2009 Early WAC Lookaheads
Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick
Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick
Posted Feb 11, 2009

Here's an early look-ahead at each WAC team with what needs working on and why to be excited and grouchy.

2009 WAC Early Lookaheads

2009 Pages
Boise State | Fresno State | Hawaii | Idaho | Louisiana Tech
Nevada | New Mexico St | San Jose State | Utah State

2008 Pages
Boise State | Fresno State | Hawaii | Idaho | Louisiana Tech
Nevada | New Mexico St | San Jose State | Utah State

- 2008 CFN All-WAC Team
| 2008 CFN Preseason All-WAC Team
- 2007 WAC Lookback/Recaps |
2008 WAC Early Lookaheads  

- 2008 WAC Lookbacks/Recaps

Boise State
CFN Preseason Prediction: 9-3  Final Record: 12-1

Why to get excited: Oregon has to come to Boise. The Ducks will get enough preseason respect to give Boise State a huge opportunity to make an early statement that would crank up the ranking from the start. The offense should be fine, even with the loss of RB Ian Johnson and the early departure of WR Jeremy Childs, while the defense gets back just enough stars, led by DE Ryan Winterswyk and CB Kyle Wilson, and has enough good players in reserve, to expect another big year.

Why to be grouchy: With Childs leaving early, the Broncos need to find new targets to work with, Vinny Perretta was a steady producer for the last few years and Julian Hawkins was a strong No. 3 receiver. Austin Pettis now becomes a No. 1 receiver. The defensive tackles will need a boost with Sean Bingham and Joe Bozikovich gone.

The number one thing to work on is: Getting a wee bit more out of the running game. It’s nitpicking considering the Broncos averaged 152 yards per game and got good years out of Ian Johnson and Jeremy Avery, but with a little work needing to be done in the passing game to replace lost production, the running game might have to carry things early on. That’s a tall order with Oregon up right away.

Biggest offensive loss
: WR Jeremy Childs
Biggest defensive loss: LB Ellis Powers
Best returning offensive player: QB Kellen Moore, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: DE Ryan Winterswyk, Jr.

Fresno State
CFN Preseason Prediction: 10-2   Final Record: 7-6

Why to get excited: Nine starters return on defense. The run defense, and especially the defensive front, has to be far better, at least there’s a slew of key players coming back with three sophomore starters turning into veteran juniors. LB Ben Jacobs leads a loaded linebacking corps that should be better, while three starters return to a solid secondary.

Why to be grouchy: Fresno State always likes to play any big boy who’ll dare to take on the challenge, but for a program that hasn’t been able to use the non-conference slate to do much in the WAC, there will be a few huge tests to deal with. Going to Wisconsin, Cincinnati, and in November, to Illinois, will certainly give the Bulldogs chances to make big statements, but could also kill the season’s momentum.

The number one thing to work on is: Besides the run defense, finding a starting quarterback. Tom Brandstater never quite lived up to expectations, despite having all the NFL-caliber tools, but he was solid. 6-3, 220-pound junior-to-be, Ryan Colburn, will get the first shot at taking over, and if he’s more than just adequate, he’ll have a big year with big-time weapons to work with. Seyi Ajirotutu, Chastin West, and running backs Anthony Harding, Lonyae Miller, and Ryan Mathews are all excellent.

Biggest offensive loss
: OT Bobby Lepori
Biggest defensive loss: CB Sharrod Davis
Best returning offensive player: OG Andrew Jackson, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Ben Jacobs, Jr.

CFN Preseason Prediction: 5-8   Final Record: 7-7

Why to get excited: The offense that averaged 251 passing yards per game welcomes back a veteran quarterback in Greg Alexander, who improved as the season went on, along with receivers Malcolm Lane and Greg Salas. If Hawaii could get to a bowl game after undergoing all the major changes from the 2007 BCS team, it should be able to handle all the work needing to be done going into 2009. However …

Why to be grouchy: The defense is going to be an issue. A major issue. Nine starters are gone including linebackers Solomon Elimimian and Adam Leonard, the heart of the D, and all the key backups are gone off the defensive line, too. There will be time to get the pieces in place, the season starts against Central Arkansas before going to Washington State, but considering the defense struggled a bit last year, this season could see shootout after shootout.

The number one thing to work on is: Pass protection. QB Greg Alexander wasn’t anywhere near as mobile as Colt Brennan, and that proved to be a problem. Hawaii’s pass protection was the worst in the nation, allowing 57 sacks, and isn’t likely to be immediately better with three starters gone. Center John Estes might be among the best in the nation, but he’ll need help.

