Recruiting season is behind us, and Spring football has already started for some Mountain West programs. We are going to continue previewing position units in the Mountain West. Please remember that with the extra COVID year, there is some uncertainty on each roster heading into Spring football. With that being said, let’s take a look at how each team currently sits in the return game.
San Diego State
Jordan Byrd is returning for his final season as an Aztec and is one of the most proven returners in the Mountain West. The Aztecs have a longstanding history of making game-changing plays on special teams, and I expect that to be the case again this Fall.
Thomas Pannunzio is returning for his fifth year. Pannunzio finished second in the conference in kick return average despite his longest return being only 37 yards. Pannunzio may not be the most dynamic returner in the conference, but he’s consistent. Dante Wright will likely be the punt returner and has the ability to be a game-changer.
The Lobos had the most well-rounded return game in the Mountain West last season and return the majority of their special teams' production. This is huge for a team that will need a boost on that side of the ball. The Lobos finished second in kick returns and third in punt returns in 2021.
The Broncos loses a consistent return man in Khalil Shakir, but are bringing back an explosive returner in wide receiver Stefan Cobbs. Cobbs showed the potential to be explosive, but injuries hampered him throughout the season. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman Kaiden Dudley. He was an explosive returner in high school.
It is hard to get a good gauge on the return game for the Cowboys. Wyoming only had 20 kick returns and 12 punt returns last season. Statistically speaking, they were pretty good on kick return and pretty awful on punt return. The Cowboys lost some of their most dynamic players and will look for a game-changing returner.
San Jose State
The Spartans weren’t awful in the return game last year, but it wasn’t really impactful either. The Spartans did not score a touchdown in the return game and finished in the middle of the pack in both kickoff and punt returns. If the Spartans have any hope of returning to championship form, they will need to improve in this department.
The Rebels really need major improvements in this department. UNLV managed only 17 yards per kickoff return and seven yards per punt return. For a team that is struggling to stop opponents, they need to flip the field with a dynamic return game.
Kickoff and punt return statistics are a bit puzzling for the Bulldogs. They have some of the best skill position talent in the Mountain West, but they finished tenth in kickoff returns and last in punt returns. Maybe the return of Jeff Tedford will give this unit a boost.
The Rainbow Warriors were mediocre at best on special teams last year and the departure of dynamic playmaker Calvin Turner Jr. will be felt in a big way. With a new coaching staff and a lot of new faces on the roster, it is hard to gauge where Hawaii will go in the return game.
It is hard to know what direction the Aggies will go in the return game. They lose their most proven returners in Savon Scarver and Jordan Nathan. Nathan and Scarver had a longstanding impact on the Aggie return game. The Mountain West champions will have some major holes to fill on special teams.
Losing Romeo Doubs is a significant hit to a Nevada special teams unit that will be in desperate need of dynamic plays. Doubs has been a fixture on special teams the last few seasons and had the ability to change the game any time he had the ball in his hands. The Wolf Pack have a big hole to fill.
That’s it for this edition of “The Good the Bad, the Ugly.” Which team has the best kick and punt returners? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.