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Senior College Football Columnist

MW Preview: Fales eyes conference crown, while improving draft stock

David Fales is coming off a very impressive season where he threw for 4,193 yards and 33 TDs.
David Fales is coming off a very impressive season, throwing for 4,193 yards and 33 TDs. (USATSI)

LAS VEGAS -- David Fales went from being a quarterback known only by some diehard NFL Draft observers to becoming That Guy because of steamy afternoons in the dead of summertime. The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder was the mystery man around the other top college quarterbacks invited to work the Elite 11 camp as counselors on Nike's sprawling campus in Oregon.

Everyone at the week-long camp knew the big stars. There was Heisman winner Johnny Manziel; Teddy Bridgewater, the guy some are touted as the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft; Tajh Boyd, the reigning ACC Player of the Year; Michigan starter Devin Gardner and Georgia Tech's Vad Lee. And there was Fales, who a few of the other counselors admitted they'd never heard of. Well, after Fales' performance in winning the camp's Counselors Challenge, a myriad of passing drills, testing both footwork and QB arms, they all know about the San Jose State QB now.

"He's big-time," said Boyd.

Fales admitted that he always wondered how he compared to the other top QBs in the country. "You're seeing Johnny Football and Teddy Bridgewater and those guys," he said last month at Mountain West media day in Las Vegas. "It's eye-opening. I knew I threw the ball pretty well, but you just don't know (exactly how you measure up.) I tried not to put too much pressure on myself."

Fales pointed out that even though it was a competition and every guy there is an intense competitor, it wasn't an actual football game.

So did it really matter?

Mountain West All-Conference
PosPlayerYrSchool
QBDerek CarrSr.Fresno State
RBAdam MuemaJr.San Diego State
RBKasey CarrierSr.New Mexico
WRDavante AdamsSoph.Fresno State
WRNoel GrigsbySr.San Jose State
TECrockett GillmoreSr.Colorado State
OTAustin WentworthSr.Fresno State
OTCharles LenoSr.Boise State
OGNicholas KasparSr.San Jose State
OGEric ShultzSr.Utah State
CMatt ParadisSr.Boise State
DEDemarcus LawrenceJr.Boise State
DEBrock HekkingJr.Nevada
DTTyler DavisonJr.Fresno State
DTSam MeredithJr.San Diego State
LBShaquil BarrettSr.Colorado State
LBJake FelyJr.San Diego State
LBVince BuhagiarSr.San Jose State
CBL.J. JonesSr.Fresno State
CBBene BenwikereSr.San Jose State
SDerron SmithJr.Fresno State
SNate BerheSr.San Diego State
KAustin LopezSoph.San Jose State
PBen SkaerSr.New Mexico
KRChase ClaytonJr.New Mexico
PRColin LockettSr.San Diego State

"It really doesn't," he said. "It's all hype kinda, but it did help my confidence."

Fales not only displayed nimble footwork, but backed up his old coach Mike MacIntyre's claims that he was the most accurate passer in the country. Although Fales' work in 2012 as a first-time starter at the FBS level already had made a pretty strong case too. He completed 73 percent of his passes (tops in the nation) for 4,193 yards, 33 touchdowns and nine interceptions for the 10-2 Spartans. Not bad for a guy who almost ended up playing last season at FCS Indiana State. That's where the well-traveled QB from Salinas, Calif. was headed right before MacIntyre's staff noticed him.

NFL scouts have been intrigued with Fales well before he beat Manziel, Bridgewater, Boyd and Co. MacIntyre compares his former QB to Tony Romo, a three-time Pro Bowler, who the coach was around for four seasons while working with the Dallas Cowboys. The coach said both QBs have a great ability to change their release and make different throws and can stay alive in the pocket, explained MacIntyre.

"Whatever David has to do to get the ball off into windows, he can do it. And not everybody can do that. A lot of guys can go out and throw in pass skel or one-on-ones and look really good. But then if you put a rush on them and they have to sidestep and their feet just can't be right and they have to make accurate throws, they can't do that. David can. That's what separates him. He can make those accurate throws without a perfect pocket. He's not a scrambler, but he can stay alive and make great throws."

Fales has done more than his share of scrambling off the field too. He started his college career at Nevada behind star Colin Kaepernick, and he also had a brief stint at Wyoming in addition to his time playing junior college ball. In fact, Fales may be the only quarterback to have been parts of three teams in the same conference.

