Expect Big Things From Mountain West QBs
By Ken Pomponio
The hype surrounding the Mountain West Conference’s current quarterback corps has been building all offseason, and it truly (and fittingly) got on a roll at the Mountain West Conference’s Media Days in Vegas.
“We might have as good (a group) of quarterbacks as any conference in the country,” Wyoming coach Dave Christensen told the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle.
Even the QBs themselves got in on the act.
“I think a lot of people have taken notice to what kind of talent we've got here at the quarterback level,” Nevada junior QB Cody Fajardo told the Loveland (Colo.) Reporter-Herald. “I went to the Manning camp, and I've seen the level of competition as far as the SEC, the ACC and stacking up my skills to their skills, and I'm like, ‘OK, I can compete with these guys.’
“I know the guys in this conference can compete with me, so in my biased opinion, I believe this is one of the top quarterback conferences in the nation.”
But is it really? Or is this just the typical media day fare served up to reporters — no matter the league — at this time of year?
Only the season will truly tell, but in the meantime, here are seven reasons to enter the Aug. 28 kickoff with lofty expectations for the QBs of the MWC:
A full 11 of the 12 Mountain West teams currently have a full-time returning starter at quarterback, or a QB on the roster who has at least started in the program.
There are the two-year starters in Fresno State senior Derek Carr (26 career starts), Wyoming junior Brett Smith (23), Utah State junior Chuckie Keeton (21) and Nevada junior Cody Fajardo (20). Then there are the returning 2012 full-time starters in San Jose State senior David Fales (13), Boise State senior Joe Southwick (13), UNLV sophomore Nick Sherry (12) and Hawaii senior Sean Schroeder (11). Four others — Colorado State junior Garrett Grayson (8), San Diego State junior Adam Dingwell (5), New Mexico sophomore Cole Gautsche (4) and CSU soph Conner Smith (4) — have all made at least four career starts for their respective programs.
Now, to be forthcoming, Schroeder will be replaced as Hawaii’s starter by redshirt junior Taylor Graham, a transfer from Ohio State. Still, if you’re quick at math, MWC quarterbacks have logged a combined 144 total career starts, leaving only Air Force without a seasoned QB.
How many leagues can boast they have four returning all-conference QBs?
The MWC can with Carr (2012 first-team All-MWC), Keeton (first-team All-WAC), Fajardo (second-team All-MWC) and Fales (second-team All-WAC).
Carr also is the reigning Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year, while Smith (MWC) and Fajardo (WAC) both earned top offensive freshman of the year accolades in 2011.
Even Graham, who has yet to take a snap with the Rainbow Warriors, already has earned some recognition as he was Hawaii’s Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year last fall. (Anyway, who would make this stuff up?)
Of the Top 40 QBs in the FBS passing-efficiency ratings a season ago, 26 are back for 2013.
And of those 26, six of them now call the MWC home, one more than the all-mighty SEC and the most for any conference. The MWC crop begins with Fales (third overall and first in the WAC in 2012 with a 170.8 rating) and continues through Smith (11th overall, first in MWC at 157.7), Carr (15th overall at 155.9), Keeton (18th at 154.7), Fajardo (33rd at 143.9) and Southwick (38th at 141.8).
4. Total Packages
It’s not just the impressive arms in the MWC; the conference QBs have legs and know how to use them.
Check out the final FBS total offense rankings from last season. You’ll find no fewer than five current MWC QBs in the top 17.
Fajardo, who ran for 1,121 yards and threw for 2,786, led the way, pacing the MWC and ranking 10th overall with an average of 325.6 yards of total offense per game. He was closely followed by Carr (12th with 315.8 ypg), Fales (14th with 311.9), Smith (16th with 308.5) and Keeton (17th with 307.1).
5. Watch Worthy
Carr, Fales, Fajardo and Keeton have made the rounds this offseason, cropping up on the Heisman Trophy and O’Brien and Maxwell Award watch lists, among others.
We’ll zero in on the Davey O’Brien list, though, since that’s the premiere QB-only award. Of the 34 players on the preseason list, the MWC quartet is only eclipsed in candidates by the SEC (7) and Pac-12 (5).
6. National Pub
Not only are Mountain West quarterbacks getting watch-list love, but they’re receiving national media attention as well.
The list of the Top 25 FBS QBs in Lindy’s preseason preview magazine is Exhibit A. Five of the Top 25 hail from the MWC with Carr coming in at No. 8, Fales 11th, Keeton 19th, Fajardo 24th and Smith 25th.
The MWC’s quintet matches the SEC for the most of any conference and is one more than the Big 12 and two more than the Pac-12 and Big Ten.
7. Notable Numbers
This entire narrative could be dedicated to the statistical accomplishments of MWC QBs, but here are a few of the more notable highlights:
- Carr’s 4,104 passing yards last season set an MWC record.
- Speaking of records, Fales set no fewer than seven SJSU single-season marks last season while leading the FBS in completion percentage at 72.5.
- Keeton, meanwhile, rewrote the USU record book, establishing five new single-season standards.
- Finally, the MWC’s big six (Carr, Fales, Keeton, Fajardo, Smith and Southwick) were a combined 55-22 (.703) as starters this past season, with all but Smith — who missed two full games and the finishes of two others due to concussion issues and a suspension — guiding their teams to bowls. The six threw and ran for 189 TDs while tossing only 47 interceptions.
Keep an eye on Smith and, yes, even Southwick -- two QBs who are flying under the national radar