College Football Spring Practice: Mountain West Storylines

College Football Spring Practice: Mountain West Storylines

This article is part of our Spring Practice Storylines series.

The Mountain West will offer an intriguing mix of new talent and returning stars in 2024. The most notable change will be the integration of Oregon State and Washington State into the conference schedule, who both reached a scheduling agreement with the conference following the Pac-12's dissolution. 

UNLV Runnin' Rebels

Questions at Quarterback 

UNLV is coming off an impressive 2023 campaign. However, with Jayden Maiva off to USC and Douglas Brumfield retiring, they'll face questions under center this year. Matthew Sluka, a graduate transfer from Holy Cross, is expected to open as the starter after completing 61.9 percent of his passes for 1,728 yards, 20 touchdowns and two interceptions last year. He'll have some weapons to throw to in standout receiver Ricky White, the program's all-time leading receiver, and Jacob De Jesus in the slot, who brought in 60 catches for 606 yards last year.

With Vincent Davis and Donavyn Lester off to the NFL, Jai'Den Thomas will likely serve as the Rebels' lead back after a promising freshman campaign in which he rushed for 503 yards and 12 touchdowns on 108 carries. Michael Allen, a transfer from NC State, could also be in the mix.

 Boise State Broncos

 Ready to defend title with Nelson

After winning the conference last year, the Broncos will turn to former five-star recruit Malachi Nelson under center, who joined Boise State after backing up Caleb Williams and Miller Moss at USC last season. He'll have an intriguing group of receivers to throw to, though one with significant question marks. His top options are transfer Cam Camper, who had 285 yards and a touchdown on 17 receptions with Indiana last year, and Latrell Caples, who missed the entire 2023 season with an injury. They've also brought in Chris Marshall, a four-star recruit and top-ranked JUCO transfer, who logged time at Texas A&M and Ole Miss before he was dismissed for rules violations. 

While Boise State should have an improved passing attack, its top weapon will be returning running back Ashton Jeanty. Jeanty led the conference with 1,347 rushing yards on 220 carries. Jeanty is poised for a huge campaign with George Holani moving on to the NFL.

 Colorado State Rams

 Expecting a step forward from Fowler-Nicolosi 

The Rams are an intriguing team this year, with top receivers Tory HortonJustus Ross-Simmons and Dylan Goffney all returning. Under center is sophomore Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi who showed promise as a freshman, completing 62.1 percent of his passes for 3,460 yards with 22 touchdowns, though he struggled with turnovers, throwing 16 interceptions. A step forward from Fowler-Nicolosi could make CSU title contenders in the Mountain West.

In the backfield, Justin Marshall figures to lead the way after emerging as the starter over Avery Morrow and Vann Schield late in his freshman campaign. However, Kobe Johnson should see some work as well, after missing most of last season with an injury. Johnson played just four games with CSU after averaging 7.4 yards on 129 carries with North Dakota State in 2022.

 Fresno State Bulldogs

Expectations high

Fresno State has a lot of returning starters on offense, notably quarterback Mikey Keene and running backs Malik Sherrod and Elijah Gilliam. Keene was impressive in his first season with the Bulldogs after transferring from UCF, throwing for 2,976 yards and 24 touchdowns before he was slowed by injuries late in the year. Sophomore Jalen Moss figures to be one of Keene's top targets heading into the year. As a true freshman, he broke out with 55 catches for 706 yards and six touchdowns. Senior Mac Dalena is another player likely to see an elevated role following the departures of Erik Brooks and Jaelen Gill. 

 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors

Running it back with Schager

While quarterback Brayden Schager initially entered the transfer portal in December, he ultimately decided to return to Hawaii, where he'll have many of the same weapons to throw to in 2024. Steven McBride led the way with 63 catches for 1,024 yards and nine touchdowns after transferring from Kansas — he should be in for another big year in his final season of eligibility. Pofele Ashlock emerged as a star in the slot, hauling in 83 receptions (fourth-most in the conference) for 832 yards and nine touchdowns. 

While the running game may be an afterthought in Hawaii's air-raid offense, Tylan Hines will likely see the bulk of carries after missing all but four games in 2023 with an ankle injury. He ran for 634 yards on 83 attempts as a freshman the year prior. 

 Nevada Wolfpack

Intrigue at Quarterback

The Wolfpack brought in Chubba Purdy from Nebraska and Anthony Grigsby from the JUCO ranks to compete with incumbent quarterbacks Brendon Lewis and AJ Bianco. Purdy figures to have the inside track to the job --  the former four-star recruit started the final two games of the season for the Cornhuskers, throwing for 358 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Dalevon Campbell will open as Nevada's top weapon on the outside. The senior wideout led the team with 31 receptions for 594 yards and two touchdowns in 2023. Behind Campbell are a pair of interesting transfers, Dariyan Wiley and Cortez Braham. Wiley tallied 400 yards on 24 grabs with UL-Monroe last year, while Braham saw just six targets at West Virginia. However, the Wolfpack's top player on offense figures to be running back Sean Dollars. The junior racked up 604 all-purpose yards with six touchdowns in 11 games last year after transferring from Oregon.

