The Mountain West Conference has been a hidden gem in the college football fantasy game the last few years. Teams like Boise State, San Diego State and Fresno State have boasted some of the nation's best offenses and in the process have helped fantasy owners win leagues with unknown stars. This year, the conference adds even more fantasy power with the likes of San Jose State and Utah State, both of which contain intriguing stars.
TOP-FIVE FANTASY STARS
1. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Many were surprised to see Carr come back for his senior season because he was a sure selection in the 2013 NFL Draft. Who can blame the guy, though, after the year he had in 2012? Carr flourished under the new spread offense implemented by first-year head coach Tim DeRuyter. Eight offensive starters return this year, including stud sophomore wideout Davante Adams who caught a majority of the 4,104 yards and 37 touchdowns Carr tossed last season. With one successful year under his belt in the spread offense, the sky's the limit for this experienced signal caller in 2013.
2. Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
Adams is arguably the best prospect in the conference. His 6-foot-2, 200, frame is a nightmare matchup for opposing defensive backs, and he flashed surprising maturity during his freshman season en route to 102 catches, 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns. Adams will undoubtedly draw the focus of defensive game plans, but fortunately for him the Bulldogs have numerous offfensive weapons to draw away attention.
3. Noel Grigsby, WR, San Jose State
From one stud receiver to another, Grigsby has been at San Jose State for a long time and has improved each and every season. The senior has shown promise all the way back to his freshman year when he averaged 11.0 yards per catch. Quarterback David Fales proved to be the missing piece in the puzzle as Grigsby had his best year yet in 2012, grabbing 82 receptions for 1,306 yards. Fales targeted Grigsby a team-high 112 times last year and has developed an obvious chemistry with his favorite receiver.
4. Adam Muema, RB, San Diego State
Muema benefits from one of the best offensive lines in a mid-major football conference and an offense that depends heavily on the run. Adam Dingwell is likely to start at quarterback for the Aztecs, and he's far from a finished product, thus paving the way for another 200-plus carry season for Muema. If he can get anywhere near the 16 touchdowns he scored in 2012, he'll justify his early round value.
5. Chuckie Keeton, QB, Utah State
Keeton is on a mission after being spurned with no major offers following high school in Texas. His sophomore season at Utah State was a huge success with 3,373 yards and 27 touchdowns through the air along with 724 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. With former head coach Gary Andersen's departure to Wisconsin, expect there to be some transition in an offense that hasn't always been perfect. Nonetheless, Keeton's dual-threat ability isn't going anywhere, making him a good fantasy target.
Robert Herron, WR, Wyoming
Herron has proven he has the tools to be a big-time receiver. Against Texas last year, he caught five balls for 173 yards and two touchdowns. Injuries slowed him last season, but he has a golden opportunity to step up and be the number No. 1 option in a pass-heavy offense in 2013.
Kivon Cartwright, TE, Colorado State
Tight end is one of the more tricky fantasy positions to figure out because few players at the position rack up a decent number of targets. Cartwright was one of the more reliable last year as he was targeted 43 times, catching 26 balls. This year, the Rams should have their quarterback situation figured out (they used three in 2012), and Cartwright can be utilized to his full potential.
Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming
What Smith did last year with a very bad Wyoming team was fascinating (3,298 total yards and 33 total touchdowns). He makes up almost all of the Cowboys offense, and even though his style of play leaves him at risk for injury, he's too dynamic to ignore. Smith dealt with a few injuries last year, including a concussion that forced him out of a couple games. If an injury doesn't creep up again, he's a smart fantasy play.
David Fales, QB, San Jose State
San Jose State had one of the most prolific aerial attacks in college football last season. Fales transferred in from Monterey Peninsula College and instantly made the Spartans a good team while throwing for 4,193 yards and 33 touchdowns. He doesn't run a whole lot, but he's accurate (72.5-percent completion rate) and avoids the big mistake (only nine interceptions). If everything goes according to plan, Fales could be an early pick in next year's NFL Draft.
Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State
Ajayi was electric with minimal work in 2012 as he averaged 6.7 yards per carry on 82 carries and scored four rushing touchdowns. The Broncos would have liked to use him more if they could. However, fifth-year senior D.J. Harper received the bulk of carries and deservedly so after coming back from multiple knee injuries. Now Ajayi gets his chance, and expect him to be one of the best players on the blue turf in 2013.
Kasey Carrier, RB, New Mexico
Carrier had a month for the ages last October when he ran for 826 yards on 116 carries and scored 11 touchdowns. The Lobos run a triple-option offense that features mostly running plays. The only problem with Carrier's fantasy outlook is that New Mexico has numerous players who excel at running the ball. Quarterback Cole Gautsche and fellow running back Jhurell Pressley are sure to eat in to the number of carriers that Carrier will receive.
Matt Miller, WR, Boise State
The junior receiver was the No. 1 option and quarterback Joe Southwick's favorite target in 2012, yet it was still an underwhelming season. He hauled in 66 catches and 769 yards with a measly five touchdowns. The Broncos have a great team that pretty much has a permanent spot in the top 25, but Miller is way too inconsistent to rely on in fantasy.
Marcel Jensen, TE, Fresno State
Jensen makes this list because the bulldogs have so many weapons in wideouts Davante Adams, Isaiah Burse and Josh Harper. Quarterback Derek Carr has too many options to pass up to make Jensen a valuable fantasy commodity. He'll surely surpass the 20 catches he amassed in 2012, but there's most likely better tight ends available to draft for your fantasy team.
Joe Hill, RB, Utah State
The Aggies' list of running backs the last few seasons has turned into a who's who kind of group. Robert Turbin and Kerwynn Williams zagged and dazzled in the primary role, but it's not imminent Hill will do the same thing with an entire new coaching staff. Hill isn't nearly as explosive as Williams and won't be able to mask what proved to be an ordinary offensive line in 2012. Hill will bring value to fantasy teams, but be cautious where you choose him in your fantasy draft.
Don Jackson, RB, Nevada
On the plus side, Jackson plays in a running-back friendly system and had a nice spring with his new team. On the other side, the junior-college transfer is joining a new coaching staff as well as an offensive line that must replace three starters. Nothing guarantees that Jackson will be an effective back right away.
TEAM-BY-TEAM FANTASY STARS
Overall position ranking in parenthesis.
Air Force Falcons
Boise State Broncos
RB Jay Ajayi (22), WR Matt Miller (67)
Colorado State Rams
TE Kivon Cartwright (40)
Fresno State Bulldogs
QB Derek Carr (12), WR Davante Adams (2), WR Josh Harper (41), TE Marcel Jensen (39)
QB Cody Fajardo (14), RB Don Jackson (57), TE Kolby Arendse (22)
New Mexico Lobos
RB Kasey Carrier (13)
San Diego State Aztecs
RB Adam Muema (5)
San Jose State Spartans
QB David Fales (23), RB Tyler Ervin (70), WR Noel Grigsby (6), WR Chandler Jones (73), K Austin Lopez (17)
RB Tim Cornett (56)
Utah State Aggies
QB Chuckie Keeton (10), RB Joe Hill (20)
QB Brett Smith (17), WR Robert Herron (21)