What you need to know ... Ten
starters return if you count all three returning tailbacks, but
there's a problem up front with all-star Herbert Taylor the only
returning starter. QB Jeff Ballard needs to keep improving after
a stellar second half of last season by cutting down on
interceptions and making even more deep plays. The receiving
corps should be fine even without number one target Cory
Rodgers, while the running back trio of Lonta Hobbs, Robert
Merrill and Aaron Brown should be the best in the Mountain West.
Passing: Jeff Ballard
139-232, 1,801 yds, 13 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Robert Merrill
187 carries, 911 yds, 10 TD
Receiving: Quentily Harmon
28 catches, 318 yds, 1 TD
Star of the offense: Senior OT Herbert Taylor
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior OT
Unsung star on the rise: Junior OG Matt Lindner
Best pro prospect: Taylor
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Taylor, 2) QB Jeff
Ballard, 3) RB Lonta Hobbs
Strength of the offense: Running backs
Weakness of the offense: Offensive line depth
Jeff Ballard was the rare backup quarterback who not only
filled the void left by an injured starter, he made the team
better. Now the offense is his and he has to show the same accuracy
and toughness that got him through the second half of last year.
Chad Huffman is destined to play baseball, but he'll see plenty
of time as the number two man in the mix. With Ballard's running
style, Huffman is a play away from being the starter. Marcus
Jackson might be the opening day starter next year.
The key to the unit: Get Chad Huffman and Marcus
Jackson game ready to replace Jeff Ballard if needed. Ballard
needs to cut down on his interceptions.
Quarterback Rating: 7
- Jeff Ballard, Sr. - 139-232, 60%, 1,801 yds, 13 TD, 7
INT, 93 carries, 314 yds, 8 TD
Ballard came from out of nowhere to be the best quarterback in
the Mountain West over the second half of last year taking over
for an injured Tye Gunn and leading the team to eight straight
wins. He was stunningly effective as a runner as well as a
leader tearing off four touchdown runs against New Mexico and
throwing for 302 yards against Air Force. He's not huge, but he
has a nice, accurate arm and uses his mobility to get out of
trouble. He threw a few too many interceptions last year, but
that's to be expected considering he was thrown into the fire.
- Chad Huffman, Jr. - 6-9 67%, 46 yds, 11 carries, 84
yds, 7.6 ypc, 1 TD
Huffman is known more for being a superstar second baseman than
a quarterback, but the 6-1, 206-pound junior will play a key
role as the number two man behind Jeff Ballard. He saw a little
bit of time last year in blowouts and will get more this season
to prepare for next year and to be ready in case anything
happens to Ballard. He's the best runner of the bunch adding
another element to the mix.
- Marcus Jackson, RFr.
The 6-1, 200-pound Jackson is a terrific all-around prospect
with a great arm and is the most athletic of the
quarterbacks. He'll have a hard time winning the number two job, but he'll be
brought along quickly this year to compete for the starting job
There are three tremendous backs who could
all see starting time at some point. Lonta Hobbs is the biggest
of the three options and the most productive, but he has to stay
healthy to get the number one job. Robert Merrill has been a
solid back for the last few seasons and can carry the workload
when needed. Aaron Brown is special when he gets the chance to
get in a groove. The three should combine for about 2,000 yards
if everything works right. William Jackson is a solid blocking
The key to the unit: Keeping everyone healthy and
getting enough carries for all the talented backs.
Running Back Rating: 9
- Robert Merrill. Sr. - 187 carries, 911 yds, 4.9 ypc, 10
TD. 14 catches, 114 yds
Merrill isn't flashy and he doesn't do any one thing
particularly well, but he's ultra-productive when healthy
rushing for 2,771 career yards and 20 touchdowns along with
being a reliable receiver. While not a home run hitter, he's
able to crank out four to six yards effectively every time he
has the ball. He's always gaining positive yards and he's always
coming through when the team needs him to be a workhorse.
- Fullback William Jackson, Jr. - 10 carries, 19 yds, 2
TD, 2 catches, 19 yds
Jackson's job is to block. Period. He returns to his starting
spot where he saw a couple of goal line runs, but the 237-pound
senior will be in to open up holes for the talented tailbacks.
- Lonta Hobbs, Sr. - 18 carries, 71 yds, 3.9 ypc, 2
catches, 45 yds
The only question with Hobbs is whether or not he can stay
healthy. He's a touchdown machine with 34 scores in 29 career
games, but he missed most of last year with a groin injury and
had other problems earlier in his career. He was the starting
back at the beginning of last season and will battle for the
opening day job again with good power in his 220-pound frame and
- Aaron Brown, Soph. - 128 carries, 758 yds, 5.9 ypc, 6 TD, 11
catches, 146 yds, 3 TD
Brown looked like a next-level star on national TV ripping apart
Utah for 163 yards in his first career game as a true freshman.
He's a speedy back who tears off yards in chunks, but now he has
to get the ball more. He saw double-digit carries for most of
the season and was effective every time he touched the ball as
both a runner and a receiver.
- Fullback Chris Smith, RFr.
While not as big as William Jackson, the 230-pound Smith is
expected to be an effective blocker with better rushing skills.
