The Mountain West has traditionally been a forgotten land among many fantasy owners. After all it can be hard to sit through a showdown between Colorado State and New Mexico. And even when an owner thinks of some great TCU teams, he often envisions great defensive units as opposed to explosive offenses. Sure, BYU has always provided a fantasy star or two. But there are some up-and-coming programs that should leave the conference with even more offenses worth noting.
Look for further improvement from the Wyoming offense, and expect Brady Hoke's Aztecs to make a huge jump in 2010.
2009 Record: 12-1, 8-0
Returning Starters: 9 offense / 4 o-line, 7 defense
Who They Lose
In Joseph Turner the Horned Frogs say goodbye to a solid back that ran for 754 yards and 11 touchdowns. And while he'll certainly be missed, the Horned Frogs took a by-committee approach anyway, so there is plenty of talent left in Forth Worth. But the loss of offensive guard Marshall Newhouse will also leave a void; Newhouse will play a little football on Sundays.
Andy Dalton is back for yet another season of collegiate action, and his 26 touchdowns were a pleasant surprise last year. Though he struggled in a three-interception outing against Boise in the Fiesta Bowl, Dalton is a nice dual-threat quarterback who will emerge as a decent spot starter.
The Frogs return two very talented young backs in Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker. Each carried the ball about 100 times, and gained around 650 yards in 2009. Not a shabby YPC for either, eh? Wesley scored seven touchdowns (with three coming through the air) and Tucker pounded in eight scores. At this point it's hard to name one clearly the better back, but each presents a great deal of fantasy potential, both this year and beyond. The pair will likely also force UCLA transfer Aundre Dean to the other side of the ball in order to find playing time.
The receiving corps returns intact for 2010, and because TCU spreads the ball around so well it's hard to point to one top receiver, though if forced to name one then I do really like Antoine Hicks. Six of his 23 receptions were for touchdowns last year, and he entered TCU off a very impressive prep career. At 6-2 and over 200 lbs., Hicks has big-play producer written all over him.
The 7th Rated Offense in the Country? Really?
That's right, TCU, a program with the reputation for letting its attacking defense do all the heavy lifting, was a top-ten offense last season. The Horned Frogs were 5th in rushing offense, and when you combine this with the #1 unit in total defense, there's no wonder this team was playing for such high stakes.
However in many ways this TCU offense is a fantasy forbidden fruit. They're extremely productive, but they spread it around like a farmer spreads manure. Quarterbacks like Andy Dalton play well enough to win a whole lot of games, but relying on this field general will lead to fantasy disappointment.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Pick the right guy on the right week
Andy Dalton, Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker and Antoine Hicks could all make serious fantasy noise, but each could kill a week because it may just be another player's turn.
2009 Record: 11-2, 7-1
Returning Starters: 7 offense / 3 o-line, 4 defense
Who They Lose
Four very significant contributors from 2009 move on. Quarterback Max Hall, running back Manase Tonga and tight ends Dennis Pitta and Andrew George will all leave holes, some larger than others. Hall, who crafted a love-hate relationship with Cougar fans, accounted for 35 scores against 14 picks last season. And anytime a quarterback with 94 career touchdown passes leaves, it has to hurt...though the pain is dulled by the arrival of the nation's top incoming gunslinger.
Manase Tonga scored an impressive eight times with only 70 touches. And the tight end duo combined for 92 catches,1237 yards and 13 scores.
The return of Harvey Unga is wonderful news for an offense that will be breaking in a new quarterback in 2010. Unga briefly flirted with the NFL Draft before deciding to return for another season, and coming off a year with over 1,200 yards from scrimmage and 12 scores, he'll again anchor the offense. The 240 lb. senior has been a workhouse while in Provo, averaging 265 touches in each of the last three seasons. For his career he's scored 45 touchdowns and accounted for 4540 yards. And he's not done.
A whole bunch of wide receivers also return, led by McKay Jacobson, who missed four games but was still able to find his way to the end zone four times. In fact before he was knocked out with a bum hammy the then-sophomore had caught three touchdowns through the season's first four games. Jacobson will be joined by Luke Ashworth and O'Neill Chambers as potential fantasy factors.
Jake Heaps Will Get the Job
Incoming BYU recruit Jake Heaps (who is already on campus) was rated by Rivals as the top Pro-Style Quarterback Recruit. The previous five to receive this high praise have been Mark Sanchez, Matthew Stafford, Jimmy Clausen, Blaine Gabbert and Matt Barkley. So while there may be the pretense of a quarterback battle involving Heaps, Riley Nelson and James Lark, there is little doubt that Heaps will lead the Cougars this fall and beyond.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: A Little Now and Later
Harvey Unga will be a fantasy stud, and Jake Heaps is the top keeper quarterback in the nation. The receivers will be inconsistent but worthy when the matchup is right. Spring and fall camp will determine the next starter at tight end, and whoever this is will be one to watch.
