by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Athlon Sports continues its countdown to the college football season with a look at the top 25 players for 2011 in the Mountain West.
Several factors worked into the criteria for developing the 25 players:
Previous production was weighed, but a heavy emphasis was placed on what we expect will happen in 2011.
In addition to just how good we think a player is, we weighed what impact he will have on his team’s success?
Positional importance – although running backs always produce the stats, we gave linemen a bump in our rankings to show how valuable they are to the team.
Pro potential – how highly-regarded is the player by NFL Draft standards?
1. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (SR)
2010 stats: 3,845 yds., 35 TDs, 6 INTs
Moore has compiled an impressive resume in his three years at Boise State. He has thrown for 10,867 yards and 99 scores, while tossing only 19 interceptions. Moore owns a 68.2 career completion percentage and enters 2011 as college football’s career leader in passing efficiency (166.7). He finished fourth in Heisman voting and earned first-team All-WAC honors last year. Moore has one more shot to lead Boise State to a national title appearance, but lost his top two receivers from last year in Titus Young and Austin Pettis. The season opener against Georgia will be a key contest for Moore’s Heisman hopes, as well as Boise State’s chances to play for a championship.
2. Tank Carder, LB, TCU (SR)
2010 stats: 60 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 5 PBU
The 2011 Rose Bowl gave the national audience a chance to see what everyone in the Mountain West already knew – Carder is one of the top defensive players in college football. Against Wisconsin, Carder collected six tackles and one sack, while breaking up a key two-point conversion late in the game. He was named the 2011 Rose Bowl Defensive MVP for his performance against the Badgers. Carder earned first-team All-Mountain West honors and was named the conference’s defensive player of the year last season. He is an Athlon Sports preseason second-team All-American for 2011.
3. Nate Potter, OT, Boise State (SR)
Potter enters 2011 as one of the top linemen in the nation. The senior is an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-American. Potter started 13 games at left tackle and earned first-team All-WAC honors last season. He also garnered first-team honors in 2009, after starting the final eight games of the year. Potter is the unquestioned leader for Boise State’s offensive line, which is one of the top units in college football. At 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, Potter has the size and talent to be one of the first linemen selected in the 2012 NFL Draft.
4. Billy Winn, DT, Boise State (SR)
2010 stats: 28 tackles, 4 sacks, 9.5 TFL, 1 FF
The overall numbers aren’t particularly overwhelming for Winn, but his impact goes beyond the stats. Winn is one of college football’s top defensive tackles and is an Athlon Sports’ preseason first-team All-American. He earned back-to-back second-team All-WAC honors in 2009 and 2010, but should be one of the top defenders in the Mountain West this season. Winn is generating a lot of interest from NFL scouts and could be a first-round pick in the 2012 draft.
5. Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State (SR)
2010 stats: 30 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF
McClellin is the second member of Boise State’s defensive line to crack the top five. He led the team with 9.5 sacks last year and earned first-team All-WAC honors. With McClellin and Billy Winn leading the way, Boise State ranks as Athlon Sports No. 1 defensive line for the 2011 season. McClellin is also an Athlon Sports preseason second-team All-American.
6. Ronnie Hillman, RB, San Diego State (SO)
2010 stats: 1,532 yds., 17 TDs, 9 rec., 68 yds., 1 TD
After sitting out 2009 due to academic issues, Hillman became one of the top running backs in college football last year. He led the Mountain West in rushing yards and touchdowns, while averaging a robust 5.9 yards per carry. Hillman collected six games of at least 100 yards, including 228 against Missouri and 191 against Air Force. He also posted a monster effort in the Poinsettia Bowl win over Navy, gashing the Midshipmen for 228 yards and three scores. With four starters returning on the offensive line, expect Hillman to remain one of the nation’s leading rushers.
7. Ryan Lindley, QB, San Diego State (SR)
2010 stats: 3,830 yds., 28 TDs, 14 INTs
Lindley has made steady progress throughout his career at San Diego State and was selected to Athlon Sports’ preseason All-Mountain West second team. Lindley enters 2011 with 31 consecutive starts and ranks second in school history with 9,537 career passing yards. He posted six games of at least 300 yards through the air and passed for 276 yards and two scores in the Poinsettia Bowl win over Navy. Although Lindley has improved over the last three years, he will be throwing to an inexperienced group of receivers. The Aztecs lost Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson to graduation, while Dominique Sandifer is out for the year due to injury. With a young and unproven group of receivers, topping last season’s statistics should be difficult.
