For the past few months, we have previewed different position groups for each team in the Mountain West. Last week, we looked at the defensive backs. For our last preview, we will turn our attention to the specialists. Let’s take a look at the good, bad, and ugly of each special teams unit in the Mountain West heading into the 2023 season.
San Diego State
The Azteccs always seem to have one of the best special teams units in the conference, and it won’t be any different in 2023. Kicker and punter Jack Browning should be a legitimate contender for special teams Player of the Year, after leading the conference in punting and finishing third in field goal percentage last fall. There is a major question mark in the return game, as the Aztecs will have to replace longtime return man, Jordan Byrd.
The Cowboys return the best kicker in the conference in John Hoyland and a solid punter in Clayton Stewart. The Cowboys do have some room for growth in the return game, but Hoyland and Stewart are a solid foundation for the Cowboys’ special teams.
Special teams were perhaps the biggest strength of the Lobo football squad in 2022, and I expect that trend to continue in 2023. The Lobos were solid in all aspects last season. It is very possible that Christian Washington might be the best returner in the conference, and he will only be a sophomore this fall.
The Aggies are returning a productive kick returner in Terrell Vaughn and a solid punter in Stephen Kotsanlee. Utah State does have some room for growth in the kicking game, as Connor Coles was inconsistent last season.
The Rainbow Warriors narrowly land in the “Good” category thanks to kicker and punter Matthew Shipley. Shipley proved to be solid in both aspects of the kicking game and will be an important weapon for Hawaii this fall. There are some major concerns in the return game; this unit has a lot to improve upon and will need to show immediate growth to help the offense be more successful this season.
The Broncos have one of the best kickers in college football in Jonah Dalmas. But punter James Ferguson-Reynolds was wildly inconsistent, and his performance in the Mountain West Championship game played a big role in the Broncos’ loss. Boise State is also very unproven in the return game, but Kaden Dudley has a big upside as a kick returner.
The Rams have a prolific punt returner in Tory Horton, but the rest of their special teams are a major question mark. For a team that struggled offensively, it didn’t help to have one of the worst punters in the conference and to be inconsistent in kicking field goals.
The Rebels will be replacing a prolific kicker in Daniel Gutierrez. This should be fairly concerning, as Gutierrez was very reliable for UNLV. There are also some question marks that surround who will be the primary returners. This team does have some speedy guys that can fill these roles; it is just about finding the right fit.
Nikko Remigio was hands down the best return man in the conference last season. With Remigio gone, the Bulldogs will be looking for a new kick and punt returner. The Bulldogs also finished in the bottom half of the conference in both field goal percentage and punting last season. Fresno State fans should be keeping a close eye on special teams as they prepare for fall camp.
It is rare for the Falcons to land in the “Ugly” category. But for a team that relies on winning the field position battle, finishing last in punting is a major concern. As far as the return game goes, Air Force rarely returns the ball.
The Wolf Pack struggled in every aspect of the kicking game last season, which is a major concern for a program that is in rebuilding mode. Nevada will also be looking for some new kick returners; for the sake of this squad, let’s hope they have some hidden gems in the return game.
San Jose State
The Spartans were in the bottom half of nearly every measurable special teams statistic in 2022. This unit has a lot to prove this fall and will need to improve significantlyif the Spartans want to contend for a conference championship.
Which team has the best special teams unit? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.