2013 Mountain West Spring Preview - West
Nevada QB Cody Fajardo
Nevada QB Cody Fajardo
Posted Mar 6, 2013

The 2013 CFN Mountain West - West - Spring Preview, Lookaheads & Analysis.

2013 Spring Preview   


2013 Mountain West Spring Preview
- CFN 2013 Mountain West Spring Preview - Mountain 
- CFN 2013 Pre-Preseason Mountain West Rankings - Mountain
- CFN 2013 Pre-Preseason Mountain West Rankings - West
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Fresno State
Start: February 25, Spring Game: March 23

Why To Be Excited Forget about the complete and total dud of a bowl appearance in Hawaii against SMU; 2012 was special. At the end of the day, the 43-10 loss to the Mustangs might have been the best thing to happen to the Bulldogs to make sure there's a focus on what has to be done to improve. With eight starters returning on each side of the ball, led by quarterback Derek Carr, this should be the Mountain West's strongest team with explosion and toughness on offense and aggressiveness on defense. Everything is there to have an even stronger year.

Why To Be Grouchy The personnel losses aren't massive, but they're stingers. Robbie Rouse was one of the nation's most underappreciated backs over the last few seasons, and now he's off to the NFL. Second-leading rusher Marteze Waller is back, but top backups Milton Knox and Michael Harris are gone. Also gone are safety Phillip Thomas, the nation's most productive defensive back last year, and linebackers Travis Brown and Tristan Okpalaugo.

What Needs Working On The run defense has to focus on toughening up on the line. It was a terrific front seven at getting into the backfield with a consistently good push, but against the teams that could actually run the ball, there were problems. The overall stats looked good with mediocre ground attacks like Wyoming's, Hawaii's and Colorado State's to face, but Boise State ran without a problem, Air Force rumbles and New Mexico went ballistic. It starts with the outside linebackers in the 3-4 taking away the plays on the outside, but the interior needs to be stronger, too.

Start: March 20, Spring Game: April 27

Why To Be Excited It can't be any worse in Norm Chow's second season. Now he has had a full year to figure out what he has to work with and what needs adjusting, and after winning the final two games of last year, there's hope to pick up where things left off with all 11 starters returning on offense along with all the backups. Very quietly, the defense wasn't that bad last season, especially against the pass, and it gets eight starters back. Overall, this is a deep team with lots and lots of young talent ready to battle for jobs.

Why To Be Grouchy There's still a long, long way to go to simply be decent again offensively. The quarterback situation needs to be settled once and for all this offseason and there has to be more pop and explosion for a passing game that was the third-least efficient in America. For an offense that struggled just to put up 300 yards per game, and with just two games with more than 27 points, it's going to still be a learning and adjusting process. Defensively, corner Mike Edwards was an NFL caliber defensive back who'll be missed, while Haku Correa is literally a big loss off the defensive front.

What Needs Working On Everything starts with the offensive line. The nature of the Hawaii offense always means lots of sacks, but last year was a huge problem with the quarterbacks not getting nearly enough time to operate. Outside of the 219 yards in the win over Lamar and the 229 to close out against South Alabama, the running game was a mere rumor. The bigger problem was a passing game that threw just five touchdown passes total in October and November – that was a nice half back in the Colt Brennan days.

Start: March 28, Spring Game: April 20

Why To Be Excited There might be some huge losses on both sides of the ball, but the defensive line returns intact. Unfortunately, it was one of the team's weakest links with no push into the backfield, not enough sacks and too many problems against the run. There isn't a ton of size, but just about everyone is back including young ends Brock Hekking and Lenny Jones, the team's two leading pass rushers combining for 13 sacks. Offensively, quarterback Cody Fajardo is an early Mountain West Player of the Year favorite.

Why To Be Grouchy Several key parts are gone, including legendary head coach Chris Ault. Brian Polian will be more than fine taking over for the Hall of Famer, but it's still going to be an adjustment. It doesn't help that Stefphon Jefferson, the nation's second-leading rusher, made the strange move of leaving early, and it's going to hurt losing guards Chris Barker and Alex Pinto along with star tackle Jeff Nady. Leading receiver Brandon Wimberly and future NFL tight end Zach Sudfeld won't be easily replaced. While the quality is gone on offense, the quantity is leaving on defense with corner Charles Garrett the only starter returning in the defensive back seven.

