The case for the Mountain West player of the year is likely to be a pretty disputed topic all season long. There are some great players in the Mountain West this year, especially the quarterbacks, and many other talented returning players to make their claim as the best in the Mountain West. I’ve picked out a handful of guys who I think could be legitimate contenders to hold this honor. Some of the picks might be pretty obvious choices and other picks might be a stretch of the imagination but not completely out of the realm of possibility if their respective team catches fire.

Candidate #1: Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr
What he brings to the table:
Derek Carr brings a lot to the table in terms of talent. Carr was the Mountain West player of the year in 2012 and right now, on paper, it appears that he’s poised to do that again. Carr is the top pro prospect in the Mountain West this year, followed closely by another member of this list. Last season Carr threw for 4104 yards, 37 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. The Bulldogs finished 9-4, 7-1 in the Mountain West. Carr had a great supporting cast around him with running back Robbie Rouse and wide receiver Davante Adams. Adams caught 14 of Carr’s 37 touchdown passes. Can those two keep their connection going and continue to pile up numbers in the Mountain West? Can the Bulldogs replace the productivity of Rouse? All of those things need to fall into place for Carr to land himself at the top of the Mountain West again.
Chances of being MW POTY: Very high

Candidate #2: San Jose State quarterback David Fales
What he brings to the table:
David Fales is coming off a record setting season at San Jose State. He led the Spartans to their first top 25 ranking since 1990 and led the Spartans to a Military Bowl win vs. Bowling Green and was named the game’s most valuable player. What a difference one player can make for a team. Fales passed for 4193 yards and was the FBS leader in passing efficiency. In terms of being NFL ready Fales might be the 2nd best MW prospect behind Carr. Fales is getting his favorite target back from last year, Noel Grigsby. He caught 1300 yards worth of passes from Fales last year. The Spartans will have to replace a 1000 yard rusher from last season, as well as their entire coaching staff. Can Fales recover from this in his senior season to lead the Spartans to the top of the MW?
Chances of being MW POTY: Very High

Candidate #3: New Mexico running back Kasey Carrier
What he brings to the table: Kasey Carrier was one of the few brights spots for the New Mexico offense last year. Carrier carried the ball for the Lobos to the tune of 1469 yards and 15 touchdowns. The Lobos were the 5th best rushing attack in the nation last year, but ranked 123rd in passing offense in Bob Davey’s new offense. Carrier looks like he could get a lot of carries again this year in the run first offense. Last year he averaged 5.8 yards per carry compared to the 3.6 yards per carry his sophomore year.  He’ll be looking for a big senior season but the Lobos look like they could be a pretty poor team once again. Sophomore quarterback Cole Gautsche will be leading the Lobos offense. He wasn’t too shabby himself rushing for 760 yards in the Lobo attack. Will Carrier lead the Lobos to a more successful season? Can Bob Davey’s offense survive in a pass oriented Mountain West?
Chances of being MW POTY: Low

Candidate #4: Air Force quarterback Kale Pearson
What he brings to the table: Kale Pearson will be entering the 2013 season as the new Falcons quarterback  replacing the graduated Connor Dietz. Pearson only appeared in a handful of games last year for the Falcons, his biggest play of the season came against Wyoming where he scored the go-ahead touchdown coming in relief for Dietz for one play. Given the quarterback driven rushing offense that Air Force employs Pearson figures to be a big part of the Falcons triple option attack. The Falcons are picked to finish 3rd in the Mountain division of the MW this season and you have to think that Pearson will be a big part of that. How big? Unknown, the Falcons always find a way to rush the football and those may dilute the productivity that Pearson will have this year.
Chances of being MW POTY: Low

Candidate #5: Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo
What he brings to the table: Junior quarterback Cody Fajardo is quickly making people in Reno forget about a guy named Colin Kaepernick. Fajardo had a very successful sophomore campaign throwing for 2786 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for 1121 yards and 12 touchdowns. To say that he’s the heart of the Nevada offense would be an understatement. The Wolfpack are replacing a coaching legend in Chris Ault. What’s in store for the Nevada offense? For Fajardo’s sake we can hope that the pistol doesn’t disappear completely as he’s one of the better dual threat quarterbacks in the country. Fajardo gets his favorite target back, Brandon Wimberly, but is losing a near 2000 yard rusher in Stefphon Jefferson. The Wolfpack have a lot of changes coming, can Fajardo adjust to them and have a successful junior season?
Chances of being MW POTY: It’s possible!

Candidate #6: UNLV running back Tim Cornett
What he brings to the table: UNLV tailback Tim Cornett is a hard running back who ranks high on Bobby Hauck’s list. Hauck said he could leave UNLV as the best running back in Rebel history. Last year Cornett ran for 1232 yards and 7 touchdowns leading the way for a pretty awful UNLV offense. This year the Rebels look to be a year more mature, but coach Bobby Hauck may be sitting on a chair made of fire. Nick Sherry is looking to improve on a solid freshman year and as he matures it should help Cornett do what he does best. The Rebels don’t have an easy schedule this year but I expect Cornett to run for 1200 yards and about 10 touchdowns.
Chances of being MW POTY: Low

