WAC Preview



by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

Outside of Boise State, the WAC has really fallen on hard times.

Nevada was supposed to be an up-and-comer. You saw them get utterly annihilated in their bowl by unimpressive SMU last year. And, Nevada embarrassed itself early in the season with a bad loss to Notre Dame when many in Vegas thought they were a live dog.

Fresno State still plays a few tough games per year. But, they lost their bowl game to Wyoming...a team that wasn't anywhere near being a bowl caliber team to begin with.

When you get down further in the conference, you're talking about some of the worst teams in major college football. The worst teams in the WAC might struggle in the Sun Belt. Some would struggle in lower division conferences.

It's a one-team league right now...and that one team is leaving after 2010 to go join the Mountain West!

But...that one team really is something special. Boise State won the 'National Championship of Mid-Majors' last year with a Fiesta Bowl win over TCU. They earned a regular season win over eventual Pac 10 champion Oregon. They can play with anybody on any given day. Some believe they're truly one of the best programs in the nation. (Us? We'd like to see them survive a season of physical play in a REAL conference for making any such claim. It's not hard to get up for 2-3 big games per year, then crush patsies every other week).

As fans, there's not much to like in this league. But, as handicappers, you can make just as money in the ugly leagues as you can in the ones that play big time football. Sometimes more. And, Boise State certainly plays a beautiful game, to steal a phrase from soccer. We're looking forward to seeing how they match up in their season opener against Virginia Tech in a little over a month.

Athlon Ranking: 4
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 10 on offense, 14 on defense
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 9 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: Boise State was terrific last year, and may be even better this year. Many starters return with more poise and experience. Quarterback Kellen Moore has a chance to garner Heisman Trophy consideration if he has great outings vs. Virginia Tech and Ohio State on TV. You regulars know we spend a lot of time reminding everyone that Boise State isn't as great as the pollsters believe. They don't have to deal with the brutal attrition you get in a BCS league. They have way too many virtual scrimmages against non-entity programs. We're fully aware though that they can play with anybody, particularly when that anybody is taking them too lightly.

There's really not much to say here. What you saw last year is what you'll get this year, but probably with even bigger victory margins in the weak WAC. The opener with Virginia Tech (scheduled for Landover, Maryland), will set the tone for the season, just as last year's opener with Oregon helped set up an undefeated 14-0 run.

Athlon Ranking: 57
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 2 on offense, 96 on defense
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 6 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: Nevada is a feast or famine program that does a great job of running up the score on bad opponents, but gets completely outclassed by physical teams who can embarrass them inside...or motivated teams that catch them napping. They're probably not really a top 60 type team, because there are about 60 teams in the BCS leagues. In terms of victory margins though, they'll play like a top 20 team vs. patsies (running up the score to impressive heights), but a bottom 20 team against quality. That may be a bit of an overstatement, but not much. If you watched the Notre Dame debacle, you know how helpless these guys look when stepping up in class. And, it's not like Notre Dame was anything special this year.

Nine returning offensive starters including quarterback Colin Kapernick should guarantee another explosive season. Just remember that the shrapnel will hit the Wolfpack themselves in their toughest games.

Athlon Ranking: 59
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 17 on offense, 98 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 8 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: Remember when TV announcers kept saying that Fresno State coach Pat Hill is often considered for NFL jobs? We can't imagine that's been true for years, as Fresno State has been nothing special since the quarterback train hit a roadblock. They'll show up and battle major non-conference foes (taking Wisconsin to overtime last year, then giving Cincinnati a handful to deal with). We give Hill credit for that. In terms of getting THREE good months out of his men instead of just a few good weeks, Hill is typically a disappointment. That's certainly true when you're talking about pointspread results. Vegas prices the Bulldogs off their best performances rather than their average performances.

Things look good on the returning starter front. Quarterback Ryan Colburn will be a senior this season, but the team only ranked 79th in passing last year. Look for the smash mouth stuff to continue on the ground, in a conference where more than half the teams literally have no idea how to tackle.

