This week the question is as straightforward as can be: Who is the best player on each team entering this season?
For the New Mexico Lobos, I feel as if it is a toss-up between two players, and a dark-horse could make it a trio. Given the fact that Danny Gonzales said the Lobos will run an up-tempo spread offense the two I would choose now is quarterback Tevaka Tuioti and running back Bryson Carroll.
Lobo fans have seen Tuioti sling it around Albuquerque for several years now, and he’ll get another opportunity to do that this season with the up-tempo offense. His decision making needs to be sharp in order for the offense to have success.
Carroll is one of the fastest players on the team. If he gets into the open field, it will be tough to take him down. Right now, he is listed as the starter on the depth chart, but with the running back position being as deep as it is, the Lobos might do running back by committee.
Which leads me to my dark-horse. It could all depend on how good he is in the first couple of games of the season, but incoming freshman Nathaniel Jones has the potential to play in the NFL. If he explodes in the first part of the season, he could easily turn into a difference maker.
Colorado State = Warren Jackson. Duh. No explanation needed.
The best player on the Aztecs is easily safety/cornerback hybrid Tariq Thompson. What makes this more impressive is the sheer number of talented players on the roster, from rising star defensive tackle Cameron Thomas and shutdown cornerback Darren Hall on the defense to powerhouse offensive guard William Dunkle and the receiving duo of Jesse Matthews and Kobe Smith on the offense.
Thompson has locked down free safety and slot cornerback roles for SDSU over the past three seasons, offering elite play in each. He is a proven ballhawk and playmaker in the secondary while also owning solid technique as a open field tackler and run-defender. In his final season at San Diego State, there is no doubt he will once again showcase his exceptional skill set against Mountain West opponents in route to an NFL draft selection come Spring 2021.
For Boise State I think you could argue quite a few different players. For me, the answer is Khalil Shakir. I think he is the most talented football player on a team that is loaded at the skill positions. He will probably be the primary receiver and will have an impact on special teams and in the running game where he occasionally lines up in the backfield.
This would have been an easy question last week, but now I have to think harder. On offense, the Falcons like to involve a lot of different players, and most of the time an individual can’t really stand out, although there have been exceptions like Chad Hall, Dee Dowis, and Donald Hammond. This year, the Falcon running backs, as a group, stand out. But I’m not sure if Kade Remsberg or Timothy Jackson or even Josh Stoner will lead the group. The offensive line is again the best line in the Mountain West (in my opinion), but I’m not sure if Nolan Laufenberg or Parker Ferguson will lead the group. For now, I’ll stick with my previous player rankings and go with Nolan Laufenberg. He is definitely one of the best linemen ever at Air Force and with the starting quarterback likely gone for the season, success and failure will probably be determined by how well the O line can open up the holes.
For Utah State, I think the best player is either Troy Lefeged or Shaq Bond. Both players are stand out safeties for the Aggies and are considered to be one of the best safety duos in the Mountain West. However, if I were to pick between Lefeged and Bond, I would go with Lefeged. He led the Mountain West in tackles last season with 109 and also forced 3 fumbles and two pass break ups, while recording 2 sacks. The reason I would go with Lefeged over Bond is because Bond is a safety that plays deeper coverage and makes plays on the ball while Lefeged is a hard hitter who has a significant impact in defending passes and also stopping the running game. I think it is a close call between Lefeged and Bond but the two safeties should both be forces for an Aggies defense that is looking to improve from last year.
For UNLV, it’s Charles Williams. Last year he compiled 1,257 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, while averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Not only is he their best player, but he is their most important player. If he goes, the Rebel offense goes. The run game the last few years has been key for UNLV in having a productive offense, with the scheme centered around the rushing attack, and having a good running back helps. Repeatedly last year, the Rebels looked to Williams to provide a spark on offense, and with the passing game struggling last year, they relied on Williams a lot last year and will need him to produce again this season.
Nevada: It’s Dom Peterson, as I noted in my Top-10 returning Nevada players piece. I don’t think there’s much of a question there, as Peterson is one of the most dominant defensive forces in the conference. He was a one-man wrecking crew on the defensive line last year. Peterson is the conference’s returning leader in sacks (9.0) and tackles-for-loss (15.0), demonstrating strength and speed that plays much bigger than his 6-foot, 295-pound frame. Peterson will be a frontrunner for the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year award.