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How the WAC Season Is Upside-down
La Tech Coach Sonny Dykes
La Tech Coach Sonny Dykes
Posted Nov 18, 2011

Prior to the start of the WAC season, all eyes were on November 19th. Fans were right on the date...just wrong on the teams. CFN's Dalton Lee explains how the WAC has been turned on its head.

By Dalton Lee

Prior to the start of the season, Western Athletic Conference fans had circled this Saturday, November 19th, on their calendars for what many considered to be "the game" to determine the WAC champions for 2011. That’s was when the Hawaii Warriors would take on the Fresno State Bulldogs at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. Both teams are competing in their final season in the WAC before they take their huge rivalry to Mountain West Conference in 2012. So both teams wanted to go out with a bang and leave with the WAC crown on their heads.

Most preseason prognosticators agreed, choosing Hawaii and Fresno State as the frontrunners to the title. The media was so confident in the significance of this game, plans were announced to televise it nationally.

So much for the best laid plans. Instead, both teams have had significant struggles in 2011.

With a 3-7 record, Fresno State will not go bowling for the first time since 2006. Offensively, the Bulldogs struggled early on to find consistency with sophomore Derek Carr under center. Statistically, Carr has improved the last three games, averaging more than 300 yards passing and throwing nine touchdowns.

The same can’t be said of a woeful Bulldog defense. Fresno State has given up an average of 37 points each game; ranked 114th. After losing 48-45 to New Mexico State last week, Bulldog defensive coordinator Randy Stewart resigned. Linebacker coach Tim Skipper takes over Randy’s position in hopes of putting some bite back into the Bulldog defense. But it may be a tall order for the up and coming coach with no defensive coordinator experience.

Don't smirk too much, Hawaii fan - your team has not fared much better. At 5-5, injuries have taken there toll on the Warriors. Lineman Clayton Laurel’s broken arm was the latest injury to an offensive line which has had difficulties finding players healthy enough to play. At the receiver position, the Warriors’ biggest threat, Royce Pollard has been battling ankle and knee injuries. Other playmakers Justin Clapp and Allen Sampson are out for the season.

But the most devastating injury occurred last week when quarterback Bryant Moniz, the WAC preseason player of the year, went down with a broken fibula. Most likely, it will be up to senior Shane Austin to take over for Moniz. The Warriors need to win two out of their last three games to be bowl eligible.

While WAC fans chose the wrong game that would determine WAC supremacy, they DID get the date right. About 3500 miles away from Aloha Stadium, the first place Nevada Wolf Pack will host the second place Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. That's not a typo and yes, the year is 2011.

At the start of the season, Nevada had to replace more than 6500 yards of offense from the graduated Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua. Little did they know that freshman Cody Fajardo would lead the Wolf Pack’s pistol offense to an average of 524 yards per game. Fajardo has been simply fantastic; so far, he has not only thrown for 1255 yards and five touchdowns, but also run for 525 yards and 11 scores. In their current five game winning streak, Nevada’s offense has averaged a staggering 617 yards and 44 points per game. Senior wideout Rishard Matthews has been the go-to receiver with 59 catches for 958 yards and five touchdowns. Running back Mike Ball has been a wrecking ball with 704 yards and three touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Louisiana Tech has been perhaps the biggest surprise of the WAC, if not the CFB season. After winning just five games under new head coach Sonny Dykes in 2010, the Bulldogs appeared to be in for another rough season when they started the year 1-4. But since then Louisiana Tech has won five in a row to take sole possession of 2nd place in the WAC - that run includes last week's stunning 27-7 thrashing of the SEC's Ole Oxford.

Junior Colby Cameron has taken over at quarterback for a struggling freshman Nick Isham and has not looked back. In the last three games, Colby has thrown for 793 yards and seven touchdown versus just one interception. Quinton Patton has been a playmaker at the wideout position with 919 yards and 9 touchdowns on 64 receptions. But the key to their five game winning streak has been their opportunistic defense. During the span, the Bulldogs have forced 16 turnovers. They will have to continue to win the turnover margin to top Nevada.

The weekend promises to be an exciting one in the WAC, with postseason and title aspirations on the line.

Follow Dalton on Twitter: @DaltonCFN