WAC Preview 2006

Posted Aug 9, 2006

Preview 2006 CollegeFootballNews.com WAC Preview

No league has a bigger chasm between the haves and have nots. While that’s lousy for WAC fans hoping for a fun season, it’s great for a Boise State team dreaming to be a part of the BCS if it can beat Oregon State and Utah. Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii are all good enough to play with anyone in the country for at least a half, Louisiana Tech is decent, and then things drop off the map with San Jose State, Idaho, even with the addition of head coach Dennis Erickson, Utah State and New Mexico State among the worst teams in college football. More interesting than the WAC race will be the non-conference games with top teams facing Arizona State, Alabama, LSU, Oregon, and Oregon State.

1. This will be the best Hawaii offense yet under June Jones. Davone Bess leads a loaded receiving corps that’ll blow up with QB Colt Brennan improved.

2. Fresno State will go yet another year without winning a WAC title. 1999 is a long time ago.

3. Boise State will win games with defense, not offense.

Nov. 25 Boise State at Nevada.
Taking away the bowl game last year in Boise, the last regular season home loss the Broncos have suffered was in 2001 to Washington State. That's a span of 30 games meaning it's doubtful anyone will Boise State on the blue turf. That means that if Nevada is as good as expected, the WAC finale could be for the title.

1. Boise State
Predicted record: 11-1  Conf. record: 8-0
Best Player: LB Korey Hall, Sr.
Offense - If you're looking for a big drop-off now that Dan Hawkins is gone and Chris Peterson is running the team and not the offense, it's not going to happen. Bryan Harsin will handle the attack and everything will keep on humming with the WAC's best line paving the way for a good backfield and allowing QB Jared Zabransky more time to try to get his groove back. The receiving corps is loaded with experience and talent. If Zabransky can cut down on his interceptions and be more efficient, 40 points a game is an attainable goal.
Defense - It'll be a shock if this isn't the WAC's best defense. This is the first time as a coordinator for Justin Wilcox, but he has plenty of talent to work with thanks to several all-star caliber players led by linebacker Korey Hall along with a deep and talented secondary. Getting to the quarterback won't be a problem with everyone coming from all angles to generate pressure. The run defense will put up nice stats because there aren't many running teams on the schedule; the secondary has to be tighter after allowing 262 yards per game.

This season will be a success if … Boise State gets to the BCS. It'll take 11 wins with the one loss being in a nail-biter, but the schedule is too light and the team is too loaded to shoot for anything less. Even if the formula doesn't end up working out and the Broncos don't go to one of the big games, a WAC title would be nothing to sneeze at.

T2. Hawaii
Predicted record: 9-4  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Player: WR Davone Bess, Soph.
Offense - Be afraid. Be very, very afraid. Hawaii averaged 476 yards and 31 points per game with a new quarterback and two freshmen receivers leading the way. Now quarterback Colt Brennan is on the verge of superstardom while top targets Davone Bess and Ryan Grice-Mullen will each be among the nation's most productive receivers. The runners are huge with 248-pound Nate Ilaoa getting a fifth year of eligibility to be the main back for the few times the attack wants to power the ball. The line welcomes back three starters led by all-stars Samson Satele and Tala Esera.
Defense - Hawaii's defense doesn't have to stop anyone cold, so if it can just not be miserable, the offense will take care of the rest. The 3-4 alignment will show off the athleticism of the back eight, but everyone has to be more physical. Defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville has more speed to work with and gets some help with the return of end Meilila Purcell and free safety Leonard Peters to 100% health after they each had problems last year. Stopping the run will be the first priority, but the pass defense also needs work after allowing over 250 yards per game.

This season will be a success if … the Warriors go back to a bowl game. With this much firepower and the WAC schedule opening up the way it does after a brutal opening three games, a seven win regular season is a must with an eye on nine.

