Air Force — Payton Zdroik, NG
A wealth of Falcons got in on the action during last week’s romp over Northern Iowa, so Zdroik getting the starting nod at a spot occupied by the mammoth Mosese Fifita not too long ago got overlooked in all of the highlights. Where Fifita was the rare Air Force cadet listed at over 300 pounds, Zdroik is listed at six feet and 265 pounds and made two tackles in the season opener.
According to Pro Football Focus, Zdroik played 24 total snaps against UNI and had the second-best grade of any interior lineman in the Mountain West, so he’ll be worth keeping an eye on against Colorado, as well.
UNLV — Preston Nichols, G
We already knew that Nichols was one of the FCS level’s best interior linemen in 2021 at Charleston Southern, but we didn’t know how that would translate to the desert. One week in, though, it looks like the Charlotte native had little trouble picking up where he left off last season, posting a PFF overall grade of 77.9, best among the conference’s guards, in the Week 0 victory over Idaho State. If he keeps that up, he could end up being one of the conference’s biggest transfer portal steals.
San Jose State — Anthony Pardue, C
We highlighted left tackle Fernando Carmona Jr. in last week’s depth chart rundown and Pardue, who started three games for the Spartans last year, is in much the same position as a new full-time starter. He was rock solid against Portland State in SJSU’s season opener, posting an overall PFF grade of 60.6 in 64 total snaps against the Viks, though this week’s contest against the Auburn Tigers — against nose tackle Jayson Jones, in particular — will be a much more difficult draw.
Hawaii — Jalen Walthall, WR
It came as a late-breaking surprise when Zion Bowens missed last week’s game against Western Kentucky with injury, but it provided the true freshman Walthall with an opportunity to build on his season debut against Vanderbilt. Through two games, the Houston native has eight catches for 114 yards on 12 targets, so it seems likely he’ll continue to be a focal point of the passing game for the foreseeable future.
Fresno State — Gavriel Lightfoot, DT
The Bulldogs came into the year stacked with veteran stars on both sides of the ball, which made the true freshman Lightfoot stand out on the defensive line. His first action against Cal Poly came with a fair bit of success as he picked up his first career sack, so while things get tougher in the next couple weeks against Oregon State and USC, head coach Jeff Tedford and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle clearly believe they’ve found something in Lightfoot that fits right in with peers like Devo Bridges and Leonard Payne Jr.