2007 Spring Preview - Analyzing the WAC

Posted Feb 19, 2007

Yes, spring football is right around the corner. Before all the fun begins in the most important few weeks of the off-season, here are the big questions, the most important positions and the spring attitudes for each WAC team including Colt Brennan's Hawaii.

By Pete Fiutak 
2006 WAC Spring Analysis
2007 Preseason Lookaheads - WAC 

Boise State  Spring Practice Begins: March 12  Game: April 13
The early spring buzz ... Head coach Chris Petersen will be locked up. At least given a bit more money and love to make sure he sticks around a little while longer. After doing what Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins couldn't and getting the program over the national hump, Petersen's contract will be around the $1 million a year range. That's still tip money for the elite of the elite head coaches, but it's still a nice bump.
The big spring question is ... What does the program do for an encore? Winning lots of games isn't a new thing for Boise State, and being the WAC champion is old hat. Having national respect is a whole new ball game. Now everyone will be expecting miracles and great play calls from Petersen when games get tough, but now everyone will be gunning for the Broncos that much harder. Remember, Hawaii, Wyoming, Idaho and San Jose State all had BSU in trouble, but couldn't close the deal. This year's team is far less experienced and not nearly as good defensively.
The most important position to watch is ... Linebacker. Lost in all the fireworks and great offensive plays was a rock-solid defense that, arguably, was the Boise State's best ever. The secondary, in time will be fine and the front four rotates enough players to be decent, but the linebackers might be another story losing heart-and-soul man in the middle Korey Hall.
Spring attitude... Don't change a thing. With 86 wins in the last eight years, an average of 10.75 per campaign, there's no reason to mess with the formula even with the newfound national status. As long as the team keeps executing as always and keeps believing it's the little program that could, it'll be fine. Win the WAC championship is the first priority, and let everything fall into place from there.

Fresno State   (starting in April)
The early spring buzz ... There should be a little bit of messing around with the coaching staff with former FSU quarterback Jeff Grady becoming the new quarterback coach. With offensive coordinator Steve Hagen gone, the offense still has to find the right guy to come in and give the attack an identity that was missing last year.
The big spring question is ...
Is Tom Brandstater going to play up to his talent level? Even considering the tremendous history of Fresno State quarterbacks, Brandstater might have the best all-around collection of skills and measurables. He's 6-5, 220 pounds, has a tremendous arm and can move. However, he wasn't even close to consistent throughout last season and had way too many problems with interceptions considering the offense was focused around Dwayne Wright and the ground game. He has to show this spring that he's improved enough, and has the mental toughness, to be a difference maker.
The most important position to watch is ... Running back. Dwayne Wright was everything to the offense, and now he's gone early to the NFL after rushing for 1,462 yards and 11 touchdowns. Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding, freshmen last year, have the potential to form a dangerous 1-2 tandem to take the heat off the passing game.
Spring attitude... Get the attitude back. Was 2006 an indication or an aberration? Talk about hitting the skids. Starting with the  near miss against USC in 2005's 50-42 classic, Fresno State lost 11 of 12 games before beating the dregs of the WAC (New Mexico State, Idaho and Louisiana Tech). The team always has more talent than anyone else in the league but hasn't gotten the job done under Pat Hill. Boise State walks what Fresno State talks.

The early spring buzz ... Who wants to play the Warriors? Making the trip to Honolulu was always a fun game to book for teams who'd likely have to battle for a bowl game. It was like a bowl played in the regular season, but more often than not, the sun, the bikinis and the vacation ruined the trip. Now, rumors of Michigan playing Hawaii are dead after the Wolverines backed (re: wussed) out to face Appalachian State. 
The big spring question is ... Can Jerry Glanville squeeze just enough out of the defense to come up with the one or two stops needed to win most games? The offense will throw up 450 passing yards and 50 points on most afternoons, but the defense is just as likely to give up 451 yards and 51 points to the better offenses unless the experienced secondary plays far better. Finding some new ends who can get into the backfield is a must.
The most important position to watch is ... Running back. Colt Brennan will fling it around all over the place, but the offense needs someone to step in and replace the underrated Nate Ilaoa. The 254-pound back was a load to stop when he had a head of steam, and was a terror when he got the ball on the move in the passing game. He was second on the team in total offense and third in receiving.
Spring attitude... Get to the BCS. The one slightly difficult non-conference game, at the moment, should be Washington, and that's being played in Aloha. The official WAC schedule hasn't come out yet, but Boise State and Fresno State will likely have to come to Hawaii. With this offense, and just enough experience on defense to not be truly miserable, Hawaii has to shoot for one of the big five games.