2009 Record: 10-3, 6-2
Returning Starters: 8 offense / 4 o-line, 5 defense
Who They Lose
Wide receiver David Reed is the big loss on offense, taking 81 receptions for 1,188 yards and five scores with him. Senior wide outs Aiona Key and John Peel also move on, though they combined for only 42 catches and two scores.
Quarterback Jordan Wynn is the present and future of Utah football. Anyone who saw this young lad star in the Pointsettia Bowl knows that he's a special player, one who will only get better with greater familiarity in the offense. The additional year granted to running back Matt Asiata means that the Utes will have two very capable backs (Eddie Wide being the other), though this may turn out as a fantasy nightmare. Both will see significant carries, and each could blow up on any given weekend.
How High Can the Offense Climb?
Unlike TCU and BYU, Utah didn't get it done with a top-25 offense. In fact the Utes were 48th running the ball and 44th passing the ball. With the return of Wide, Asiata, Wynn and four offensive linemen, it's reasonable to expect considerable offensive improvement. And with this in mind we should expect to see the Utes become a top-30 offensive unit in 2010.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Depends on the carries
For as much as I like Jordan Wynn, I cannot recommend putting your fantasy team in his hands. His ceiling appears capped at about 24 touchdowns, which makes him a possible spot starter. The tailbacks present the issue of split carries, and this problem only goes away should one emerge as the go-to guy. Wide went nuts once Asiata went down last year, thus a Utah workhorse back will be a fantasy star.
2009 Record: 8-5, 5-3
Returning Starters: 5 offense / 0 o-line, 5 defense
Who They Lose
A team losing its entire offensive line definitely presents its fair share of challenges. But of equal importance to Air Force fans is the departure of defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, the architect of some damn good defense, who decided to join the seemingly sinking ship that is Mike Sherman's program at Texas A&M.
The skill talent. Quarterback Tim Jefferson, RB Asher Clark, RB Jared Tew, WR Kevin Fogler, and WR Jonathan Warzeka are all returning starters.
Jefferson is a fantasy non-factor, but Tew and Clark led the nation's #2 rush offense in 2009, and they'll be expected to again carry the load, albeit with an entirely new offensive line. Fellow back Savier Stephens will see carries but also vulture fantasy points from the aforementioned runners.
Normally a team that ranked 117th in passing will not present a fantasy option at wide receiver, however Kevin Fogler saw five of his 25 catches go for touchdowns in 2009.
The Quarterback Job
Tim Jefferson has missed much of spring while recovering from right knee surgery. In his absence Connor Dietz has seen the majority of snaps. There appears a chance that each sees significant snaps this season, thus a bleak fantasy outlook just got bleaker.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Just Running Backs
Clark and Tew may not be worthy of draft day selections, but each could provide excellent options on the waiver wire. And because this is Air Force we'll expect the offensive line to gel quicker than it would at other places.
2009 Record: 7-6, 4-4
Returning Starters: 7 offense / 3 o-line, 7 defense
Who They Lose
Running back Brandon Stewart left the team and wide receiver Greg Bolling graduated. Stewart and his 650 yards from scrimmage and four scores is the major loss. Though coach Dave Christensen is getting things rolling, so neither loss presents a huge void.
Rising sophomore Austyn Carta-Samuels is a future star. He was the Conference Freshman of the Year and the MVP of the New Mexico Bowl. Considerable growth is expected as Carta-Samuels becomes more familiar with the thick offensive playbook. Wide receiver David Leonard caught 77 balls last year for 750 yards, but he only caught three touchdowns. If he wants to impress this 5-9, 165 lb. college fantasy football writer then he better catch more touchdowns than that. Wyoming spreads out four wide receivers, but Leonard is far and away the go-to guy.
Another sophomore, running back Alvester Alexander, was impressive during his freshman campaign. He only carried the ball 136 times but gained 640 yards and scored seven times. Even cooler is the fact that he gained 137 yards and scored a touchdown on only 12 carries in the bowl win over Fresno.
Year Two Letdown?
Coach Dave Christensen exceeded all expectations in leading the Cowboys to a bowl game, let alone a bowl game win, in his first season. And now those crazy Cowboy fans are fired up like Fennis Dembo, and hopes are high. So can one expect a letdown? Maybe, but it won't be the offense's fault. Carta-Samuels is too good, and Christensen knows what the hell he is doing.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Three Potential Stars
Carta-Samuels, David Leonard and Alvester Alexander are all very good fantasy options.
