|Derek Carr (left) and Robbie Rouse lead Fresno State into their first year of MW competition. (US Presswire)|
With the season quickly approaching CBSSports.com's Eye On College Football Blog unveils its All-Conference Teams. Today we take a look at the Mountain West.
Derek Carr, Fresno State - 2012 should be the season for Carr to shake the "David's younger brother" tagline and emerge as one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the Mountain West. Carr improved significantly from the beginning of 2011 the end of the season, finishing with 3,544 yards and 26 touchdowns last season. Those numbers have the potential to increase even more in the Bulldogs' no-huddle spread under new head coach Tim DeRuyter and offensive coordinator Dave Schramm.
Also considered: Nevada's Cody Fajardo and Wyoming's Brett Smith are both dangerous - and improving - dual-threat quarterbacks with a chance to make a big step this season. San Diego State quarterback Ryan Katz has a tall order replacing Ryan Lindley, but the weapons are there for the Oregon State transfer to succeed despite the learning curve.
Robbie Rouse, Fresno State - The no-huddle spread mentioned above should benefit the 5-foot-7, 185-pound running back by giving him plenty of space to find and create his own lanes. That will be beneficial for Rouse considering the Bulldogs return just two starters on the offensive line. Rouse led the WAC in yards and attempts and was Top 10 nationally with 1,544 yards in 2011. If the attempts stay consistent - which they should - the numbers will be there as well.
<img style=Chris Nwoke" data-canon="Chris Nwoke" data-type="SPORTS_OBJECT_PLAYER" id="shortcode0">, Colorado State - New head coach Jim McElwain had the luxury of two All-American work horse running backs to anchor his last couple units as offensive coordinator at Alabama. Nwoke may not be the next Mark Ingram or Trent Richardson, but the Rams' beastly running back proved late in 2011 he does not go down easily. A pair of 200+ yard performances in November (232 against San Diego State, 269 against Air Force) served as a wake-up call to the rest of the league. Expect McElwain to feature Nwoke in the Rams' pro-multiple offense similarly to Richardson a year ago.
Also considered: Boise State running back D.J. Harper was granted a sixth year of eligibility after ACL injuries have ended two of his seasons and should have a strong season if he stays healthy. UNLV running back Tim Cornett ran for 671 yards (5.6 yards per carry) in 2011, and the Rebels return all five starters on the offensive line.
Collin Lockett, San Diego State - Lockett's move to wide receiver proved beneficial for the Aztecs, and he led the team in receptions (58), yards (970), and touchdowns (8). With all-everything running back Ronnie Hillman off to the NFL, Lockett moves front and center as the key piece to San Diego State's Ryan Katz-led offense.
<img style=Matt Miller" data-canon="Matt Miller" data-type="SPORTS_OBJECT_PLAYER" id="shortcode0">, Boise State - Miller exploded onto the scene in 2011, leading the Broncos is receptions (62) and earning FWAA Freshman All-American honors. His numbers could see a dip with the departure of Kellen Moore, but regardless of the quarterback Miller should see plenty of opportunities.
Chris McNeill, Wyoming - McNeill led the Cowboys in receiving yards and earned all-conference honors in 2011, despite suffering a season-ending arm injury after nine games. An expected passing game improvement for sophomore quarterback Brett Smith is likely to be the benefit of McNeill, along with the rest of a deep and experienced wide receiving unit.
Also considered: Hawai'i wide receiver Billy Ray Stutzmann is one of the few reliable leftovers from the run-and-shoot offense, and should be a frequent target from whichever quarterback Norm Chow picks as his starter. Speedy Boise State senior Mitch Burroughs is also one to keep an eye on, using his 5-foot-9 frame to pick apart open spaces in coverage. USC transfer Brice Butler is coming off of shoulder surgery, but certainly has the potential to have an impact for San Diego State.
Gavin Escobar, San Diego State - Escobar was named to the All-Mountain West First Team as a sophomore in 2011, after pulling in 51 passes for 780 yards and seven touchdowns for the Aztecs. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound tight end is expected to be a favorite target of Katz as he gets used to the offense.
Also considered: Colorado State tight end Crockett Gillmore led the run-heavy Rams in receiving in 2011, and likely could repeat this season. But for the most part, Escobar is in a league of his own in the Mountain West.
Weston Richburg, Colorado State - A second-team all-conference selection a year ago, Richburg is considered by many to be one of the best run blockers in the league. The Rams' offense averaged 5.2 yards per carry with the him as the anchor in 2011, and the junior's play will be even important with a new offensive system this fall.
<img style=Chris Barker" data-canon="Chris Barker" data-type="SPORTS_OBJECT_PLAYER" id="shortcode0">, Nevada - The 6-foot-4, 305 pound senior enters his first season of Mountain West play with two straight years of First Team All-WAC honors, and there is no reason to think he won't continue the trend in the Wolf Pack's new conference. Barker has 40 career starts, and is a play an irreplaceable role in Nevada's rushing attack along with Jeff Nady (below).
Joe Kellogg, Boise State - With 22 career starts and second team all-conference honors in 2011, Kellog is a key piece in protecting whichever first-year starter wins the Broncos' quarterback job. Kellog has experience on either side of the center, but with four starters back along the Broncos' offensive line he will likely remain at left guard.
Jeff Nady , Nevada - With Nady and Barker (above) leading the way, the Wolf Pack were able to maintain production in their rush-first pistol scheme with freshman quarterback Cody Fajardo under center. Fajardo jumped right in, adding 694 yards on the ground and being named the WAC Freshman of the Year. Nady reportedly added 20 pounds this spring to his 6-foot-7 frame, and is poised for another dominant year clearing running lanes in 2012.