T2. Nevada
Predicted record: 8-4  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Player: QB Jeff Rowe, Sr.
Offense - The offense is known for its wide open passing, but it has an effective ground game that provides more balance than you might expect. The running attack likely won't be more effective than the passing game for a second straight year without leading rusher B.J. Mitchell, but Robert Hubbard is ready to take over the number one role. Jeff Rowe will be one of the nation's most effective all-around quarterbacks with a deep and experienced receiving corps to throw to, but it could all unravel if injuries strike at tackle.
Defense - The defense welcomes back eight starters and a ton of depth to provide good competition at several spots, but now there has to be more production. The scheme can be a 3-4 or a 4-3 depending on the situation with more than enough size up front to be beefy against the run and huge, but relatively slow linebackers outside of talented strongside starter Ezra Butler. J.J. Milan is back from a foot injury to provide more of a pass rush to help out an improving secondary that gets Nick Hawthrone back at safety.

This season will be a success if … Nevada wins the WAC title. It won't be easy with road games at Fresno State, Hawaii and Louisiana Tech, but Boise State has to come to Reno and the second half of the schedule is too nice not to go on a run. After last year, anything less than a title would be a disappointment.

T2. Fresno State
Predicted record: 7-5  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Player: C Kyle Young, Sr.
Offense - There should be an excellent mix of a deep passing attack with a steady running game despite the loss of top running backs Wendell Mathis and Bryson Sumlin along with quarterback Paul Pinegar. Dwayne Wright returns from missing most of the last two years with a knee injury to lead the ground game, and he should run wild behind Kyle Young and a tremendous offensive line. Paul Williams and Joe Fernandez form an excellent 1-2 receiving punch, but they need a steady passer to get them the ball. Quarterback options Tom Brandstater, Sean Norton, and Ryan Colburn can all bomb, but they have to prove they can be consistent.
Defense - The Fresno State defense led the WAC in every appreciable category last year and will be close to as good despite the loss of three All-WAC stars in DT Garrett McIntyre, CB Richard Marshall, and FS Tyrone Culver. The linebacking corps will be the early strength for the ultra-aggressive D with Dwayne Andrews certain to be in the hunt for WAC Defensive Player of the Year. The secondary will be great after the two open spots are secures, and the line should be better against the run with a pair of 330 pounders at tackle.

This season will be a success if … Fresno State wins the WAC title. It has to be the goal for a program that hasn’t gotten it done under head coach Pat Hill. Playing well against Oregon and LSU would be icing on the cake compared to finally getting over the hump and becoming the outright best team in the league.

5. Louisiana Tech
Predicted record: 7-6  Conf. record: 5-3
Best Player: WR Eric Newman, Sr.
Offense - The Bulldogs aren't going to put up a ton of points and aren't equipped to get into shootouts, but there's the potential to be very solid with a good backfield punch of Freddie Franklin and Patrick Jackson and a receiving corps that's deep and talented. The line doesn't have any depth and has to replace its top two players, G Aaron Lips and C Marcus Stewart, but the starting five should turn out to be fine. And then there's the quarterback situation. Matt Kubik is gone making it an open competition between Zac Champion, Michael Mosley and Joe Danna.
Defense - It'll be a year of transition for one of the WAC's better defenses with only two starters returning, a new defensive coordinator in Randy Bates, and major question marks in several areas. There has to be more of a pass rush from the front three while the relatively green corners have to be ball-hawking. The linebacking corps loses its heart and soul in Byron Santiago and Barry Robertson, but it shouldn't be too bad with several good, young prospects working around Brannon Jackson in the middle. 

This season will be a success if … Tech goes bowling. It'll have to survive seven road games in the first nine, but things open up over the second half of the year. The WAC title is out of the question.

6. Idaho
Predicted record: 3-9  Conf. record: 2-6
Best Player: RB Jayson Bird, Soph.
Offense - It'll be fun to watch. Head coach Dennis Erickson and offensive coordinator Dan Cozzetto are going to run a variety of formations using four and five wide sets with wild pass patterns making life a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators to figure out. The key will be the play of QB Steven Wichman, who has the arm and experience to put up huge numbers. The receiving corps isn't special, but there are several options to keep a good rotation going. The ground game won't be neglected with the return of Jayson Bird from a collarbone injury to team up with bruising Rolly Lumbala. The line is experienced and should be solid if everyone is healthy.
Defense - Ex-head coach Nick Holt was a defensive coordinator by nature and didn't leave the cupboard bare with decent prospects from a D that got rolled over by everyone. There's plenty of speed but little size just about everywhere. The corners could use a bit of a pass rush to take the pressure off, and they'll get it with the defensive line looking far-and-away more disruptive than it was last year. The linebacking corps will be a work in progress building around Josh Bousman on the outside.

