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Conf. record: 7-1
Ryan Mathews, Soph.
Jon Monga, Sr.
McElwain turned around a stagnant offense in a hurry, and then he left
to become the offensive coordinator at Alabama. In steps Doug Nussmeier,
and he's not going to mess with what worked. If healthy, something the
offense couldn't do last year, this should be one of the most complete
attacks in the country with a big, athletic line that can hold its own
against anyone, a great running game led by the tandem of Ryan Mathews
and Lonyae Miller, an All-America caliber tight end in Bear Pascoe, and
a receiving corps that looks out of central casting for an NFL team.
There's too much speed at receiver for most WAC secondaries, too much
power on the line, and too many weapons to not be even better. QB Tom
Branstater has all the tools, and he got far better as last season went
on, and now he has to grow into the star he was supposed to become a few
Defense: The defense came up
with a solid bounceback season after a lousy 2006, and while there's a
slew of experienced players returning, it's not going to be a vastly
improved group after losing star LB Marcus Riley and DE Tyler Clutts.
Getting into the backfield won't be a problem with good quickness and
pass rushing production from all four spots up front, but the secondary
has to do more to pick off passes after coming up with just three of the
team's four interceptions. The linebackers have the potential to be
strong with Ben Jacobs a rising star in the middle and good athleticism
on the outside.
Conf. record: 6-2
RB Ian Johnson,
The nation's fourth best scoring attack and 12th best overall offense
has some very good parts and some very, very iffy areas. The running
backs are incredible with Ian Johnson, Jeremy Avery and D.J. Harper as
dangerous a trio as any in the country, and the receivers, led by Jeremy
Childs and Vinny Perretta, are deep and talented. The quarterback
situation will be fine, but a new starter needs to be found among four
options. Kellen Moore has the inside track, but senior Bush Hamdan is
close behind. The problem is an offensive line that's thin, loses four
starters, and has no developed depth whatsoever. Overall the production
should continue, but consistency should be a problem early on.
The defense will keep on rolling with a good, sound group from
front to back led by a strong front four. Ryan Winterswyck is the new
star of the show after turning in a fantastic first season as a pass
rusher, while Mike T. Williams is a good veteran tackle to build around.
The run defense, overall, has to be better, but the pass rush should be
great and the linebackers are experienced enough to get to everything.
Now the linebackers have to be tougher against the run, while there will
be a step back in overall pass defense production after losing Marty Tadman and
Orlando Scandrick. Even so, in a mediocre year for WAC defenses, this
one will be more than fine.
Conf. record: 6-2
Luke Lippincott, Sr.
Joshua Mauga, Sr.
Considering the offense was supposed to be a work in progress last year,
it came through better than anyone could've hoped for finishing 11th in
the nation in yards and 12th in rushing. C Dominic Green leads a strong,
veteran line paving the way for RB Luke Lippincott and a good stable of
backs, while the receiving corps has two good playmakers in Marko
Mitchell and Mike McCoy to stretch the field again. The big story will
be the quarterback situation, where Colin Kaepernick is coming off a
terrific freshman season after filling in for an injured Nick Graziano.
Now there will be a bit of a controversy, but it's not a bad thing
considering either passer could be the WAC's best quarterback.
Defense: Get better. Now. That
was the point of a recruiting class that was all about defense with
around 15 players brought in to see time, at some point, on defense.
JUCO transfers Michael Andrews (DT), Antoine Thompson (CB) and Maurice
Harvey (S) should be major factors from day one, and now the rest of the
returning D has to show up after a disappointing year. The 3-4 alignment
is ditched for the 4-3 under new defensive coordinator Nigel Burton, and
it should be decent if rising DE Kevin Basped can be the steady pass
rusher the team sorely needs. The secondary has the potential to be
night-and-day better if the newcomers play as expected and safeties Uche
Anyanwu and Jonathan Amaya have good years.
Predicted record: 5-8
Conf. record: 4-4
Solomon Elimimian, Sr.
