Mountain West: Conference of elite quarterbacks

Paul Gerke

Mountain West: Conference of elite quarterbacks

CREATED Jul. 23, 2013

Commissioner Craig Thompson spent over half an hour answering questions at the Mountain West Media Days Tuesday, providing discourse on topics from the NCAA's new rules to TV rights and bowl alliances. His national-scale football knowledge is unquestionable.

So is his feel for the pulse of his own conference.

"There’s two, in my mind, really great story lines this year," explained Thompson. "One is the quarterbacks in this league... And then the two newcomers- Utah State and San Jose State."

Let's elaborate on the latter, then the former.

Utah State and San Jose State each won 11 games in the WAC last year. Utah State claimed the conference’s final title outright, went undefeated in league play, and won the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The Mountain West will provide a new challenge for a team that proved to be the best in a dissolving conference.

"From a security stand point, as far as being in a solid league, (being) with the Mountain West is a big time plus," stated Aggies coach Matt Wells. "The new league, new coaches, new teams, and new venues for us to play in is something neat for our players and it’s something we’re looking forward to."

The Aggies will host the Broncos on Saturday, October 12.

"That will be a major challenge that night for the Aggie football program, but I think the road to the Mountain championship goes right through Boise," said Wells.

San Jose State almost upset Stanford in the 2012 opener, and its only league loss came to Utah State. The Spartans beat Bowling Green in the Military Bowl, securing the first 11-win season in school history.

"We were (saying) last summer that we had to have a good year in the WAC," recalled quarterback David Fales. "That had to send us into the Mountain West."

The Spartans aren’t scheduled to play the Broncos in 2013, Fales still wants a piece of the blue and orange.

"Just watching them growing up, they’re always good," he said. "With Kellen Moore and now Joe Southwick taking over… The goal is to hopefully be playing them in the championship game, if all plays well."

Fales is one of four Mountain West signal callers to make the Davey O’Brien watch list this preseason, an award given to the top QB in the country. Another is Utah State’s Chuckie Keaton, a dynamic player in every sense of the word.

"He's a dynamic kid too," added Wells, who was Utah State's offensive coordinator before being named head coach during the offseason. "He's a really good player but an even better person and a better kid. He’s very smart, he’s very coach-able, and his ability to retain knowledge as a quarterback is second-to-none that I’ve ever been around, which I think makes him special."

Nevada’s Cody Fajardo is also on the O’Brien watch list, as is Fresno State’s Derek Carr, who revealed Monday that he played all of last season with an abdominal injury that forced the Bulldogs to change their playbook to limit his movement. Carr said he can’t wait to have another crack at the Broncos- even though his relationship with Boise State is actually pretty good.

"Coach Petersen knows that I  have the most respect for him, because I’ve talked to him a whole bunch," explained Carr. "I  root for you guys, I really do, except that one time a year, then I can’t stand you guys. I hate the color blue that day."

The Mountain West boasts plenty of other talent under center besides those four QB's, including Boise State's Joe Southwick, who seemed find his place in the Bronco offense late last year.

"That’s a position where you’re just splitting hairs," said coach Chris Petersen. "Even early in the year, when he maybe wasn’t playing at the level we wanted him to play at, it was close."

Southwick's teammates have noticed a marked change in his attitude over the last year.

"He’s way more calm and collected. His leadership has just grown tremendously since last year," said preseason all-Mountain West tackle Charles Leno. "He’s embraced his role and he’s very comfortable in it right now."

"The quarterback gets too much credit and too much blame," noted Southwick. "So I don’t want to take too much credit for what happened at the end of the year, because I think it was just everybody finding out what was going to work for this team, and it showed on the field."