Brett Boyko, UNLV - The 6-foot-7, 310 Canadian does not have a ton of experience in American football, but has caught on quickly and started 12 games for the Rebels as a redshirt freshman in 2011. Boyko was given honorable mention by the Mountain West, and he should improve with experience in year 2.
Also considered: The conference is deep at center, with San Diego State senior Alec Johnson and Wyoming senior Nick Carlson all standing out among their peers. Air Force tackle Jason Kons and Wyoming guard Tyler Strong also have a decent argument to be included on this list.
Paipai Falemalu, Hawai'i - The Warriors defense has a lot of question marks headed into Mountain West play, but Falematu is not one. The only returning starter on the defensive line will be unleashed on nearly every down in the new scheme under defensive coordinator Thom Kaumeyer, and the senior is ready to be threat from the outside.
John Froland, Colorado State - After Nordly Capi and Mike Orakpo were kicked off the team this spring, Froland stepped up as the new leader of the Rams' defensive line. The shift to a 3-4 scheme will highlight a talented group of linebackers, and Froland's play up front will be crucial to let them fill the gaps and make plays.
<img style=Mike Purcell" data-canon="Mike Purcell" data-type="SPORTS_OBJECT_PLAYER" id="shortcode0">, Wyoming - The Cowboys' four-year letterman up front recorded 48 tackles and a pair of sacks in 2011, and will need to be a leader in the first year under defensive coordinator Chris Tormey. There are plenty of athletes behind him, so the 6-foot-3, 303 pound Purcell needs to be the consistent stopper up front.
Jack Reynoso, Nevada - Reynoso, if healthy, will be one of the best interior defensive linemen in the conference this fall. Unfortunately the junior is coming off a broken leg - suffered after eight games of action in 2011. Reynoso recorded 24 tackles and a pair of sacks before going down for the year with the injury, and has been tapped by the MW as a Preseason All-Conference selection for 2012.
Also considered: Boise State defensive tackles Ricky Tjong-a-Tjoe (15 tackles, two sacks) and Mike Atkinson (31 tackles, 2.5 TFL) saw mostly action as rotation players in 2011, but could prove dominant in their new starting roles. Injuries moved Air Force nose guard Nick Fitzgerald into the starting lineup as a true freshman last year, and he capitalized with 24 tackles in seven starts.
Shaquil Barrett, Colorado State - Barrett recorded 99 tackles, leading the Rams' defense as a sophomore in 2011. After earning honorable mention all-conference, Barrett finds himself on this preseason team as well as the one selected by the media in Las Vegas last week. Barrett is the leader of a very deep linebacking unit, and should have the opportunity to become even more of a playmaker in 2012.
<img style=Alex Means" data-canon="Alex Means" data-type="SPORTS_OBJECT_PLAYER" id="shortcode0">, Air Force - The 6-foot-5, 230 pound outside linebacker is one of there returning starters on a unit that desperately needs to improve their rush defense. The Falcons ranked No. 109 nationally, giving up 219.7 yards per game on the ground. Means is the team's leading returning tackler after recording 77 stops in 2011 and adding six sacks.
Travis Brown, Fresno State - Brown was a First Team All-WAC selection in 2011, leading the Bulldogs with 85 tackles, including three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. Brown has been a significant piece of the linebacker unit since arriving on campus in 2009, and is entering his third full season as a starter.
Also considered: Barrett's fellow linebacker James Skelton added 91 tackles of his own last season, and also earned named to the Mountain West all-conference honorable mention. UNLV senior John Lotulelei is the leading returning tackler on an inexperienced unit, and could rack up on numbers from the weakside linebacker position.
<img style=Leon McFadden" data-canon="Leon McFadden" data-type="SPORTS_OBJECT_PLAYER" id="shortcode0">, San Diego State - McFadden was the preseason pick for MW Defensive Player of the Year by the media, and there are no arguments here. Even as quarterbacks began to avoid the two-time all-conference cornerback in 2011, he still led the Mountain West with 13 pass break ups and recorded 46 tackles.
Blair Burns, Wyoming - It did not take long for the Wyoming coaching staff to identify the true freshman as a pivotal piece of the Cowboys secondary in 2011. Burns joined the starting lineup midseason, and finished the season as the team leader in interceptions and being named a FWAA Freshman All-American.
Also considered: Boise State senior Jamar Taylor is the most experienced player on a young Broncos defense, and was a 2012 Preseason All-Conference selection at the Mountain West media days. UNLV junior Sidney Hodge totaled eight pass break ups in 2011 (3rd in MW), earning him honorable mention recognition from the conference.
Luke Ruff, Wyoming - Ruff enters his senior season after making a big step forward in 2011, finishing fourth in the Mountain West with 102 tackles (the leader among returning MW players) and earning second team all-conference honors. Ruff is a versatile athlete who also contributes to the return game and can cover the entire field.
Duke Williams, Nevada - Williams is another All-WAC selection from 2011 that should see no drop-off in production in the Wolf Pack's new conference. Williams brought pressure from the secondary, recording 4.5 tackles for loss among his 83 stops on the season.
Also considered: Ruff's fellow senior Luke Anderson is the Cowboy's second leading returning tackler (75 tackles in 2011), but also added nine pass breakups and two interceptions. A lot is expected from Fresno State safety Phillip Thomas, who suffered a season-ending injury last year but was all-conference in 2010.
Parker Herrington, Air Force
Pete Kontodiakos, Colorado State
Luke Ruff, Wyoming
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