Football

Mountain West Football: Midseason Team Grades


How has each Mountain West team fared now that the season is half finished? We grade offense, defense, and special teams.

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Who’s made the grade and who hasn’t?

Now that every team in the Mountain West has played at least six games, the conference’s college football season has reached its halfway point. Few things have played out as expected, with as many surprises as disappointments, but now is as good a time as any to assess just how well each team has done.

First, for the sake of context, keep these links handy as some particular statistics will be mentioned in most team sections:

Midseason Grades By Team

Air Force | Boise State | Colorado State | Fresno State | Hawaii | Nevada | New Mexico | San Diego State | San Jose State | UNLV | Utah State | Wyoming

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Air Force Falcons

Air Force safety Camby Goff (11) during an NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/Bart Young)

Report Card

Offense: A- | Defense: B | Special Teams: A | Meeting/Exceeding Expectations: B+

It’s little surprise that the Falcons’ rushing attack is once again one of the best in the country, currently first among all FBS teams in averaging 5.93 yards per carry with 23 touchdowns, but Mike Thiessen’s unit set a lofty overall standard in 2021 that they haven’t quite reached yet this season. Their 2.77 points per drive is still the best in the Mountain West, but that’s slightly down from the 3.08 PPD they managed a year ago. The same is also true of their available yards percentage earned (59.2% in 2021, 54.3% in 2022), though Air Force has improved their third-down conversion rate from 45.4% to 48.8% and pushed their touchdown rate in the red zone to 70.8%.

One problem has been an uncharacteristic carelessness with the football since the Falcons have lost eight of 12 fumbles to date. Quarterback Haaziq Daniels has also been a tick less effective when throwing the ball, as well, with a completion rate of 46.9% and a yards per attempt average of (with tongue in cheek) only 9.9 yards per attempt, though you could argue that’s more of a nitpick. That difference of one big pass play per game could be important in the season’s second half, though.

On defense, meanwhile, the coordinator transition from John Rudzinski to Brian Knorr hasn’t led to much drop-off. The pass rush has been unusually quiet to date with a 1.7% sack rate that’s currently dead last in the FBS, but the Falcons are also 46th overall in stuff rate (20.4%) while rankings 26th and 14th, respectively, in points per drive allowed and available yards percentage allowed.

Special teams has also been a quiet strength, as well, especially sophomore kicker Matthew Dapore. He’s already surpassed his production from 2021 in converted 10-of-11 field goal tries and has launched 45.5% of his kickoffs for a touchback. Punter Carson Bay hasn’t been very busy with just two punts per game, but he’s also improved in his sophomore season with an average of 42.1 yards per kick.

Head of the Class: Brad Roberts, RB

The Colorado native just keeps on plugging away, once again shouldering the heaviest workload of any running back in the Mountain West while ranking fourth among all FBS players with 853 rushing yards with 12 touchdowns. For the moment, he’s probably the leader in the clubhouse as the conference’s offensive player of the year.

One Player Deserving of More Attention: TD Blackmon, LB

Now an unquestioned leader on the Falcons defense, Blackmon is thriving in the middle of the action week after week. Not only does he lead the team with 7.5 tackles for loss, he’s also forced two fumbles and, according to Pro Football Focus, currently has the fifth-highest overall grade of any FBS linebacker at 85.7.

Midseason Grades By Team

Air Force | Boise State | Colorado State | Fresno State | Hawaii | Nevada | New Mexico | San Diego State | San Jose State | UNLV | Utah State | Wyoming

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Boise State Broncos

Oct 8, 2022; Boise, Idaho, USA; Boise State Broncos quarterback Taylen Green (10) scrambles during the first half of play against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Albertsons Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Offense: C+ | Defense: A | Special Teams: A- | Meeting/Exceeding Expectations: B

The Broncos offense has certainly been on a journey in its first six games, undergoing changes on and off the field at key positions, but after bottoming out in a demoralizing road loss at UTEP, Boise State has bounced back with an aggressive rushing attack to average over six yards per play in recent wins over San Diego State and Fresno State.

Will they be able to keep that momentum as the season progresses? On the aggregate, the Broncos currently rank 79th overall in averaging 2.14 points per drive, but they bested that against both the Aztecs and Bulldogs in their last two games. Much will depend on the continued development of new quarterback Taylen Green, who’s flashed dangerous wheels (7.6 yards per carry, four rushing touchdowns) but still has work to do as a passer (60.9% completion rate, 5.9 yards per attempt, two TDs, three INTs).

