Fresno State Football

8 Mountain West football players to watch in 2017

JOSH ALLEN, Wyoming quarterback

The Cowboys have some questions this season that could impact Allen, a Firebaugh native. Wyoming will be breaking in some new assets at the skill positions with leading rusher Brian Hill gone, as well as its top two receivers and its top tight end from a year ago. The depth of their recruiting certainly will be tested – it was just two seasons ago that this was a 2-10 football program. The Cowboys do have three returning starters on the offensive line and a fourth who is switching positions up front, and that group should give Allen a chance to continue building a résumé for the NFL. As a sophomore, he hit on only 56 percent of his passes, but did lead the Mountain West with 28 TD throws.

ANDRE CHACHERE, San Jose State cornerback

Chachere, a Clovis West High grad, has developed into one of the top defensive backs in the nation and last season led the Mountain West and ranked fourth in the nation in passes defended with 18, four interceptions and 14 pass breakups. The conference had some solid receivers a year ago, too. A lot goes into the equation, but Boise State wideout Thomas Sperbeck, who led the MW in receiving last season, was held to a season-low two receptions by the Spartans; KeeSean Johnson, Fresno State’s leading receiver, had only one catch against San Jose State; and Wyatt Demps, the leading receiver at Nevada, matched a season-low with two receptions against the Spartans. Chachere and the Spartans’ secondary did not benefit from a ton of pressure up front, either. San Jose State was only eighth in the MW in sacks.

RASHAAD PENNY, San Diego State running back

Penny averaged 7.4 yards per carry and gained 1,018 yards last season when carrying the football only 9.7 times per game behind Donnel Pumphrey and it will be interesting to see what he can do with a larger workload. Pumphrey, who last season rushed for 2,133 yards and finished his career with a Football Bowl Subdivision-record 6,405, averaged 24.9 carries per game a year ago, tied for most in the Mountain West and second in the nation with Wyoming’s Brian Hill and behind only D’Onta Foreman from Texas. Penny will have to work behind a rebuilt offensive line that is down four starters, but the Aztecs should be set by the time they hit a conference where run defense has been lacking.

BRETT RYPIEN, Boise State quarterback

Rypien was a first-team all-conference selection as a freshman and sophomore and last season in Mountain West play had a passing efficiency rating of 174.50, which was the fifth-best mark in the nation and second in the conference behind Colorado State’s Nick Stevens, who played in one fewer conference game. Rypien averaged 10.2 yards per attempt in the MW and had 16 touchdown passes to one interception. The Broncos have only five returning starters on offense, tied with San Diego State, Utah State and Nevada for fewest in the conference. But wideout Cedrick Wilson (56 receptions, 1,129 yards, 11 TDs) is back after offseason ankle surgery.


The Rebels were not good when trying to throw the football a year ago – they had three quarterbacks attempt between 88 and 107 passes and that group completed just 46.9 percent of its throws. Boyd, who is on the watch list for the national Biletnikoff Award, still caught 45 passes for 746 yards (16.6 yards per reception) with four touchdowns before missing the final two games with a broken arm. The 45 receptions were more than the combined total of the other six receivers in the position group (41). This season, with a more legitimate threat at the quarterback position in redshirt freshman Armani Rogers, Boyd will be a tough challenge in a Mountain West that a year ago had five teams ranked 105th or lower in opponent’s passer rating and seven ranked 102nd or lower in yards per pass attempt.

NICK STEVENS, Colorado State quarterback

Stevens had, lost and then regained the starting job last season due to an injury to freshman Collin Hill, but the Rams will be in a good situation if Stevens can carry the final seven games of 2016 into his senior season. Stevens ripped up the Mountain West, completing 70.1 percent of his passes for 1,451 yards with 14 touchdowns and only one interception, and Colorado State averaged 43.3 points in the six MW games Stevens attempted at least 10 passes. The 10.1 yards per attempt were second in the conference to Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien at 10.2, and they are the only two to average at least 10.0 yards per attempt in MW play going back through 2008.

JAHLANI TAVAI, Hawaii linebacker

The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Mike linebacker earned first-team All-Mountain West last season as a redshirt sophomore when leading the conference with 19.5 tackles for loss – one off the MW single-season record of 20.5 set by Demarcus Lawrence (Boise State) and Shaquil Barrett (Wyoming) in 2013 and matched by Zack Vigil (Utah State) in 2014. Tavai also forced two fumbles, recovered two fumbles and had one interception while becoming the first Hawaii player with 100 or more tackles in a season since 2011. He was in on 129 total tackles and credited with 86 solo stops, which was the most in the MW by 11 – Wyoming safety Andrew Wingard had 75.

DAVID CORNWELL, Nevada quarterback

The Alabama transfer figures to be flinging the football all over the place in the Air Raid offense installed by first-year coach Jay Norvell, and could rack up some substantial numbers in trying to turn around an offense that generated only 25.4 points a game last season. The 6-foot-5 junior played only the first two quarters in the Wolf Pack’s spring game and still completed 22 of 33 passes for 303 yards and two TDs working with the first-team offense. Cornwell, a 4-star recruit rated by one recruiting service as the No. 3 pro-style quarterback coming out of high school, played in two games at Alabama in 2016, but did not attempt a pass as a backup to freshman Jalen Hurts.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada

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