The Mountain West will have a new look this season, with Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada joining the fray. In addition, this will be Boise State's last year in the conference before moving to the Big East. The Broncos will also be without mainstay Kellen Moore, a perennial Heisman candidate at quarterback who was the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year in 2011. Even with the turnover, though, Boise State remains the team to beat.
1. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State: The Bulldogs will operate a no-huddle spread offense this season, which can only help the younger brother of David Carr. Derek was no slouch himself in 2011, though, throwing for 3,544 yards, 26 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. With a reliable running game to boot, Carr could put up video game-type numbers.
2. Cody Fajardo, QB, Nevada: A dual-threat option at quarterback, Fajardo had an up-and-down freshman campaign. Although he threw for just 1,707 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions, he completed 68.8-percent of his passes. He was most dangerous as a rusher, though, averaging 5.4 yards per carry en route to 694 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. The training wheels are ready to come off in 2012, as Fajardo has assumed a leadership role for the Wolfpack. Expect his stats to soar this season.
3. Chris Nwoke, RB, Colorado State: At 6-foot-1, 213, Nwoke is tough to take down for the Rams. As a sophomore last season, he rushed for 1,130 yards on just 200 carries, posting an impressive 5.7 YPC average. Nwoke produced a few monster games as well, running for 232 yards against San Diego State, then following that up with an eye-popping 269 yards against Air Force. With nine touchdowns to boot, Nwoke is a Fantasy stud who should record some enormous outbursts for CSU.
4. Robbie Rouse, RB, Fresno State: It's rather incredible that a senior back who rushed for 1,549 yards and 13 touchdowns would not be higher on the list. However, the Bulldogs are shifting to a high-octane, spread offense in 2012, which could limit Rouse's touches. Make no mistake about it, though, Rouse will still be very productive, and he's proven a capable receiver out of the backfield as well. He just might not get the opportunity to repeat his numbers from a season ago.
5. Matt Miller, WR, Boise State Even with Kellen Moore gone, Miller should still be an elite wideout for the Broncos. A big target at 6-3, 215, Miller snatched 62 passes for 679 yards and nine scores during his freshman campaign in 2011. Although there may be a slight adjustment at the start, Miller is talented enough already to make even a mediocre quarterback look good. The graduation of Tyler Shoemaker should only help his cause.
Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming: Unless you are a true college football follower, you might not be aware of Smith's talents. He crossed the goal line 30 times in 2011: 20 times through the air, 10 times on the ground. He completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,622 yards, while also rushing 139 times for 710 yards. And he did all that as a freshman. His versatility makes him a potent weapon for the Cowboys, and it's possible he's only scratched the surface of his potential.
Josh Harper, WR, Fresno State: Did you hear Fresno State will be running the no-huddle, spread offense? The top two receivers from 2011's squad are gone, with Jalen Saunders transferring to Oklahoma and Devon Wylie in the NFL. That leaves Harper, an electrifying underclassmen who averaged 14.2 yards per catch as a freshman last season. With 497 yards receiving and five scores, Harper is the leading returning wideout for the Bulldogs, and should be the chief beneficiary of the high-octane, fast-paced offensive onslaught.
Garrett Grayson, QB, Colorado State: Grayson was thrust into action at the end of his freshman season and performed well over his last three starts, including a 248-yard passing performance against the vaunted TCU defense. Grayson can also run the ball, as he rushed 40 times for 187 yards over those three contests. He has the luxury of an outstanding feature back in Chris Nwoke, on whom opposing defense have to key. Grayson was a bit sloppy with the football last season, but that tends to happen with young quarterbacks. Nevertheless, Grayson is a multi-faceted player who could be a nice surprise for the Rams, assuming his development continues.