The defense, at least, has held up its end of the bargain as expected. Boise State currently boasts a 9% team sack rate, 16th among FBS teams, and has allowed just 1.5 points per drive (20th) and 27.4% of available yards per drive (fifth). Even if the offense falters on occasion going forward, this seasoned unit is good enough to keep them in games every week down the stretch.

On special teams, James Ferguson-Reynolds has been a modest improvement on Joel Velazquez while Jonah Dalmas, other than a couple of uncharacteristic chip shot misses against Oregon State, has been as reliable as ever.

Head of the Class: Ezekiel Noa, LB

The veteran linebacker has long been a steady influence for the Boise State defense, but he’s taken his overall game to a whole new level and picked up a lot of slack as the unit has battled injuries elsewhere. With 28 tackles, six tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception to date, it’s little surprise that Noa has accrued an overall PFF grade of 90.2, the second-best among all FBS linebackers.

One Player Deserving of More Attention: George Tarlas, DE

It took a little while for the Weber State transfer to get going, but he’s been every bit as impactful as the blue and orange faithful thought he’d be coming into the season with six tackles for loss, six quarterback hurries, and three sacks, all of which culminate in a 88.9 PFF grade that’s the best among all Mountain West pass rushers so far.

Midseason Grades By Team

Air Force | Boise State | Colorado State | Fresno State | Hawaii | Nevada | New Mexico | San Diego State | San Jose State | UNLV | Utah State | Wyoming

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Colorado State Rams

Colorado State defensive back Jack Howell runs after intercepting a Washington State pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

Offense: D- | Defense: C | Special Teams: D- | Meeting/Exceeding Expectations: D

The Fort Air Raid offense hasn’t really come together as envisioned, mostly owing to ineffectiveness and injuries along the offensive line. That explains why the Rams are currently dead last among all FBS teams in averaging 0.61 points per drive and allowing a sack rate of 16.8%. Colorado State also ranks 129th in earning 26.2% of available yards per drive.

In spite of recent defections like Melquan Stovall and Ty McCullouch, it hasn’t been all doom and gloom for Matt Mumme’s unit, though. Quarterback Clay Millen has been accurate despite being continually under duress and wide receiver Tory Horton has been one of the best pass catchers in the conference when he can get the ball in his hands. Running back Avery Morrow has come on strong in the last couple weeks, too, to help lead a ground game which has taken pressure off of a young quarterback room. All in all, though, it’ll take time for this unit to reach its fullest potential.

As for the defense, things started ugly but you don’t have to squint too hard to see progress being made by Freddie Banks’s athletes. Believe it or not, the Rams are actually in the top 50 by drive yards allowed per opponent offensive play (5.51, 47th) and just outside of it in available yards percentage allowed (45.4%, 54th). One thing that needs to improve, though? Red zone defense: CSU has given up 19 touchdowns in 26 opportunities, a 73.1% rate that’s the worst in the conference.

The struggles elsewhere have served to mask severe special teams struggles. Replacing Ryan Stonehouse was never going to be easy, but Paddy Turner currently sports the worst yards per punt average of anyone in the conference. Michael Boyle has been shaky in replacing Cayden Camper, too, connecting on just 4-of-6 field goals in four games. Henry Katleman’s kickoffs are a quiet bright spot, though, as he has put up a 83.3% touchback rate.

Head of the Class: Mohamed Kamara, DE

Horton has excelled as a big play threat on offense, but it’s hard to imagine how rough the CSU defense would look without Kamara’s efforts. He currently leads the Mountain West with 9.5 tackles for loss and is tied for second with four sacks, posing a problem for opposing backfields every week.

One Player Deserving of More Attention: Jack Howell, S

Even after earning a Freshman All-American nod last season, it felt like Howell flew under the radar coming into 2022. He’s been even better in the five games he’s played to date, averaging 12.2 tackles for per game while grabbing three interceptions and forcing one fumble, all of which underlie a 87.8 overall PFF grade that’s the third-best among all FBS safeties.

Midseason Grades By Team

Air Force | Boise State | Colorado State | Fresno State | Hawaii | Nevada | New Mexico | San Diego State | San Jose State | UNLV | Utah State | Wyoming

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Fresno State Bulldogs

Fresno States’ David Perales (99 ) during an NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept 17, 2022 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/John McCoy)

Offense: C- | Defense: C | Special Teams: C | Meeting/Exceeding Expectations: C-

Given the major injuries with which the Bulldogs have dealt in the first half of this season, it’s tough to get an accurate sense of just how good or bad each unit has been but we don’t do incompletes here. There’s been a drop-off from Jake Haener to Logan Fife at quarterback, for instance, but Nikko Remigio has stepped up to fill at least some of the void left by Josh Kelly at wide receiver and Elijah Gates has been similarly steady in replacing star safety Evan Williams.

