It will be a sad day when the name Weston Steelhammer won’t be announced on Saturdays, not that Mountain West foes will mind. The senior safety led the Falcons with 80 tackles and five interceptions in 2015, adding 10.5 tackles for loss. He has 11 career interceptions, six shy of the school record.
The Rams don’t have a ton of starters back on defense, but they return perhaps their best one in senior linebacker Kevin Davis. His 101 tackles and 14 for losses led the team last season. A hockey player growing up, he still carries some of that attitude as a hard hitter.
As the Bulldogs cycled through four starting quarterbacks last season, they had no consistency in the pass game, though receiver Jamire Jordan was a bright spot as a redshirt freshman. Jordan had a team-best 46 catches for 540 yards and five TDs.
Though the Warriors started three quarterbacks, running back Paul Harris was a consistent force on an offense that otherwise struggled. He rushed 197 times for 1,132 yards and finished his junior year strong, averaging 165.3 yards per game in Hawaii’s last four games.
Last season, running back James Butler was a 5-foot-9, 210-pound sophomore who racked up 1,342 yards on 207 carries, scoring 10 TDs. Not bad for a guy who didn’t start all season and had 98 yards the first two games. Don Jackson (1,081 yards) graduated: now it’s Butler’s show.
The first three-time captain in Lobos history, senior linebacker Dakota Cox has been incredibly productive, posting 99, 116 and 97 tackles in his three seasons. If he performs at his career average, he should crack the UNM career top five, right behind the great Brian Urlacher (fourth with 442).
San Diego State
The reigning conference Offensive Player of the Year, senior running back Donnel Pumphrey should shatter plenty of records this year. He has 4,272 career rushing yards, 317 shy of Marshall Faulk’s school record and 701 shy of DonTrell Moore’s Mountain West record.
San Jose State
A starter in 10 games last season, senior quarterback Kenny Potter was a needed spark. He completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 1,984 yards with 15 TDs to seven interceptions. He was the team’s No. 2 rusher with 415 yards and seven TDs on the ground.
A top-notch deep threat, junior receiver Devonte Boyd led the team with 904 receiving yards as a sophomore. His 1,884 career yards are the most for a Rebel in his first two seasons. Only two other UNLV players have more than one 900-yard season.
Forced to burn his redshirt two years ago, then toyed with changing positions last spring, junior quarterback Kent Myers is finally set as the starter. In 16 games, he’s completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 2,459 yards with 21 TDs and six interceptions plus 666 rushing yards.
Even as opponents knew the Cowboys were built to run, running back Brian Hill was a workhorse. Last season as a sophomore, he ran 281 times for 1,631 yards and six TDs. He’s 536 yards shy of tying Wyoming’s career rushing record (2,963).
Preseason players of the year
▪ Offense: Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State
▪ Defense: Damontae Kazee, DB, San Diego State
▪ Special teams: Rashaad Penny, KR, San Diego State