Mountain West Football: Who Are The Top National Award Candidates Right Now?
The Mountain West may still face an upward climb toward national respect, but a handful of players could merit serious consideration.
Plenty of work left to do, but they deserve to be in the running.
Jacob De Jesus, UNLV – Paul Hornung Award
De Jesus’s transfer from Modesto Junior College to Las Vegas mostly flew under the radar, but Barry Odom’s coaching staff found lots to like back in the spring. That early buzz has paid dividends in live action since he now ranks second in the Mountain West with an average of 125.7 all-purpose yards per game.
Though he’s only scored two touchdowns through seven games, De Jesus has nonetheless been a massive weapon for a Rebels offense that has thrived on better-than-average field position all season, with 16.3 yards per punt return and 28.5 yards per kick return, the latter of which ranks fifth in all of FBS.
James Ferguson-Reynolds, Boise State – Ray Guy Award
The Aussie had a fine debut as the Broncos’ punter in 2022, but he’s raised his game enough to be considered one of, if not the, best at his position this fall. His 49.5 yards per punt leads the country through seven games while his net of 42.5 yards is good enough to rank 11th, but the ways in which Ferguson-Reynolds has really paid dividends are that he’s launched 17 kicks of 50 or more yards and landed 13-of-31 kicks inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
Dallin Holker, Colorado State – John Mackey Award
Could the Rams bring this individual honor back to Fort Collins for the second time in three seasons? No one thought so when Holker transferred to CSU from BYU, but with the recent injury to Georgia Bulldogs superstar Brock Bowers, it’s an open question whether anyone else in the country can step up and be as productive as Holker has been week after week.
After all, he now leads all FBS tight ends with 43 catches and 577 yards and trails only Oregon State’s Jack Velling with six receiving touchdowns. Holker’s even had what you might call his Mackey Moment, too, helping the Rams to defy the odds and stun Boise State back in Week 7.
Ashton Jeanty, Boise State – Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award and Doak Walker Award
The Broncos have had their share of immensely talented running backs over the years, but the sophomore superstar has done the kind of heavy lifting through seven games that not even Doug Martin or Jay Ajayi could match. Jeanty currently leads the nation with 180.6 all-purpose yards per game and 15 total touchdowns, and he ranks third with 868 rushing yards. For the moment, he’s also the only FBS running back with 30 receptions out the backfield.
In other words, if he keeps this up, he’d better take home some kind of hardware this winter.
Mohamed Kamara, Colorado State – Bednarik Award
Few edge defenders around the country have been as consistently disruptive as Kamara has been in 2023. He is currently tied for fifth among all FBS players with 13 tackles for loss and second with 10.5 sacks, so in a year without too many other obvious candidates — UCLA’s Laiatu Latu and Alabama’s Dallas Turner come to mind — a strong November could be the push Kamara needs to edge out the competition.
Jose Pizano, UNLV – Lou Groza Award
Daniel Gutierrez left the Rebels as the program’s most accurate kicker ever, so you’d be forgiven if you thought whoever replaced him might suffer some inevitable regression. The Missouri State transfer has made his super senior season count, however, more or less matching Gutierrez’s 2022 production in seven games with 18-of-19 field goals and 81 points. He’s been a significant reason why UNLV can already look forward to bowling in December, but now he can take aim at a season for the ages for the scarlet and gray.