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Preview: Boise State owns the WAC
All right, WAC, now what?
Thanks to Hawaii of 2007 and Boise State in 2006 and 2009, the WAC has had its moments in the BCS world, but it’ll be a harder sell after the Broncos are off to the Mountain West. Mediocre teams on the bottom and geographic restrictions limit what the WAC can do to survive, expand, and stay alive (with Fresno State and Nevada likely to be next up in the interests of the Mountain West), but with Louisiana Tech part of the league, there’s a chance to try to expand east and create some rivalries on the other side of the Rockies.
While there’s cause to be concerned when it comes to the WAC’s viability, for now, the conference gets one more big year in the spotlight with Boise State possibly in the BCS and national title discussion all season long, Fresno State with some big non-conference games against Cincinnati, Ole Miss, and Illinois, and with Nevada’s offense likely to be as strong as ever. But for the national image to improve, the lower teams have to be far better.
If Boise State beats Virginia Tech in the season opener and can get by Oregon State, the talk of the 2010 season will be if the Broncos deserve to be in the national title discussion despite facing a WAC schedule. With New Mexico State, San Jose State, and Utah State struggling to build into something interesting, with Louisiana Tech trying to do more despite a coaching change, and Idaho trying to build on a shocking 2010, there’s a lot of work to do to improve the conference's profile. Hawaii always gets decent press because of the late games and the bowl-like way some of the big boys treat the trip across the water, Fresno State is always fascinating, and Nevada is fun until the bowl games, but it’s Boise State’s league and everyone has been renting space.
The Broncos have won six of the last eight WAC titles, shared the 2005 championship with Nevada, and appear to be a mortal lock to win another title before bolting. How would the Pac 10 be without USC? How about the Big Ten without Ohio State? In a strange way, the best thing that could happen to the WAC this year is if Boise State stumbles and Nevada or Fresno State dominates.
With new coaching staffs at San Jose State and Louisiana Tech, improvements at Idaho and Utah State, and the rest of the league certain to be interesting in their own way, the WAC will be worth paying attention to. The question going forward will be if it’s worthy of interest without Boise State.
Team that'll surprise
Louisiana Tech – Head coach Sonny Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin will be bringing the Air Raid attack to Ruston, and while it might sputter at times, and it’s not going to be smooth, it’ll make things interesting. The Bulldogs are suddenly the X factor in the WAC race, and with enough solid offensive personnel to get by, expect a winning season and a big upset somewhere along the way.
Team that'll disappoint
Idaho – After being one of the biggest shockers in 2009, the Vandals have the potential to go back to being the Vandals with a defense that isn’t going to be appreciably better and with too many replacements on offense. The passing game will be fantastic, and the kicking game will be solid, but the schedule is rough, and it’s asking a lot to win so many close games again. There are enough lightweights at home to expect a few wins, but it’ll be a push to get to .500.
Game of the year
Boise State vs. Virginia Tech, Sept. 6 – The Boise State trip to Nevada on Nov. 27 will decide the WAC title and will be an offensive shootout, but the WAC season will be made or broken on what happens in Landover, Md., to start the season. If the Broncos beat the Hokies, it’s game on for the national title discussion, and the WAC will be in the spotlight all year long. If Boise State loses, or gets whacked, the conference will be an afterthought.
5 big-time players who deserve a bigger spotlight
1. DE Dontay Moch, Sr., Nevada
2. WR Greg Salas, Sr., Hawaii
3. SS Shiloh Keo, Sr., Idaho
4. LB Bobby Wagner, Jr., Utah State
5. LB Adrien Cole, Jr., Louisiana Tech
Coach on the hot seat
Pat Hill, Fresno State – The Bulldogs come up with a big win over a name team here and there, but the consistency went bye-bye a long time ago. There’s been one bowl win in the past five years, the program’s last ten-win season was 2001 and Boise State has been the dominant team that FSU was supposed to become under Hill. It’s Year 14, and Hill has to show that the team is moving forward and ready to do more once the Broncos leave.
5 Non-conference games WAC opponents had better take very, very seriously
1. Cincinnati at Fresno State, Sept. 4
2. California at Nevada, Sept. 17
3. USC at Hawaii, Sept. 2
4. Louisiana Tech at Texas A&M, Sept. 11
5. Illinois at Fresno State, Dec. 3
Bold predictions … Nevada will give Boise State its toughest game of the year outside of the opener against Virginia Tech. … The Louisiana Tech offense will work just enough to make Sonny Dykes a hot head-coaching candidate. … Nevada won’t reach the ground game numbers of last year, but it’ll still lead the nation in rushing. … Colin Kaepernick will make a big run at Kellen Moore for the WAC Player of the Year honor. … Fresno State will win two of the three games against BCS teams (Cincinnati, at Ole Miss, Illinois). … NMSU will be far better, even if the record doesn’t show it. … Hawaii’s Greg Salas will either lead the nation or will be in the top three in the top receiving categories.
5 best pro prospects
1. CB Davon House, Sr., NMSU
2. WR/KR Titus Young, Sr., Boise State
3. SS Shiloh Keo, Sr., Idaho
4. QB Colin Kaepernick, Sr., Nevada
5. DE Chris Carter, Sr., Fresno State
5 biggest shoes to fill
1. RB Robbie Rouse for Ryan Mathews, Fresno State
2. RB Lyle Fitte for Daniel Porter, Louisiana Tech
3. CB Jerrell Gavins for Kyle Wilson, Boise State
4. OG Sam Tupua for Mike Iupati, Idaho
5. C Matagisila Lefiti for John Estes, Hawaii
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