive line. The one thing that Steve Addazio teams generally did well at Boston College was run the football. I think it will take a few seasons and some new recruits to improve this struggling offensive line.
It is really hard to know what to expect from Todd Graham. Will the Rainbow Warriors continue to run the quick pace run-and-shoot that made them a division champion? Or will we see a more traditional approach? Todd Graham made it clear in his opening presser that he didn’t want to break something that didn’t need fixed, but I’m skeptical. This offensive line is built for a quick passing scheme, with their specialty being downfield blocking. I think the offensive line will struggle with a new quarterback in Chevan Cordeiro who is sometimes a bit too eager with his feet.
The 2019 Aggies squad featured an entirely new offensive line, and their lack of a run game was a direct result of inexperience. Now, the Aggies will feature a dual-threat running back in Henry Colombi; maybe this will help them develop a run game. But it could also hurt them in pass protection. I anticipate the Aggies going through some major growing pains this season after losing an NFL quarterback and their top wide receiver.
San Jose State
The best way to describe the Spartans offense is one-dimensional. Elite wide receivers and an all conference quarterback allowed the Spartans to have a respectable finish in 2019. But with Josh Love gone and a few holes on the offensive line, I think it is going to be an ugly 2020 for the Spartans.
That’s it for this edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.” Be sure to stay tuned for next week’s edition as we will take a peek at the other side of the trenches and preview the defensive lines.