This article is part of our Conference Preview series.
In the Mountain West last season we got a surprise run by San Jose State, who went 6-0 in-conference for their its Mountain West title. On the other hand, UNLV went 0-6, so at least there was some sense of normalcy for the MWC. There will likely be more normalcy in 2021 than 2020, but there will be changes and differences to be sure. Here is a glimpse of what the Mountain West might deliver this year.
All-Mountain West Fantasy Team
QB: Carson Strong, Nevada (11)
RB: Ronnie Rivers, Fresno State (11)
RB: Toa Taua, Nevada (26)
WR: Khalil Shakir, Boise State (7)
WR: Romeo Doubs, Nevada (10)
TE: Cole Turner, Nevada (1)
QB: Jake Haener, Fresno State (12)
RB: George Holani, Boise State (34)
RB: Devonte Lee, Nevada (85)
WR: Jalen Cropper, Fresno State (32)
WR: Tory Horton, Nevada (37)
TE: Riley Smith, Boise State (31)
QB: Nick Starkel, San Jose State (53)
RB: Jordan Mims, Fresno State (140)
RB: Malik Sherrod, Fresno State (173)
WR: CT Thomas, Boise State (95)
WR: Elijah Cooks, Nevada (103)
TE: Trey McBride, Colorado State (NR)
QB: Chevan Cordeiro, Hawaii
Todd Graham took over as the head coach of Hawaii for the 2020 season, which was obviously a tricky season to step into. There were reasons to wonder if perhaps the Hawaii passing offense would take a step back under Graham. We had seen him coach in places like Tulsa and Arizona State and his offenses didn't exactly air the ball out like a June Jones or Nick Rolovich team. Turns out there was nothing to worry about. In nine games as the starter Cordeiro threw for 2,083 yards, 14 touchdowns, and six interceptions. What makes Cordeiro stand out, though, is that he also rushed for 483 yards and seven scores, which is a new wrinkle for the Hawaii offense.
QB: Logan Bonner, Utah State
Bonner has followed head coach Blake Anderson from Arkansas State to Utah State. In 2019, Bonner splashed with 10 touchdowns against one interception in only four games. That got his a shot at a bigger role in 2020 where he threw for 1,864 yards, 18 touchdowns, and six interceptions. Now, the Sun Belt isn't the toughest conference, but the Red Wolves did have to play Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina on the road. They also visited Memphis and Kansas State. Bonner has three years of experience under his belt. He should be able to adjust to Mountain West football, especially since he's comfortable with his coach.
RB: Tyler Nevens, San Jose State
On the one hand, Nevens was held in check in his last two games of 2020 by Boise State and Ball State. On the other hand, he averaged 7.8 yards per carry and finished fifth in the Mountain West in rushing yards even though he only had 66 carries. That stands out to me. Nevens has earned more carries, and even if his YPC goes down he should put up bigger numbers in total.
RB: Greg Bell, San Diego State
Let's remove the games where Bell was limited by an ankle injury. If we do that, we get four games where he rushed for over 100 yards and scored a touchdown. Then, we have to jump to the end of the season when he returned to health to face BYU. He only had 68 yards on 17 carries in that game, but he also had 42 yards receiving. Bell is healthy heading into 2021, and fingers crossed that remains the case. A healthy season from Bell could be a big one
WR: Kyle Williams, UNLV
A UNLV player? Hey, you never know what's going to happen. In only six games last season Williams had 35 catches for 426 yards, including 10 catches for 144 yards against Hawaii in the season finale. The one knock on Williams is that he only had two touchdowns. However, touchdown numbers often fluctuate. They can be unpredictable. Williams was only a freshman last season. I would expect him to raise his game to the next level, or at least get more luck in the red zone.
WR: Isaiah Hamilton, San Jose State [LOGO[
Last season, two of the top four players in receiving yards in the Mountain West were members of the San Jose State Spartans. Those players, Bailey Gaither and Tre Walker, have moved on. They combined for 86 catches, which means a lot of opportunity is on the table, and Nick Starkel is back at quarterback as well. Hamilton is the player expected to step into the number-one receiver role. That's a lot of projection, because he had 13 catches in eight games in 2020. That being said, I also expect his targets to increase significantly.
QB: Jake Haener, Fresno State
Haener transferred over from Washington and in his first season with Fresno State, he managed to throw for over 2,000 yards with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions in only six games. That's quite good. I think Haener will be good again in 2021, but I am not sure he will be quite as good. Six games is not much of a sample size. For him to be ranked so highly is perhaps a bit lofty. When I say "Haener" has bust potential, I mean more along the lines of "He's good but only the fifth-best quarterback in the Mountain West" more than "He's bad."
QB: Sean Chambers, Wyoming
Sadly, Chambers threw all of one pass in 2020 before a broken leg ended his season. The Cowboys have indicated they plan to put Chambers back on top of the depth chart for 2021. Unfortunately, we do have to worry about his health, especially for a quarterback who did so much damage running the ball in 2019. Plus, the man who stepped in for him last season, Levi Williams, is still on the team. If Chambers doesn't look great at first, could Williams take back over as the starter? At the very least, Williams could cut into Chambers snaps.
RB: George Holani, Boise State
Holani is another player returning from a serious injury in 2021. Last season, Andrew Van Buren rushed 111 times for 382 yards and eight touchdowns. He's now third on the depth chart for Boise State. If a guy like that is not even your primary backup, there are options, and the Broncos don't need to ride Holani too hard as he returns from injury. On top of that, Boise State has a new head coach, and who knows who Andy Avalos will prefer as his lead back?
RB: Devonte Lee, Nevada
In 2018 and 2019, Lee rushed for seven touchdowns. Then, in 2020, he only managed two. Now, you might chalk that up to the shortened season, but Nevada played nine games in 2020. Lee also played in only nine games in 2019. Lee has had to share carries with Toa Taua his entire college career, and Taua has always gotten more carries. Taua led the MWC in rushing yards in 2020, and Lee will have to settle for his backup role again. If he's not getting touchdowns, his fantasy upside is limited.
WR: Jared Smart, Hawaii
Here is one place where Todd Graham, and the particular skills of Cordeiro, might be hurting a player's fantasy value. Smart went from 87 catches for 1,129 yards in 2019 to 36 catches for 320 yards in 2020. Granted, that was in six fewer games. However, Cordeiro rushes more than previous Hawaii quarterbacks. Also, the Rainbow Warriors' top receiver last year was actually running back Calvin Turner, who had 33 catches for 346 yards. Hawaii is still a pass-heavy offense, but it's not as pass-heavy as it used to be, and that's not good for Smart.
WR: Tory Horton, Nevada
As a freshman, Horton had five touchdowns last season. That's good! However, he did that on only 20 catches. That kind of ratio is hard to sustain. Additionally, three of those touchdowns came in one game. Romeo Doubs is the clear top option for Carson Strong, and actually tight end Cole Turner is the second option. Horton will be, at best, the third option in this passing game. Horton should have more skill and experience heading into his second season, and also getting a normal offseason. That being said, if he isn't turning a fourth of his catches into touchdowns his fantasy value will assuredly drop.