August 8, 2011

Mountain West to be conference of running backs

Ronnie Hillman, Matthew Tucker, Asher Clark, Doug Martin, Alvester Alexander, Ed Wesley

While lots of talk has and will center around the accuracy of Kellen Moore, the strong arm of Ryan Lindley, replacing Andy Dalton, or who will be taking snaps at Wyoming, the heartbeat of offense in the Mountain West Conference this season will be the strong set of tailbacks who return. Whether or not they receive ink in the papers as the season progresses, these are the players who could most influence the end-result in the MWC.

TCU
Returns:
Ed Wesley (1,078 yards, 11 TD)
Matthew Tucker (709 yards, 7 TD)
Waymon James (513 yards, 5 TD)
Chief among MWC running backs will be in Fort Worth, where TCU returns a horde of talented Frogs. Not only did Wesley, Tucker, and James combine for an astonishing 2,300 yards and 23 touchdowns last season, they return as a junior, junior, and sophomore, respectively. If they really wanted to, this group could have two full seasons together and terrorize the Big East as well. I'm not sure if it much matters what Casey Pachall does as long as he takes care of the ball. These guys will punish opposing defenses.

SAN DIEGO ST
Returns:
Ronnie Hillman (1,532 yards, 17 TD)
Don't let TCU's trio overshadow this guy. The only reason he wasn't a consensus Freshman All-American was because ... well, Marcus Lattimore is really good, too (although Hillman ran for 400 more yards). Hillman's breakout game last year was in Week 3 when he rushed for 228 yards in a heartbreaking last-second loss to Missouri. He also powered the Aztecs to close wins over Air Force (191 yards) and Colorado State (151 yards). Expect more of the same from the sophomore.

BOISE STATE
Returns:
Doug Martin (1,260 yards, 12 TD)
Doug Martin is simply a work horse. Well, a work hamster, I suppose. In the games that weren't absolute blowouts when Martin likely sat down at halftime, Martin carried the load. Don't blame Boise State's only loss last year on him, he carried 24 times for 152 yards that night. Martin will be a stabilizing force for the Broncos as they replace two NFL receivers and break in a new offensive coordinator.

AIR FORCE
Returns:
Asher Clark (1,031 yards, 5 TD)
Tim Jefferson (794 yards, 15 TD)
Jonathan Warzeka (312 yards, 4 TD)
Okay, Tim Jefferson is a quarterback, but when you run the option, he's a primary running back. Yes, Air Force does run the option, so rushing stats always look great from them. But don't let that fool you. The Falcons return two extremely talented backs in Clark and Jefferson. I could watch Tim Jefferson run the option my whole life. He's good at it, and he's an accurate-enough QB to make you pay if he needs. Clark gave defenses a steady diet, averaging 14 carries per game. And while Warzeka's numbers don't wow you, keep your eye on him. He's been solid in the return game, so watch for his numbers to go way up as he fills in nicely for departing Jared Tew.

WYOMING
Returns:
Alvester Alexander (792 yards, 14 TD)
Alexander is a talented back who should see more touches in the run game with the departure of mobile quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels. He found the endzone 14 times as a sophomore last year, and the Cowboys will need much more of that from Alexander to improve on last year's win total.

UNLV
Returns:
Tim Cornett (546 yards, 6 TD)
Cornett led the struggling Rebels offense in rushing last season as only a freshman, even after playing just a few downs per game in the first five games. Watch for Cornett to breakout this season.

COLORADO ST
Returns:
Chris Nwoke (357 yards, 1 TD)
Nwoke only saw major action in just 5 games last season as the freshman backup to Leonard Mason. In limited time, the 4.8 yards per carry are a promising start for the Rams.

NEW MEXICO
Returns:
Kasey Carrier (373 yards, 2 TD)
You can't sugar-coat how bad New Mexico has been, so I won't attempt to. I will just say that Carrier split carries with mobile QB Stump Godfrey, who has left the team, and that his last name is Carrier. Let's hope that bodes well for the youngster.

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