Junior safety Weston Steelhammer. Better name out there? Nope. Skills to back it up? Yep. He had six interceptions last season (three against Boise State) in addition to three sacks, a safety, two fumble recoveries and 61 tackles.
Junior wide receiver Rashard Higgins was dynamite last season, leading the nation with 1,750 yards on 96 catches while scoring 17 touchdowns. Other than one catch for 16 yards against Colorado in the opener, he had at least five catches and 98 yards in every game.
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Senior running back Marteze Waller was excellent in his first season as a starter, rushing 225 times for 1,368 yards and 11 touchdowns while adding 27 receptions. With the Bulldogs breaking in a new QB, they’ll rely on Waller even more.
Senior QB Max Wittek (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) is the sort of strong-armed passer who could thrive in coach Norm Chow’s pro-style system. He was 50-of-95 for 600 yards with three TDs to six INTs in 2012 and 2013 at USC. “We need each other equally as bad — he needs a quarterback like myself, that style, and I need a coach like him,” Wittek said.
Senior defensive end Ian Seau has the talent to match his famous name (his uncle is the late Junior Seau). He led the Wolf Pack with 8.5 sacks last season. He loses the gloriously maned Brock Hekking on the other side, but Nevada has depth, which should mean another solid season for Seau.
Junior linebacker Dakota Cox was leading the nation with 12.9 tackles per game when he tore an ACL on Nov. 8 against Boise State. He’s racked up 215 tackles in his two seasons and was the first true sophomore in coach Bob Davie’s career to be named a team captain.
San Diego State
Junior running back Donnel Pumphrey (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) is small and speedy, but he’s a workhorse, too. He rushed 276 times for a school-record 1,867 yards with 20 TDs as a sophomore, going for 85 yards or more in every game. The most proven player on the offense, he will get many more chances to repeat 2014.
San Jose State
Senior running back Tyler Ervin packs a lot of punch into his 5-foot-10, 177-pound frame. Last season, Ervin ran for 888 yards (5.6 yards per carry), had 306 receiving yards and had a punt return TD.
Sophomore receiver Devonte Boyd is a potential next-level talent coming off a debut season in which he had 68 catches for 980 yards, leading all freshmen nationally in receiving yardage and earning Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors.
He has played only nine games the last two seasons, but senior QB Chuckie Keeton will be the league’s most watched player. Coming off consecutive torn ACLs, can he still be the same type of QB he once was? His career 58-to-17 TD-to-INT ratio and 1,234 rushing yards show what can be, or what could’ve been.
Senior defensive end Eddie Yarbrough (6-foot-3, 251 pounds) is the Cowboys’ renaissance man, playing the ukulele at media days, and also the defense’s anchor. He had four sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss last season and could be moved around more to utilize his skills.