10. BRANDON MILLER, KODY SUTTON, WYOMING
The Cowboys’ situation at running back is a huge question mark. First of all, it was quarterback Brett Smith (the Mountain West Freshman of the Year in 2011) who led the team in rushing a year ago with 710 yards. And then starting running back Alvester Alexander surprised everyone by going to the NFL a year early. Alexander, who had a career-high 695 yards (10th in the Mountain West) and six touchdowns, wasn’t even drafted and signed with the Chicago Bears as a free agent. In steps Miller and Sutton to fight for the carries in 2012. Miller, a 6-foot, 195-pound junior, had 364 yards a year ago and two scores while Sutton, a 5-8, 195-pound sophomore, had 146 yards on 30 carries and no scores. Miller did gain 101 yards against Texas State and Sutton had 56 against Air Force. Another Cowboys running back, Ghaali Muhammad, has moved back to linebacker after gaining 379 yards on the ground in 2011 in his one year as a running back.
9. KASEY CARRIER, DeMARCUS ROGERS, NEW MEXICO
As usual, things are a bit undecided at New Mexico. Last year’s starting running back, Crusoe Gongbay (500 yards on 108 carries), left the school after the season, presumably to join former New Mexico head coach Mike Locksley at Maryland in 2013 after sitting out this season. That leaves Rogers and Carrier to battle for the starting job under new head coach Bob Davie. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Carrier emerged as the starter late in the 2010 season but had to miss the entire 2011 season with an ankle injury. Now a junior, Carrier had 373 yards in 2010 (97 against Wyoming) and 269 as a freshman in 2009. Rogers, a 5-11, 185-pound junior, averaged just 3.0 yards a carry last year, gaining 242 yards on 81 carries. It was the first college action for the 22-year-old after red-shirting in 2009 and missing all of 2010 with an injury.
8. WALTER KAZEE, ADAM MUEMA, SAN DIEGO STATE
Kazee and Muema get the difficult task of trying to replace the departed Ronnie Hillman. Hillman led the Mountain West and was third in the nation last season with 1,711 yards and is now playing for the Denver Broncos in the NFL. Kazee, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound senior and Muema, a 5-10, 190-pound sophomore, though, did show enough a year ago to suggest that the Aztecs’ ground game will be just fine in 2012. Kazee ran for 339 yards and four touchdowns in just nine games last year (he is coming off a knee injury in 2012). He had 112 yards against UNLV and 101 against New Mexico State as a freshman in 2009. Muema had 253 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman despite not getting a carry the first seven games. Muema also had 119 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries against Boise State in November. Kazee has 1,024 yards in his three-year career.
7. WES COBB, MIKE DeWITT, AIR FORCE
The two Air Force cadets will be given the task of replacing the departed Asher Clark, who finished his career as the Falcons’ second all-time leading rusher with 3,594 yards. DeWitt and Cobb had less yards combined (992) last year than Clark (fourth in the Mountain West at 1,110) had alone. DeWitt and Cobb, though, were very productive in their own right. DeWitt had 567 yards and 12 touchdowns while Cobb had 425 yards and four scores. DeWitt never lost a yard on each one of his 117 carries and had 108 yards against Boise State. Cobb, who is moving to tailback this year after playing fullback last year, only lost one yard all season on his 100 carries. Air Force led the Mountain West in rushing last season with 4,092 yards and 43 touchdowns (314.8 per game).
6. TIM CORNETT, UNLV
Cornett finished seventh in the Mountain West in 2011 with 671 yards rushing. The 6-foot, 205-pound junior had three 100-yard games in 2011 with 106 against Hawaii, 104 against Air Force and 136 against San Diego State. They were the first 100-yard games of his two-year career. Cornett, though, has struggled against the Wolf Pack. Last year he had just one yard on two carries in a loss at Mackay Stadium against the Wolf Pack. His freshman year at home he had just nine yards on seven carries against the Pack for a combined total of 10 yards on nine carries in two games in the Battle for the Fremont Cannon. For his career, Cornett has 1,176 yards and 13 touchdowns in two seasons at UNLV and has caught 23 passes.