Things could be worse, then… but they could also be a little bit better. Even after a defensive-minded upset of San Jose State in Week 7, Fresno State is below average in net points per drive (-0.92, 104th), net available yards percentage (-9.2%, 93rd), and net yards per play (-0.32, 76th). They’ve been worse at both converting and defending third downs than they were in 2021 and worse in the red zone on both sides of the ball, as well, though better health down the stretch could lead to a return to form on both fronts.

The upside is that the David Perales-led pass rush has been solidly above average with a 7.6% sack rate that ranks 29th among FBS defenses and you could make a case their luck might turn in the second half since it also ranks second in the Mountain West with 33 passes defended despite grabbing just two interceptions.

As for special teams, it’s a mixed bag. Remigio’s return capabilities are one big reason why, he leads the conference with 133 all-purpose yards per game at the moment, but Abraham Montano (8-of-12 field goals, 1-of-4 from 40 or more yards) has not been as reliable as Cesar Silva was last season and Carson King’s performance to date has been mostly okay.

Head of the Class: Nikko Remigio, WR/KR/PR

As mentioned above, the Cal transfer has done a little bit of everything for the Bulldogs, returning kickoffs and punts while emerging as a reliable pass catcher. He’s currently second on the team with 28 receptions, 319 receiving yards, and four total touchdowns, having scored twice as a rusher, once as a receiver, and once as a punt returner.

One Player Deserving of More Attention: Bralyn Lux, DB

One of just three defenders to start every game for the ‘Dogs to this juncture, Lux has bounced back from a quiet 2021 to set new career highs with 31 total tackles, six passes defended, three tackles for loss, and two sacks. He’s also forced a fumble and grabbed one interception, providing some much-needed stability and playmaking ability to a veteran secondary that’s been tested this year.

Midseason Grades By Team

Air Force | Boise State | Colorado State | Fresno State | Hawaii | Nevada | New Mexico | San Diego State | San Jose State | UNLV | Utah State | Wyoming

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Hawaii Warriors

Hawaii running back Tylan Hines (24) takes a handoff from quarterback Brayden Schager (13) during the second half of an NCAA college football game against New Mexico State in Las Cruces, N.M., Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Offense: D | Defense: D | Special Teams: B- | Meeting/Exceeding Expectations: B-

The Warriors have taken their fair share of lumps in the first half of 2022, but it may be that Timmy Chang’s first braddahhood is beginning to find its footing. After losing on a last-second field goal on the road at San Diego State in Week 6, Hawaii secured its first FBS win of the year in Week 7 against Nevada.

The offense seems to have settled its quarterback question with Brayden Schager, who had a poor four-interception performance against Western Kentucky but has completed 56% of his passes for 6.4 yards per attempt with three touchdowns and one interception in the last three weeks. That’s helped Dedrick Parson re-establish himself as one of the most reliable running backs in the Mountain West, though the return of Zion Bowens has also helped. Hawaii still ranks well into the triple digits nationally by points per drive (1.51, 110th), available yards percentage (37.1%, 109th), and drive yards per offensive play (4.76, 111th), but Ian Shoemaker’s unit has mostly beaten those averages in the last three games.

They could be a headache down the stretch if the defense can hold on to its recent gains, as well. The Warriors have been better on this side of the ball since their bye week in Week 5, but there’s still much to prove in terms of generating havoc since Hawaii currently owns a stuff rate of 15.6% (101st in FBS) and a sack rate of 2.5% (128th). Surrendering fewer chunk plays would also go a long way, too, though that is an issue stretching all the way back to 2018. That was the last time Hawaii didn’t rank last by plays allowed of 20 or more yards.

Matthew Shipley, meanwhile, has pulled double duty as the team’s punter and kicker and been solid. He’s connected on 7-of-8 field goals but has seen his yards per punt average drop slightly from last season, from 41.5 to 40.5. Kickoff specialist Kyler Halvorsen, on the other hand, has bumped his touchback rate from 55.6% to 65.5%, the second-best figure in the conference.

Head of the Class: Dedrick Parson, RB

The do-it-all running back got off to a slow start this season but has recently topped five yards per carry in three of the last four games and is currently eighth in the conference with 472 rushing yards. He’s also one of two Mountain West players to have scored ten touchdowns to this point in the season, Air Force’s Brad Roberts being the other.

One Player Deserving of More Attention: Zion Bowens, WR

After missing a month of action, it hasn’t taken Bowens much time at all to reacclimate himself as the number one option in Hawaii’s passing game. He led the team in targets against both San Diego State (11) and Nevada (six) and has already retaken the team lead with 197 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the last two weeks. If he stays healthy, he’ll make the Warriors that much better in the second half.