Athlon Ranking: 84
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 64 on offense, 60 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 4 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: New head coach Sonny Dykes takes over for Derek Dooley (an emergency solution in Tennessee when Lane Kiffin fled the Volunteer State). Dykes is a spread offense guru who will certainly make sure Tech's offensive rankings shoot way up. Historically, that means the defense gets much worse. With only four starters back on defense, you can expect a classic spread team. Tech will score in the 40's, but have too many games where they allow something in the 50's. Monitor early season Over/Unders to see if the oddsmakers are paying attention. Texas A&M, Navy, and Southern Miss are on the September schedule.

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Athlon Ranking: 93
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 12 on offense, 113 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 7 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: We can't emphasize this enough. If hapless Utah State is picked to be your fifth best team, then your conference is HORRIBLE! Actually, those rankings above may be what you see from Louisiana Tech after the coaching change. THIS is what it looks like when you play a wide open game but can't stop anybody.

We should point out though that we like the attitude switch we've seen under new coach Gary Andersen. Utah State didn't lay down for anyone last year. They hung as tough as they could with the likes of Utah, Texas A&M, and BYU. The only bad loss was to Boise State, and there's no shame in that in this league. We expect continued improvement, because coaches that can fix the attitude at a perpetual loser typically keep things going in the right direction. We're not doing anything crazy like calling for an upset in the season opener at Oklahoma. But, we anticipate several value spots with the Aggies this season once league play begins...and maybe sooner.

Athlon Ranking: 94
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 14 on offense, 93 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 6 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: Greg McMackin struggled through much of last season. But, the Warriors won four straight games in November in a way that suggested they had turned a corner. One of those was a victory over bowl bound Navy. Now, a 51-10 trouncing from Wisconsin ended the season. That doesn't concern us because Hawaii has no way to contend with Wisconsin's beef. In terms of what happens within the WAC, there are good signs for this group.

Now, having only four offensive starters back is going to be a problem, especially when you open the season with USC! We wouldn't be surprised to see 'slow start, decent finish' once again be the storyline this season. Obviously we're down on the WAC in general. It's great to see programs taking action and trying to get better. Look to take the points with teams who are doing that against teams who aren't.

Athlon Ranking: 101
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 9 on offense, 107 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 11 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: Hey, let's give the WAC credit for scheduling hard. Idaho will have a September 11th trip to Nebraska. The powers need tune-ups. WAC teams need paychecks. A marriage made in haven.

Idaho had an exhilarating 43-42 win over Bowling Green in the Humanitarian Bowl last year. Now, NEITHER of those teams should have been allowed within miles of a bowl game. But, they sure put on a great show after getting an invitation. Idaho is another WAC team with a great attitude. Their problem this year is the lack of experience on offense. Quarterback Nathan Enderle does return. Key contributors elsewhere in the lineup do not. There are going to be a lot of shootouts in the WAC this year given the styles of play, and the stat rankings you saw from last year. Handicap accordingly.

Athlon Ranking: 110
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 115 on offense, 109 on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 6 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: Would you have guessed that a WAC preview would have included names like Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, and Nebraska? Now you can add Alabama to the list. San Jose opens at Alabama, then visits Wisconsin the week after. What a horrible way for new coach Mike MacIntyre to have to make is debut! If San Jose State ranked 109th on defense in a bad conference, what's going to happen against the likes of Alabama and Wisconsin?

MacIntyre believes in more traditional football rather than the high octane stuff. Look for that to lead to some Unders this season as he runs clock against the soft league defenses he'll be up against.

Athlon Ranking: 117
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 120 on offense, 103 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 6 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: It's tempting to say that there were some good high school teams who could have defeated New Mexico State last year. Prairie View A&M gave them a 21-18 game. You got the sense as the season progressed that quality teams took mercy on the Aggies, coasting to big leads then calling it a day. We hope they get things turned around. Right now they basically represent the worst of college football.

That wasn't so bad. Even if this the worst of the mid-major conferences (and it definitely will be next year)...you can see signs of life with programs like Utah State, Hawaii, and Idaho. Louisiana Tech and San Jose State may respond well to coaching changes. It's a fun league to handicap, particularly because oddsmakers tend to take their eye off the ball once league play begins.

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We're back to BASEBALL here in the NOTEBOOK tomorrow and Monday as we get you caught up in the pennant races. Our college conference previews will resume on Tuesday as we go through Conference USA, the MAC, the Sun Belt, and finally...the handful of Independents over the next several days. We're still on fire in the bases. Game day selections can be purchased here at the website with your credit card.

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