5. JOEY IOSEFA, HAWAII
Hawaii doesn’t run the ball often but when they do, they usually give it to Iosefa. As a freshman last year the 6-foot 245-pound native of American Samoa kept defenses honest and grinded out 548 yards and seven touchdowns on 110 carries (5.0 a carry). The Warriors were a little predictable when they used Iosefa (72 of his 110 carries came on first down) but he was still productive. He had 99 yards against Louisiana Tech and 90 against New Mexico State. Iosefa, who scored six of his touchdowns in the second half, also had 40 yards and a touchdown against the Wolf Pack last season at Mackay Stadium. Hawaii was 4-1 when Iosefa got 10 or more carries.
4. STEFPHON JEFFERSON, NEVADA
Stefphon Jefferson has done nothing but produce for the Wolf Pack. Now a junior, Jefferson has gotten 10 or more carries in a game just four times in his two previous seasons and each time gained at least 62 yards. In two of those games, he gained 100 (UNLV) and 108 (New Mexico) yards. The second time Jefferson ever touched the ball in a Pack uniform, he exploded for a 21-yard touchdown (against Colorado State in 2010). The 5-11, 200-pounder got just 17 carries over the Wolf Pack’s last seven games in 2011 and still gained 84 yards and scored three touchdowns. Jefferson has 455 yards and six touchdowns in his career on just 73 carries (6.2 a carry). The Wolf Pack is 3-0 when Jefferson gets more than 10 carries in a game.
3. D.J. HARPER, BOISE STATE
Harper, a sixth-year senior, has waited a long time for this season. The 5-foot-9, 210-pounder hurt his knee in consecutive seasons in 2009 and 2010 and was given a sixth year of eligibility just this past March by the NCAA. Harper, who will turn 23-years-old in September, has been around so long he even played in Colin Kaepernick’s first start in a Wolf Pack uniform on Oct 14, 2007 in Boise (a 69-67 overtime Bronco victory). Harper, who has competed with Ian Johnson, Jeremy Avery and Doug Martin for playing time in Boise, has already played parts of five seasons in Boise, gaining 1,655 yards on 319 carries in his career. Last year he stayed healthy long enough to gain a career-high 557 yards and scored nine touchdowns on 115 carries behind starter Doug Martin (1,299 yards). He had 109 yards against UNLV and 125 against TCU in back-to-back weeks last November. In three games (2007, 2008 and 2011) against the Wolf Pack, Harper has just 33 yards on 17 carries combined, though he did catch a 21-yard touchdown pass against the Pack a year ago.
2. CHRIS NWOKE, COLORADO STATE
Nwoke emerged as one of the top running backs west of the Mississippi River in 2011. The 6-foot, 215-pounder pounded his way to 1,130 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore in 2011. He also caught 23 passes for another 143 yards for the Rams and was named All-Mountain West Second Team. In three of four weeks in 2011 he rushed for 156 yards against UNLV, 232 against San Diego State and 269 against Air Force and was just one of two backs (along with Oregon’s LaMichael James) to have two 200-yard games. Nwoke also became the Rams’ first 1,000-yard rusher since 2008 (Gartrell Johnson). Nwoke, who made his Colorado State debut with 19 yards on four carries at Mackay Stadium in 2010 against the Pack, started just five games in 2011 and averaged 162 yards in each of his starts. His 1,130 yards are the 10th most in Colorado State history and ranked him third in the Mountain West last year behind San Diego State’s Ronnie Hillman (1,711) and Boise State’s Doug Martin (1,299), who both left for the NFL.
1. ROBBIE ROUSE, FRESNO STATE
The Bulldogs’ senior just might be pound-for-pound the best running back in the country. Just 5-foot-7, 185-pounds, Rouse led the Western Athletic Conference last season and was seventh in the nation with 1,549 yards. The All-WAC First Team running back is also a workhorse. The Bulldogs gave him the ball 329 times in 2011 and he got into the end zone 13 times. Rouse, who has rushed for 3,109 yards in three seasons for Fresno State, also caught 32 passes a year ago for 228 yards and another TD. He had eight 100-yard games in 2011, including a 172-yard effort against the Wolf Pack to go along with two touchdowns. He also had 169 yards against Nebraska and a season-high 176 against Hawaii. His 169 yards are the 14th most ever allowed by Nebraska in a game. Rouse’s 1,549 yards last year are the third most in Fresno State history and his 329 carries are a Bulldog record. As a sophomore in 2010 he became the first true sophomore to ever surpass 1,000 yards rushing in Fresno State history.