5. Colorado State
Projected depth: David Bailey (?), A’jon Vivens, Avery Morrow, Jaylen Thomas
Bailey, who led the team in rushing last season, would be a useful hammer for Fort Air Raid, but there seems to be some question as to whether he will return for 2022. He has 33 career catches, but he isn’t known for his hands and that will be instrumental for whoever totes the rock. Vivens, on the other hand, was recruited by the Rams as a wide receiver and Morrow has experience in the offense from his time with Nevada. If the group stays together, it could be a dangerous one.
4. Boise State
Projected depth: George Holani, Tyler Crowe, Taequan Tyler, Danny Smith, Ashton Jeanty
It’s no secret that Holani could be one of the most important players in the Mountain West this year: He’s averaged 5.1 yards per carry in his three years with the Broncos, but every other running back has averaged 3.8 YPC over that same period. Crowe, Tyler, and Smith are all old hands who have contributed sparingly while Jeanty is a new arrival who flashed potential during Boise State’s spring game.
If everything goes according to plan, this group should make a big difference in the team’s ability to rebound from a disappointing 2021, but you know what they say about the best-laid plans.
Projected depth: Titus Swen, Dawaiian McNeely, D.Q. James, Joseph Braasch
No Xazavian Valladay? No problem. The Cowboys’ stable of running backs looked as deep and explosive as ever during their spring game, which head coach Craig Bohl was happy to note. Improved quarterback play could only make this group better, so there’s a decent chance even this ranking is too low by August if that pans out.
2. San Diego State
Projected depth: Chance Bell, Jordan Byrd, Jaylon Armstead, Cam Davis, Lucky Avinger
Replacing running backs on the Mesa is old hat by now for head coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski, though this typically deep group will have some new faces in the mix. Bell and Byrd, the most experienced of the bunch, should get chances to offer more of their respective power and speed; Bell, in particular, has averaged a rock solid 4.6 YPC in his four years with the Aztecs and could be one of the Mountain West’s biggest breakout performers next season.
As for the rest of the depth chart, the 5-11 and 235-pound Armstead could see time as the proverbial sledgehammer in short-yardage situation. Davis, meanwhile, showed promise throughout the spring and, at a minimum, probably solidified a spot in a rotation that’s historically utilized pretty liberally.
1. Air Force
Projected top contributors (fullback and tailback): Brad Roberts, Emmanuel Michel, Omar Fattah, Owen Burk, John Lee Eldridge III
Roberts spent all of last season making the lives of various linebackers miserable, but the real bad news is that the Falcons have many more athletes ready to rock behind the Mountain West’s reigning rushing champion. Michel was just as potent from the fullback position while Fattah put together a solid showing on roughly 50 carries. Meanwhile, Burk and Eldridge III are runners on the rise and this doesn’t even account for the quarterback and wide receivers who also figure into the Air Force ground game.
The other thing this doesn’t consider is that Air Force has all of this talent in the backfield and they’ve lost some pieces like Jorden Gidrey and Tylan Hines to the transfer portal. In other words, good luck in preparations.