Midseason Grades By Team

Air Force | Boise State | Colorado State | Fresno State | Hawaii | Nevada | New Mexico | San Diego State | San Jose State | UNLV | Utah State | Wyoming

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Nevada Wolf Pack

Nevada Wolf Pack quarterback Nate Cox (16) runs during an NCAA football game on Friday, Sept.23, 2022, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (AP Photo/Bart Young)

Offense: D- | Defense: C+ | Special Teams: B- | Meeting/Exceeding Expectations: C

A promising start to the year has given way to the reality that was probably true all along: The Wolf Pack’s rebuild under head coach Ken Wilson will take time.

The struggles have been particularly pronounced on offense, where waffling on the starting quarterback situation didn’t seem to have any positive impact whatsoever. They have just 19 plays of 20 or more yards on offense (for comparison, the Wolf Pack had 41 in five October games last season), where Nate Cox has a completion rate of 55% and has averaged 5.8 yards per attempt, incumbent running backs Toa Taua and Devonte Lee have run for a meager 3.7 yards per carry on 180 combined carries, and the retooled offensive line, playing without Aaron Frost all year to date, has allowed a stuff rate of 21% (108th in FBS).

Oddly enough, Nevada has been adept at punching in red zone opportunities relative to the rest of the conference, scoring a touchdown on 60.9% of their 23 trips, but that hasn’t been nearly enough. The Wolf Pack rank 115th in points per drive (1.39), 126th in available yards percentage (29.1%), and 130th in drive yards per offensive play (3.79).

It’s erased a lot of good work from a defense that’s done a few things well but has been very uneven. In addition to leading the Mountain West with 15 takeaways, they’ve improved their red zone defense from 2021 in allowing a touchdown 63.2% of the time, up from a conference-worst 70.5% last season. Believe it or not, Nevada also ranks 31st or better in points per drive allowed, available yards percentage allowed, and drive yards per opponent offensive play. That may regress some with tougher offenses on the docket in the weeks to come, but the Wolf Pack defense still may finish the year better than expected.

As for special teams, kicker Brandon Talton was as good as ever before suffering an injury that has kept him out for three weeks and counting. Matt Freem has been a decent, if unexciting, replacement for Julian Diaz, while Matthew Killiam has averaged a respectable 55.6% touchback rate on kickoffs.

Head of the Class: Dom Peterson, DT

This designation probably doesn’t come as a surprise to the Wolf Pack faithful, but what might be a surprise is that Peterson may be playing the best ball of his collegiate career. He leads the team with four sacks and seven tackles for loss and has been credited with an overall PFF grade of 90.2, the best among Mountain West interior defenders and the sixth-best figure in the FBS.

One Player Deserving of More Attention: Drue Watts, LB

Identifying future cornerstones has been slow going for Nevada, but Watts has put himself in that conversation by flashing some playmaking tools. The redshirt sophomore sits at fourth among Wolf Pack defenders with 30 total tackles, but only Peterson has more than Watts’ six tackles for loss and two sacks.

Midseason Grades By Team

Air Force | Boise State | Colorado State | Fresno State | Hawaii | Nevada | New Mexico | San Diego State | San Jose State | UNLV | Utah State | Wyoming

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New Mexico Lobos

Sep 24, 2022; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA; New Mexico Lobos quarterback Miles Kendrick (5) waits for the snap from offensive lineman CJ James (51) against LSU Tigers cornerback Jarrick Bernard-Converse (24) during the first half at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Offense: F | Defense: B+ | Special Teams: C+ | Meeting/Exceeding Expectations: C

The story of the Lobos season so far is one of a competent defense attempting to drag a moribund offense up toward respectability. Stop me if you’ve heard that before. For the most part, there isn’t much doubt that Rocky Long’s unit has held up its end of the bargain, but a recent coordinator switch on the other side of the ball didn’t pay any dividends against rival New Mexico State in Week 7.

The offensive woes start in the trenches, where the Lobos offensive line has allowed a stuff rate of 20.2% and a sack rate of 13.7%, which rank 102nd and 130th, respectively, among FBS teams. That’s in spite of a remarkable amount of continuity up front — four players have started every game at the same position — but it’s been frustrating for a trio of running backs (Nate Jones, Christian Washington, Sherod White) that’s shown promise here and there but has averaged 4.07 yards per carry to date.

