Mountain West Football: 12 Players Who Deserved More Attention In 2021

Mountain West Football: 12 Players Who Deserved More Attention In 2021

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Mountain West Football: 12 Players Who Deserved More Attention In 2021

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New Mexico

While punt god Matt Araiza and Colorado State legend Ryan Stonehouse were battling it out in the record books, Lobos sophomore Aaron Rodriguez ended up being busier than any other punter in the FBS last season. He acquitted himself well, too, in replacing Tyson Dyer by finishing the year with a 42.79 yards per punt average while landing 16 of his 81 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.

San Diego State

Though he didn’t break into the starting lineup until November, Aztecs safety C.J. Baskerville ended the year looking an awful lot like the latest in a long line of talented defensive backs to come up in the 3-3-5. In four starts to finish 2021, Baskerville racked up 29 tackles and a key interception in San Diego State’s Frisco Bowl victory over UTSA, earning a 81.0 overall grade from Pro Football Focus that ranked second among qualifying Mountain West safeties.

San Jose State

The Spartans didn’t have the title defense they hoped for, but the year wasn’t without individual successes. Case in point: Freshman defensive lineman Tre Smith flashed the potential to be the next San Jose State star on that side of the ball. In part time duty behind the likes of Viliami Fehoko and Cade Hall, Smith picked up 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, the former of which was the most by a Spartans defender since Christian Tago in 2013, which is pretty good company to keep.

UNLV

The Rebels can boast back-to-back Freshman of the Year honorees, but the progress of young talents like center Leif Fautanu is arguably more important to their chances of getting back to bowl eligibility sooner rather than later. He was only one of two UNLV offensive linemen to start every game at the same position (Julio Garcia being the other) in 2021 and improved his overall PFF grade from 50.8 to 71.9, the fifth-best mark among Mountain West centers.

Utah State

Calvin Tyler Jr. got the bulk of the work in the Aggies’ running game last fall, but it’s not hard to make a case that Elelyon Noa‘s improvements were just as important to the team’s championship run. He notched his first career 100-yard rushing performance in Tyler’s absence against Hawaii and finished the year with 597 rushing yards altogether, but he also made a difference doing the little things, as well: According to PFF, Noa actually finished 2021 with the highest pass-blocking grade (78.8) of any qualifying Mountain West running back.

Wyoming

It’s easy to miss the work being done by a nose tackle during the course of a game, which means we probably haven’t given Cole Godbout his hard-earned due. Only San Diego State’s Jonah Tavai and Nevada’s Dom Peterson had a higher overall PFF grade than Godbout’s 76.2 in 2021, which came on the strength of 70 total tackles, seven tackles for loss, five sacks, and five passes defended.

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