Preseason Lookaheads - WAC
Posted Jan 28, 2007

Why each WAC team should be excited, grouchy, and what each team needs to work on.

The numbers are the CFN pre-preseason national rankings. 

36. Hawaii   2006 Record: 11-3
Why to get excited: Colt Brennan isn't going to be playing for the Detroit Lions this year, or the Houston Texans, or the Oakland Raiders, or any other NFL team. He's going to be a Heisman front-runner and should assault the record books with his top three wide receivers returning. Davone Bess, Jason Rivers, and Ryan Grice-Mullen might be the nation's best trio and should go ballistic. Seven players are back on the defensive back eight. 
Why to be grouchy: Three starters are gone off the offensive line, but the big hole is left by 254-pound RB Nate Ilaoa, who was a pounding runner and a fantastic receiver. Defensive ends Melila Purcell and Ikaika Alama-Francis will be missed, as will offensive tackles Tala Esera and Dane Uperesa.
The number one thing to work on is: Penalties. The Warriors were 112th in the nation committing 7.36 sins per game. The secondary could stand to be much tighter after giving up 242 yards per game, but that was because teams bombed away to try to keep up in shootouts. A few more third down defensive stops could mean the difference between a battle and a blowout considering the offense will put up points in bunches.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Nate Ilaoa 
Biggest defensive loss: DE
Melila Purcell 

37. Boise State  2006 Record: 13-0
Why to get excited: Boise State always wanted the national attention that comes with being a top-flight program, and now it'll have it. Chris Petersen and his staff proved in the Fiesta Bowl to be among the most creative in the game, and they should keep the offensive production rolling with Ian Johnson running behind a good line with four starters returning. Taylor Tharp should be a good fill-in for Jared Zabransky, but ...
Why to be grouchy: ... you don't just lose a three-year starting quarterback without a bit of a drop-off. It won't help to lose the three best receivers. Everything built up to last year when it was a veteran team with the best defense in the history of the program. Five starters are gone off the D including heart-and-soul LB Korey Hall. All-WAC PK Anthony Montgomery is gone as is punter Kyle Stringer.
The number one thing to work on is: Seamlessly filling in the new starters on defense. The offense will be fine under Petersen, but the defense, which hasn't always been a rock over the years, has a lot of work to do to play like the WAC's best. Last year's group did just about everything right. Getting more pop on returns would be nice after averaging just 8.41 yards per punt return and 20.03 yards on kickoff returns.
Biggest offensive loss: QB Jared Zabransky 
Biggest defensive loss: LB Korey Hall 

71. Nevada   2006 Record: 8-5
Why to get excited: Head coach Chris Ault is still around and he has a good back in Luke Lippincott, and a decent QB prospect in Nick Graziano, to revolve the offense around. Three starters return to the offensive front and seven starters are back on the WAC's second best defense. The return game is one of the best in the country, and top returners Dwayne Sanders and De'Angelo Williams are back.
Why to be grouchy: The offense will miss Jeff Rowe. While he had a bit of a disappointing season, he was a good veteran who did a good job for stretches as the offense's main man for the last three years. The defense might not lose many players, but it loses three key playmakers in DE J.J. Milan, CB Joe Garcia and SS Nick Hawthrone
The number one thing to work on is: Punting. Brett Jaekle was decent on field goals hitting eight of 11 shots, but he struggled punting with the team netting 32.3 yards per kick. Nevada likes to win by running the ball and is far better when it gets good field position. Everyone is, but it means more to a Wolf Pack attack that, despite its perception, isn't all that explosive.
Biggest offensive loss: QB Jeff Rowe 
Biggest defensive loss: CB Joe Garcia

76. San Jose State   2006 Record: 9-4 
Why to get excited: If Dick Tomey can take a dead-program-walking to a nine-win season and a bowl win, replacing a few starters here and there shouldn't be any big deal. The Spartans get three starters back on the offensive line, the entire backfield, both kickers, and seven starters on defense. Tackling machine LB Matt Castelo and top pickoff man Dwight Lowery should be locks for all-star honors.
Why to be grouchy: The receiving corps needs working on after losing top three targets James Jones, John Broussard and Chester Coleman. That's 141 of the team's 187 catches, 1,936 of the 2,361 receiving yards, and 18 of the 23 touchdown catches. No other wide receiver caught a touchdown pass.
The number one thing to work on is: Even more aggressive defense. It's nitpicking to ask a team that made such big strides on D to do even more, but getting into the backfield would be nice. The Spartans only made 63 tackles for loss and 18 sacks. Crank up those numbers a bit more and the overall production should skyrocket.
Biggest offensive loss: WR James Jones 
Biggest defensive loss: S Christopher Vedder

