Football teams at all levels are more reliant on the quarterback than ever, making already the most important position in sports even more critical.
San Diego State coach Rocky Long stated it perfectly at Mountain West media days last month regarding how much the game relies on quarterback.
“If you don’t have a good quarterback, you can be damn good on defense and you can be damn good on offense and still only win half your games,” he said. “And if you have a great quarterback, (an NFL) first-round draft choice, you can be pretty average on defense, and you can have pretty average talent on offense, and you might win every game.”
So with another season beginning this week, this is the perfect time to judge each Mountain West team by its quarterback.
■ Garrett Grayson, Colorado State. He led the surprising Rams to the New Mexico Bowl, completing 62.1 percent of his passes for 3,696 yards and 23 touchdowns, with 11 interceptions. Similar production this year will put the Rams back in the postseason.
■ Cody Fajardo, UNR. He is the reason many observers expect the Wolf Pack to greatly improve on their 4-8 record from last season. He is a dual threat who rushed for 621 yards and eight touchdowns and passed for 2,668 yards, while putting together a completion percentage of 67.9. Fajardo also had 13 TDS and three interceptions.
■ Quinn Kaehler, San Diego State. He returns after finishing with 3,007 yards and 19 touchdowns, with nine interceptions, on a 59.6 completion percentage. With Kaehler at the controls, the Aztecs became the conference’s hottest team late in the season, winning seven of eight games at one point.
■ Chuckie Keeton, Utah State. Was the league’s best before a knee injury ended his season in the sixth week. But now Keeton is back, as is Darell Garretson, who filled in admirably during his absence. Keeton was selected preseason conference Offensive Player of the Year at media days.
STILL SOME QUESTIONS
■ Grant Hedrick, Boise State. The Broncos had a disappointing season by their standards in losing five times, but they hope they have found their quarterback. Hedrick had to step in for injured starter Joe Southwick, and was inconsistent despite completing 69 percent of his passes for 1,825 yards and 16 touchdowns, with five interceptions. For Boise State to return to its former dominance, Hedrick will need to ramp up his game.
■ Cole Gautsche, New Mexico. He has been quite capable in running the triple option, but Gautsche has struggled with concussions the past two seasons. Can he make it through the season? If not, the Lobos will continue to struggle.
The other Mountain West teams — Air Force, Fresno State, Hawaii, San Jose State, UNLV and Wyoming — are going with new starters. That doesn’t mean those teams will struggle, but banking on a standout season from a quarterback who hasn’t shown anything on the field is dicey.
Fresno State is the only team that has earned the benefit of the doubt. The defending Mountain West champion must replace quarterback Derek Carr, last season’s Offensive Player of the Year, but the Bulldogs were the pick to win the West Division.
Such thinking goes against conventional wisdom, and it’s a lot to ask in a division with talented starters back for UNR and San Diego State. But that’s also a statement about how wide open the West is entering the season.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.