Making those moves and leaving behind a scholarship for uncertainty was a nerve-wracking process for the QB. "I felt like I was disappointing my family. 'Really you're gonna leave a scholarship?' " his parents asked, " 'What if you don't get another scholarship?' "

Fales gamble is paying off in a big way although he does have to adapt to another coach, new terminology and system. MacIntyre left to take the Colorado job so Ron Carragher was hired from San Diego. Out goes the Pistol. In comes more pro-style from under center. Fales' goals also are quite a bit different from what they were going into last season, when he just wanted to win the starting QB job and win the WAC. This year? He wants to win the MWC and a bowl game, cut down on his turnovers and have an even higher completion percentage. He's also worked hard to improve his deep ball, he says by pushing more off his back foot.

The once under-the-radar guy still isn't recognized much even locally although when he and his teammates attended a recent fundraiser at a San Jose Giants game, some fans started to "freak out," he said, once he told them his name.

Then again, he wasn't one of the two dozen or so college quarterbacks invited to work as counselors for the Manning Passing Academy.

Asked if he might use the snub as motivation, Fales shrugs sheepishly. "I could." Then he pauses for a few heartbeats. "Yeah, I probably will."

Chip Patterson: Capsules, predictions

Offensive player of the year: Derek Carr, Fresno State. Until proven otherwise, I'm not betting against the senior quarterback coming off a season that featured 4,000 yards passing and 37 touchdowns with a 67.3 completion percentage. Oh yeah, he's also the reigning Offensive Player of the Year in the conference.

Defensive player of the year: Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State. As a sophomore, Lawrence led the Mountain West in sacks (8.5) and tackles for loss (13.5) despite missing two games due to team rules violations. If he can stay out of Petersen's doghouse, it could be another big year for the all-conference defensive end.

Coach of the year: Matt Wells, Utah State. It will be tough for the Aggies to repeat last year's 11-win season, but I think they will come close to raise some eyebrows around the league. Utah State fans are hoping that Wells, 39, is the long-term answer for the program.

Next coordinator to become a head coach: David Schramm, Fresno State offensive coordinator. Schramm's first year with the Bulldogs produced a 4,000-yard passer, 1,400-yard rusher and 1,300-yard receiver, yet there is still plenty of room for improvement. Schramm previously moved up from running backs coach to offensive coordinator during a stint on Kyle Whittingham's staff at Utah from 2005-11.

Next head coach to become a coordinator: Bobby Hauck, UNLV. The Rebs have recorded just six wins in there seasons in Hauck's tenure, and with 18 starters back there will be few excuses for another 2-3 win season in Las Vegas. The three-time FCS champion at Montana could end up being a head coach elsewhere -- rather than a coordinator -- but he appears to be on the hottest seat in the conference.

Most intriguing conference game: Boise State at Utah State. Outside of Fresno State, the biggest threat to the Broncos' quest for a MW title is the one of the league's newest members. The promotion of Matt Wells, a USU alum, ensures that much of the infrastructure from the Aggies' recent success will remain in place. Both of these teams have made the most of their talent in recent seasons, and their Mountain Division rivalry will be fun to watch moving forward.

Most intriguing nonconference game: Boise State at Washington, Aug. 31. Both teams kick off 2013 with a rematch of the memorable 2012 Las Vegas Bowl. The Huskies stormed back after trailing 18-3 early, but the Broncos orchestrated a late 10-play drive to set up Michael Frisina for the game-winning field goal with just over one minute remaining. Adding to the intrigue factor is the re-opening of Washington's Husky Stadium after undergoing a major renovation during the last two years.

Bold conference prediction: Boise State will once again get the best of Fresno State during the regular season, but the Bulldogs will get the last laugh with an upset victory over the Broncos in the inaugural Mountain West Championship Game. I do realize that in this scenario that game is likely held in Boise, where the Broncos are 42-2 under Chris Petersen, but these are bold predictions.

Mountain West

1. Boise State: Boise State's decision to stay in the Mountain West did help the league's bottom line, but it also made coaching in the league much more difficult. Chris Petersen has won 10+ games in each of his seven seasons and, while several assistants have used Boise State as a launch pad for their career, it does not seem like the Broncos head coach is going anywhere. Even with arguably the toughest schedule in the league, it would be a surprise to see Boise State out of the hunt in November.

2. Utah State: The loss of Kerwynn Williams, with his 1,512 rushing yards, 697 receiving yards and 20 total touchdowns, hurts. But quarterback Chuckie Keeton is back after total control of the offense in 2012 on the way to All-WAC first team honors. Keeton should be able to keep the offense rolling behind a deep and experienced offensive line as first-year coach Matt Wells and his brother Luke, the offensive coordinator, identify new weapons at the skill positions. The defense eturns seven starters and 22 letterman from a unit that ranked No. 3 nationally -- just behind Florida State and Alabama -- in yards per play (4.33).

