Mountain West: Players to watch

August 25, 2013 

DEREK CARR, FRESNO ST.

The reigning Mountain West player of the year threw for a league-record 4,104 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2012. This is the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder's last chance to lead the Bulldogs past Boise State and to an outright conference title. "I don't just want to be the best in our conference, I want to be the best in the nation," he said. "That's my competitive drive. It will never change, no matter how many people tell me I'm crazy." Carr will get plenty of help from 6-foot-2 sophomore wide receiver Davante Adams, who had 102 catches for 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman.

• Keep an eye on: Overshadowed by Carr and the offense is safety Derron Smith, who had six interceptions in 2012 and could have a bigger impact this year.

DAVID FALES, SAN JOSE ST.

Last year's breakout season - 4,193 yards, 33 touchdowns, 72.5 completion percentage - surprised many. His stock only rose in the offseason. "I've got to stay focused," he said. "If you're not winning, performing, it's going to go the other way." WR Noel Grigsby (82 catches, 1,307 yards, 9 TDs) is back as his primary target. He is the school's all-time leader in catches (227) and yards (3,015), and second among active FBS players in both stats.

• Keep an eye on: Utah State RB Joe Hill could be the breakout performer this year. "We've had three backs drafted in the last two year. Is Joe Hill the next? Time will tell," Utah State coach Matt Wells said. "I like his talent. I think his skill set is really good. He's got speed. He's got home run speed is what he's got."

CHUCKIE KEETON, UTAH ST.

Carr and Fales move their teams with their arms. What makes Keeton (3,992 yards of total offense), Wyoming's Brett Smith (3,085 in nine-plus games) and Nevada's Cody Fajardo (3,907) so dangerous is they can beat teams with their legs, too. New Mexico's Cole Gautsche averaged 7.0 yards a carry in the Lobos' option. "Every team has a quarterback who brings a different challenge," Wyoming defensive back Marqueston Huff said.

• Keep an eye on: It's not just quarterbacks who can run in this league. New Mexico's Kasey Carrier rushed for a school-record 1,469 yards last year. San Diego State's Adam Muema had 1,458 yards and 16 touchdowns. And Air Force, which averaged 316 yards per game on the ground, always runs well.

BROCK HEKKING, NEVADA

Hekking, who sports a Brian Bosworth-style dyed-blond mullet, had eight sacks and 10 tackles for loss last season. The new coaching staff is expecting more from a player with off-the-charts athleticism. If Hekking doesn't lead the league in sacks, it'll likely be Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence, who led the league in sacks last year and forced four fumbles. He could well be the league's top defender.

• Keep an eye on: QBs better watch out for Fresno State's L.J. Jones and San Diego State's Nat Berhe. Jones had 13 pass breakups last season. Berhe had 94 tackles. "The gunslingers are back," Berhe said. "It does wonders for the league. People start to notice." That means people will notice the defenders that can stop them, too. That is, if anyone does.

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