8. Doug Martin, RB, Boise State (SR)
2010 stats: 1,260 yds., 12 TDs, 28 rec., 338 yds., 2 TDs
San Diego State’s Ronnie Hillman is the top running back in the Mountain West, but Martin isn’t too far behind. Martin led the Boise State rushing attack with 1,260 yards last year, which was his first 1,000-yard season in his career. Martin has accumulated an impressive 27 rushing scores over the last two years and is averaging six yards a carry in his career. With three starters back on the offensive line, expect the senior to post another 1,000 yards and at least 10 scores.
9. Miles Burris, LB, San Diego State (SR)
2010 stats: 80 tackles, 20 TFL, 9.5 sacks
Rocky Long made significant strides with the San Diego State defense over the last couple of seasons. Although Brady Hoke left for Michigan, Long has moved into the head coach role, but will continue to call the plays on defense. Burris shined under Long’s coaching the last two years, leading the Mountain West in sacks and tackles for a loss last season. Burris was a first-team All-Mountain West selection in 2010 and should be a lock for similar honors in 2011.
10. George Iloka, S, Boise State (SR)
2010 stats: 63 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 INTs, 5 PBU, 1 FF
The Broncos will be replacing three starters in the secondary, but Iloka’s return provides a solid building block for this unit. Iloka finished third on the team with 63 tackles last year and tied for second with two interceptions. The senior has made 27 consecutive starts and is an Athlon Sports preseason second-team All-American.
11. Leon McFadden, CB, San Diego State (JR)
McFadden earned first-team All-Mountain West honors last season, after breaking up 12 passes, recording two interceptions and making 55 tackles. The junior has proven himself as the top cornerback in the conference, so expect opposing offenses to stay away from his side of the field.
12. Tim Jefferson, QB, Air Force (SR)
Jefferson could get overshadowed in the Mountain West quarterback discussion this year, especially with Kellen Moore and Ryan Lindley returning for their senior years. However, Jefferson has been a key reason for Air Force’s recent success, posting 25 total touchdowns and 2,253 yards of offense last year. With Jefferson back under center, Air Force could be a sleeper team to push Boise State for the Mountain West title.
13. Tanner Brock, LB, TCU (JR)
Tank Carder gets all of the national credit, but Brock is a solid player that shouldn’t be overlooked. In his first year as a starter in 2010, Brock collected 106 tackles, two sacks and picked up two fumble recoveries. He was a first-team All-Mountain West selection last year. With Carder and Brock returning, TCU should have one of the top linebacking corps in the nation.
14. Mychal Sisson, LB, Colorado State (SR)
Sisson doesn’t have ideal size, but has been one of Colorado State’s top performers over the last three years. Sisson has 291 tackles in his career and forced seven fumbles last season. The senior is an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-Mountain West selection.
15. Ed Wesley RB, TCU (JR)
Wesley earned his first 1,000-yard season last year, rushing for 1,078 yards and 11 scores. The TCU backfield is deep, with Matthew Tucker and Waymon James also expected to see significant carries. However, Wesley should lead the Horned Frogs in rushing for 2011.
16. Carmen Messina, LB, New Mexico (SR)
Thanks to a struggling offense, the New Mexico defense has spent a lot of time on the field over the last two years. Messina collected a ridiculous 162 tackles in 2009, but his totals slipped to 115 last year. Unless the Lobos make drastic improvement on offense, Messina can expect to spend a lot of time and the field and should collect over 100 tackles once again.
17. Thomas Byrd, C, Boise State (SR)
Undersized center (5-foot-11), but is an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-Mountain West selection for 2011.
18. Josh Biezuns, DE, Wyoming (SR)
Moved from linebacker to defensive end last year and led the Wyoming defense with 6.5 sacks. Selected as an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-Mountain West selection for 2011.
19. Stansly Maponga, DE, TCU (SO)
After a promising freshman year, Maponga is one of the Mountain West’s rising stars. He collected 32 tackles and 2.5 sacks and earned second-team All-Mountain West honors last year.
20. Paul Madsen, Colorado State (SR)
Madsen started 12 games last year and earned second-team All-Mountain West honors. The senior will be the leader of an offensive line that returns four starters.
Just Missing Out on the Top 25
Chase Baker, DT, Boise State
Jon Davis, S, Air Force
Kyle Dooley, OG, TCU
Brian Hendricks, LB, Wyoming
Phillip Payne, WR, UNLV
Pete Thomas, QB, Colorado State
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