July 18, 2011
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
If you go by the preseason Watch Lists presented by the National College Football Awards Association, then the studs of the Mountain West Conference have been identified and a few main enemies of Lobo football have been targeted.
Of course, Lobos Carmen Messina, Dillon Farrell and Lucas Reed also have been targeted - not than any team playing the University of New Mexico wouldn't know about these special Lobos. Hey, just check out the game films!
Lobo opponents learned several years ago that if you have you choice - or if you can avoid him - you run away from Messina. You also don't let Reed get open anywhere, and Farrell throws a mean block that is getting nastier. Here is a quick look at these three Lobos and other MWC players, who made the national preseason "watch" lists for the 2011 season:
Carmen Messina - Lobo linebacker:
Messina had ability, but maybe what makes this linebacker so special is his heart and work ethic. Messina might not be the quickest Lobo linebacker on the field, but he has a nose for the football and the biting desire to get there. That's why Messina led the nation in tackles in 2009 (162) and had 115 last year as a junior despite hobbling around for much of the season. Messina led the MWC in tackles in 2009 and 2010 and he is the first Lobo since Brian Urlacher to have back-to-back 100-tackle seasons. He made the Rotary Lombardi List and the Butkus list.
Lucas Reed - Lobo tight end:
This sure-handed Lobo receiver made the Mackey list for tight ends, but his 6-foot-6 frame probably has him on a few NFL watch lists, too. Reed is a late bloomer, who is getting better and better with time in the pads. He was a freshman All-American in 2009 and All-MWC First Team in 2010. He caught 33 passes for 459 yards last season as a sophomore. Reed's stock will rise as he puts on weight and improves his technique in blocking.
Dillon Farrell - Lobo center:
You have to remember that this Lobo is only a pup. He makes the Rimington Trophy list (centers) as only a sophomore. Farrell has a world of potential and will go as far as his work ethic will take him. He has all the other tools at 6-foot-5, 290 pounds and could be yet another UNM center destined to play ball at the NFL level. Farrell is the only returning Lobo offensive lineman who started every game in 2010.
Bednarik Award - top defensive player:
It never hurts to play on a Top Ten team - or one of the top defensive teams in the nation. TCU linebackers Tank Carder and Tanner Brock are being considered as the top defensive player in America. They also are considered to be maybe the top linebacker duo in NCAA football. Carder was named to six All-American teams in 2010 and was the 2011 Rose Bowl Defensive MVP. Brock led TCU in tackles in 2010 (106). He was All-MWC and a SI.com honorable mention All-American. Boise State's defensive tackle Billy Winn also made this list.
Biletnikoff Award - top receiver:
The Horned Frogs of TCU might have a question mark in the quarterback department, but there is a nice target in Josh Boyce a speedy sophomore, who caught 34 passes in 2010 for 646 yards to become a freshman All-American. Boise State also has a top receiver in Tyler Shoemaker, who caught 32 passes for 582 yards.
Butkus Award - top linebacker:
The race to see who makes the 2011 All-MWC team at the linebacker spot is a preseason race between UNM's Messina, TCU's Carder, TCU's Brock and San Diego State's Miles Burris. Burris is on three preseason watch lists (Lombardi and Bronco Nagurski) for good reasons. He led the Aztecs in tackles (80) and sacks (9.5) last year in making All-MWC First Team. An oversight on the Butkus list might be leaving out CSU's Mychal Sisson.
Walter Camp Award - top player:
The MWC players on this list are good ones. We've already talked about TCU's Tank Cardner and it's already a win for any defensive player simply to make this list. You probably have to consider Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore as the league's best shot at this award. Moore has 38 career wins going into his senior year. He has completed 68.1 percent of his passes for 10,867 yards and 99 touchdowns. If Moore can led Boise State into a BCS Bowl, that will mean he had a Walter Camp-like season. SDSU's Ronnie Hillman also made this list. The Aztecs' speedster in the backfield set a MWC mark for freshmen last season with 1,532 yards.