It’s not immediately clear whether new coordinator Heath Ridenour will be able to turn things around. If the Lobos are going to claw their way to a bowl game, though, he’ll have to: New Mexico has averaged 0.99 points per drive (127th in FBS), earned 26.4% of available yards per drive (130th), and averaged 4.03 drive yards per offensive play (127th).

If he can, it’ll be a tremendous boon to a defense that’s done just about everything it can. Right now, Rocky Long’s unit ranks 39th in points per drive allowed, 35th in available yards percentage allowed, and 64th in drive yards per opponent offensive play. That’s in addition to forcing 13 turnovers and allowing a third-down conversion rate of 28.6%, both of which rank second in the Mountain West. The Lobos also lead the conference with ten forced fumbles and 39 passes defended, and they’ve done this despite losing Tavian Combs for the year to injury and playing without Donte Martin the last two weeks.

Contributions on special teams, meanwhile, have been more or less the same as they were a year ago. Aaron Rodriguez has been only slightly less busy than he was in 2021, but he’s improved by nearly two full yards per punt to 44.76. The kicker tandem of George Steinkamp and Luke Drzewiecki hasn’t been as reliable, however, combining to make just 7-of-13 field goals so far. Christian Washington had a kickoff return touchdown against Boise State but has otherwise been quiet, but he may be the long-term solution on that front.

Head of the Class: Jerrick Reed II, DB

The veteran defender has been asked to do more in 2022, seeing lots of snaps at safety and as a slot corner, but he’s been just as productive as always. His 51 total tackles are the second-most among all Mountain West defensive backs while his eight pass breakups pace the conference at the midway point.

One Player Deserving of More Attention: A.J. Haulcy, LOBO

The true freshman was thrust into a difficult situation when he was asked to step and replace Tavian Combs, lost for the season to injury, but he’s thrived as one of the newest anchors in a tough Rocky Long secondary. He already ranks third on the team with 37 total tackles and has picked up an interception and forced two fumbles, one of which might have been the play of the year in the Mountain West, but it may still come as a shock to learn his 90.3 overall PFF grade is currently the second-best of all safeties in the nation.

Midseason Grades By Team

Air Force | Boise State | Colorado State | Fresno State | Hawaii | Nevada | New Mexico | San Diego State | San Jose State | UNLV | Utah State | Wyoming

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San Diego State Aztecs

Sep 24, 2022; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego State Aztecs linebacker Caden McDonald (54) looks on before the game against the Toledo Rockets during the second half at Snapdragon Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Offense: D- | Defense: C | Special Teams: A | Meeting/Exceeding Expectations: C-

The defending West division champions haven’t made it easy on themselves so far in 2022. Brady Hoke’s “defense, special teams, and field position” formula hasn’t worked nearly as well as it did last season and the weaknesses on offense have gotten worse.

If it wasn’t for Jordan Byrd and quarterback Jalen Mayden’s passing performance against Hawaii in Week 6, the Aztecs might well boast the worst offense anywhere in the country. By coincidence, San Diego State ranks 128th in points per drive (0.98), available yards percentage earned (27.6%), and drive yards per offensive play (3.91) at present. It remains to be seen whether replacing Jeff Heclinski with Jeff Horton as offensive coordinator will pay off.

Just as troubling, though, is that the San Diego State defense hasn’t played at the same level to which fans on the Mesa had become accustomed in the last two or three years. For instance, after finishing seventh in drive yards per opponent offensive play in 2021, the Aztecs have fallen to 77th by that metric with an average of 5.92. They’ve suffered a similar decline in points per drive allowed, too: It may not sound like much, but giving up one extra point (1.37, 7th in 2021; 2.39, 75th) per drive is a huge deal.

The good news is that San Diego State’s special teams has continued to excel. Expecting Jack Browning to be the new Matt Araiza was always going to be an impossible standard to meet, but he’s averaged 45.2 yards per punt, connected on 9-of-10 field goal tries, and even turned a fake punt into a first down, so he’s been right in line with Aztec predecessors like Brandon Heicklen and John Baron II. Byrd has also been his usual excellent self as a returner.

Head of the Class: Jordan Byrd, RB/KR/PR

You shudder to think where this team might be without Byrd, whose explosiveness have been the single-best thing the Aztecs offer on offense and special teams. He’s emerged as the leader of a running back committee with 52 carries, 307 yards and three touchdowns, all of which are team highs, while continuing to excel as a returner, too, with a punt return score against Idaho State on his ledger.

One Player Deserving of More Attention: Tyrell Shavers, WR

Quick, who leads the Aztecs in receiving yards? Though he has one fewer reception than teammate Jesse Matthews, Shavers has outpaced his more well-known teammate with 214 yards through the air to date, including an eight-catch, 149-yard performance against Hawaii in Week 6. He also blocked his third career kick on special teams against Boise State, continuing to excel with a skillset unique with the conference.