This won't be the juggernaut of the past few seasons, but it won't be
that bad. The offense that led the nation averaging 43.48 points per
outing and was third overall averaging 512 yards per game is undergoing
a total overhaul in the passing game. It's a four-way battle to replace
QB Colt Brennan with Inoke Funaki taking the slight lead. A slew of JUCO
transfers will make a big impact at quarterback and receiver, but
they'll have to hit the ground running to push out the veteran backups
who have been waiting their turn for the last few years. There won't be
too many changes to the run-and-shoot, but there will be a little more
running and fewer shotgun formations. The line will be fine, but nothing
Defense: Head coach Greg
McMackin won't change much off the 4-3 defense he helped mold into one
of the WAC's best. Even though many of the key starters are gone,
there's hardly reason to worry. Everything starts with the all-star
linebacking combination of Solomon Elimimian and Adam Leonard, while the
front four, led by pass rushing terror David Veikune, should be strong,
but will drop-off a bit with the most important personnel losses on the
D. The secondary replaces its two starting corners but should actually
be better with speedster Ryan Mouton healthy and former Oregon Duck,
Jameel Dowling, ready to shine. The safeties are a bit suspect and the
tackles are a question, but there's good size up front and decent
athleticism and experience in the secondary.
- Offense |
Predicted record: 6-6
Conf. record: 4-4
Patrick Jackson, Sr.
Quin Harris, Sr.
The veteran offense with eight returning starters will all come down to
the hopeful improved play from the line and the stating quarterback.
While four sophomores will likely start up front, this is a veteran
group that got its feet wet throughout last year and should be strong
for the running game. The running back combination of Patrick Jackson
and Daniel Porter are excellent, and the receivers, are fine, but could
be great if Phillip Livas comes through with a great year. The tight
ends, overall, should be the best in the WAC. The focus is all on the
quarterback situation with Georgia Tech transfer Taylor Bennett, Auburn
transfer Steven Ensminger, and the starter going into fall camp, Ross
Jenkins, all about to wage an all-out battle royale for the starting
gig. There isn't a bad answer among the three.
Defense: The D went from being
the worst in America in 2006 allowing 483 yards and close to 42 points
per game, to allowing 424 yards and 31 points per outing. No, Tech
wasn't a brick wall, but it was far better. Now there should be a huge
leap up in production helped by a great-looking back seven led by
first-team all-stars FS Antonio Baker and LB Quin Harris. Getting big
MLB Brannon Jackson back from a knee injury will be a huge help. The
line will be fine in time, but it needs JUCO transfer Kwame Jordan to
live up to his reputation as a pass rusher and the tackles have to hold
up better against the good rushing teams.
New Mexico State
Conf. record: 4-4
The attack wasn't quite as devastating as originally expected,
considering QB Chase Holbrook, WR Chris Williams, and a host of other
starters were returning, but it still averaged 332 passing yards per
game. The problem was scoring; there wasn't much of it, especially
against the better teams. If the tackle situation can quickly be figured
out, the offense should blow up with yards and points with most
of the key players back, and Williams returning from a collarbone
injury. The recruiting class should provide instant help at tackle as
well as the backfield with four good running backs coming in.
Defense: Last year the idea was
to generate more big plays and create more problems. It didn't happen as
the defense was one of the worst in America and did nothing to force
pressure or turnovers. That should change, for good and bad, under new
defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn, whose 3-5-3 scheme will send the
linebackers into the backfield early and often, while also asking them
to drop back into pass coverage. That means the corners will more often
than not be on an island, while the defensive line's job will be to hold
up against the run. The secondary should be a strength with corners
Davon House and Chris Woods, along with safety Derrick Richardson, all
decent, while the line will be a work in progress. In this defense, it's
all about the linebackers, and the JUCO transfers, led by Nick Paden,
have to be ready to roll from the start.
7. San Jose
- Offense |
Predicted record: 5-7
Conf. record: 3-5
CB/PR Coye Francies, Sr.
