Mountain West Football: Which Players Are The Strongest Contenders For Major Awards?
Watch list season for college football awards begins in earnest on Monday. These Mountain West football players should be part of it.
Names worth keeping an eye on.
Part of the fun of college football season is following who will win the major awards at year’s end. The Heisman Trophy gets the limelight, but there’s a lot more involved from the Wuerrfel Trophy, won by former New Mexico offensive lineman Teton Saltes in 2020, to the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame College Football Player of the Year and much more.
Some of the tertiary awards, like the Lott IMPACT Trophy and Dodd Trophy, have already released their initial watch lists but the season begins in earnest next Monday, when the National College Football Awards Association unveils the first of its 16 roll calls. The Mountain West doesn’t often win those awards, but they have serious contenders in the mix every so often and these players should be major factors.
Jamaal Bell, WR, Nevada
Should contend for: Paul Hornung Award
This optimism might come as something of a surprise, but Bell might be stepping into a situation where could get the ball in his hands early and often this fall. His primary role last year was as the Wolf Pack’s kick returner, where he averaged 23.3 yards per return, but he also stepped up as a bright spot in the team’s lopsided Quick Lane Bowl loss and caught seven passes for 75 yards and a touchdown. If he keeps his role as a specialist and adds the WR1 role to that, he could have a much bigger season than anyone would expect.
Logan Bonner, QB, Utah State
Should contend for: Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award
It’s likely that others from the Mountain West will also be included on this watchlist, like Wyoming’s Titus Swen and fellow Aggie Calvin Tyler Jr., but Bonner would be a shocking omission if he doesn’t make the cut. After leading one of the biggest turnarounds in college football history and rewriting the record books while doing so, the encore is one that the legendary Houston Oiler should follow.
Jalen Cropper, WR, Fresno State
Should contend for: Biletnikoff Award
A raft of talented pass catchers have moved on to greener pastures, which leaves Cropper with a tremendous opportunity to spearhead what looks like, on paper, the most potent offense in the Mountain West. His 85 catches, 899 yards, and 11 touchdowns last year were the most among those pass catchers returning to the conference in 2022, so the Bulldogs might just be happy to see what he’s capable of with the football in his hands more often.
Jonah Dalmas, K, Boise State
Should contend for: Lou Groza Award
Considering that Dalmas paced the entire conference with 9.7 points per game last year, the most by any Mountain West player since 2018, missed just two of 28 field goal tries, and is already considered a potential All-American in some corners of the national scene, he’s an obvious choice for this one.
Viliami Fehoko, DE, San Jose State
Should contend for: Polynesian College Football Player of the Year
Fehoko appeared on this watch list last summer but wasn’t quite as heralded as Spartans teammate Cade Hall, who’d won the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year honor in 2020. In 2021, though, there’s no doubt Fehoko had the better season, leading San Jose State with 12 tackles for loss and seven sacks and recording the best PFF pass-rushing grade, 88.8, of any returning edge defender in the conference.
Rex Goossen, LS, UNLV
Should contend for: Patrick Mannelly Award
Long snapping isn’t the most glamorous job on the field, but Goossen’s contributions to the Rebels didn’t go unnoticed before last year, when he was named to the preseason Mannelly watch list. He only played in nine games before injuries cut his 2021 season short, but he’s back on his feet at this point and seems like a shoo-in to get another crack at the honor.
Jake Haener, QB, Fresno State
Should contend for: Heisman Trophy, Manning Award, Maxwell Award, Davey O’Brien Award, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award
The Bulldogs haven’t yet rolled out a Heisman (Haeisman?) campaign like they did for Derek Carr, but you wouldn’t blame them for thinking big if they choose to do so. After all, he threw for over 4,000 yards in 2021 and briefly had a moment in the sun as a maybe-kinda-sorta dark horse Heisman candidate before reality set in, courtesy of the Hawaii Warriors.
Stephen Kotsanlee, P, Utah State
Should contend for: Ray Guy Award
Now that the Mountain West’s record setting punters have moved on, someone has to step up and be the new head of the class. Kotsanlee stepped up in his second year as the Aggies punter and improved his yards per kick average by nearly two full yards, so while no one is projecting another similar step forward — linear progression like that year after year is a rarity — his role in helping Utah State defend the conference title could be a critical one.
Thor Paglialong and Luke Hallstrom, C, Air Force
Should contend for: Rimington Trophy
Obviously, only one of these Falcons will be able to claim the starting center job in 2022, but after they both contributed to a Diesels unit that became a Joe Moore Award finalist last season, they seem like the obvious front-runners for a spot on the Rimington list. Among returning centers in the Mountain West, Paglialong and Hallstrom ranked first and second, respectively, according to Pro Football Focus (82.0 and 75.2).
Dom Peterson, DT, Nevada
Should contend for: Outland Trophy
The big man in the middle of the Wolf Pack defense was as critical as ever to their successes in 2021 and while a number of his star peers have scattered to the transfer portal and the NFL, Peterson is back for one more go and deserves the recognition for what is, at this point, multiple years of production.
Brad Roberts, RB, Air Force
Should contend for: Doak Walker Award
You may not like it, but peak performance looks like barreling through the trenches with a full head of steam twenty times per game and punishing any defenders that get in your way. It worked for Roberts last year, anyway, when he became the first Falcons running back to lead the Mountain West in carries per game since 2009, won the rushing title with 1,357 yards, and scored 13 touchdowns.
JL Skinner, S, Boise State
Should contend for: Bednarik Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Paycom Jim Thorpe Award
Skinner was our staff’s pick as preseason defensive player of the year, so it seems reasonable to expect he could also be one of the Mountain West’s most popular names in this watch list season. Award voters will come for the highlight reel hits and stay when they realize he can be equally effective patroling the deep middle of the field or moving up into the box to defend the run.
A’jon Vivens, RB, Colorado State
Should contend for: Wuerffel Trophy
Vivens made the preseason cut for this award, dedicated to leadership and community service, last season and there’s little reason to think that, after working on initiatives ranging from voter registration to food drives and toy drives for children, the Wuerffel committee won’t run it back. Big wins all the way around off the field.
Gary Williams, TE, Colorado State
Should contend for: John Mackey Award
Talk about big shoes to fill. Trey McBride won this award last year but, unlike a number of other teams in the conference, CSU already has a proven athlete to replace some of that lost production. Williams led all returning tight ends in the Mountain West with 21 catches, 287 receiving yards, and five touchdowns, so while that may not sound like much, he could be in line for a much larger share of targets in a revamped CSU passing game.