81. Fresno State   2006 Record: 4-8
Why to get excited: Things can't be much worse than last year. There's far more talent on the team than a 4-8 record, and 4-4 WAC season, might indicate, and it might not take too much tweaking to turn things back around in a hurry. More from the passing game, more clutch plays, and better pass defense should make a big difference, and this team should be able to do all three. Seven starters return on offense including four on a line that allowed just 12 sacks.
Why to be grouchy: There's still a question of whether or not QB Tom Brandstater can play. He has all the talent in the world, but with RB Dwayne Wright off to the NFL, the offense falls on his shoulders. Enough talent is off the defense to prevent too much improvement right off the bat.
The number one thing to work on is: Passing. The punting game needs a big boost after finishing 115th in the nation netting 30 yards per kick, but in the WAC, you can't win consistently if you can't throw, and last year, Fresno State couldn't throw. There's no reason a team with this much speed at receiver, and a quarterback like Brandstater, should be averaging 158 passing yards per game.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Dwayne Wright
Biggest defensive loss: LB Dwayne Andrews 

104. New Mexico State   2006 Record: 3-8
Why to get excited: All the national attention will be on Hawaii and its passing attack, but Chase Holbrook, Chris Williams, and the Aggie offense should be just as explosive with ten starters back. After finishing second in the nation averaging 399 yards per game, the air show should continue. All five starters return to an offensive line that struggled last year, but now should be far better. Eight starters return on defense, as do both kickers including punter Jared Kaufman who helped NMSU finish sixth in the nation in net punting. 
Why to be grouchy: Even with all the experience returning on D, that doesn't mean it'll be appreciably better. The Aggies got better as the season went on, but it still didn't stop anyone cold allowing a whopping 34 points per game against D-I teams. If the offense isn't humming on a consistent basis, NMSU won't won.
The number one thing to work on is: Better line play and turnover margin. It's not a shock that NMSU gave up plenty of sacks considering how often it throws, but 40 of them, along with several big hits, were a problem. The defense rarely generated any pressure on opposing passes and didn't make nearly enough plays behind the line. The Aggies finished 110th in the nation in turnover margin.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Akieem Jolla 
Biggest defensive loss: LB Tim McManigal

111. Louisiana Tech   2006 Record: 3-10
Why to get excited: The program needs a little bit of a change, and it got one with the hiring of Derek Dooley. He might not make Tech a WAC superpower right away, but he has a team loaded with veterans on both sides of the ball. The defense is senior dominated, QB Zac Champion is back to run the offense, and Patrick Jackson is a decent back to balance things out. However ...
Why to be grouchy: ... the defense has a long way to go before it's merely average. A long way. Will the experience turn into production? This was the nation's worst defense giving up 483 yards and 41.69 points per game. Worse yet, considering all the juniors and all the emerging veterans, the team played worse as the season went on. Louisiana Tech is still in Louisiana; travel is still an issue.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting into the backfield. Blitz, send seven guys, sell the house, whatever, Louisiana Tech has to make plays behind the line after finishing last in the country in both sacks and tackles for loss. It's not like the WAC offensive lines were anything special; the Bulldogs were just bad. The offensive line wasn't a prize, either.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Eric Newman
Biggest defensive loss: LB Marquis Spurgon 

113. Idaho   2006 Record: 4-8
Why to get excited: The team should have a little bit of stability in the coaching staff. Robb Akey is the team's third head coach in three years, but as long as he's not a complete disaster, he should be around for a little while Most of the defense is back only losing three starters, while the trio of running backs (Jayson Bird, Brian Flowers and Rolly Lumbala) should be the best in the WAC.
Why to be grouchy: The team has a long way to go after losing five straight to end the season. The new coaching staff has a major task ahead of it trying to improve a scoring D that finished 115th in the nation and an offense that managed just 16.92 points per game. QB Steven Wichman might not have been special, but he was experienced. If Brian Nooy isn't the answer, this could be a one-dimensional team.
The number one thing to work on is: Scoring. The WAC might not be as high-flying as its reputation might make it out to be, but Idaho has to be able to put up more points. Scoring 30 in the final four games isn't going to get it done. The ground game should be there, a few good receivers return to count on, and now the offense has to learn how to stay in games.
Biggest offensive loss: QB Steven Wichman
Biggest defensive loss: DE Charles Campbell

117. Utah State   2006 Record: 1-11
Why to get excited: Things can't be any worse. The hiring of former North Texas head coach Darrell Dickey to run the offense might help a little bit, even though the Mean Green attack finished last year ranked 117th in the nation and Utah State's finished 114th. At least there's experience with nine starters back on offense and ten back on defense along with both kickers.
Why to be grouchy: The talent level still might not even be close. Not only does Utah State have to improve, it has to make a quantum leap in overall production to be merely competitive compared to where it was at throughout most of last year. This is a team that has to get better in just about every area, so if the experience doesn't translate into production, it'll be another long season.
The number one thing to work on is: Find something it can count on offensively. Marcus Cross is a talented running back who needs room to move. The passing game doesn't have to be explosive, but it needs to be remotely efficient. Defensively, the Aggies have to do at least one thing well. Last year, it didn't do much of anything.
Biggest offensive loss: C Brent DeLadurantey 
Biggest defensive loss:
S Terrance Washington