The best players in the Mountain West according to 10 preseason All-MW teams – Cache Valley Daily

LEFT – Utah State wide receiver Terrell Vaughn runs with the ball in a game against Air Force; MIDDLE – Boise State running back George Holani (24) runs with the ball against Utah State (AP Photo/Steve Conner); RIGHT – San Jose State quarterback Chevan Cordeiro (2) runs with the ball in the first half of the Idaho Potato Bowl (AP Photo/Steve Conner)

Preseason lists are loads of fun. Everybody does one and everybody reads them (or at least skims them). All-conference teams are often stage one of the media ramping up to the start of the seasons (watch list season, which has just arrived, is stage two).

With everyone making their own lists, it’s worth collating all of the teams to find out which players are really considered the best in the Mountain West prior to the 2023 season. Now, this isn’t just re-purposing the preseason all-conference teams into voters for a new all-conference team (but that will happen later). It’s a study to see how often each player showed up on these teams and seeing which players are universally seen as the best and which players are a bit more polarizing.

There are four tiers in this study and a section for honorable mentions (so five tiers if you want to be pedantic) with 30 players across these tiers. It’s these 30 players that you’ll likely want to be paying attention to come this fall.

As a final note of housekeeping, not all of the 10 all-conference teams referenced for this article published the same amount of teams, i.e. some had just a first-team while other went as far as having four teams of players. In an attempt to even things out a bit, only first and second teams were included in data gathering. It’s a subjective choice, but present to make it so Phil Steele, Athon and others weren’t too influential in where some of the lower-tier players land.

Tier 1

The undisputed best at their position

There are a handful of players each season that everyone expects to be the best. No doubts are laid forth. Only the highest of expectations. Each of these players were picked as first-team selections on every all-conference team put out so far this summer.

George Holani (RB) – Boise State

Holani is already a two-time 1,000-yard rusher and also two-time second team All-MW selection. This year he’s the undisputed top back especially since seven of the top 10 Mountain West running backs by rushing yards graduated or transferred. But don’t let a lack of returners detract from Holani since he stood his ground against the best from last year’s group too. He finished third in rushing yards in the conference despite having as many as 30 fewer carries than the other backs in the top four.

Mohamed Kamara (DL) – Colorado State

Last year Kamara was only narrowly out-performed for a spot on the first team All-MW. His stat line reflected his formidable presence on the defensive front – 16.0 TFLs, 8.5 sacks. He’s by far the most productive returning edge rusher in the Mountain West and will continue to harass opposing QB’s this year.

Tory Horton (WR) – Colorado State

Colorado State wide receiver Tory Horton (14) eludes three San Jose State defenders on his way to a touchdown reception during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)

Being a first-team selection at wide receiver on last year’s end-of-year all-conference team, it’s a no-brainer for Horton to be picked for the same in the preseason. He led the conference in both receptions (71) and yards (1,131) and was second in TDs (eight) with a sophomore QB who also didn’t start the whole season. There’s no reason Horton can’t pull an encore and everybody seems to agree with that sentiment.

Fun fact, Horton poked his way into this study in two different ways. Mainly as a receiver but also as a punt returner. Though not every all-conference list picked a PR for their team and he wasn’t as universally picked as a returner as he was a WR.

Cade Bennett (OL) – San Diego State

After transferring from Oklahoma State prior to the 2022 season, Bennett never looked back. He made second team All-Mountain West last year as just a sophomore, the only non senior/junior O-lineman to make All-MW. He’ll be a rock on the interior O-line for the Aztecs.

Jack Browning (P) – San Diego State

Browning is easily one of the best punters in college football, much less the Mountain West. There are other good punters in the conference, like New Mexico’s Aaron Rodriguez and even Utah State’s Stephen Kotsanlee, but there’s really only one man at the top. His 46.1 yards per punt — which ranked 10th in the country — was nearly a full two yards ahead of second place (Rodriguez’s 44.2).

Tier 2

Near consensus first team, but not quite

Some of the players in this tier are quite comparable to those in Tier 1, but perhaps were simply victims of the fickle nature of preseason lists. Not everybody agrees with the consensus and it takes a truly special player to make everyone agree. Multiple players on this list were first team selections in all but one preseason team. Consider it fuel to the fire for these players. They’ll need something to fuel their 2023 season given they don’t have all that much to prove about themselves.

Boise State linebacker DJ Schramm (52) closes in on New Mexico running back Bobby Wooden (4) on a run during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Boise, Idaho. Boise State won 37-0. (AP Photo/Steve Conner)

DJ Schramm (LB) – Boise State

Schramm finished fourth in the Mountain West in total tackles last year (107) and is third among returning players. He was also tied for 12th in tackles for loss (11.5). Last year served as Schramm’s breakout season as it was the first where he had more than 24 tackles. He was already among the best last year so it makes sense to put him among the best to start 2023.

Cade Beresford (OL) – Boise State

As a second-team selection at the end of last season, and with all of last year’s first-team selections graduating, Beresford is an easy choice for preseason first team. He’ll anchor the right side of Boise State’s O-line as the right tackle.

Jack Howell (DB) – Colorado State

Howell made a big jump from 2021 to 2022 by going from a decently productive defensive back to an all-around DB. He was third in the conference in tackles while also recording three interceptions, three pass break-ups and a forced fumble. He was one of the most productive defensive backs in the conference, carrying a heavy load for a defense that was very up-and-down last year.

Cody Moon (LB) – San Diego State

Moon spent his last three seasons at New Mexico, actually making the transition from defensive tackle to linebacker in his time there. In 2022, Moon had his breakout, recording 105 tackles, 9.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks. He’s an all-around linebacker and tackling machine that SDSU will be all the better for having in its front seven.

John Hoyland (K) – Wyoming

Last year Hoyland was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, making 22 of 25 field goal attempts and hitting four 50-plus yard field goals. This year he’s Athlon’s preseason second team All-American kicker. Hoyland really should be in tier one, but a single preseason list opted for someone else and so the best kicker in the Mountain West comes up shy of undisputed.

Easton Gibbs (LB) – Wyoming

With 121 tackles last year, Gibbs ranked 16th in the nation and second in the conference. Last year’s leader is gone so the tackles crown is Gibbs’ for the taking. He’s gradually increased his production each season across essentially all statistics so it’s possible he could eclipse even last year’s impressive total.

DeVonne Harris (DL) – Wyoming

Last year Harris broke out with 13.0 TFLs and 8.0 sacks, both of which ranked top seven in the conference last year. On an absolutely loaded Wyoming defensive line, he’s going to keep putting up big stats and being part of many nightmares for Mountain West offensive line coaches.

Tier 3

Recognized, but not universally

The main cut-off to be in this tier is that at least half of the publications voted the player onto their first team. These are players that are clearly good, but reasonable minds are disagreeing on just how good they are relative to other players in the conference.

Thor Paglialong (OL) – Air Force

The top returner on a dominant 2022 Falcons offensive line, Paglialong is pretty much universally considered the top center in the conference. He’ll be key in Air Force trying to replicate the great success the team had in 2022 where it led the nation in rushing yards per game and 16th in yards per attempt.

Payton Zdroik (DL) – Air Force

Last year Zdroik was second on the team in both sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (10.0) and is the top returner for the Falcons in both categories. He’ll have a lot placed on his shoulders with both Vince Sanford and Thadius Blackmon, who were first and third in the TFL/sack categories for the team, both graduating. Zdroik should be up to the challenge and perhaps he’ll build on his numbers from his first year as a full-time starter.

Cam Lockridge (DB) – Fresno State

After transferring from Hawaii last offseason, Lockridge stepped up in 2022 by setting career-highs in interceptions (five) and passes defended. He especially starred in the Mountain West championship game where he was named the defensive MVP after three pass break-ups and two interceptions. For three straight seasons he’s been a productive corner who at minimum will be one of the better starters in the conference and at best be the top defensive back.

Cam Stone (DB) – Hawaii

Stone spent his first three seasons at Wyoming before making the move this offseason to transfer to Hawaii. Last year he started 11 games, leading the Cowboys in interceptions with two while also recording 35 tackles.

Christian Washington (KR) – New Mexico

You’d be surprised how volatile preseason lists can be when it comes to picking returners. Some pick a kick returner and punt returner, others simply have one returner and voters have to pick between the best PR’s/KR’s. That meant there was essentially no chance for a universal pick, but Christian Washington comes out as mostly the consensus best returner in the conference (there is one notable challenger who shows up in tier four). He’s only a kick returner, not taking punts (which is how Tory Horton appeared on a few lists as the top punt returner) but he narrowly led the conference in yards per kick return last year at 26.7. That number ranked 14th in the nation. He also had one kick return TD, a 100-yarder against Boise State.

Mark Redman (TE) – San Diego State

San Diego State tight end Mark Redman (81) makes a touchdown catch over Middle Tennessee cornerback Deidrick Stanley II (6) during the first half of the Hawaii Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Most, but not all lists had Redman as the top tight end. Following a transfer from Washington where he had one appearance in two seasons, last year he had a breakout year for the Aztecs, catching 21 passes for 233 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He put up those numbers despite SDSU ranking 117th in passing yards per game. The Aztecs actually turned around their passing offense mid-season last year, and if that turnaround is maintained, Redman could be up for a career season.

Chevan Cordeiro (QB) – San Jose State

Cordeiro isn’t universally considered the top quarterback, but did get the edge over the competition by a somewhat comfortable margin. He does so on the strength of likely being considered the undisputed best passer in the conference. Last year he led the conference in five passing categories — completions, attempts, yards, adjusted yards per attempt and touchdowns. He also tied for third-fewest interceptions among qualified QBs in the Mountain West despite being among the most prolific passers.

Justin Lockhart (WR) – San Jose State

Lockhart made the in-conference move from Nevada to San Jose State last year and the move is likely to pay off in a big way. He was an understudy last year to all-conference wide receiver Elijah Cooks but this year should be the primary target of quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, the preseason Offensive Player of the Year. His 36 catches for 578 yards would likely be the floor of what Lockhart’s production could be this year.

Ricky White (WR) – UNLV

After the first three weeks of the 2022 season one wouldn’t have been amiss to say White was one of the best receivers in the conference. He reeled in 19 catches for 317 yards and three touchdowns in the Rebels’ first three games. Unfortunately, he didn’t keep up that pace. He only caught one more touchdown the rest of the season and didn’t top 65 receiving yards in a game the rest of the year. But he was still fairly consistent, averaging just under four catches for 33.6 yards per game. With another year to build chemistry with Doug Brumfield those numbers should increase.

Ike Larsen (DB) – Utah State

Larsen forced his way onto the scene last year as a redshirt freshman, eventually becoming an honorable mention freshman all-American according to College Football News along with second team All-Mountain West. He was a special teams superstar with a school-record three blocked punts while also recording a team-best four interceptions. His lightning-in-a-bottle impact has made Larsen a quickly rising star. A full season with more health could leave Larsen much closer to the top of the leaderboard among Mountain West defensive backs.

Frank Crum (OL) – Wyoming

Crum hasn’t earned any all-conference honors but could very well do so this year since he’s likely the most experienced. He’s started at least five games every year since 2019 and has started all but one Wyoming game since the start of 2020. All told it comes out to 43 games and 36 starts. He will protect quarterback Andrew Peasley’s blind spot as the left tackle and be the veteran leader of the offensive line.

Jordan Bertagnole (DL) – Wyoming

Bertagnole is a veteran with consistent production and stat accumulation as an interior defensive lineman (a position not always known for stat accumulation). Last year he recorded 7.5 TFLs and 5.5 sacks while also forcing two fumbles. He’ll remain the rock of Wyoming’s often imposing interior D-line.

Tier 4

Team stars, but maybe not conference stars

This category is mainly here to collect the remaining star-level players. But as the subtitle suggests, these are guys who will certainly be key players for their teams, but haven’t earned as much preseason accolades  and possibly won’t earn top billing for all-conference honors at the end of the year. Fans of their respective teams will probably call them snubs from the all-conference squads.

Air Force running back John Lee Eldridge III (24) during an NCAA football game on Friday, Sept.23, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/Bart Young)

John Lee Eldridge III (RB) – Air Force

Last year Eldridge played understudy to the nation’s leading rusher, Brad Roberts, and is the assumed successor to Roberts. Although Eldridge has his own category where he led the nation in 2022 — yards per carry. Eldridge averaged 7.7 yards per rush attempt last year, which meant that despite a limited 99 carries, still allowed him to tally 766 yards (he’s actually one of just five running backs since 2000 to have fewer than 100 carrier but top 765 rushing yards). Keeping in mind Air Force’s run-heavy offense, the team’s three returning offensive linemen and Eldridge’s own efficiency, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone if he led the Mountain West in rushing yards this season and significantly overperformed his placement in this fourth tier.

Trey Taylor (DB) – Air Force

A second-team All-MW selection last year as a safety, Taylor recorded 69 tackles, 4.5 TFLs with 1.0 sacks. He also intercepted two passes with four total passes defended. He’s been a consistently productive player for the past two seasons, with at least 60 tackles in both 2021 and 2022, so it’d be no surprise to see that productivity reproduced in 2023.

Taylen Green (QB) – Boise State

According to preseason lists, it’s a two-horse race as to who the best QB is with Cordeiro winning but not without being challenged by the dual-threat Green. His late start to 2022 likely contributed to him not getting as much love this preseason but he’ll likely make a real case this coming season. Last year in 10 starts he averaged 185 passing yards, 53 rushing yards and accumulated 24 touchdowns (14 passing, 10 rushing). He’s an offense almost unto himself. With improvements in his passing production he really could unseat Cordeiro as the top signal-caller in the conference. For now though, he has some ground to make up.

Mose Vavao (OL) – Fresno State

Vavao is a two-year starter that has appeared in 33 games at left or right guard for Fresno State in three seasons. Last year Vavao started all 14 of the Bulldogs’ games at right guard and received an honorable mention All-Mountain West selection. Vavao should be one of the top interior offensive linemen this upcoming season.

Terrell Vaughn (WR/KR) – Utah State

Vaughn is another player who popped up in this collection in multiple ways. He earned several first team nods as a wide receiver but also multiple selections at kick returner, unseating Christian Washington a few times from his top spot. In 2022 he caught 56 passes for 624 yards and five TDs. He also added 13 carries for 72 yards and a rushing touchdown. As a returner, he averaged 26.5 yards per return  (just 0.2 yards behind Washington’s average), including a 100-yard touchdown against Weber State. His versatility as a slot receiver and dangerous return man make him one of the most valuable returning players for a USU team that is desperately short of productive returning players.

Cole Godbout (DL) – Wyoming

In a different world Godbout would be much higher on this list because in that world he wouldn’t have spent half the 2022 season on the bench. Last year should have been Godbout’s breakout seasons where he was poised to build on a 2021 where he earned an honorable mention all-conference selection from the Mountain West and a second team selection from PFF. In the seven games Godbout played in during 2022, he recorded 33 tackles and 4.5 TFLs. Adjust those numbers to a full season and he would’ve bordered on top 20 in the conference in tackles as an interior defensive lineman, which is not normal. But it tracks with his junior season where he recorded 70 tackles along with 7.0 TFLs and 5.0 sacks in a full 13-game performance. Godbout may be one of the more underrated players on all-conference teams.

Honorable Mention

Each of these players got at least one first team vote and/or multiple second team votes

  • Air Force — Adam Karas (OL), Wesley Ndago (OL), Caleb Rillos (TE), Jayden Thiergood (DL), Camby Goff (LB), Alec Mock (LB), Jayden Goodwin (DB)
  • Boise State — Ashton Jeanty (RB), Latrell Caples (WR), Stefan Cobbs (WR), Mason Randolph (OL), Ben Dooley (OL), Garrett Curran (OL), Demitri Washington (LB), Jaylen Clark (DB), Jonah Dalmas (K)
  • Colorado State — Avery Morrow (RB), Jacob Gardner (OL), Chigozie Anusiem (DB), Ayden Hector (DB)
  • Fresno State — Erik Brooks (WR), Jacob Spomer (OL), Devo Bridges (DL), Levelle Bailey (LB), Morice Norris (DB), Artis Cole (PR)
  • Hawaii — Tylan Hines (RB)
  • Nevada — Drue Watts (LB)
  • New Mexico — Donte Martin (DB), Aaron Rodriguez (P)
  • San Diego State — Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson (OL), Garret Fountain (DL), Cooper McDonald (LB), Dezjohn Malone (DB), Dallas Branch (DB)
  • San Jose State — Kairee Robinson (RB), Fernando Carmona (OL), Bryun Parham (LB), Tre Jenkins (DB)
  • UNLV — Elijah Shelton (DL), Jaxen Turner (DB)
  • Utah State — Wade Meacham (OL), Hale Motu’apuaka (DL), MJ Tafisi (LB), Michael Anyanwu (DB), Cooper Jones (PR)
  • Wyoming — Harrison Waylee (RB), Dawaiian McNeely (RB), Nofoafia Tulafono (OL), Treyton Welch (TE), Braden Siders (DL)

The Consensus Preseason All-Mountain West Teams

A side-product of collecting this data was the ability to create another all-conference team using all of the different outlets as a voter. Using a simple points system (five points for a first-team selection, three for second-team) a new first and second team can be created, and those point totals will be in parenthesis listed next to each player. So that will be your reward for making it to the end of this bulky article.


Pos. First Team Second Team
QB Chevan Cordeiro (39) – SJSU Taylen Green (26) – Boise St.
RB George Holani (50) – Boise St. Ashton Jeanty (24) – Boise St.
RB John Lee Eldridge III (29) – Air Force Kairee Robinson (16) – SJSU
WR Tory Horton (50) – Colorado St. Terrell Vaughn (28) – Utah St.
WR Justin Lockhart (34) – SJSU *Stefan Cobbs (12) – Boise St.
FLEX Ricky White (34) – UNLV Latrell Caples (11) – Boise St.
TE Mark Redman (38) – SDSU Treyton Welch (22) – Wyoming
OL Cade Bennett (50) – SDSU Mason Randolph (18) – Boise St.
OL Cade Beresford (43) – Boise St. Adam Karas (14) – Air Force
OL Thor Paglialong (38) – Air Force Jacob Gardner (14) – Colorado St.
OL Frank Crum (38) – Wyoming Jacob Spomer (11) – Fresno St.
OL Mose Vavao (31) – Fresno St. Fernando Carmona (11) – SJSU

*Cobbs reportedly suffered a season-ending leg injury in late July, occurring after all outlets had published their all-conference teams. If one were to replace Cobbs with the next-highest vote-getter, it would be Fresno State’s Erik Brooks (6 points).


Pos. First Team Second Team
DL Mohamed Kamara (50) – Colorado St. Cole Godbout (25) – Wyoming
DL DeVonne Harris (43) – Wyoming Hale Motu’apuaka (22) – Utah St.
DL Jordan Bertagnole (41) – Wyoming Braden Siders (12) – Wyoming
DL Peyton Zdroik (35) – Air Force Jayden Thiergood (6) – Air Force
LB Cody Moon (48) – SDSU Levelle Bailey (24) – Fresno St.
LB DJ Schramm (45) – Boise St. Camby Goff (14) – Air Force
LB Easton Gibbs (45) – Wyoming Alec Mock (13) – Air Force
DB Jack Howell (45) – Colorado St. Chigozie Anusiem (16) – Colorado St.
DB Cam Lockridge (40) – Fresno St. Donte Martin (14) – New Mexico
DB Ike Larsen (39) – Utah State Tre Jenkins (9) – SJSU
DB Cam Stone (33) – Hawaii Jayden Goodwin (8) – Air Force
FLEX Trey Taylor (32) – Air Force Drue Watts (12) – Nevada


Pos. First Team Second Team
K John Hoyland (48) – Wyoming Jonah Dalmas (17) – Boise St.
P Jack Browning (50) –  SDSU Aaron Rodriguez (15) – New Mexico
RET Christian Washington (41) – New Mexico Tory Horton (23) – Colorado St.

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