Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen did not mince words when asked about the quality of the quarterbacks in the Mountain West.
“I think we might have as good or better quarterbacks in this league than any league in the country,” said Christensen.
With that said how do the quarterbacks stack up in the conference?
3 to Lead
1. Derek Carr, SR. Fresno State
Blazing his own path with the Bulldogs the younger Carr brother lit up the league last year. He recorded a 37-to-7 touchdown to interception ratio to go along with 4,104 passing yards.
Head coach Tim DeRuyter, heading into his second season at Fresno, knows he has a gem, “He proved a year ago not only does he have the natural skills, arm strength, he has the intangibles, leadership, toughness, play making ability.”
Carr returned for his senior season because he has one goal, “I want to go out and be the best quarterback in the nation…”
All of Carr’s weapons on the perimeter return meaning the quarterback will be in position to win back to back offensive player of the year honors.
2. David Fales, SR. San Jose State
Fales burst onto the scene last season in his first year as a Football Subdivision starter. He completed a FBS best 72.5 percent of his passes while throwing for 4,193 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Ron Caragher takes over as head coach for Mike MacIntyre who left for the University of Colorado. That should not slow down Fales who lead the Spartans to an 11-2 record and a bowl victory last season.
With two seniors Noel Grigsby and Chandler Jones on the outside Fales should continue to build on his early NFL draft hype, as some pundits feel Fales could be a 2nd to 3rd round selection.
3. Cody Fajardo JR. Nevada
The best athlete at the quarterback position in the conference, Fajardo passed for 2,786 yards and rushed for 1,121 yards last season.
In the famous pistol offense developed by Chris Ault, Fajardo is Colin Kaepernick lite. Kaepernick grew his skills at Nevada and Fajardo is trekking along the same path.
Even with the loss of running back Stefphon Jefferson who racked up over 1,800 yards last year the Wolf Pack offense should not skip a beat thanks to the solid 20-to-9 touchdown to interception ratio Fajardo posted last season.
A Play Away
4. Brett Smith, JR. Wyoming
Smith was hit with the injury bug last season after a sensational freshman year. Smith still posted strong numbers in 10 games throwing for 2,837 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Dave Christensen will be calling the plays for the offense and will be looking to push the tempo and exploit secondary’s throughout the league. Smith was 11th in the nation in yards per attempt last year at 8.6.
With upperclassmen atop the depth chart at wide receiver Smith, an underrated athlete, should make everyone forget his injury riddled sophomore campaign.
5. Chuckie Keeton, JR. Utah State
Utah State and San Jose State will face an upgrade in overall conference competition being first year Mountain West members, but these two squads have quarterbacks that will ease the transition.
Keeton passed for 3,373 yards last season, rushed for 619 and accounted for 35 total touchdowns. Solid can describe his frame and his game.
The Aggies won 11 games thanks to Keeton leading the nations 26th best scoring offense at 34.9 ppg.
Keeton will have to show how a good quarterback can make his weapons better. Senior Travis Reynolds is the top returning receiver and he only caught 25 passes for 244 yards last year.
With all five offensive lineman returning, Keeton will get the time needed to find his options down field and has the legs to create.
6. Joe Southwick SR. Boise State
Southwick might not get the recognition that some of the Broncos quarterbacks of the past have, Kellen Moore immediately comes to mind, but Southwick has led a solid offense.
After recording their lowest scoring output since 1998, 30.2 ppg, the Broncos will look to put their foot on the gas pedal and open up the play book.
The beneficiary of that should be Southwick, steady under center, he posted a 66.8 percent completion rate with a 19-to-7 TD to INT ratio last year.
7. Adam Dingwell, JR. San Diego State
Dingwell helped save the Aztecs season last year coming in for an injured Ryan Katz and leading the team to a share of the conference title and a bowl game.
In a Rocky Long offense Dingwell won’t be asked to set the world on fire with his arm but he will need to be effective off the play action and make defenses respect their passing game. In six games last year he threw for 939 yards, 8 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
Dingwell only had 12 plays over 20 yards last season. His next step will be connecting on the big plays that can help the Aztecs stay ahead.
8. Nick Sherry, SO. UNLV
Sherry sneaks onto the back-end due to the fact he is the last quarterback on the list that is guaranteed a starting job barring an injury. At 6’5” 240 pounds he has all the prototypical tools you want in a pocket passer, size and arm strength.
Despite a 16-to-17 touchdown to interception ratio, Sherry passed for an impressive 2,544 yards as a freshman. The Rebels relied a lot on tailback Tim Cornett who returns and brings a 1,232 yard rushing season with him.
As Sherry’s growth continues the Rebels balance on offense should allow junior receivers Devante Davis and Marcus Sullivan to produce solid numbers.
As always a sophomore slump looms. With any young quarterbacks mistakes have to be limited and they can’t be afraid to let it go even if a few passes go awry.
Two is a Crowd
9. Garrett Grayson JR. and Conner Smith SO. Colorado State
Grayson figures to be the leader in the club house for the Rams as he started their first five games last season before a broken collarbone cut his season short. In those five games Grayson completed 78 of 136 passes for 946 yards.
In four starts Conner Smith completed 80 of 126 passes for 1,022 yards. Very similar numbers with a slight edge in completion percentage to Smith.
Head coach Jim McElwain has two quarterbacks with experience. His job will be to pick signal caller who can improve on their 84th ranked passing offense.
10. Taylor Graham JR. and Sean Schroder SR. Hawaii
Graham is a transfer from Ohio State with a pocket passers body, 6’5” 235 pounds. He will head into camp with a shot to take the starting job from Schroder who started 11 games for the Warriors last season.
The Warriors finished 98th in the nation at 188.8 yards per game passing last year. That is why despite the experience Schroder is no shoe in to start. Schroder passed for 1,889 yards with 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Norm Chow not only needs the passing yards to increase but also their point total. The Warriors averaged 21.2 ppg.
11-A. Kale Pearson JR. and Jaleel Awini SO. Air Force
When talking about the Falcons you are not talking about who can air it out. It is about which quarterback can make the right decisions in executing the option offense.
Scouting reports on Pearson and Awini present two very different choices.
Pearson is a 5’9” speedster and Awini is a 6’2” pocket passer.
Troy Calhoun has an interesting fall camp ahead. Does he stick with the speedster who can run their option offense or will the passer show him enough to modify the playbook?
11-B. Cole Gautsche SO. and Clayton Mitchem JR. New Mexico
How are the inexperienced Falcon signal callers tied with the Lobos? Only Army completed less passes, 51, then the 79 the Lobos did last season.
There is no doubt that Gautsche can play division one football. He showed toughness and athletic ability racking up 760 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground as he helped the Lobos finish 5th in the nation in rushing offense.
The lefty will need to show improvement throwing for an offense that wants to take the next step. Gautsche only attempted 31 passes last season but it was evident that it was the part of his game that needed the most work.
Mitchem is a junior college transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. He showed duel threat ability throwing for 2,435 yards and rushing for 728 yards last year.
Second year head coach Bob Davie will have a camp battle on his hands if Mitchem is able to pick up the offense quickly and bring the passing aspect to an offense that all but showed none last season.