2006 WAC Spring Lookaheads

Posted Feb 19, 2006

Before spring ball 2006, here are the big questions, the most important positions and the attitudes for each WAC team.

By Pete Fiutak 

Boise State    Spring practice starts March 13, Spring Game April 14
The big spring question is ... How will life be different under new head coach Chris Peterson? It shouldn't be too much different from the Dan Hawkins era considering Peterson was the offensive coordinator, but can he maintain the even keel and give the program the quiet confidence if had under its former coach? The attack wasn't quite its normal juggernaut last year, but it was still a powerful running attack leading the WAC with 203 yards per game and 36 touchdowns. Expect more of the same if replacements can be found at...
The most important position to watch is ... Running back. Three of the top four runners from last year are gone including leading rusher Lee Marks and touchdown maker Antwaun Carter. Second leading rusher Ian Johnson returns after rushing for an impressive 5.6 yards per carry with 663 yards and four touchdowns, but Boise State likes to rotate its backs and needs to find more productive ones.
Spring attitude... Keep the train running. Even with a loss to Fresno State, Boise State still found a way to win a share of the WAC title. All WAC eyes will be on Peterson to see if he can follow the footsteps of Hawkins and Dirk Koetter, and he'll have the team to do it. There's no reason the Broncos can't win yet another championship.

Fresno State   
The big spring question is ... Since last year was supposed to be the year, now what does Fresno State do? The Bulldogs were well on their way to the WAC title after beating Boise State and then even got a boost by the near miss against USC, and then the wheels came off against Nevada, Louisiana Tech and Tulsa to ruin a once-great season. This is still a talented team good enough to win the WAC, but Pat Hill has to prove he can keep a team interested for a full three months.
The most important position to watch is ... Running back. Wendell Mathis and Bryson Sumlin formed a fantastic duo, and top fullback and third string tailback Matt Rivera is also gone. The quarterback situation will figure itself out with either Tom Brandstater or Jordan Christensen filling in just fine for Paul Pinegar, but there's work to do among the backs.
Spring attitude... Forget about getting national respect with the non-conference games, just win the WAC. Playing well against Oregon, Washington, Colorado State and LSU would be wonderful, but winning the Wednesday night game at Boise State and beating teams like Nevada and Louisiana Tech are more important at the moment. The Bulldogs have concerns in the offensive backfield, but the rest of the team appears to be rock solid.

Hawaii     Spring practice starts March 21, Spring Game April 15
The big spring question is ... Will the defense be able to do anything to provide just a wee bit of help for the offense? Giving up 438 yards and 35.7 points per game isn't exactly what defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville was hoping for last year. If he can somehow get his defense to improve to allowing around 400 yards and 30 points per game, this could be a huge season since the offense is so powerful.
The most important position to watch is ... Safety. The Warriors have some big replacements at outside linebacker losing Kila Kamakawiwi'ole and Tanuvasa Moe, but the loss of SS Lono Manners and FS Lamar Broadway should hurt more taking away two top all-around playmakers. Dane Porlas and B.J. Fruean are young and have to know what they're doing right away with Alabama, Boise State, Nevada and Fresno State coming up in the first five games.
Spring attitude... Be better on the road. The offense should be unstoppable now that QB Colt Brennan knows what he's doing and he has a fearsome receiving corps to work with, but the Warriors have been awful when they have to travel to play any team with a pulse. Considering there are road tests at Boise State and Fresno State, there's no hope to be a part of the WAC title hunt without being better away from Aloha Stadium.

Idaho    Spring practice starts March 25, Spring Game: April 21
The big spring question is ... Will Dennis Erickson be able to make a difference right away? If nothing else, he'll make life better for an offense that was so inconsistent last year and only averaged 335.6 yards per game. He has just about everyone returning to make the attack more explosive, but he was hired late in the game and wasn't able to add any recruits to help right away.
The most important position to watch is ... Linebacker. Cole Snyder in the middle and Mike Anderson on the weakside were longtime playmakers for the programs finishing their careers with a ton of tackles. David Vobora should be fine in Anderson's place, but he's not nearly as big checking in at around 217 pounds. Jaron Williams will get the first look in the middle.
Spring attitude... Let's see what happens with more offense. The defense was hardly a prize last year, but you can win in the WAC if you can put points on the board. Erickson was a big-time hire for a program that needed a shot in the arm, and he might be able to do wonders and flirt with six wins in his first season.