Midseason Grades By Team

Air Force | Boise State | Colorado State | Fresno State | Hawaii | Nevada | New Mexico | San Diego State | San Jose State | UNLV | Utah State | Wyoming

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San Jose State Spartans

Oct 15, 2022; Fresno, California, USA; San Jose State Spartans quarterback Chevan Cordeiro (2) throws a pass against the Fresno State Bulldogs in the fourth quarter at Valley Children’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Offense: B | Defense: A | Special Teams: D | Meeting/Exceeding Expectations: B+

After a down year in 2021 filled with injuries and offensive ineffectiveness, the Spartans have rebounded and looked like they’ll be a major player in the conference title chase throughout the second half.

Their off-season transfer portal activity has been a big factor in this resurgence, especially on offense, where quarterback Chevan Cordeiro has played some of the best ball of his career, wide receiver Elijah Cooks has thrived with a clean bill of health and his Nevada peer Justin Lockhart continues to stretch the field, and James McNorton has started five games at right tackle. The Spartans lead the Mountain West with 36 plays of 20 or more yards and have also turned the ball over just twice in six games, the second fewest giveaways of any team in the country, so they haven’t often beaten themselves.

That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement, however. San Jose State is much closer to the middle of the pack in terms of points per drive than you might expect, ranking 61st overall at 2.33 PPD, because they have have only scored 13 touchdowns in a conference-high 30 trips to the red zone, a 43.3% rate that is eighth in the Mountain West. It’s been a particularly acute issue in their two losses so far (one TD in eight red zone opportunities vs. Auburn and Fresno State), so that’s something which bears watching.

Derrick Odum’s defense, meanwhile, has arguably been stingier than the one which carried the Spartans to a conference championship in 2020. After six games, San Jose State is ranked in the top ten nationally by points per drive allowed (1.22, seventh), available yards percentage allowed (32.5, 7th), and drive yards per opponents offensive play (4.72, ninth), and they also lead the Mountain West at the moment with 1.5 takeaways per game while posting a healthy 23.7% stuff rate (18th in FBS) and 6.8% sack rate (42nd).

As you might have expected, it’s the veteran stars like Cade Hall (2.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss) and Viliami Fehoko (three sacks, 7.5 TFLs) who have led the way but the group effort has really made the difference: Seven different Spartans defenders, for example, have an interception, which is the most in the conference, and they have allowed the lowest red zone scoring rate, 68.8%, of any team in the Mountain West.

The team’s specialists, by contrast, have tended to be shaky. Taren Schive is just 9-of-14 on field goals with four misfires from within 40 yards, while Travis Benham’s per punt average, 40.1, is four fewer yards than what Will Hart managed in 2021. He has, however, landed 11 punts inside the 20 and has just four touchbacks on 29 total kicks.

Head of the Class: Elijah Cooks, WR

The way that Cooks has played to this point of the season, Nevada fans surely wish he was still lighting up secondaries in Reno. He has 30 receptions for 548 yards, the latter figure being the most in the Mountain West as of this writing, with three touchdowns. It’s been the caliber of performance that recalls vintage Tre Walker.

One Player Deserving of More Attention: Tre Jenkins, S

Long one of the more underappreciated players in the conference, all Jenkins has done is put together another half-season that, well, probably burnishes that reputation with the strong performances from his more famous peers on the defensive line. His five tackles for loss are tied for the most by a Mountain West defensive back with Nevada’s Tyson Williams, but Jenkins also has 32 total tackles, three pass breakups, and an interceptions.

Midseason Grades By Team

Air Force | Boise State | Colorado State | Fresno State | Hawaii | Nevada | New Mexico | San Diego State | San Jose State | UNLV | Utah State | Wyoming

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UNLV Rebels

Sep 10, 2022; Berkeley, California, USA; UNLV Rebels offensive lineman Preston Nichols (55) blocks against the California Golden Bears during the third quarter at FTX Field at California Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Offense: A- | Defense: B | Special Teams: B | Meeting/Exceeding Expectations: A

The Rebels have battled the injury bug in recent weeks, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t think UNLV has exceeded expectations on nearly every front in the first half of the season.

Quarterback Doug Brumfield emerged as an offensive player of the year candidate before getting banged up, while Louisville transfer Aidan Robbins has been exactly the kind of rugged runner the Rebels needed to replace Charles Williams. Kyle Williams has received some much-needed help from Ricky White, Senika McKie, and Nick Williams in the passing game, too, so while they’ve cooled off after a white-hot start, UNLV has so far posted its best numbers by points per drive (2.15, 76th in FBS), available yards percentage earned (42.6, 87th), and drive yards per offensive play (5.39, 89th) since 2017.

