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Joe Santoro: Mountain West QBs + NFL = meh

By Joe Santoro For the Nevada Appeal
Jordan Love works out at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis on Feb. 27.
Charlie Neibergall/AP

Is Jordan Love worth a first-round NFL draft pick? Practically every self-appointed NFL draft expert thinks so. The Utah State quarterback wasn’t even the best quarterback named Love last year in the Mountain West. That honor belonged to San Jose State’s Josh Love, the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year. Jordan Love was named honorable mention quarterback. Jordan Love was awful against the Wolf Pack last year, completing 13-of-31 passes for 169 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Jordan Love regressed from his sophomore year to his junior year last year, falling in yards (3,567-3,402), touchdowns (32-20) and quarterback rating (158.3-129.1) while tossing far more interceptions (six in 2018, 20 last year). But Jordan Love stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 225 pounds. He has a strong arm. He looks like an NFL quarterback. There have even been silly and unfair Patrick Mahomes comparisons to him (do you think Mahomes would have gone 13-of-41 against the Pack last year?). Most draft predictions have Jordan Love as the fourth quarterback taken off the draft board behind Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert. If Jordan Love was on the Pack last year, Pack coach Jay Norvell might have benched him for a game or two for Cristian Solano, Malik Henry or Kaymen Cureton.

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The Mountain West’s history of sending quarterbacks to the NFL is, well, spotty at best. The conference has existed now for 21 seasons and the best quarterbacks the Mountain West has given the NFL are Alex Smith, Andy Dalton, Josh Allen and Derek Carr. And that’s about it. Historically, it’s been a league of goofy, gadget offenses (yes, the pistol and Air Raid qualify) and awful defenses and, well, that scares the NFL. Some of the greatest Mountain West quarterbacks, like Bradlee Van Pelt, John Beck, Kellen Moore, Brett Rypien, Cody Fajardo, Garrett Grayson, Max Hall, barely got a sniff of the NFL, if that much. Most were ignored. Many times, like former Mountain West Freshmen of the Year Armani Rogers of UNLV and Brett Smith of Wyoming, the career stagnated even before their college career came to a close. All of that also does not help Jordan Love.

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Josh Love, the best quarterback in the Mountain West last year, will likely have to beg to get an NFL opportunity. The Forgotten Love, you see, officially stands just 6-2 and weighs 205 pounds. And played for San Jose State. Nobody has ever compared him to Patrick Mahomes. You can’t find him on anyone’s mock draft. His first three years at San Jose State he struggled for playing time against quarterbacks like Kenny Potter, Montel Aaron and Michael Carrillo. But all Josh Love did last year was lead the Mountain West in yards per game (326.9) and was second in touchdowns (22) and pass efficiency (141.2). He put 42 points on Boise State and 40 on Hawaii, the two teams that met in the conference title game. He threw for 400 or more yards five times. He passed for 405 yards and three touchdowns against the Pack at Mackay Stadium.

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Hawaii’s Cole McDonald, it seems, is also going to have to knock on doors after the draft to get an NFL shot. McDonald led the Mountain West last year with 33 touchdown passes, 4,135 yards and with a 147.6 quarterback efficiency rating. McDonald also led the conference in 2018 with 3,875 yards and 36 touchdowns. He’s led the Mountain West in total offense the last two years. Mountain West coaches named him Second Team All-Conference and named Jordan Love Honorable Mention. McDonald stands 6-4 and weighs 220 pounds, has a cool nickname (C-Money) and even cooler hair. But he played for a gadget offense so the NFL is afraid of him. Jordan Love played for an underachieving offense so he is a possible first-round pick.

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In case you missed it or merely stopped paying attention to Wolf Pack football the moment UNLV’s Steve Jenkins caught a 19-yard game-winning touchdown in overtime to beat the Pack last Nov. 30, the Pack coaching staff has undergone a ton of changes the last three months or so. Head coach Jay Norvell was given a three-year contract extension (through 2024). Five of Norvell’s assistants departed (Tommy Perry, Mike Chamoures, Angus McClure, Jeff Casteel, David Lockwood) and were replaced by Ronnie Wheat (safeties), Freddie Banks (cornerbacks), Brian Ward (defensive coordinator), Bill Best (offensive line) and Thomas Sheffield (special teams). If you didn’t notice, congratulations on having a life. College football programs, after all, go through assistant coaches about as often as Walmart goes through cashiers and toilet paper. So we’re not about to put any real meaning on all the changes. The changes are only meaningful to those inside the locker room and meeting rooms. Their job is to make sure Norvell can get another extension past 2024.

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The new Pack coach with the most important job, though, has to be Best. He replaces McClure, who is now coaching the Cal Bears’ offensive line. How a guy can go from Nevada to Cal after his area of responsibility struggled all year, well, is one of those college football mysteries only those in the locker room and meeting rooms can answer. Best comes to the Pack after two years at Rice, four at Stephen F. Austin and two at Central Arkansas. It’s now his job to make Norvell, offensive coordinator Matt Mumme and running backs coach Vai Taua look good so maybe they can eventually get a Pac-12 job.

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A few updates on a few other former Norvell assistants . . . Jason Kaufusi, who coached the defensive line at Nevada in 2017, now coaches outside linebackers at UCLA. Mason Miller, who coached the Pack offensive line in 2017, has jumped on the Mike Leach gravy train and is now doing the same at Mississippi State after two years at Washington State. David White, who coached Pack running backs in 2017-18, is now a high school head coach in Blue Springs, Mo. Former Pack special teams coach Tommy Perry (2017-19) is now in the same role at Texas-San Antonio. And Casteel, who was Norvell’s defensive coordinator the past three years, is now defensive analyst at West Virginia, which is sort of like going from cashier to gathering shopping carts in the parking lot at Walmart. Apparently it’s only the quarterbacks that can’t get jobs coming out of the Mountain West.