Mountain West Football: Examining Each Opponent’s Week 0 Depth Chart
What stands out in the depth charts released by Idaho State, Illinois, UConn, New Mexico State, and Vanderbilt ahead of Week 0?
What to keep in mind before kickoff.
Idaho State (link to depth chart)
What stands out: The Bengals’ projected starting lineup on offense and defense features 12 different players who are listed as either freshmen or sophomores, as well as each of the six starters listed on special teams.
Why that could be important: Give new ISU head Charlie Ragle some credit, the program isn’t taking any half-measures in building itself back up to respectability. While some familiar names, like former Wyoming quarterback Tyler Vander Waal, center Terron Carey, and linebacker Charles Ike, will bring some much needed veteran leadership, nearly everyone else is in for a crash course through which it seems likely they’ll take a few lumps. For UNLV, it means they should be able to win this game going away if they’re set on making a leap in 2022.
Illinois (link to game notes)
What stands out: Syracuse transfer Tommy DeVito is the likely starter for the Illini at quarterback.
Why that could be important: Illinois hasn’t really had a lot of juice at the game’s most important position since Nate Scheelhaase left in 2013, but DeVito could be the answer that they need at the position and may thrive under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr., who helped Frank Harris emerge at UTSA.
It’ll be crucial, then, that Wyoming finds a way to create pressure early and test how well DeVito will be able to stand in and make plays. Running back Chase Brown is likely to get his one way or another, so winning the game may depend on the Cowboys limiting damage through the air.
UConn (link to depth chart)
What stands out: With wide receiver Cameron Ross sidelined for the season with a broken foot, the depth chart at the position features three sophomores.
Why that could be important: The quarterback situation, which new head coach Jim Mora deemed as a competition between “four good players that haven’t played a lot”, will grab more headlines, but whoever emerges from that scrum is going to need reliable targets. Ross, the team’s leading pass catcher back in 2019, was expected to re-establish himself as a potential number one though it appears now that’ll fall again to Keelan Marion, who paced the Huskies in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns last season.
Kevens Clericus, the projected starter opposite Marion, did have 20 catches in 2021 while grad transfer Nigel Fitzgerald did get some playing time himself at Old Dominion. For Utah State’s purposes, it clarifies who the defense is likely to prioritize in shutting down the UConn offense.
New Mexico State (link to depth chart)
What stands out: A couple of familiar names appear in the secondary’s two deep. Former UNLV safety Bryce Jackson is listed as a starter opposite sophomore Dylan Early, while former Colorado State cornerback Linwood Crump is expected to provide some depth.
Why that could be important: The strength of the Aggies defense is at linebacker, but they still gave up far too many big plays in 2021 and that is something about which Nevada is almost certainly familiar. Cornerbacks Syrus Dumas and D.J. McCullough combined for five interceptions last season, but the rest of the defense had five interceptions combined. Don’t be shocked if the Wolf Pack try to test the transfer-reinforced secondary early.
Vanderbilt (link to depth chart)
What stands out: Mike Wright, named as the starting quarterback, will have some young wide receivers to throw to after Will Sheppard in sophomore Quincy Skinner and freshman Jayden McGowan.
Why that could be important: The Commodores aren’t wasting time surrounding their new QB1 with the weapons they’ve deemed most reliable, but neither Skinner nor McGowan have caught a pass at the FBS level yet. That’s not to say both can’t step up and contribute as expected — Skinner was previously part of a state championship team at Florida’s St. Thomas Aquinas while McGowan was a track star and deep threat receiver in his home state of South Carolina — but Hawaii’s veteran-laden secondary will get a decent test right away.