Idaho   Spring Practice Begins: March 31  Game: April 27
The early spring buzz ... How burned has Idaho been by the defection of head coaches over the last two years? It should say something that one of the highlights of Robb Akey's $1.2 million deal over five years is a $1 million buyout clause. He's Idaho's guy for the foreseeable future; he won't be able to afford to jet.
The big spring question is ... What kind of coach will Akey be? Can you say enthusiasm? Known for his jumps and leaps on the sidelines as the defensive coordinator at Washington State, he's expected to add the fun and excitement to the team. This isn't going to be a stodgy, old school team. Think Washington State with even more pep, and with one of the WAC's better defenses.
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Idaho has to find an identity early on when it comes to moving the ball, and without Steven Wichman, either Brian Nooy has to show he can be the one to improve one of the nation's worst attacks, or the team will have to go with the unknown. Akey didn't recruit a quarterback hoping for redshirt freshmen Nathan Enderle and Jon Torbin, or sophomore Chris Joseph, to be in the starting mix.
Spring attitude... Stability. Akey will be around for a while, the defense is loaded with veterans, and the running game, led by Jayson Bird, Brian Flowers and Rolly Lumbala, has the potential to be great. After finishing last year on a five-game losing streak, and getting worse as the season went on, the team has to work to improve each and every week in off-season practice to be ready to hit the ground running against (yikes!) USC.

Louisiana Tech   Spring Practice Begins: March 26  Game: April 21
The early spring buzz ... All about Derek Dooley and his coaching staff. After years of being the overlooked, above-average WAC team, the program hit the wall under Jack Bicknell III. Dooley hasn't had any time to breathe with recruiting, hiring a coaching staff, and getting everything in place to change things completely around. The staff went heavy on the JUCO transfers, especially on defense, so don't look for any talk of playing for the future.
The big spring question is ... How much will things change under Dooley? Completely. Offensive coordinator Frank Scelfo and defensive coordinator Tommy Spangler are going to do things their way meaning the offense and defense will be different than anything seen over the last few years, but expect the first few weeks of the off-season, and spring ball, to be spent just getting acquainted with the players and getting everyone in the right position.
The most important position to watch is ... All the positions on defense. When you finish dead last in America in total defense (483 yard per game) and scoring D (41.69 per game), all the positions are up fro grabs. Fortunately for Spangler, he has plenty of options with all but five players from the two-deep defense returning. No one's going to stop the top offenses in the WAC, but Tech has to be far, far better.
Spring attitude... Take a deep breath and try to get back on track. Last year might have been a disaster, but Tech went 7-4 the year before and should be solid if all the veterans play up to their experience. The new coaching staff is going to need time, and every practice, to change things around after the team lost its final four games of 2006 by a combined score of 187 to 67. .

Nevada   Spring Practice Begins: March 27  Spring Scrimmage: April 21
The early spring buzz ... The Wolf Pack has all its pieces in place with the hiring of Jim House for the defensive line and Charlie Camp for the linebackers. While the two hires might not put the Pack over the top ahead of Boise State and Hawaii, the coaching staff is at least set going into spring ball. With several major replacements needed in the roster, every moment the coaches have to work this spring will be vital.
The big spring question is ...
Did the ship sail? The WAC is better overall than two years ago when Nevada pulled off a stunner and won a piece of the title. With QB Jeff Rowe gone, along with solid back Robert Hubbard and enough key players here and there to hurt, this might be a perennial bowl team, but no more. The "Pistol" offense wasn't special when all the pieces were in place, and now work has to be done to keep up with the league's better squads. In other words, the program needs a few wrinkles to be a champion.
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Nick Graziano is the likely starter with Colin Kaepernick to get every chance to take over for Rowe. Decent quarterback recruits were scared off by the thought of competing with the quarterbacks in place, and now there's little in the way of depth.
Spring attitude... The system works. Yeah, Nevada lost five games last year, but none were anything to be ashamed of losing to the teams it was supposed to, and beating the ones it should've. This might not be a WAC championship type of team, but that doesn't mean it can't go back to a bowl and be a major player in the race. A few right breaks here and there, and a sensational year from Chris Ault and the coaching staff, and this could be the league's biggest surprise.

