Mountain West Players Under The Radar
By Joe Jenkins
At this time last year, nobody was talking about “Johnny Football’s” Twitter account. Heck, most sports writers outside of College Station probably couldn’t have spelled Manziel last summer without having to look it up on a depth chart.
Now the 20-year-old sophomore is so popular he can’t even attend classes on campus. It’s amazing what throwing for 3,706 yards, 26 touchdowns, almost single-handedly beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa and becoming the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy can do for a guy’s profile.
Every year college football has athletes that seemingly come out of nowhere. Players that go from being “a football player named Johnny” to “Johnny Football” over the course of a season.
Here’s a peek at some players from the Mountain West that are looking to make a name — or possibly a nickname — for themselves in 2013.
Jay Ajayi, Sophomore RB, Boise State
Ajayi takes over the starting role at tailback now that incumbent D.J. Harper has moved on. The redshirt sophomore is the eldest statesmen of the Broncos backfield, but he showed signs he can shoulder the load.
Ajayi got the most mileage out of his limited playing time last year, averaging 6.7 yards on 82 carries. He’s a downhill runner, which means he will take some punishment, but at 222 pounds, Ajayi seems to have the body to handle it. Anything short of 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns would be considered a disappointment.
Davante Adams, Sophomore WR, Fresno State
When Pearl Jam debuted in 1991 with the album “Ten,” they set the bar so high it was nearly impossible for them to follow it up. Derek Carr and head coach Tim DeRuyter are hoping that isn’t the case with their second-year wideout.
Adams had a stellar first year, hauling in 102 passes for 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns. At 6-foot-2, 200-pounds, if he improves on those numbers at all, NFL scouts will be drooling.
Brett Smith, Junior QB, Wyoming
With big names names like Carr and David Fales eating up most of the headlines in the MWC, other quarterbacks tend to get pushed into the background. Being the signal caller for a 4-8 team typically doesn’t help either.
Smith has shown he has the ability to break through. The junior quarterback really hit his stride at the end of last season, averaging just less than 300 yards per game (299.4) while throwing for 13 touchdowns and no interceptions over the last five games. The Cowboys went 3-2 during that stretch.
Smith will get his shot to earn some of the spotlight in the season opener when the Cowboys travel to Lincoln to take on Nebraska on Aug. 31.
Kasey Carrier, Senior RB, New Mexico
Last year Carrier broke New Mexico’s single-season rushing record with 1,469 yards. Since head coach Bob Davie has made his intentions clear about sticking with a pistol variation of the triple option, there will be plenty of opportunities for the senior to improve his numbers.
Injuries are something of a concern since Carrier missed all of 2011 with an ankle injury. At 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, he will have to prove his smaller frame can handle the punishment that comes with another season of more than 250 attempts.
The Lobos' passing attack only averaged 68.8 yards per game in 2012, so Carrier is sure to see plenty of eight- and nine-man fronts. He’s going to need to make defenders miss on his own.