Louisiana Tech    Spring practice starts March 15, Spring Game: April 8
The big spring question is ... Has anyone noticed that the program is pretty good? Boise State and Fresno State get all the national attention, everyone loves to watch Hawaii, and Nevada got a bowl invite. All Louisiana Tech did was tie for second place in the WAC last year coming up with an impressive seven-win season. If Jack Bicknell's club wins seven again with its early schedule (more on that in a moment), some bowl needs to give this program its just due.
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. This wasn't a high-octane passing attack last year, but Matt Kubik was steady and provided solid veteran leadership. Backup Donald Allen had enough experience to be the league's most reliable backup. All the holes left by last year's senior defense will be filled, but Tech isn't going anywhere unless it can find a consistent passer to take the heat off the good stable of backs.
Spring attitude... Focus, focus, focus. The Bulldogs are used to life on the road, but seven away games in the first ten, including dates at Boise State and Hawaii, will test their resolve. They're good enough to make a lot of conference noise again, but they'll need a short memory if they have problems at places like Nebraska, Texas A&M and Clemson before the WAC schedule kicks in.

Nevada     Spring practice starts: March 27, Spring Game: April 22
The big spring question is ... What can the Wolf Pack do for an encore? After a thrilling nine-win, WAC title season ending with a five-game winning streak including heart-stoppers against Fresno State and UCF in the Hawaii Bowl, head coach Chris Ault will have a hard time getting his team to do more. His team will be tested a bit more this year with a bull's-eye squarely on its back starting off with a revenge date at Fresno State to open the season.
The most important position to watch is ... Offensive tackle. There are excellent replacements on both sides of the ball for the lost top graduating players like RB B.J. Mitchell and WR Nichiren Flowers, but replacing tackles Adam Kiefer and Tony Mall will be a bit harder, It'll by up to Reid Jacobs and Dominic Green, at least early on, to keep QB Jeff Rowe clean.
Spring attitude... Keep the momentum going. The Fresno State game will be vital to start the year, and it'll be winnable for a team full of talented veterans. The game at Arizona State the following week will also be nasty, but Nevada will have an honest chance in every game the rest of the way with the road trip at Louisiana Tech and the showdown with Boise State to finish off the regular season. A hot start could mean a ten-win season.

New Mexico State   
The big spring question is ... Will the Hal Mumme era start to show a sign of life? If New Mexico State wasn't the worst team in America last year, it was a very, very close second to Temple. The defense didn't do a thing, while the offense never got comfortable. Mumme doesn't have the pieces to fit what he wants to do, but there's no way things can be any worse. Expect more consistency on both sides of the ball, but there's no hope for a major improvement unless the Aggies get better play from the ...
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Since the receiving corps isn't anything to do jumping jacks about, Mumme's quarterback has to be more of a playmaker. Mumme didn't sign a quarterback this recruiting season and Royal Gill transferred to Southern Utah, so it'll be sink or swim with for SE Louisiana passer Chase Holbrook. Joey Vincent had a few good moments, but the Aggies need a bomber to fit exactly what Mumme wants to do.
Spring attitude... Find one thing to do really, really well. Eventually the Aggies will start chucking it around as well as anyone, but they still need more time to get the right players to fit the system. Learning how to win a close game would be nice, but finding one thing the team can rely on would make life a lot easier.

San Jose State   Spring practice starts March 10, Spring Game April 15
The big spring question is ... How much better can things be in year two of the Dick Tomey era? A lot. The team closed out with two wins, albeit over lightweights Idaho and New Mexico State, but those were still important victories for a program that has had so many problems. Things should be better this season with more offensive pop helped by the return of 5-5 RB Yonus Davis and the addition of talented freshman back
Dominique Hunsucker along with star JUCO QB Sean Flynn to push starter Adam Tafralis. A defensive coach by nature, Tomey should be able to do more with this year's group.
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Tafralis has good mobility, but he only completed 49.7% of his passes with ten interceptions along with 11 touchdown passes. If he's not amazing this spring, it should be Flynn's job to take. Flynn is a big all-around playmaker who averaged 426.5 yards of total offense per game last year at California Community College.
Spring attitude... Winning ugly is still winning. It doesn't matter how it happens or who it's against, San Jose State just needs to win games. There aren't many sure things on the slate with some of the easier games coming on the road against teams like New Mexico State and Idaho, but wins over Cal Poly and Utah State early on would be nice while an upset home win over Louisiana Tech, Boise State and/or Fresno State would be even better.

Utah State   Spring practice starts March 23, Spring Game April 14
The big spring question is ... Can the team be more competitive in Brent Guy's second season? The team played well in a loss to Nevada before ending the season with a win over New Mexico State. The Aggies came up with three wins, but two were by a touchdown and one was by three points. The offense has to be better after averaging only 317 yards and fewer than 19 points per game, and it should be with nine starters returning.
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Leon Jackson and Jerod Walker each showed good mobility, but Walker was more accurate completing almost 70% of his throws with six touchdown passes and two interceptions with a win over New Mexico State. Jackson has more experience, but Walker might have the job.
Spring attitude... Utah State has to beat the teams at its own level like San Jose State, Idaho and New Mexico State and come close to a .500 season. Five wins would be a successful season, and that's possible with a road upset or two. The team might be better, but even a little bit of an improvement would be a big success considering the relatively tough slate.