New Mexico State
The early spring buzz ...
There's a little bit of talk about the recruiting class. Not that it's good or bad, but because there aren't any players from New Mexico on it. Hal Mumme wasn't able to get the seven in-state players he and his staff went after, but his class might be the best the program has come up with in years.
The big spring question is ... Was last year the building block to a juggernaut of an offense, or did it just beat up on a lot of weak defenses? Probably a little bit of both, but with Chase Holbrook and most of his top receivers back, highlighted by the 5-8, 155-pound Chris Williams, the Aggies should battle Hawaii stride-for-stride for the nation's lead in total and passing offense. A big more consistency, and far better ball security, might mean the school's first bowl game since 1960.
The most important position to watch is ... Defensive end. The Aggies play a mixed defense usually sticking with a 3-4, but they don't generate nearly enough pressure into the backfield with the outside linebackers. The good-sized front three gave up too many rushing yards and never got to the quarterback. If nothing else, an inability to hit the passer on a regular basis in the WAC equals death.
Spring attitude... It's year three and time for the turnaround to be nearly complete. While the Aggies won't win the WAC, they're loaded with experience, have major producers on offense who know exactly what they're doing, and will be involved in shootout after shootout. Improving by two games to 6-6 is a must.

San Jose State   Spring Practice Begins: March 9  Game: April 14
The early spring buzz ...
San Jose State is now a living, breathing football program. After a fantastic season complete with a bowl win and nine victories, Dick Tomey was able to win more than his share of battles in the recruiting wars. Now the program has gone from being nearly non-existent and extinct, to one of the WAC's powers thanks to two good recruiting classes that filled needs and improved the overall talent level in a big way.
The big spring question is ... Was it a fluke? Probably not. The Spartans played good defense under Tomey with only an occasional meltdown forcing a ton of turnovers and allowing an average of just 13 points over the final three games. The offense ran surprisingly well with a nasty ground game and efficient passing attack. The formula should work again with some overall program stability and a team loaded with veterans.
The most important position to watch is ... Wide receiver. The top three receivers are gone meaning there might be even more of an emphasis on the running game until the newcomers get their feet wet. David Richmond is a next-level type of JUCO transfer who should instantly be the number one target, but QB Adam Tafralis needs more help.
Spring attitude... Expect to win. Everyone will still take the Spartans lightly, especially non-conference foes Arizona State and Kansas State, but as last year proved, as long as the offense is efficient and the defense forces big plays at the right time, SJSU can play with anyone on its schedule. It had Boise State beaten before blowing it late and let Washington off the hook in the season opener. Expect this to be yet another of the WAC's annoying teams that no coaching staff wants to prepare for.

Utah State   Spring Practice Begins: March 21  Game: April 13
The early spring buzz ...
Everyone seems way too excited about a kicker. Utah State was one of the worst teams in America last year and could use an infusion of talent just about everywhere. So where did it get the most help this recruiting season? Kicker. Top recruit Peter Caldwell was a must-get after Aggie kickers hit two of five field goals, but the team needs extra points, not field goals.
The big spring question is ... Will the team be competitive? The Aggies had a nice three-game stretch in the middle of 2006 beating Fresno State and losing to San Jose State and Louisiana Tech by a touchdown each. In the other nine games they lost by a combined score of 381 to 68, or an average of 42.3 to  7.6 per game. Everyone understands that the team needed rebuilding and was extremely young, but some progress has to be made in year three under Brent Guy.
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Is Riley Nelson the guy? He played well at times as a true freshman, but didn't throw a touchdown pass over the final four games and saw his accuracy fall off the map. Veteran Leon Jackson simply wasn't the answer. If there's not night-and-day better production under center, Utah State will be destined for the WAC basement.
Spring attitude... Utah State has to find one thing it can do well. After finishing near the bottom in the nation in almost every major category, everything needs a big improvement. However, if the Aggies can find some niche, like having a few go-to offensive plays that actually work, or come up with some sort of funky defensive scheme to be pulled out when needed to get to the quarterback, they have to find it this spring.


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