5. San Jose State
Projected depth: Chevan Cordeiro, Nick Nash, Natano Woods
Nick Starkel was never quite right last year after suffering a September arm injury, but what made matters worse was that Nick Nash struggled in his prolonged stint as the Spartans’ starter. As a result, the offense never really got on track after exploding onto the scene in 2020, so head coach Brent Brennan went and made one of the most surprising moves of the early transfer portal season to rectify that.
Cordeiro’s arrival in San Jose came on the heels of Hawaii’s mass exodus of talent, the primary symptom of the saga surrounding the since-fired Todd Graham, but the Warriors’ loss is definitely the Spartans’ gain if he can build rapport with veterans like Elijah Cooks, Isaiah Hamilton and Justin Lockhart. And while Nash will surely get a second crack at competing for the QB1 role, the Spartans may also have the luxury of going back to utilizing him as a changeup.
Depth chart: Cameron Friel OR Doug Brumfield, Harrison Bailey
Last year’s quarterback shuffle surely brought Marcus Arroyo a lot of headaches, but the Rebels did unearth the conference’s freshman of the year in the process so it couldn’t have been all bad. As a team, UNLV was more turnover-prone than you’d like with a 4.2% interception rate that was the highest in the Mountain West, but Friel set a new program record for single-season completion percentage, Brumfield looked like one of the conference’s most dangerous running quarterbacks in his brief time at the helm, and Bailey held his own as a true freshman starter for Tennessee late in 2020.
The trick for Arroyo and company now will be to identify which among those three deserves the inside track as QB1, especially since Brumfield briefly flirted with the transfer portal just weeks ago, but the potential for all of them is there and the pressure to get it right is immense.
3. Boise State
Projected depth: Hank Bachmeier, Taylen Green, Sam Vidlak
Bachmeier still has a strong case as the best quarterback in the Mountain West when healthy, but he wasn’t for a big chunk of last season and now that Jack Sears has moved on, the future could be thrust upon the boys in blue if they can’t keep “Hurricane Hank” on his feet this fall. Green has looked like a quarterback with all of the necessary tools when given a chance to shine on the practice field, but he’s very clearly Plan B for this year. Vidlak, meanwhile, has just three career pass attempts to his name. That pair’s ceiling Bachmeier is probably higher than depth elsewhere in the conference — such is the benefit of recruiting well year after year — but the best-case scenario is the Broncos won’t have to find out for sure until 2022.
2. Fresno State
Projected depth: Jake Haener, Jaylen Henderson, Logan Fife
You could probably flip the Broncos and Bulldogs here without much fuss, though Haener had the better overall 2021 despite a couple of clunkers. What both teams have in common are future prospects, Henderson in this case, about whom the fanbase is excited but who have not yet seen more than glimpses of live action to date. Assuming everything goes to plan in 2022, the Red Wave may not get much more than some garbage time looks from their depth here… and that isn’t a bad thing.
1. Utah State
Projected depth: Logan Bonner, Cooper Legas, Levi Williams
Other teams in the conference still have high-end talents at QB1, but the defending Mountain West champions are sitting pretty for now by virtue of having the best of both worlds: Unlike the teams behind them, the Aggies have a top-flight starter for now and they’ve seen more than a glimpse of their future.
Legas, of course, had a solid performance off the bench in December’s Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl while the addition of Williams from division rival Wyoming gives them another option who has starting experience and flashed big-time tools at times.