LAS VEGAS — The Mountain West appears set for a return to its roots in 2013 with one of the nation's strongest collections of quarterbacks, including six returning starters who combined to throw 163 touchdown passes last season.
"The gunslingers are back," San Diego State defensive back Nat Berhe said. "... It does wonders for the league. People start to notice."
People like the media members collected at the Cosmopolitan resort this week for Mountain West media days.
Of the 24 players representing 12 teams who converged here, seven are quarterbacks. Last year, there were only two high-round NFL Draft picks.
Wyoming's Brett Smith, Utah State's Chuckie Keeton and Nevada's Cody Fajardo are among the nation's most dynamic dual threats.
And then there are the sleepers - Boise State's Joe Southwick, whose experience and supporting cast position him for a big finish to his career; and Hawaii's Taylor Graham, an Ohio State transfer who has not played in a college football game but was chosen as one of the Warriors' representatives here.
"I'm such a competitive person by nature - it's going to bring out the best in all of us," Southwick said. "(Quarterback play) is going to determine a lot of these football games."
It also could generate some national attention for a conference that fell off the radar last season. The new TV deal with ESPN will expose more viewers to players like Carr and Fales.
And the depth at the position should create some thrilling finishes.
"There's some really talented guys," Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter said. "Any time you've got returning starters at quarterback, you've got a chance every week. I think it's going to bode well for the conference. The only bad thing is I don't know if anybody is going to make it through this conference unscathed."
Even the league's defenders find the quarterback play enticing.
More passing means more chances to make an impact. And doing it against elite players will get them noticed, too.
"Every team has a quarterback who brings a different challenge," Wyoming defensive back Marqueston Huff said. "It's arms and legs. ... I love challenges. I hate being on the field and not being challenged."
Carr is considered the Mountain West's top passer. He set a conference record with 4,104 passing yards and tossed 37 touchdown passes last season while playing through a painful sports hernia. The injury, which brought him to his knees when he sneezed, limited his mobility.
He underwent surgery in January and surprised some in his own family by opting to complete his college career rather than head for the NFL.
The Bulldogs shared the Mountain West title with Boise State and San Diego State last year. They return 15 starters and led the conference with seven players on the preseason all-conference team.
"He knew this year we have a chance to have a special year, and he wants to be the leader for it," DeRuyter said. "And I think he realizes this is one more year for his development, and in his long-term future it's going to help him. I think it's a great decision for him, and as the head coach, hell yeah, I'm really excited he decided that."
Fresno State led the Mountain West with 37.9 points per game last season. DeRuyter, who is in his second year, expects a faster pace this season and hopes Carr will cut down on his sacks (29).
Boise State sacked him three times to win 20-10 last year in Boise.
"We had a great offense, we did," Carr said. "We need to handle the blitz better. In the Boise game, they brought a lot of pressure. They thought if they got pressure on me, they could disrupt me. And in a sense, you can. You disrupt timing. ... I'm going to work my tail off to try to be the best I can at whatever I need to do to get better.
"... I don't just want to be the best in our conference. I want to be the best in the nation. That's my competitive drive. It will never change, no matter how many people tell me I'm crazy."
His top competition in the Mountain West might be Fales, who also is one of the least known because the Spartans are transitioning from the WAC.
Fales, who originally attended Nevada, made the most of his first starting opportunity. He tossed 24 touchdown passes in the final eight games last season, including at least two in each contest.
He said the resulting media attention is cool for his family but means little to him.
"I've got to stay focused," he said. "If you're not winning, performing, it's going to go the other way."
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398,Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat