ESPN ranks Utah State’s QB room at top of Mountain West | Sports

Considering the quarterback position is universally seen as the single most important one on the football field, each team’s signal caller (or group of them) gets extra attention. So ESPN, more specifically staff writer David Hale, naturally went and divided all 134 Division I football teams into 20 tiers based on their situation at quarterback.

We’ll take a look at where Hale placed Mountain West teams in his various tiers while analyzing the placement and adding a bit of context for each situation.

At the end, I’ll give my own rankings for every team in the Mountain West.

Tier 11

  • Utah State (Spencer Petras, Bryson Barnes)
  • Boise State (Malachi Nelson, Maddus Madsen)

Both the Aggies and Broncos were placed in Tier 11 (technically, it was 11-B, which also means there were 21 tiers, not 20). There’s an interesting contrast between the two QB rooms. Utah State has experience with Petras and Barnes combining for more than 20 starts at the Division I level, but neither were exactly dominant since neither has thrown for more than 1,800 yards in a single season.

Boise State is also pivoting to a degree as the expected full-time starter, Taylen Green, transferred. Though unlike Utah State, where every QB that played a single snap last year is gone, the Broncos have some returning experience with Maddux Madsen. He threw for 1,189 yards in nine appearances but it’s incoming USC transfer Malachi Nelson who has drawn the most hype. He was a five-star recruit from the class of 2022, and while things didn’t work at USC, there’s certainly a lot of hope for him from Boise.

It’s fairly interesting that Hale chose to rank two somewhat uncertain QB rooms as the best in the conference, especially over some more well-established situations we’ll see down the line.

Tier 15

  • Colorado State (Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi)
  • Fresno State (Mikey Keene)

This tier features two QB rooms that aren’t going through any sort of transition to a new starter. Fowler-Nicolosi and Keen were both the full-time starter last year and combined for 6,436 passing yards and 46 touchdowns. It’d probably bee too much to call these guys elite, but putting them in the 15th tier when both QBs ranked top-35 in passing yards last year feels way too low. These guys could be leading the conference in passing yards this year.

Tier 17

  • Air Force (Zac Larrier)
  • Hawaii (Brayden Schager)

Trying to rank Air Force based on QB, using the modern way we look at quarterbacks, is like trying to rank an orange based on how much it tastes like a lemon. Larrier had a decent season as the Falcons’ quarterback but the system there is much more important than whoever is under center.

For Hawaii, it seems like another case of underrating a highly productive QB. Shager led the Mountain West in passing yards (3,542) and passing touchdowns (26) with the only real nit-pick being a slightly higher than desirable 14 interceptions. Hawaii has had some issues with putting together a higher caliber team, but competent QB play isn’t really the issue there.

Tier 18

  • Nevada (Brendon Lewis, Chubba Purdy, AJ Bianco)
  • San Diego State (AJ Duffy, Kyle Crum)

Both of these teams are likely to end up putting the ball in the hands of a P4 transfer QB. Nevada does return its top two QBs from last year, Brendon Lewis and AJ Bianco (though that’s not necessarily a good thing since the two combined to complete just 55 percent of passes and a 6-to-11 TD/INT ratio) while the Aztecs lost the only QB that played meaningful snaps last year. The transfers that are likely to take over for these two teams are Chubba Purdy for the Wolf Pack and AJ Duffy for the Aztecs. Purdy is on his third school, having spent two years apiece at Florida State and Nebraska. Duffy also spent two years at Florida State, but that’s his only prior experience before coming the the Mountain West. Neither have significant experience so this year is their chance to shine.

Tier 19

  • San Jose State (Walker Eget, Emmett Brown)
  • Wyoming (Evan Svoboda, Jayden Clemons)

The Spartans and Cowboys are going from reliable starters last year into a 2024 that features a mountain of uncertainty. San Jose State is turning to either a redshirt sophomore or a former walk-on at Washington State. Wyoming is in a similar situation with Evan Svoboda being a frontrunner that lacks experience although he’s been in the program multiple years. The other option appears to be Jayden Clemons, a former University of Utah player who walked-on as a cornerback with the Utes before transferring to Wyoming and changing his position back to QB. 

Tier 20

  • New Mexico (Devon Dampier, Justin Holaday, Sol-Jay Maiva-Peters)
  • UNLV (Matthew Sluka, Hajj-Malik Williams)

UNLV got quite the gut-punch in the loss of Jayden Maiva to the transfer portal. Now the Rebels are back to square one with Matthew Sluka and Hajj-Malik Williams. Both are transferring up from lower divisions and both bring unique abilities, potential and experience. They could be underrated in this regard.

New Mexico’s situation may appear to be complicated with Hale listing four possible QBs as opposed to the one or two for many other teams, but Devon Dampier is the fairly likely starter. In somewhat limited snaps he showed out well, completing 62.5 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and zero interceptions. 

Other Notable Teams in Tier List

Here are a few other teams relevant to Utah State and where they are in the tier list.

Utah (Tier 2)

Having Cam Rising on your team will put you pretty high on the QB tier list. Utah is certainly benefitting from that and justifiably so. There’s obviously an injury concern, and some worry about being rusty after a year off, but Rising is an NFL-caliber QB who’s going for one last ride with the Utes.

BYU (Tier 16)

Utah State’s other southern neighbor, and also where former Aggie QB McCae Hillstead ended up, ranked pretty far below the Aggies. There are a lot of potential names the Cougars could go with, but Gerry Bohanon and Jake Retzlaff seem to be the top two names.

Tulsa (Tier 15)

This is former Aggie starter Cooper Legas’ current stomping grounds, but his addition doesn’t seem to have helped very much as Tulsa is still fairly far down the tier list.

BONUS: Jason Walker’s Mountain West QB Room Rankings

As a treat for making it this far, here’s my own ranking for the Mountain West quarterback rooms/situations.

  1. Fresno State
  2. Hawaii
  3. Boise State
  4. Utah State
  5. Colorado State
  6. Air Force
  7. San Diego State
  8. UNLV
  9. Nevada
  10. New Mexico
  11. San Jose State
  12. Wyoming

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