D.J. Harper, RB, Boise State: A touchdown threat every time he touches the ball, Harper lost nearly two full seasons due to separate ACL injuries. Last year, he was essentially the third-down back to Doug Martin, who has since taken his talents to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Despite limited carries, Harper still managed to find the end zone 10 times, both as a rusher as well as a receiver. With uncertainty at quarterback, Harper should be used early and often for the Broncos. As long as he can stay on the field, Harper should be in line for a career year.
Tony Knight, RB, Nevada: Knight will share carries with Stefphon Jefferson at the outset, but he has the chance to be a special back for the Wolfpack. His combination of size, speed and determination should make him an impact player right away. He emerged as the favorite in the backfield after a stellar spring. Knight is a bull at 6-1, 225, and actually played basketball in high school as well. He had a brief run-in with the law last year and was placed on team probation, though, so that is certainly something to bear in mind. He could be a high-risk, high-reward player for Nevada.
Joe Southwick, QB, Boise State: Southwick may start the season as the Broncos quarterback, but the fact that coach Chris Petersen still has not named a starter does not bode well for him. Southwick is by far the most experienced of the candidates, which include true freshman Nick Patti, redshirt sophomore Grant Hedrick and redshirt freshman Jimmy Laughrea. Laughrea has the best arm, while Patti is considered the smoothest operator. Hedrick gets knocked for his stature, or lack thereof. The guess here is that Southwick struggles out of the gate, and Patti ends up getting the call and not relinquishing the job.
Mike DeWitt, RB, Air Force: DeWitt was impressive in fullback position of the triple-option in 2011, rushing 117 times for 567 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Falcons. However, with starting quarterback Tim Jefferson and leading rusher Asher Clark both gone, can DeWitt succeed as the featured rusher? In all likelihood, that job will go to Wes Cobb. Connor Dietz knows how to quarterback the triple-option, but it may take some time for the three to gel. Another issue is only two offensive lineman return from last season. DeWitt will be extremely valuable around the goal line and in short-yardage situations, but the lack of explosiveness in the offense as a whole could hamper his value.
David Graves, QB, Hawaii: Graves didn't exactly light it up in relief of the injured Bryant Moniz in 2011, completing just 57.3 percent of his passes for 768 yards in three games when pressed into service. He tossed five touchdowns and two interceptions during that span. Graves rushed for 154 yards and five scores, but the Warriors haven't exactly been known for their rushing prowess. That may change in 2012, though, as 240-pound back Joey Iosefa will figure prominently in the squad's offensive attack and especially around the goal line. Certainly a Hawaii quarterback still has value, but Graves does not appear to be in the class of Moniz or Colt Brennan.
Tim Cornett, RB, UNLV: Cornett led the Rebels in rushing with 671 yards and seven touchdowns. Despite splitting carries with Dionza Bradford, Cornett compiled an impressive 5.6 yards per rush. Bradford is back, though, after a brief leave of absence from the squad, actually leading UNLV in carries last season. With a mediocre quarterback at the helm, and the graduation of top wideout Phillip Payne, expect tams to stack the box against the Rebels and make life difficult for Cornett, who could eventually yield his job to the younger Bradford.
Colin Lockett, WR, San Diego State: Lockett enjoyed a sensational 2011 season for the Aztecs, catching 58 passes for 970 yards and eight touchdowns. However, his quarterback last year was Ryan Lindley, the all-time leading passer in SDSU history. Lindley graduated, so throwing him passes this time around will be Oregon State transfer Ryan Katz. Even if Katz has been a Pac-12 starter, it will be tough for him to duplicate 2011 with a new offensive coordinator, new quarterback, new starting wideout on the opposite side (Brice Butler from USC) and the absence of beastly running back Ronnie Hillman. Sometimes change is not a good thing, and that could be the case for Lockett in 2012.
Team-by-Team Fantasy Stars
(Overall position ranking in parentheses)
Air Force Falcons: RB Mike DeWitt (74)
Hawaii Warriors: RB Joey Iosefa (37)
New Mexico Lobos: none
UNLV Runnin' Rebels: none
Wyoming Cowboys: QB Brett Smith (24)