3. Colorado State: A difficult early season schedule and injury woes made it difficult for the Rams to get rolling under first-year coach Jim McElwain in 2012. The team finished 3-5 in conference play despite those issues, giving Colorado State a higher ceiling simply based on health and experience. Seventeen starters return, along with many more forced into starting roles a year ago. Lucky for the Rams; there is a bye week between the trip to Tuscaloosa to face McElwain's former team and the beginning the of conference play.

4. Air Force: Quarterback Connor Dietz and running back Cody Getz alone accounted for 55.9 percent of the Falcons' total offense a year ago, representing just two of the seven starters that need to be replaced on that side of the ball. Jon Lee takes over as the new featured tailback after averaging 6.2 yards per carry as a sophomore, but arguably the biggest concern on offense is the retooled offensive line. Last year was Air Force's first losing season under Troy Calhoun, so a bounce back is expected.

5. Wyoming: Quarterback Brett Smith and virtually every contributor at the skill position a year ago is back. The schedule also sets up well with the most winnable games -- Idaho, N. Colorado, New Mexico, Hawaii -- at home. With a few upsets in conference play, the Cowboys could bowling for the third time in five years under Dave Christensen.

6. New Mexico: Five of New Mexico's losses a year ago were by seven points or less. The ground attack should remain productive with top 3 rushers back and four returning starters on the offensive line. But if bowl eligibility is in the Lobos future, they need to have it wrapped up before mid-November due to road contests against Fresno State and Boise State to finish the regular season.

West

1. Fresno State: The Bulldogs' potent offense, helmed by MW Offensive Player of the Year Derek Carr, was rarely slowed a year ago, but a 20-10 loss at Boise State cost the Bulldogs the opportunity for an outright conference title. With the league expanded to two divisions, Fresno State can now have the opportunity for redemption in that situation -- or vice versa. The Bulldogs host the rematch between defending co-champions on Sept. 20, but it would not be a surprise to see Fresno State and Boise State in the inaugural MW Championship Game come December.

2. San Diego State: I'm not expecting much separation between Nos. 2, 3 and 4 in this division, and frankly any order of finish would seem plausible. One advantage San Diego State has over the Aztecs and Wolf Pack is familiarity. Rocky Long enters his third year as head coach with a star running back, 1,400-yard rusher Adam Muema, and nine starters back on a defense that ranked No. 3 in the MW in yards per play (5.16).

3. San Jose State: Many believe that quarterback David Fales will make a big splash in his first year of Mountain West play, and it possible he will challenge Derek Carr for league honors at the end of the year. The Spartans won't be overwhelmed by the conference move, having defeated San Diego State and hanging with Stanford in 2012, but another double-digit win season would be a surprise with just 12 returning starters, the departure of Mike MacIntyre and arrival of first-year coach Ron Caragher.

4. Nevada: Nevada's modern legacy might be Chris Ault's Pistol offense, but first-year coach Brian Polian and quarterback Cody Fajardo are hoping it is known as the "Nevada Pistol" thanks to the scheme's continued success. There is a lot of buzz around Polian, and if he stays with the Wolf Pack long enough they will be competing for MW titles soon. Unfortunately the schedule for 2013 includes a brutal road slate: UCLA, Florida State, San Diego State, Boise State, Fresno State and Colorado State.

5. Hawaii: I originally predicted a step forward offensively in year two under head coach Norm Chow, but the sudden dismissal of offensive coordinator Aaron Price just days before fall camp has me second-guessing that prognostication. Chow, along with the help of two graduate assistants, will lead the unit that returns eight starters from a year ago. We will know more about the Warriors on both sides of the ball early in the season thanks to a schedule that kicks off with USC and a road trip Oregon State.

6. UNLV: UNLV returns the most starters in the league, but will that translate to an upgrade in the standings? An early victory against Air Force was the team's highlight a year ago, but the season closed with losses in 8 of the final 9 contests -- including double digit losses to Colorado State and Hawaii in games the Rebels were favored to win. Hauck led Montana to 80 wins and three FCS championships at Montana, but his time in Las Vegas could be cut short with a fourth-straight two-win season. An early non-conference upset against Minnesota, Arizona or Central Michigan could jump-start the Rebs' best season yet in his tenure.

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