The Rebels defense has also surprised despite losing Jacoby Windmon to the transfer portal and Brennon Scott to a spring injury, thanks in part to the continued development of a number of Marcus Arroyo’s recent recruits and strong performances from key veterans like linebacker Austin Ajiake and Nohl Williams. The pass rush has been strong even without an all-conference type performer, posting a 8.2% sack rate which ranks 18th in the country, and lead the Mountain West with 11 interceptions.

UNLV has also benefitted from a special teams unit that has been good all the way around. New punter Marshall Nichols has improved on Evan Silva’s yards per punt average from a year ago by just over two full yards, while kicker Daniel Gutierrez has been perfect on field goals and extra points and Nohl Williams has chipped in as a solid returner.

Head of the Class: Doug Brumfield, QB

He didn’t get much chance to establish himself before injuries derailed his 2021, but after flirting with the transfer portal in the offseason and winning the QB1 job out of fall camp, Brumfield gave the Rebels offense what it long sought out of the gate. The sophomore from Inglewood has completed 68.4% of his passes for 1,231 yards and eight touchdowns while posting a healthy 1.3% interception rate, adding five rushing touchdowns for good measure, so it’s little wonder that he is far and away the highest-graded quarterback in the Mountain West, according to Pro Football Focus, at 90.2.

One Player Deserving of More Attention: Jordyn Morgan, S

The Rebels have received a few more breakout performances on both sides of the ball in the season’s first half, but Morgan has remained under the radar. For the moment, the sophomore Iowa State transfer is tied for the team lead with six passes defended, including two interceptions, to go along with 27 total tackles. Interestingly, his 71.4 overall Pro Football Focus grade is the same as his more well-known peer in the UNLV secondary, cornerback Nohl Williams.

Midseason Grades By Team

Air Force | Boise State | Colorado State | Fresno State | Hawaii | Nevada | New Mexico | San Diego State | San Jose State | UNLV | Utah State | Wyoming

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Utah State Aggies

Oct 15, 2022; Fort Collins, Colorado, USA; Utah State Aggies offensive lineman Wade Meacham (79) sings with his teammates to celebrate their 17-13 victory over the Colorado State Rams at Sonny Lubick Field at Canvas Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

Offense: C- | Defense: C+ | Special Teams: B | Meeting/Exceeding Expectations: C

Utah State had about the worst September any Aggies fans could imagine, suffering blowouts against Alabama (understandable) and Weber State (much less understandable) before a bye week enabled them to correct a few things and climb back into the chase for the Mountain West crown.

The defending champions have pulled themselves together, but there’s still work to be done. Despite a quarterback switch on offense, turnovers have plagued the Aggies all season long as they’ve had at least two giveaways in five of seven games to this point in the year. Utah State has rediscovered some of its explosiveness thanks to Calvin Tyler Jr., Justin McGriff, and Brian Cobbs, who’ve combined for 19 plays of 20 or more yards, but Deven Thompkins has nonetheless proven as difficult to replace as everyone expected.

For the most part, though, the experienced offensive line has given this unit a chance to compete, allowing a stuff rate of 15.8% (38th in FBS) and a sack rate of 3% (18th). Youngsters like running back Robert Briggs and guard Weylin Lapuaho have seized opportunities to be the foundation of future Aggies offenses, too, while contributing in the present. The aggregate numbers for points per drive (1.8, 95th), available yards percentage earned (42.2%, 89th), and drive yards per offensive play (5.42, 87th) are still below average, but Anthony Tucker’s offense could be on the upswing if the injury bug doesn’t derail them any further.

The defense has done a couple of things well, too, but that Aggies unit has yet to play their A-game. For one, their generated havoc has been largely one-sided since their 24.5% stuff rate ranks 15th in the country but their 5.2% sack rate puts them at 86th overall, and the 31 plays of 20 or more yards they’ve allowed is more than any team in the conference save for Hawaii. In a similar vein, the Aggies have allowed an opponent completion rate of only 53.8%, good enough to rank second in the Mountain West, but they’ve given up a conference-high 14 passing touchdowns in spite of generating an interception rate of 4%. It’s been very boom or bust, so the name of the game in the second half of the campaign is finding more of the former and avoiding more of the latter.

Special teams, thankfully, has remained an asset. Connor Coles has been fine as a kicker, making 6-of-8 field goals to date, while punter Stephen Kotsanlee has put 14 of his 35 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. The real strength has been in the return game, where Terrell Vaughn has done a pretty solid Savon Scarver impression and Cooper Jones has been a net plus while returning punts.