What Needs Working On The defensive interior has to be a wall. Hekking and Jones will get into the backfield and should turn into even more disruptive forces, but tackles Jack Reynoso, Jordan Hanson, Cortez Woods and Rykeem Yates need to form a tougher rotation. There isn't a ton of bulk inside, and while it would be nice to have a 310-pound anchor, the Wolf Pack will have to make up for it steadier production a year after allowing 27 rushing scores and being eaten alive by the better guards.

San Diego State
Start: February 25, Spring Game: March 23

Why To Be Excited The Aztecs quietly put together a nice season that ended with a thud, losing to BYU in an ugly bowl performance. Along the way, through, they pushed Washington, battles in losses to San Jose State and Fresno State, and cost the Mountain West a shot at a BCS appearance with a win over Boise State. Now they should be even better. Depending on the alignment, 18 starters could be back including Adam Muema, a terrific back who's on the verge of a national breakout season. The entire defensive front six returns after leading the conference against the run.

Why To Be Grouchy There aren't many losses, but they'll sting. Leon McFadden was one of the league's best corners, and tight end Gavin Escobar was a terrific all-around tight end who led the team in receiving. They'll each be in the NFL next year. Also gone are center Alec Johnson and right guard Nik Embernate, two strong run blockers in the interior. Solid placekicker Chance Marden was a difference maker, but now he's gone.

What Needs Working On The passing game needs some help. It was efficient and occasionally effective when it had to be, and Rocky Long's teams revolve around the grinding ground game, but the Aztecs were too mediocre throwing the ball. Adam Dingwell wasn't bad after taking over the job, but the bad days were costly including a three pick, 144-yard day in the bowl loss to BYU. He gave up at least one interception in each of the last five games after a nearly perfect game to beat Nevada. This spring he has to make the offense his.

San Jose State
Start: February 19, Spring Game: March 23

Why To Be Excited The cupboard isn't bare for new just because Mike MacIntyre took off to take the Colorado head coaching job. 16 starters are back for Ron Caragher, led by the ultra-accurate David Fales, who finished third in the nation in passing efficiency and top target Noel Grigsby. The offensive line gets back four senior starters, while on the other side the linebacking corps should be fantastic with Keith Smith and Vince Buhagiar a great 1-2 punch. Also returning is the perfect Austin Lopez, who nailed all 17 of his field goal attempts.

Why To Be Grouchy Travis Johnson might have been hit-or-miss, but he was also one of the nation's best pass rushers. The former defensive end will work at outside linebacker in the NFL, while tight end Ryan Otten will also be earning a fat paycheck next year after a decent all-around season as one of Fales' outlet targets. The secondary takes one of the biggest hits losing three starters, but the lone returner, corner Bene Benkwikere, is an interception machine.

What Needs Working On It's time to get more out of the running game. Fales was too good and too effective to not use on a consistent basis, but it would be a plus to get the running backs more involved. The problem is the personnel with De'Leon Eskridge, Ina Lianina and Ray Rodriguez all gone. Fortunately, second-leading rusher Tyler Ervin is back, but he only ran for 205 yards and a score. Finding a new punt returner, and getting a lot more production, will also be a priority after losing Ronnie Yell.

Start: March 4, Spring Game: April 12

Why To Be Excited Okay, enough is enough. Head coach Bobby Hauck has been around long enough to have what he wants in place, and while this is still a relatively young team, it's also full of veterans with 20 starters returning. The offense can't help but be better with the return of big bomber Nick Sherry and excellent senior running back Tim Cornett. All the top receivers are back along with almost everyone on defense including the entire secondary and all four starters on the line. Not only do the Rebels have the starters, they have the depth to fight for jobs.

Why To Be Grouchy Even with all the returning talent, can anyone actually play? There were some stunners last season, but for the most part the team got obliterated time and again. The offensive line that was such a positive at times is one of the few places that takes a hit losing tackle Yusef Rodgers and guard Doug Zismann on the right side. There's only one starter gone on defense, but linebacker John Lotuleilei was the best player and heart-and-soul leader.

What Needs Working On First and foremost, the passing game has to be more efficient and more effective. Sherry was thrown to the wolves, and it showed at times starting out the year throwing three picks in the loss to Minnesota, and closing out throwing three more interceptions in the loss to Hawaii. He was able to get things moving against the nation's worst defense, Louisiana Tech, but overall he made too many mistakes and there were rarely any big plays down the field. No one feared the Rebel passing game, and that has to change coming out of spring ball.

2013 Mountain West Spring Preview
- CFN 2013 Mountain West Spring Preview - Mountain 
- CFN 2013 Pre-Preseason Mountain West Rankings - Mountain
- CFN 2013 Pre-Preseason Mountain West Rankings - West