On Mountain High: Mid-Season Kings of the Mountain Awards


We’ve finally reached the half-way point of the college football season; well, technically. Yes it’s week nine in a 15-week season, and that’s a little more than halfway. But most teams only play 12 or 13 games and as we stand right now, all eight members of the Mountain West have completed six games. Although I’m sure some teams have a couple games they’d rather forget.

At this point of the season, there are few questions regarding how each team will play on a weekly basis.

TCU, which faces former Mountain West rival BYU tonight in Arlington, has had an up-and-down year, with losses to Baylor to open the season and then in overtime to SMU. Alas, the Horned Frogs are 3-0 in conference, 5-2 overall, and still have a chance to run the table the rest of the way and win their third-straight conference title.

If TCU has any hope at defending its title, it has to beat Boise State first. The Mountain West matchup of the year ttkes place in Boise November 12. If there’s anything we know about the No. 5 Broncos is that they are a force to be reckoned with both on offense and defense.

New Mexico, on the other hand, is quite possibly one of the worst teams in the FBS. While Boise State is being courted by the Big East, the Lobos are hoping they can find a coach capable of rebuilding their downtrodden program.

The big game on New Mexico’s schedule also takes place November 12, it’s just not a matchup of the same caliber as Boise-TCU. In two weeks, New Mexico hosts 1-5 UNLV in what could be the Lobos’ only win of the season.

This week, I thought it would be fitting to unveil my 2011 Saturday Blitz Mountain West Mid-Season Awards – the ‘Kings of the Mountain’ Awards.

Best Offensive Player

Boise State QB Kellen Moore – 174-of-228, 2010 yards, 24 TD, 5 INT 287.1 ypg

To me, this is an obvious selection. Moore has been phenomenal to this point of the season – like that is any surprise. Last year, Kellen Moore completed a ridiculously high 71 percent of his passes. This year, he’s throwing the ball an even higher clip – 76 percent.

That is an incredible number and yet Moore isn’t even the most accurate NCAA quarterback this season, that would Baylor’s Robert Griffin III.

With the exception of the Nevada game, in which he was 19-of-33 for 142 yards with two TD’s and two interceptions, Moore has passed for more than 250 yards and at least three touchdowns in each game. Attempting at least 23 passes, Moore has never completed fewer than 74 percent.

With Moore at the helm, the Bronco offense has been nearly unstoppable this year. They’re averaging 43 points per game, 10th in the country, and, with the Georgia game as the lone exception, they’ve put up at least 20 points in the first half in every game this year. Moore in the first half this year: 118-of-155 1452 yards, 17 TD 3 INT.
Honorable Mention: Ronnie Hillman, RB, San Diego State; Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming; Doug Martin, RB, Boise State

Best Defensive Player

Colorado State DE Nordly Capi – 21 Tackles (16 solo), 8 Sacks, 6 FF 9.5, TFL.

Capi, the sophomore defensive end, has been the Dwight Freeney of the Mountain West so far this year. He hasn’t torn up the stat sheet with tackles, most defensive ends don’t, but when he gets into the backfield he wreaks havoc.

Capi has an NCAA-leading six forced fumbles this year to go along with a Mountain West-best eight sacks. He had at least one sack in each of Colorado State’s first five games and his 9.5 tackles for loss lead the conference as well.

The Ram run defense has not been stellar so far, giving up an average of 223 yards per game. But while teams have had no problem running the ball against Colorado State, opponents’ passing games haven’t fared so well. Partly due to pressure from Capi, the Rams allow fewer than 200 yards per game through the Air and have only allowed 11 passing touchdowns in seven games.
Honorable Mention: Brady Amack, LB, Air Force; Larry Parker, DB, San Diego State

Best Freshman

Wyoming QB Brett Smith – Passing: 123-of-208, 1324 yards, 9 TD’s, 5 INT’s, Rushing: 211 yards, 4 TD’s

Smith took over at quarterback for a team that won only three games last year and won three games in his first three starts. Against Weber State, Texas State and then Bowling Green, Smith combined for 797 yards and 5 TD’s. Not only did he produce through the air, completing 62 percent of his passes, but he also showcased speed out of the backfield – rushing 29 times for 154 yards and three TD’s.

Although he is only a freshman, head coach Dave Christensen and offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon clearly have faith in Smith. Twice this year, the Cowboy’s quarterback has attempted 40+ passes. His 1535 yards of total offense, 255 yard per game, are second only to Kellen Moore in the Mountain West.
Honorable Mention: Deon Long, WR, New Mexico; Dan Goodale, K, Boise State.

Coach of the Year

Dave Christenson, Wyoming – (4-2, 1-0)

Since this is the mid-season Kings of the Mountain awards, I feel comfortable going with Wyoming’s head coach as opposed to Boise State’s Chris Peterson. By the end of the year, Peterson will most likely take home Mountain West Coach of the Year honors, but I thought it was necessary to recognize what Christenson has been able to do through six games.

Although the Cowboys opened with two FCS opponents in Weber State and Texas State, they still came out of those games unscathed and with two wins already under their belts. They then travelled to Bowling Green, a game I expected them to lose, and won a thriller 28-27. With three wins in the team’s first three games, Christenson had already matched the Cowboy’s 2010 win total and seemed on their way to bowl eligibility.

Unfortunately for Christenson, his team hit a road-block the next three weeks, losing bad games to Nebraska 38-14 and then at Utah State two weeks later 63-19. Just as it the season was starting to take a grim turn, Christenson rounded up the Cowboys and got them prepared to beat UNLV, a game they could not afford to lose. Now, with six games left, Wyoming needs only to win half its remaining games to secure bowl eligibility – only one of their FCS wins counts toward the six-win total.
Honorable Mention – Chris Peterson, Boise State; Rocky Long, San Diego State

Most Valuable Player

San Diego State RB Ronnie Hillman – 145 rushes, 833 yards, 10 TD’s 138.8 YPG, 5.7 YPC

Through six games, Hillman not only leads the Mountain West in yards per game but is also tops in the NCAA. With Aztec quarterback Ryan Lindley not performing quite as well as many expected heading in to the season, the sophomore running back has done his part to pick up the slack.

Hillman’s 833 total yards rushing rank him only 11th in the NCAA overall, and yet he has only played six games. Hillman’s 10 rushing touchdowns have him tied for eighth in the country, along with Rex Burkhead of Nebraska and the out-for-the-season Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina.

Hillman’s sophomore season, after he was a Freshman All-American, started with a bang. He rushed 28 times form 189 yards and two touchdowns against Cal Poly to open the season, and then followed that game with 117 yards and two TD’s against Army and then 191 and four TD’s against Washington State.

Not only does Hillman lead the Mountain West in rushing and rank eighth in total offense, ahead of two quarterbacks, he is also the top offensive scorer. With 10 touchdowns in six games, Hillman is averaging 10 points per game.
Honorable Mention: Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State; Casey Pachall, QB, TCU