This season will be a success if … Idaho wins at least four games and pulls off one good upset. Considering Idaho hasn't won more than three games since 2000, four wins would be a nice first step back in the Dennis Erickson era.

T7. New Mexico State
Predicted record: 3-9  Conf. record: 1-7
Best Player: WR A.J. Harris, Soph.
Offense - The Hal Mumme attack didn't exactly work like it was supposed to only averaging 16.5 points and 344 yards per game, but square pegs were trying to be forced into round holes. The biggest problem was an offensive line that was originally recruited to run block and then had a nightmare of a time protecting the quarterback. Last year's starting quarterbacks are out of the mix, but most of the top receivers are returning along with leading rusher Justine Buries. The line can't be any worse, and at least it's experienced.
Defense - Much was made about the problems on offense last year, but the bigger issues were with a defense that finished second-to-last in America (ahead of only Northwestern) allowing 480 points along with 39 points per game. Step one has to be to generate a pass rush after coming up with only seven sacks last year. You don't have a chance in the WAC if you can't stop the pass, so the corners have to be far better and there has to be far more than seven interceptions. There's enough size and experience to hope for the 3-4 to be better against the run after getting shoved around for 216 yards per game.

This season will be a success if … the Aggies win five games. The two D-IAA games have to be locks, there has to be at least a split on the road against Idaho and Utah State, the home date with San Jose State is a must-win, and there needs to be one out-of-the-blue upset to make this happen.

T7. San Jose State
Predicted record: 2-10  Conf. record: 1-7
Best Player: RB Mat Cantu, Sr.
Offense - The offense was just starting to find itself over the second half of last year and should be far more effective this season thanks to a strong line with four returning starters led by tackle Matt Cantu. The running game has four good options with the most talented runner of the bunch, freshman Dominique Hunsacker, on the way. The receivers are decent, but nothing special. The real focus will be on the quarterback situation where it'll be a three-way battle into the fall to find someone who can get the completion percentage to over 50%.
Defense - The Spartan defense improved immensely last season partially because of the new coaching staff and partially because it was a senior dominated crew. Now the D is starting from almost scratch with only three returning starters, no size whatsoever at linebacker, a shaky secondary that's replacing a crew that finished 116th in the nation, and a defensive line that will have to learn on the fly. All is not completely lost with great all-around quickness and athleticism, but the actual football talent is questionable.

This season will be a success if … the Spartans win six games. It'll take a few upsets and at least two roads wins, which is harder than it sounds without an away victory since 2003.

T7. Utah State
Predicted record: 1-11  Conf. record: 1-7
Best Player: WR/PR Kevin Robinson, Jr.
Offense - Seven starters return to an attack that needs an identity after being consistently average all of last year scoring between 21 and 24 points six times. The key is the ground game, which needs far more production from the running backs. JUCO transfer Marcus Cross has to star right away to keep QB Leon Jackson III from having to run 136 times again. The offensive line is big and promising, but it needs work with only two starters returning. The receiving corps is the team's strength with Tony Pennyman and Kevin Robinson two of the WAC's best targets and need to be used more.
Defense - The Aggies struggled through a lot of youth playing key roles and a lot of mistakes. A lot. Despite the possibility of eight sophomore starters, this is an experienced group that should be a little better in all phases after allowing 406 yards and almost 33 points per game. The biggest improvement is needed in the secondary where Terrence Washington will look to get back his all-star form and sophomore brothers Josh and Caleb Taylor need to perform like veterans. Finding a replacement up front for pass rushing terror John Chick will be a problem, but the front seven should be solid up the middle with tackles Brian Soi and E.J. Reid and linebacker Jake Hutton.

This season will be a success if … Utah State wins five games. Having not won five or more games in five years, it would be a good turnaround season to go into late November with an outside chance of pulling off six victories