The offense has been great at holding on to the ball over the last few
seasons and was excellent through the air last year, but hurt by losses
at running back and injuries on the line, the running game went into the
tank. There are several promising, quick backs, led by Dominique
Hunsucker, but there has to be far more production after averaging just
2.6 yards per carry. The passing game will be fantastic with a loaded
receiving corps, possibly the best in the WAC, led by Kevin Jurovich.
The quarterback situation is still up in the air, and while Myles Eden
appears to be a capable replacement for Adam Tafralis, Cal transfer Kyle
Reed will stay in the hunt when his injured foot heals.
Defense: The Spartan defense
wasn't bad last year, but it was disappointing considering all the good
strides made in 2006. This should be a good D, but it needs to be
dominant in one area. While the linebacking corps takes an irreplaceable
hit losing 251 tackles of production from Matt Castelo and Demetrius
Jones, and All-WAC star CB Dwight Lowery is gone, two new faces to the
mix, USC transfer Jeff Schweiger on the end and Oregon State transfer
Coye Francies at corner, give the team two of its most talented players
in years. Francies joins Christopher Owens to form the WAC's best corner
tandem, while Schweiger allows Jarron Gilbert to move to tackle
providing more of a pass rushing boost to all four spots.
Predicted record: 2-10
Conf. record: 1-7
SS/PR Shiloh Keo, Jr.
Plenty of experience returns with 10 starters back from an inconsistent,
ineffective attack. The running game should be great with Deonte Jackson
leading a group of speedsters behind a veteran, talented line. There are
at least two starters up front, LT Kris Anderson and C Adam Korby,
who'll earn all-star honors and others who'll be close. The problem is
an inefficient passing game that needs to better accuracy from
second-tear quarterback Nathan Enderle and more from a rising receiving
corps. There might not be enough talent to outshoot the top attacks, but
there's enough experience and upside to be more productive.
Defense: The line has been a
major issue for the last few years, wasting some great talent in the
back seven. Now the entire linebacking corps needs to be replaced, star
CB Stanley Franks is gone, and a lot more is needed from a woeful pass
rush. The 4-3 scheme will be used more, after going with a 3-4 at times
last season by necessity, and it should free up ends Josh Shaw and
Taylor Rust a little bit. The linebackers might be green, and they're
very light, but they're athletic. The safety tandem of Shiloh Keo and
JUCO transfer Virdell Larkins could be the best in the WAC, and now the
corners need to be better.
Predicted record: 1-11
Conf. record: 1-7
improved last season, but that's not saying much after doing nothing in
2006. Last year, the rushing attack was abysmal, the passing attack
didn't generate any yards, and there was nothing to count on game in and
game out. Offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey, the former North Texas
head coach who led the way to four Sun Belt titles, knows how to get a
running game going, and he needs the zone-blocking scheme to start
generating some yards. The line is big but in need of time to get
comfortable, especially in the interior, but all it'll have to do is
open a little bit of a hole and the quick running backs will produce.
There isn't a sure-thing No. 1 receiver, but the tight ends are good and
WR Stanley Morrison is a rising star. The big question is at quarterback
where Sean Setzer and Jase McCormick have to replace Leon Jackson and do
more to get the offense moving. Basically, the offense needs playmakers,
consistency and production.
Defense: For the second straight
season the Aggies return a ton of experience with plenty of depth and
lots and lots of options to play around with. Will it matter? The
defense finished last in the WAC last season despite returning all 11
starters and had nothing to hang its hat on. The pass rush was
non-existent, the secondary struggled, and the run defense got pushed
all over the place. The linebackers should be better with Jake Hutton
and Paul Igoboeli one of the league's most productive tandems, and the
secondary has to improve with 11 players decent enough to see starting
time. The line got a major upgrade with the addition of JUCO transfers
Casey David and Magnmu Mauga for the interior, but the big move was
taking top end Ben Calderwood from the outside and moving him to tackle.
Now it'll be up to Gregg Clark, Darby Golden and Nathan Royster to try
to improve a pass rush that generated a mere 12 sacks.