Spring football is wrapping up around the country, and we are getting a good idea of what some teams will look like in the fall. This week, we wrap up our spring preview for each position unit in the Mountain West by focusing on special teams.
The Wolf Pack should have one of the best special teams units in the country. Romeo Doubs is a dynamic returner, and kicker Brandon Talton will garner plenty of votes for special teams player of the year. The Wolf Pack also had the top punting unit in the conference last season.
San Diego State
The Aztecs always seem to be really good in the return game, and this past season was no exception. If it weren’t for Avery Williams, the Aztecs would have had the best return unit in the conference. The rest of their special teams statistics won’t blow you away, but they were solid.
San Jose State
The Spartans offense gets most of the love, but their transformation on special teams played a big part in their championship season. This is where we learn if they are around for the long haul. Maintaining a game changing special teams unit is no small task.
Breaking down special teams statistics is difficult. It was especially difficult for the Aggies. They were strong on kickoff returns, but awful on punt returns. They were perfect on field goals (only three attempts) but missed a handful of PATs. They were among the top half in most categories and return some solid talent, so the “Good” category seems appropriate.
The Broncos lose one of the most prolific returners in NCAA history in Avery Williams. Talent like that can’t just be replaced. If the spring game was any indication, it looks like Khalil Shakir will be the main returner with CT Thomas sharing some of those duties. Both of those guys are explosive playmakers, but losing Williams is a huge blow. The Broncos will be strong in the kicking game with Jonah Dalmas returning. But, consistency in the punting game is still a major question mark.
The Falcons had some uncharacteristic struggles on special teams last year. They were one of the worst kicking teams (field goals, kickoffs) in the conference and weren’t great in the return game. It is hard to see them repeating these struggles with how disciplined they normally are.
Wyoming’s kicker was a great story last year, but that was about the only strong area of special teams for the Cowboys. They struggled in nearly every other facet of special teams, including the worst kickoff return unit in the conference.
The Rainbow Warriors finished in the middle to bottom half of each statistical special teams category. They were especially poor on field goals. If Hawaii is going to contend in their division, they will need to improve on special teams.
The Lobos finished the 2020 season in the bottom half of every special teams category except punting (5th) and PATs. For a team that does not have the talent of the counterparts in their division, they need to close that gap with great special teams play. It doesn’t look like that will be the case in 2021.
The Rams struggles on special teams last season were puzzling. Boise State’s special teams single-handedly beat the Rams last season and it wasn’t just a one game problem. The Rams finished last season near the bottom of almost every special teams statistic in the conference.
The Bulldogs struggles on special teams last year really held them back, and it is hard to see it getting much better this year. The Bulldogs did not have much of a return game, and their punt and coverage units were really poor.
I hate piling on the Rebels, but they were in the bottom half of every special teams statistic in the conference. Teams like UNLV need strong special teams play if they are going to compete with the heavy hitters in the conference. This will be a focus for Marcus Arroyo and his staff this fall.
That’s it for this edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.” Next week, we will be reviewing the best and worst of Mountain West games from 2020.