(Our spring wraps are a recap of events from spring practices from around the country. For more detailed information on each team see our Conference Look Aheads)
The key fantasy performers from the Mountain West Conference have traditionally matriculated in the State of Utah, and 2009 looks like it’ll be no different. BYU returns a top quarterback and tailback, and the Cougars have three receivers vying to become fantasy factors. And the Utah Utes may feature a top-five national fantasy back in Matt Asiata. However the others, even the traditional also-rans, offer a potential impact fantasy star provided you’re willing to show a little faith on draft day.
Sure quarterback questions abound at Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico and maybe even Utah. And sure there are some running back questions at yes, Air Force and Colorado State. But Wyoming may soon become a draft day destination, and UNLV may boast the nation’s most underrated wide receiver. Yes, there are questions, but completely neglecting the MWC may prove costly.
Movers and Shakers (newbies that made noise)
QB Corbin Louks, Utah
QB Karsten Sween, Wyoming
**RB Matt Asiata, Utah
**RB James Wright, New Mexico
RB Savier Stephens, Air Force
RB A.J. Butler, New Mexico
**WR McKay Jacobson, BYU
WR Luke Ashworth, BYU
WR O'Neill Chambers, BYU
* denotes draft worthy player in BCS-only leagues
** denotes draft worthy player in All-120 leagues
This spring saw no quarterback named the starter. Former running back Asher Clark will continue to battle with Tim Jefferson, who was held out of some practices while he focused on his classroom responsibilities. Speaking of grades…
The team’s leading returning rusher, Kyle Lumpkin, will not have the opportunity to run for Air Force in 2009. He’ll spend the year getting his academics in order. This should open the door for Savier Stephens to play a key role…and yes, maybe save the AF running game. I know.
We’re all looking for the next Austin Collie, you know a consistently explosive wide receiver with a real knack for finding the end zone. And while there are certainly some candidates no one receiving target emerged. WRs Luke Ashworth (Z) and O'Neill Chambers (X) exit spring as the starters at WR, however McKay Jacobson missed most of camp with a hamstring; don’t count him out of the mix just yet. Despite the injury head coach Bronco Mendenhall liked the improvement he saw out of Jacobson this spring...namely his speed. With three viable wide receivers and a veteran quarterback in Max Hall who’ll know how to spread it around we cannot recommend a high pick on a Cougar wide receiver.
Harvey Unga should carry the bulk of the load out of the backfield, but we’re concerned about a dip in his production (1441 from scrimmage and 15 scores) thanks to the return of Manase Tonga, a gifted back who spent much of his 2008 at Utah Valley University, and is ready to rejoin his teammates in Provo.
Coach Steve Fairchild was not a very happy man this spring. His quarterbacks were less than impressive and the quest to find a replacement for Gartrell Johnson III and Kyle Bell is turning out to be just as difficult as expected. John Mosure will likely enter the season as the starter, but watch out for fellow runner Leonard Mason
Quarterback Klay Kubiak sat out spring with due to shoulder surgery, and based on the play of his fellow field generals he may have earned the job by default. When it came time to discuss senior Grant Stucker and JUCO transfer Jon Eastman Coach Fairchild was throwing around compliments like they were manhole covers.
A heated battle for the quarterback spot will spill over into the summer and fall. Donovan Porterie is a two-year starter, but Brad Gruner and Tate Smith offer more mobility. And with new coach Mike Locksley bringing the Illini version of the spread offense to the Land of Enchantment, one of the quicker quarterbacks may end up getting the nod.
James Wright looks to be the heir apparent at running back and worth a look on draft day. But those looking for a super sleeper want to take a look at redshirt freshman A.J. Butler.
San Diego St.
New coach Brady Hoke spent his spring in San Diego rather than Muncie, Indiana. And in addition to the improved scenery we’re certain that the new leader of the Aztecs liked what he saw in quarterback Ryan Lindley and under-the-radar stud receiver Vincent Brown. Both confirmed that they are going to be the focal points of the offense, at least until a running back emerges.
It appears that the battle for the starting running back spot will come down to Davon Brown, Brandon Sullivan and Atiyyah Henderson. The smart money is on Henderson.
According to ESPN.com’s Graham Watson the TCU coaching staff is excited about the defense, believing this year’s unit can be better than the 2008 version; this is an interesting development considering the Horned Frogs lose a ton from their front seven. But their schedule does set TCU up to remain among the nation’s top defensive units.
Why we don’t expect him to emerge as much of a fantasy threat we do expect quarterback Andy Dalton to show a marked improvement while runner Joseph Turner, coming off an 11-score 2008, is a fantasy threat.
Despite his knee not being back to 100% there is no doubt that UNLV’s physical and spiritual leader is Omar Clayton. And while it’s clear that Ryan Wolfe will be his primary target, head coach Mike Sanford was very pleased with the spring of young wide receiver Michael Johnson.
Exiting spring the running back job remains wide open.
Maybe we’ve just become too depressed with all of the split-carry situations emerging nationwide, but the news that Utah running back Matt Asiata will be the workhorse back was very well received around our water cooler. Asiata was a touchdown machine with relatively limited (146) carries, so we’re giddy at what he can do with carries befitting a “workhorse.”
We have to believe that Corbin Louks did enough to win the QB job this spring, but no official announcement was made. Terrance Cain and Jordan Wynn are the other candidates.
Former Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christenson spent the spring getting his kids stronger and tougher. Oh yeah, he also installed a new spread offense. And we have special buzzers that begin making all sorts of noise whenever we hear any combination of “new-spread-offense.” Suddenly we need to pay close attention to the starting quarterback spot. Karsten Sween exited spring the leader over Dax Crum. However, Christenson will give JUCO transfer Robert Benjamin and prep school recruit Austyn Carta-Samuels a hard look in fall camp. And all receivers become ones to monitor this summer.