There's not a Cory Rodgers in the corps, but
things aren't all that bad despite losing the number one target
and his 52 catches. Quentily Harmon, Michael DePriest and Marcus
Brock are experienced receivers who have to combine to fill the
void left by Rodgers, with DePriest turning into an even bigger
deep threat after catching two 80+ yard scores over the last two
seasons. There's quality depth with Donald Massey more than good
enough to start and Ervin Dickerson sure to start making more of
a contribution. The tight end situation is excellent with Chad
Andrus an all-star candidate backed up by 270-pound Brent Hecht.
The key to the unit: More consistency from the entire
corps and for Quentily Harmon to step up and become a number one
Receiver Rating: 7
- Quentily Harmon, Sr. - 28 catches, 318 yds, 11.4 ypc, 1
While not lightning fast, Harmon can tear off big plays when he
gets the ball on the move. He's a good-sized receiver at 6-1 and
184 pounds with good hands finishing second on the team in
catches. He'll be more steady than explosive, but he can find
the goal line with three touchdowns in each of his first two
seasons before scoring once last year.
- Michael DePriest, Sr. - 9 catches, 223 yds, 24.8 ypc, 3
He only caught nine passes last year, but he made them count
scoring three times with an 84-yard touchdown against Iowa State
in the bowl win. He's really, really fast with next-level deep
speed, but he has to make more plays and be more consistent at
the X. It'll be up to him to fill the void left by Cory Rodgers.
- Marcus Brock. Jr.
Brock has the speed and talent to be one of the team's top
receivers getting the starting nod at the H position, but he has
to come back healthy after missing all of last year. He's an
explosive runner who shouldn't have any problems making the deep
play, and he'll likely see time as a kick returner.
- Tight end Chad Andrus, Sr. - 10 catches, 115 yards
Andrus returned from a knee injury to be one of the team's
leaders and a solid receiver. He's not huge at 6-4 and 246
pounds, but he's a good blocker and should be even more involved
in the offense this year.
- Donald Massey, Jr. - 21 catches, 203 yds, 9.7 ypc
One of the best athletes in the receiving corps, the former
cornerback finished third on the team in receptions last year
and can be considered another starter. He's a rail thin 5-11 and
170 pounds and very, very quick across the middle.
- Derek Moore, Jr. - 19 catches, 222 yds, 11.7 ypc, 1
Moore finished fourth on the team in receiver last season as a
steady, consistent playmaker over the second half of the season.
His big highlight was a touchdown catch in the opener against
Oklahoma, and he should be in the end zone more this season as a
tall, talented option behind Marcus Brock at the H.
- Ervin Dickerson. Jr. - 6 catches, 47 yds, 7.8 ypc
A physical receiver with tremendous speed, the 200-pound junior
will look to be more of a deep threat at the X behind Michael
- Tight end Brent Hecht, Sr. - 6 catches, 56 yds, 9.3 ypc,
The 270-pound senior is more than a blocker with decent
hands and route running ability. He gained a little bit of
starting experience over the second half of last year and will
play a big role in two tight end sets and as a bigger option
than starter Chad Andrus.
Last year's line turned out to be better than expected with the
experience and senior leadership coming together for a solid season.
Only one starter returns to this year's front five, but he's a good one.
Herbert Taylor is back for his fourth year at tackle and is a lock for
all-conference honors, but the rest of the line is shaky with no
developed depth to rely on. Fortunately, several of last year's backups
appear ready to step in and produce led by Maurice Bouldwin at tackle
and Giles Montgomery. Pass protection will be the problem early on.
The key to the unit: Jelling in a hurry and finding
some backups who can create some competition for several starting spots.
Offensive Line Rating: 6
- OT Maurice Bouldwin, Sr.
A backup all of last year, the 6-4, 290-pound senior should finally be
ready to handle the job at left tackle after spending the first part of
his career on the defensive line. A a fifth-year senior he has the
experience in the system and in the program, but staying healthy has
been a problem so far.
- OG Giles Montgomery, Soph.
The 275-pound sophomore isn't starting from scratch on the left side of
the line after getting his first start in the bowl win over Iowa State.
He's a former defensive tackle who should grow into a physical guard.
- C Blake Schlueter, Soph.
Adding bulk has been the priority since he arrived in Fort Worth, and
now the 275-pound sophomore appears big enough to handle the job in the
middle taking over for Stephen Culp.
- OG Matty Lindner, Jr.
A steady reserve at guard last year and athletic enough to play tackle,
the 6-4, 293-pound junior is expected to grow into the starter role.
He'll be helped out in a big way by playing next to Herbert Taylor.
- OT Herbert Taylor, Sr.
About to be a four-year starter, the 6-4, 287-pound all-star will be one
of the Mountain West's best tackles and the leader of the line. As the
only returning starter he needs to be even better this year. There are
few better pass protectors allowing just one sack last season.
- C Ryan Sefton, Jr.
Don't be shocked if he takes over the starting center job. The 290-pound
JUCO transfer is a bigger option in the middle than 275-pound Blake
Schlueter and has the experience to step in and star.
- OT Wade Sisk, Jr.
The 6-7, 270-pound junior is a big
reserve who has seen plenty of game action and could see time at either
tackle spot. He'll start out pushing for the job on the left side behind