2009 Record: 5-7, 3-5
Returning Starters: 7 offense / 3 o-line, 7 defense
Who They Lose
Coach Mike Sanford is out, and former Montana head man Bobby Hauck is in. Also departing the UNLV football program will be wide receiver Ryan Wolfe, who caught 74 balls for 760 yards but only two scores. Wolfe leaves UNLV with a very impressive 283 catches for around 3,500 yards, so he'll leave a big hole. Running back Chris Brogdon moves on as well.
Omar Clayton and Mike Clausen will battle for the starting job at quarterback. Channing Trotter, he of the 114-541-9 junior campaign, has the look of a solid every-down back for his new coach. And Phillip Payne has caught 14 touchdowns during his first two seasons as a Running Rebel. Coming off 58 catches for 661 yards and seven scores, Payne will anchor the receiving corps.
New Offensive Scheme
Reports have new Coach Hauck favoring more of a pro-style, ground-oriented attack, thus whoever wins the quarterback job will not have the opportunity to post fantasy-worthy numbers.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Two dudes
Channing Trotter has the look of a workhorse. A new coach trying to install his new system decides to take advantage of a productive senior, and we see Trotter go for about 1,200 and 12. And though the offense will not be a spread-em-out attack, we can look for either Clayton or Clausen to look towards Phillip Payne often.
San Diego State
2009 Record: 4-8, 2-6
Returning Starters: 8 offense / 3 o-line, 6 defense
Who They Lose
Year Two of the Brady Hoke era will be much better than Year One. Only Roberto Wallace moves on.
Junior Ryan Lindley returns, and we could be looking at huge strides from the signal caller. Hoke's offense made Nate Davis a star, and provided Lindley can cut down on his picks we could have a serious fantasy quarterback here. Lindley has already thrown over 860 collegiate passes and 39 touchdowns. And he'll get to throw it to two very talented wide receivers.
Both Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson will return for another season. Brown caught 45 balls for 778 yards and six scores before missing the second half of the season with a thumb injury, while Sampson went for 62-851-8. Dominique Sandifer is the third target out wide, and he presents excellent keeper potential. Looking for a sleeper tight end? Then Alston Umuolo is your man.
The ground attack doesn't bring the same fantasy certainty. Atiyyah Henderson is awaiting word on another year of eligibility. Fellow back Walter Kazee (86-371-2 in 2009) will spend his spring recovering from ankle surgery. Thus right now it's a battle between veteran Brandon Sullivan and young Ronnie Hillman.
Remember Ronnie Hillman
Hillman had eligibility issues stemming from a SAT score that forced him to redshirt in 2009. Now reports from The Daily Aztec have this kid blowing up in quite a few scrimmages. The opportunity is present with injury and eligibility issues hounding two of the veteran backs. The offense has two impressive threats out wide, and Brady Hoke loves a balanced and explosive attack. Give Hillman a serious looksie. And yes, I know that the Aztecs ranked 116th running the ball in 2009.
2010 Fantasy Outlook:
The Aztecs were not a good offense last year. This will change. There are too many good players and too many good coaches on this staff. We could be looking at a huge turnaround. The two wide receivers could both be nice fantasy options, Lindley continues to get better and Hillman is one of my sleeper specials.
2009 Record: 1-11, 1-7
Returning Starters: 5 offense, 2 o-line 5 defense
Who They Lose
Quarterback Donovan Porterie and WR Daryl Jones move on.
The quarterback job is up for grabs. Look for coach Mike Locksley to cast his lot with a youngster. Running back Demond Dennis was very impressive as a freshman in 2009; his 78-427-3 bode well for this year and beyond. Wide receiver Ty Kirk presents a whole bunch of keeper potential, but he'll be limited by an inexperienced quarterback this year.
A Sleeper Tight End?
Yep, Lucas Reed.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Not great, not horrible
Provided Locksley can stop making headlines for doing dumb things, this is a program that will stockpile talent. And the 2010 version is not without some fantasy potential. But this is a team to look to should things start rolling, and a trip to the waiver wire is necessary.
2009 Record: 3-9, 0-8
Returning Starters: 3 offense / 1 o-line, 5 defense
Who They Lose
Last year Colorado State was returning the nation's most experience offensive line...and now they're not. However after a three-win season maybe this isn't a horrible thing. After all this was only the nation's 79th ranked defense in 2009.
Quarterback Grant Stucker, WR Dion Morton and WR Rashaun Greer are three starters that move on.
A whole bunch of tailbacks, led by John Mosure, Leonard Mason and Lou Greenwood, return. A few others will be in the race, including UCLA refugee Raymond Carter, thus this is a position to avoid. Not enough footballs for an offense that's not good enough.
The quarterback battle will be a free-for-all, with the winner providing no fantasy value in 2010.
Give Me Something Here...
Tight End Eric Peitz caught 14 balls last season, and three went for scores.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Give Fairchild time
Move along fantasy drafters...nothing to see here.