Head of the Class: Calvin Tyler Jr., RB

Though he’s found the end zone just once in 2022, there’s little doubt Tyler Jr. has picked up where he left off a year ago and helped lead the Aggies’ resurgence over the past few weeks. He’s run for over 100 yards four times and trails only Air Force’s Brad Roberts with 634 rushing yards altogether.

One Player Deserving of More Attention: MJ Tafisi, LB

Few players in the Mountain West have been as busy on defense as the Utah transfer has been for the Aggies. He’s picked up ten or more tackles in five of seven games for Utah State and has a team-high eight tackles for loss, and his 75.2 PFF overall grade currently ranks third among linebackers in the conference.

Midseason Grades By Team

Air Force | Boise State | Colorado State | Fresno State | Hawaii | Nevada | New Mexico | San Diego State | San Jose State | UNLV | Utah State | Wyoming

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Wyoming Cowboys

Sep 16, 2022; Laramie, Wyoming, USA; Wyoming Cowboys tight end Treyton Welch (81) celebrates a touchdown against the Air Force Falcons during the second quarter at Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Offense: C- | Defense: B- | Special Teams: A | Meeting/Exceeding Expectations: B+

The Wyoming Cowboys have beaten the preseason projections with their first half performance, but are they for real? It’s hard to say, but it’s noteworthy that among the five teams in the Mountain West with a winning record right now, the Pokes are the only one with a negative point differential, being outscored by 21 total points in the first seven games.

At a minimum, it isn’t hard to argue that Wyoming hasn’t yet been consistent. For instance, quarterback Andrew Peasley strung together three September games in a row with a completion percentage above 60%, but he regressed in the following three contests and now has as many games with a completion rate under 50% this year. Titus Swen has been banged up and similarly inconsistent, averaging over five yards per carry in three of the team’s first four games and then averaging under four for three games in a row. The retooled offensive line has been okay but not great, though it may bode well for the future that youngsters like Emmanuel Pregnon and Nofoafia Tulafono haven’t looked overwhelmed as full-time starters.

That inconsistency has carried over to the defense, as well, though the task of replacing a wealth of starters has at least laid the foundation for that next great unit in Laramie. The young defensive line has been remarkably adept at getting after the quarterback, at least, with Oluwaseyi Omatosho, DeVonne Harris, and Braden Siders spearheading a team sack rate of 7.7% that ranks 26th in the country. Gavin Meyer has held his own, too, replacing star defensive tackle Cole Godbout on the interior.

Easton Gibbs, meanwhile, has taken up the mantle of holding down the middle of Jay Sawvel’s unit and put up a PFF run defense grade of 80.4, third-best in the Mountain West to date. Shae Suiaunoa has been a solid newcomer next to Gibbs at linebacker, while Wyatt Ekeler has been a pleasant surprise at strong safety. The Cowboys have been pushed by strong offenses, though, like Illinois, BYU, and San Jose State, which explains why they’re still slightly below the national average in terms of points allowed per drive (2.39, 76th), available yards percentage allowed (49.8%, 80th), and drive yards per opponent offensive play (5.93, 80th). The talent is there to buckle down and improve down the stretch, but they’ll have to survive the injury bug, as well.

Few such concerns exist on special teams, at least, where kicker John Hoyland has already established a career high by making 15-of-16 field goals and Clayton Stewart, after beating out Ralph Fawaz for the punting job, leads the conference with an average of 45.8 yards per punt. Additionally, Stewart has also landed ten punts inside the 20-yard line.

Head of the Class: John Hoyland, K

A kicker? Really? Given how often the Cowboys have turned to the veteran from Broomfield, Colorado, he’s passed just about every test with flying colors in the first half. His 93.8% field goal success rate includes 4-of-5 makes from 40 yards and beyond, including a career-best 55-yarder in the narrow win over Tulsa.

One Player Deserving of More Attention: Treyton Welch, TE

The numbers may not jump off the stat sheet, but Welch has a strong case as the Cowboys’ most reliable pass catcher. Only Hawaii’s Caleb Phillips has more receiving yards (154) by a Mountain West tight end, but Welch has made his limited target count since he’s also one of five players in the conference with at least four receiving touchdowns (not to mention he’s the only tight end with more than one, period).

Midseason Grades By Team

Air Force | Boise State | Colorado State | Fresno State | Hawaii | Nevada | New Mexico | San Diego State | San Jose State | UNLV | Utah State | Wyoming

More Wyoming!

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Story originally appeared on Mountain West Wire





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