Lou Groza Award - top place kicker:
Here's another miss wide right by this association - no UNM's James Aho. But the MWC toes on the list are good ones. TCU's Ross Evans was All-MWC First Team in 2010. He topped the MWC in scoring in 2009 with 106 points and was third in 2010 with 101 points. He was 11-of-13 in field goals last year. (Aho was 8-of-9). SDSU's Abel Perez made the list. He was Second Team All-MWC in 2010, making 17-of-22 field goals.
Rotary Lombardi Award - top defensive interior lineman/linebacker:
The Lobos' Carmen Messina was joined by eight other MWC players on this list: TCU's Tanner Brock, SDSU's Miles Morris, Boise State center Thomas Byrd, TCU's Tank Cardner, Boise State defensive end Shea McClellin, Boise State O-tackle Nate Potter, CSU linebacker Mychal Sisson and Boise State defensive tackle Billy Winn.
Mackey Award - nation's top tight end:
UNM's Lucas Reed would be the MWC's frontrunner for this award based on his stats and 2010 honors. However, Boise State's Kyle Efaw is a good one and is playing behind one of the nation's top quarterbacks. Efaw caught 24 passes last season for 299 yards and five scores.
Maxwell Award - nation's top player:
If you believe quarterbacks have an edge in Player of The Year awards, then the MWC has two strong candidates in San Diego State's Ryan Lindley and Boise's Kellen Moore. For sure, these are the two top arms in the MWC based on 2010's stats.
If Boise State lives up to preseason predictions, Moore probably has the edge. Lindley is hurt a bit by another Maxwell candidate: teammate Ronnie Hillman. Hillman ran for 1,582 yards in 2010 and his productivity on the ground probably cuts into Lindley's passing. However, the same holds true for Moore, who is joined on the Maxwell list by teammate Doug Martin. Martin ran for 1,260 yards in 2010.
Bronco Nagurski Award - nation's top defender:
The oversight on this list surely is UNM's Messina, who has thrown out back-to-back seasons of 100-plus tackles. Oh, well, the MWC is still well represented by TCU's Tanner Brock,, TCU's Tank Carder, SDSU's Miles Burris,, CSU's Mychal Sisson, and Boise State's Billy Winn.
Davey O'Brien Award - top quarterback:
We've already talked about the top MWC arms going into the 2011 season: SDSU's Ryan Lindley and Boise State's Kellen Moore. Again, the stats and potential success give Moore the edge -- but not by much. Moore tossed for 3,845 yards and 35 TDs in 2010. Lindley threw for 3,830 yards and 28 TDs.
Outland Trophy - nation's top interior lineman (offense/defense):
This is the award for those unsung heroes of football - the trench hogs who war for control of the line of scrimmage, which is really the most important area of turf on the field.
The MWC is represented by Boise State's Nate Potter and teammate Billy Winn. Potter and Winn have both been named to several preseason All-American lists. Potter, at 6-6, 300 pounds, is a two-time All-MWC First Team player, who anchored the Bronco line that helped Boise State finish No. 2 in the nation in offense (521.3 yards per game).
Rimington Trophy - nation's top center:
Centers usually are the quarterbacks of the O-line and there is much more to this position than just flipping the ball back to the quarterback. UNM's Dillon Farrell made this list because he brings versatility to this position. The MWC has three other top centers in Boise State's Thomas Byrd, Wyoming's Nick Carlson, and CSU's Weston Richburg. Carlson and Richburg were All-MWC honorable mention last season.
Jim Thorpe Award - nation's top defensive back:
If you look at the MWC candidates up for this award, the logical conclusion is that the Lobos aren't the only MWC team revamping and rebuilding its secondary. The Mountain West placed only one player on this list - Boise State's George Iloka. This Bronco has started 27 consecutive games for Boise and had 63 tackles (49 solo) in 2010. The senior safety is a preseason All-American.
Doak Walker Award - nation's top running back:
The MWC has two of the nation's top quarterbacks, but there are several MWC offenses out there who have great potential to run the football.
The Doak list includes SDSU's Ronnie Hillman, Boise's Doug Martin, Wyoming's Alvester Alexander, Air Force's Asher Clark, TCU's Matthew Tucker, and TCU's Ed Wesley. Hillman (1,532), Wesley (1,078) and Clark (1,031) were the only three MWC rushers to gain more than 1,000 yards in 2010. Martin ran for 1,260 for Boise State in the Western Athletic Conference.