With college football spring camps being shut down and summer and fall camp preparations for the 2020 season potentially compromised by COVID-19, it would make sense if teams with more returning starters would have an advantage next season.
After all, young players are largely developed in practice and there might not be as much practice time before games are played. With that in mind, let's take a look at which Mountain West team has the top returning offensive skill-position players in 2020. Here are the top-six MW teams in terms of returning skill players.
Quarterback: Carson Strong (63.4 percent, 2,335 yards, 6.2 yards per attempt, 11 TDs, 7 INTs, 121.8 rating)
Running backs: Toa Taua (807 yards, 4.1 ypc, 6 TDs), Devonte Lee (302 yards, 4.6 ypc, 7 TDs)
Wide receivers: Elijah Cooks (76 catches, 926 yards, 8 TDs), Romeo Doubs (44 catches, 649 yards, 4 TDs)
Quarterback: Hank Bachmeier (62.6 percent, 1,879 yards, 8.6 yards per attempt, nine TDs, six INTs, 142.7 rating)
Running backs: George Holani (1,014 yards, 5.3 ypc, 10 TDs), Robert Mahone (425 yards, 4.8 ypc, 6 TDs)
Wide receivers: Khalil Shakir (63 catches, 872 yards, 6 TDs), CT Thomas (41 catches, 522 yards, 5 TDs)
Tight end: John Bates (22 catches, 273 yards, 1 TD)
Quarterback: Kenyon Oblad (54.2 percent, 2,081 yards, 6.8 yards per attempt, 18 TDs, 9 INTs, 124.4 rating)
Running back: Charles Williams (1,257 yards, 5.9 ypc, 11 TDs), Chad Magyar (369 yards, 5.3 ypc, 1 TD)
Wide receivers: Randal Grimes (44 catches, 696 yards, 7 TDs), Steve Jenkins (23 catches, 386 yards, 2 TDs)
Tight ends: Noah Bean (22 catches, 336 yards, 2 TDs), Giovanni Fauolo (22 catches, 295 yards, 2 TDs)
Quarterback: Patrick O’Brien (61.8 percent, 2,803 yards, 8.3 yards per attempt, 13 TDs, 7 INTs, 140 rating)
Running back: Marcus McElroy (370 yards, 4.6 ypc, 3 TDs)
Wide receiver: Warren Jackson (77 catches, 1,119 yards, 8 TDs), Dante Wright (57 catches, 805 yards, 6 TDs)
Tight end: Trey McBride (45 catches, 560 yards, 4 TDs)
Quarterback: Chevan Cordeiro (57.5 percent, 907 yards, 7.6 yards per attempt, 8 TDs, 3 INTs, 138.0 rating)
Running back: Miles Reed (962 yards, 5.2 ypc, 8 TDs)
Wide receiver: Jared Smart (87 catches, 1,129 yards, 5 TDs)
Quarterback: Donald Hammond III (50.5 percent, 1,316 yards, 11.9 yards per attempt, 13 TDs, 6 INTs, 177.9 rating)
Running back: Kadin Remsberg (1,050 yards, 5.8 ypc, 8 TDs)
Fullback: Timothy Jackson(745 yards, 6.1 ypc, 6 TDs)
We can remove Hawaii and Air Force from contention. While they have good returning pieces, those squads don't have the depth of returning talent as the first four programs listed (Wyoming is in a similar situation).
Of the four remaining teams, Boise State and UNLV have the best returning running backs while Nevada and Colorado State have the best returning pass-catchers. It comes down to the quarterbacks. Nevada (Strong), UNLV (Oblad) and Boise State (Big Hank) all started freshmen at the position last season, and while none were spectacular, they all held their own. Colorado State's O’Brien, a transfer from Nebraska, was a junior last season but he got his first major college experience in 2019.
Given how important the quarterback position is and how even the remainder of the returning skill-position players are on these four teams, our question – Which MW team has the best returning offensive skill-position players? – comes down to how you feel about these quarterbacks. You could make the case for any of them.
* Nevada's Strong closed the season strong after returning from a collarbone injury. In his final five contests, he completed 65.5 percent of his passes and averaged 272 yards per game while throwing eight touchdowns against one interception.
* Boise State's Big Hank was a four-star recruit who won the Broncos' job as a true freshman and showed great poise in a season-opening comeback on the road to beat Florida State. He looked good before battling midseason injuries and posted the highest quarterback rating of these four.
* UNLV's Oblad threw 18 touchdowns, the most of these four quarterbacks, as a freshman and summoned the best game of his brief college career in a win over rival Nevada on the road when he posted a quarterback rating of 205.2. He also beat out long-time starter Armani Rogers for the job.
* Colorado State's O’Brien also was a four-star recruit and led this group of quarterbacks with 2,803 yards and was near the top in yards per attempt (8.3), showing he could stretch the field. Along with Big Hank, he had the best combo of accuracy and deep-field ability.
I'm not quite sold on Oblad (TCU transfer Justin Rogers has signed with UNLV and has petitioned for immediate eligibility) and O’Brien probably doesn't have as much as growth ahead as the three freshmen quarterbacks on this list given his age (and CSU isn't as deep at running back as Nevada and Boise State). So I've narrowed it down to the Wolf Pack and Broncos. Which of those two teams have the most returning skill-position talent in the MW? It's close, but let's give the edge to Nevada since the Wolf Pack rarely gets to say it beat Boise State.
Nevada has two potential NFL receivers in Cooks and Doubs, who are 6-foot-4 and 6-2, respectively; a former MW freshman of the year at running back in Taua; a bowling ball in Lee who has 14 touchdowns in 111 career college carries (scoring on 12.6 percent of his carries); and a 6-4 big-armed and smart quarterback in Strong, who now has some college experience. The Wolf Pack offensive line, which was very bad last season, remains a big question and Nevada's offensive coaching staff has to get the most out of the skill talent it has recruited, which has been a struggle. But in terms of offensive explosiveness at the skill positions, no MW team has a better cast to work with in 2020. I'd rank them Nevada, Boise State, Colorado State, UNLV and Hawaii.