Mountain West Spring Overview: Mountain Division
By Ken Pomponio
With the NCAA Tournament tipping off and Major League Baseball teams designating their Opening Day starters, it can only mean one thing for college football fanatics: spring football is at hand.
With that in mind, here’s a rundown – presented in true spring fashion, of course – on how things are taking shape in the Mountain West’s Mountain Division:
Springing into action
Spring camp start date/spring game
- Air Force (Feb. 26/no game)
- Boise State (March 11/April 13)
- Colorado State (March 26/April 20)
- New Mexico (March 26/no game)
- Utah State (March 19/April 20)
- Wyoming (March 26/April 27)
Matt Wells has some work to do at Utah State.
Sure, the Aggies’ new head coach is inheriting a program in good shape with 16 starters, including All-WAC quarterback Chuckie Keeton, from an 11-2 Western Athletic Conference and Famous Idaho Potato Bowl-winning squad, but that’s just the foundation he has to work with.
The 39-year-old Wells, a former USU quarterback and the team’s offensive coordinator, is charged with maintaining the level of excellence former coach Gary Andersen established for the program, which won only six games in the three seasons preceeding Andersen’s arrival in 2009.
Andersen, though, now has moved on to Wisconsin, leaving Wells to guide the Aggies into a new league that promises to be a big step up from the WAC.
Spring shoes to fill
Wells’ Aggies may have 16 returning starters, but none of them are named Kerwynn Williams, the dynamic tailback who this past season led the WAC and finished 13th in the nation with 116.3 rushing yards per game.
Williams, who was right in the hunt in the WAC Offensive Player of the Year voting, led the conference with 171.2 all-purpose yards per outing and finished second with 20 total TDs.
Getting first crack at replacing Williams is junior Joe Hill, who has rushed for all of 293 yards in his first two seasons.
Feeling the spring heat
Colorado State hasn’t finished above .500 since 2008, and – not coincidentally – that’s also the last time the Rams had a scoring offense ranked above 97th in the FBS.
In 2012, CSU finished 4-8 and ranked 100th – tied for last in the MWC – with a mere 21.2 points per game and also matched that with a 100th-place total offense ranking at 339 yards per contest.
Those ugly numbers established, the onus is on Dave Baldwin to make them prettier.
Like head coach Jim McElwain, offensive coordinator Baldwin is entering his second season in Fort Collins, and he has a track record of success in OC stints at Michigan State and Utah State.
Tops on Baldwin’s list is settling on a reliable quarterback after no fewer than three QBs started at least three games and attempted 85 or more passes for the Rams this past fall.
Air Force has been immersed in spring drills since the final week of February, and much of the focus is on quarterback, where rising junior Kale Pearson and sophomore-to-be Jaleel Awini are battling to replace departed starter Connor Dietz.
Running the Falcons’ option attack – and running it well – requires a special athlete, and both QBs appear to have what it takes, although they approach the position with different skill sets.
The 5-foot-9 Pearson is a traditional run-first AFA quarterback, while the 6-2 Awini is more of a dual threat and even is said to unleash passes with “extreme velocity” according to a report in the Colorado Springs Gazette.
This QB duel is getting its legs this spring, but it isn’t expected to be settled until fall camp.