Spring football has already started for some Mountain West teams (Air Force) and the rest will start hitting the field in the next month. We are going to spend the next few months previewing each position group and where each team stands. Last week we looked at quarterbacks; this week we are going to take a look at running backs.
Losing Remsberg will hurt, but if there is one thing we know about Air Force, they will be able to run the ball. The Falcons have a few different quarterbacks that should play a vital role in the run game. Keep an eye out for Brad Roberts; I expect big things from the junior in 2021.
George Holani is a special talent. The question now is whether or not he can stay healthy. The addition of Cyrus Habibi-Likio was a nice add, and he will provide some depth to a group that desperately needed it. The Broncos really need Andrew Van Buren to take the next step and become more than just a short yardage back. His yards per carry was a major area of concern this past season. I thought long and hard about putting the Broncos in the Bad category considering where they finished last season.
Ronnie Rivers is coming back. They added Jordan Wilmore as a grad transfer and signed two elite high school prospects. The Bulldogs might have the most talented running back room in the Mountain West. Keep an eye on this offense; they might make a run for the most talented crew in 2021.
If we have learned anything about Craig Bohl, we know that Wyoming is going to be a run first team. Their run game wasn’t nearly as effective this past season without Sean Chambers. But with Chambers back and one of the most talented running backs in Xazavian Valladay coming back, the Cowboys should be near the top of the conference.
San Diego State
The Aztecs have experience and talent in the backfield. Jordan Byrd, Chance Bell, and Greg Bell will all get plenty of carries this fall. The three seniors will create a unique challenge for the opposition. If it weren’t for Air Force, the Aztecs would be my pick to lead the conference in rushing yards.
San Jose State
It feels a little weird to put the Spartans here, but they are the defending champions and have earned my respect. They were kind of boom or bust on the ground this past season, but 4.5 yards per carry is nothing to scoff at. I’m skeptical on whether or not they can keep that up this coming season, but for now I am giving them the benefit of the doubt.
New Mexico is kind of on their way to be the San Diego State of the Mountain Division, not in wins but in style of play. The Lobos are going to be a run heavy offense, and they were solid in the run game this past season. Under the leadership of Gonzales, the Lobos are going to be a team that works hard in the trenches and put up numbers on the ground. They were solid this past fall and should continue to improve their rushing numbers.
The Wolf Pack finished last season 11th in rushing in the Mountain West, and we know that they are going to let Carson Strong do his thing. Toa Taua will have his moments, but I don’t expect much out of their rushing attack.
It is hard to know what to expect out of the Aggies running game with the small sample size we got in the fall and a new coaching staff coming in. I don’t believe they have a top tier running back that can compete with the likes of Holani, Valladay, and Rivers. Maybe they can prove me wrong.
UNLV’s run game was disappointing this past season. Charles Williams was expected to be one of the top backs in the conference and the running game was expected to keep the offense afloat. Maybe it was the lack of a quality quarterback that impacted run production, but UNLV will need to be stronger in this area this fall. I’m not sure if they have the horses to make it happen.....
The Rainbow Warriors have some attrition at the running back spot. We know Todd Graham has placed more of an emphasis on the running game than Nick Rolovich did, but it was still inconsistent this past season. Maybe they give Calvin Turner more carries. Turner could be a sleeper pick for offensive player of the year and should be heavily featured in Hawaii’s offense.
You aren’t going to win too many games if you can only manage 3.2 yards per rushing attempt. It is hard to see the Rams improving too much on the ground. Steve Addazio needs an effective run game for his system to be effective. The Rams need a ton of improvement in this area.
That’s it for this edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.” Next week we will be taking a peek at the wide receivers. How would you rank the running back units of the Mountain West? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.