Candidate #7: Hawaii wide receiver Billy Ray Stutzmann
What he brings to the table: Stutzmann returns to the Warriors (now Rainbow Warriors) as the leading receiver. He will have a new signal caller throwing him passes this year. Transfer quarterback Taylor Graham is coming over from Ohio State after sitting out for a year. He will replace senior quarterback Sean Schroeder. Stutzmann caught 35 passes last year for 447 yards and no touchdowns. In all fairness, 2nd leading receiver Scott Harding only had two TD grabs. The Warriors were not a good offensive team last year, ranking 101 in passing and 114 in rushing. This year they should improve in Norm Chow’s second season at the helm of the ‘bows. I think we can expect an improvement in Stutzmann’s numbers this year, but with Graham being an unknown quantity it’s hard to tell what exactly we’re going to get out of him.
Chances of being MW POTY: Very low

Candidate #8: San Diego State running back Adam Muema
What he brings to the table: Adam Muema had a terrific year for the Aztecs in 2012, his first year as the starting running back. Muema rushed for 1458 yards and 16 touchdowns while the Aztecs ran to a 9-4 record. Muema looks to build on that for his junior campaign. He went absolutely ham versus Wyoming last year going for 255 yards on 26 carries against a pretty terrible Cowboy defense. He also had a 200 yard rushing effort against San Jose State. Muema has a good starting quarterback returning in Adam Dingwell but they lose second leading rusher Walter Kazee and their two leading receivers from last year. Can Rocky Long turn this team into a Mountain West contender again with that many holes to fill?
Chances of being MW POTY: Moderate

Candidate #9: Boise State wide receiver Matt Miller
What he brings to the table: Matt Miller leads a talented group of players at Boise State. Miller finished as the Broncos leading receiver last year with 769 yards and 5 touchdowns. Miller’s numbers don’t look that impressive on paper, however, with the number of weapons that Boise State has it’s easy to get lost in who’s the most productive player on that team. Miller turned in his best receiving performance vs Nevada by hauling in 7 passes for 127 yards and a score. The Boise offense looks to be pretty balanced this year with the return of running back Jay Ajayi and Joe Southwick at quarterback, as well as wide receiver Kirby Moore. The Broncos were picked to win the Mountain division of the Mountain West this year and Miller figures to be a big part of that. I would expect his numbers to go up this season as Southwick settles into the offense a little more and gets better acquainted with his receivers. Miller could very easily reach 1000 yards receiving with 10 touchdowns.
Chances of being MW POTY: Moderate

Candidate #10: Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith
What he brings to the table: Brett Smith had a very productive sophomore season for Wyoming despite being out injured for two games during the course of the season after a late hit out of bounds vs Toledo. Smith posted four 300 yard games including a career high vs. UNLV where he threw for 412 yards and three touchdowns. Smith is the clear leader of the Wyoming offense and returns his favorite receiver Robert Herron. Smith threw for 2832 yards and 27 touchdowns while only throwing 6 interceptions. Smith has gone more than 170 pass attempts without throwing an interception. For the Cowboys, and Smith, to have a successful season the Cowboy rushing attack needs to improve on its 102nd ranking from last season. Can Smith effectively run the football this year without running for his life behind a porous offensive line?
Chances of being MW POTY: It’s possible!

Candidate #11: Colorado State running back Chris Nwoke
What he brings to the table:
Chris Nwoke had a pretty disappointing 2012 season after sitting out a pair of games with injuries sustained in the opener versus Colorado. Nwoke had a terrific sophomore season rushing for 1130 yards and 9 touchdowns. In an injury plagued junior season he only rushed for 570 yards and 2 touchdowns. Nwoke figures to greatly improve upon that number assuming he can stay healthy, but he’ll be pushed by sophomore back Donnell Alexander who was the team’s leading rusher last year when Nwoke went down. The Ram offense sputtered a lot last year under first year head coach Jim McElwain. The Rams will enter fall camp with a quarterback battle brewing between Garrett Grayson and Connor Smith, as well as Nwoke fighting for a starting position. With this much unsettled in Fort Collins it’s hard to predict what kind of season that Nwoke is going to have, but I would assume that his senior year at Colorado State will be much better than his junior season. I would think he could reach 1000 yards if he remains healthy and greatly help the Ram offense.
Chances of being MW POTY: Low

Candidate #12: Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton
What he brings to the table: Chuckie Keeton is a newcomer to the Mountain West this year and he will have a new head coach coming into the 2013 season. Keeton was terrific for the Aggies in 2012 throwing for 3373 yards and 27 touchdowns and rushing for 619 yards and another 8 touchdowns. Keeton is the heart and soul of the Aggie offense. He posted a 404 yard effort against UNLV with 4 touchdowns and only one turnover in a pasting of the Rebels. The Aggies will have to replace top rusher Kerwynn Williams and leading receiver Matt Austin. Along with replacing a coaching staff the Aggies could have a difficult transition into the Mountain West and they’ll have to be on top of their game as they open at Utah and Air Force on the road then face USC on the road two weeks later. A more than challenging schedule for this Aggie team.
Chances of being MW POTY: It’s possible!

Where do I think the contenders will finish?
Derek Carr, Fresno State
David Fales, San Jose State
Brett Smith, Wyoming
Cody Fajardo, Nevada
Chuckie Keeton, Utah State