 New Mexico Lobos

More questions than answers 

New Mexico will head into 2024 with a lot of uncertainty on the offensive side under new head coach Bronco Mendenhall. The Lobos currently have four quarterbacks on the depth chart: Devon Dampier, DC Tabscott, Justin Holaday, and Isaiah Chavez, though it's hard to pick out a clear starter. On the plus side, they'll bring back their top wideout from 2023, Caleb Medford. The 6-foot-3 receiver brought in 30 receptions for 550 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman. 

The most intriguing name on New Mexico's roster is running back Eli Sanders. With Jacory Croskey-Merritt leaving for Arizona, Sanders, who was brought in from Iowa State, figures to have a clear role at the top of the depth chart. He averaged 4.7 yards on 102 carries last season with four touchdowns. 

 San Diego State Aztecs

Optimism with Duffy

After an up-and-down 2023 season, the Aztecs will likely turn to Florida State transfer AJ Duffy at quarterback. Duffy, a former four-star recruit, will have a chip on his shoulder after he saw the field sparingly in two seasons with the Seminoles. Duffy's top receiving option is likely to be Colorado State transfer Louis Brown -- the Los Angeles native showcased his big-play potential with the Rams as a sophomore last year, tallying 481 yards on 47 receptions with five touchdowns, highlighted by a 131-yard outburst in Week 2 against Colorado.

At running back, San Diego State will return four players: Jaylon Armstead, Kenan Christon, Lucky Sutton and Cam Davis. While all four will see the field in some capacity, Christon may be the highest upside option due to his prowess in the passing game. 

 San Jose State Spartans

Banking on Butterfield

The Spartans will open the campaign with former Oregon recruit Jay Butterfield under center. Butterfield was the sixth-ranked quarterback in the 2020 class, though he's seen limited action as a backup in his first three seasons. 

Butterfield should have an improved receiving corps to throw to in 2024. Justin Lockhart will return after missing all of the 2023 season with an arm injury. He'll join Nick Nash, who entered the transfer portal before ultimately deciding to return to San Jose. Nash led the Spartans with 728 yards on 48 receptions with eight touchdowns last year. The Spartans also have one of the more talented Tight End rooms in the conference with incoming freshman Jacob Stewart, the number-six recruit at the position, joining incumbent starter Sam Olson

However, there'll be a big void to fill at running back with Kairee Robinson, who had the second-most rushing yards in the conference, and Quali Conley both moving on. Jabari Bates, who ran for 30 yards on 11 carries as a freshman, is currently atop the depth chart.

 Utah State Aggies

Four-Way Battle at Quarterback

The Aggies have a fascinating situation at quarterback heading into the 2024 season. Cooper Legas was the presumed starter following the 2023 campaign, though McCae Hillstead also showed promise as a freshman while filling in while Legas was hurt. However, Utah State also brought in a pair of intriguing transfers, Bryson Barnes from Utah and Spencer Petras, a former starter at Iowa. 

While it remains to be seen who'll open under center, they'll have some proven options to throw to. Jalen Royals burst onto the scene last year, hauling in 71 catches for 1,080 yards and a conference-leading 15 touchdowns. Royals should be in for another big year, while wideouts Micah Davis and Colby Bowman will also return to Logan. The Aggies will also bring back their top three running backs in Davon Booth, Robert Briggs and Rahsul Faison, who combined for 1,961 total rushing yards last season.

 Air Force Falcons

Lots of production to replace

The Falcons succeeded early in 2023, leaning on Emmanuel Michel at running back in their triple-option attack. However, Michel left via the transfer portal this offseason, while John Lee Eldridge entered the draft. With quarterback Zac Larrier also graduating, Air Force will be without its top three rushers from last season. The pressure will likely be on Dylan Carson and Owen Burk to make up much of that production.

Sophomore John Busha figures to open the season under center. Busha made one start year while Larrier was hurt, completing just eight of 17 pass attempts for 131 yards with an interception. 

  Wyoming Cowboys

Looking to improve passing game

The Cowboys will likely audition a few different quarterbacks in camp after Andrew Peasley entered the draft, though Sophomore Evan Svoboda is the favorite to land the job. The 6-foot-5 Svoboda completed 20-of-38 passes for 200 yards with an interception in limited action last year. 

The receiving room will be a major question mark for Wyoming in 2024. Senior Alex Brown currently sits atop the depth chart after recording 17 catches for 208 yards across his first three seasons. The Cowboys also brought in a couple of transfers in Tyler King from Texas Tech and Devin Boddie from Vanderbilt and a three-star recruit in Chris Durr Jr. It figures to be a run-heavy offense in Laramie again next season -- Harrison Waylee will return after rushing for 947 yards and five touchdowns after transferring from Northern Illinois. 

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Sam Klein
NHL, MLB and CFB contributor at RotoWire. Previously covered MILB for Metsmerized Online and
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