Biggest offensive loss
: WR Michael Washington
Biggest defensive loss: LBs Solomon Elimimian & Adam Leonard
Best returning offensive player: C John Estes, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Brashton Satele, Sr.

CFN Preseason Prediction: 2-10   Final Record: 2-10

Why to get excited
: The defense might have been among the worst in America, and it might not have struggled to hold anyone to fewer than 45 points, but at least it’ll be full of veterans. Idaho gets back nine starters including Virdell Larkins, who’d have been an all-star if he had played on a better team. Offensively, Nathan Enderle has been the team’s quarterback off-and-on for the last two years, and now he’s back, along with RB Deonte Jackson.

Why to be grouchy: Is there any real talent coming back? Experience might not matter much for a team that hasn’t been able to stay with anyone with a pulse. Head coach Robb Akey has had to try to build the team from the start, meaning he’s had to try to build starters to go along with finding enough starters to be competitive. Three starters are gone off the offensive line, including the best of the lot, center Adam Korby.

The number one thing to work on is: Scoring. The defense has enough experience back to hope for a better year, but it’s not exactly going to be 2008 USC. The offense has to show it can keep up the pace in shootouts, and that means it has to find something it can do well. Deonte Jackson has to find his 2007 form, while a quarterback has to emerge if it’s not Enderle.

Biggest offensive loss
: TE Eddie Williams
Biggest defensive loss: DE Josh Shaw
Best returning offensive player: RB Deonte Jackson, Jr.  
Best returning defensive player: FS Virdell Larkins, Sr.

Louisiana Tech
CFN Preseason Prediction: 6-6   Final Record: 8-5

Why to get excited: The defensive line should be the best in the WAC. D’Anthony Smith is a special tackle, while Kwame Jordan is a strong end who’ll be in the hunt for all-star honors. The pass rush should be even better than last year when it was effective throughout, while the run defense will occasionally be a brick wall. Offensively, WR Philip Beck is gone. Everyone else of note is back with ten starters returning to an attack that got better and better as last season went on.

Why to be grouchy: Is the secondary going to be any better? After struggling so much last season, now it has to replace both starting corners, Stevon Howze and Weldon Brown. On the plus side, the season starts out against Auburn, Navy, and Nicholls State, and none of the three teams can throw. The team can’t be fooled by the potential of great stats early on; the pass defense will need big-time work.

The number one thing to work on is: More efficient passing. Along with improving the pass defense, the offense has to do a much better job of keeping the chains moving with a far more efficient passing attack. Louisiana Tech had the least efficient passing game last year, and while the running game was often able to pick up the slack, to be in the WAC title chase, Ross Jenkins, or whoever wins the starting job, has to improve.

Biggest offensive loss
: WR Philip Beck
Biggest defensive loss: LB Quin Harris
Best returning offensive player: RB Daniel Porter, Sr.  
Best returning defensive player: FS Antonio Baker, Sr.

CFN Preseason Prediction: 8-4   Final Record: 7-6

Why to get excited: QB Colin Kaepernick and RB Vai Tua. Tua led the WAC with 1,521 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, while Kaepernick was the WAC Offensive Player of the Year highlighted by 1,130 rushing yards and 17 scores. These two will be the hot new players coming into the season. The defense might have struggled throughout last year, but at least it’ll be full of veterans with eight starters coming back.

Why to be grouchy: The offensive line needs to replace two key players in center Dominic Green, a first-team all-star selection, and guard Brad Eskew. No. 1 target Marko Mitchell, also a first-team all-star, is gone along with fellow WR Mike McCoy. PK Brett Jaekle was a good one, who’ll be missed.

The number one thing to work on is: Pass defense, pass defense, pass defense. The Wolf Pack finished dead last in America in pass defense after giving up 200 yards or more in every game but one, the Humanitarian Bowl loss to Maryland, and the Terps threw for 198 yards. To be fair, the Pack had to face Texas Tech, Missouri, New Mexico State and Hawaii, four bombs-away teams, and Boise State threw for 414 yards, but allowing 31 touchdown passes are too many.

Biggest offensive loss
: C Dominic Green
Biggest defensive loss: DT Mundrae Clifton
Best returning offensive player: QB Colin Kaepernick, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: DE Kevin Basped, Jr.

New Mexico State
CFN Preseason Prediction: 6-6   Final Record: 3-9

Why to get excited: DeWayne Walker. He was close to being the UCLA head coach last year and should’ve been in the mix for several other jobs. Everyone else’s loss was NMSU’s gain, and while he might be a rent-a-coach if there’s any semblance of success, the program could use a shot of defensive help. Walker should instantly make the D better, and it’ll need to be improved to make up for what should be a few problems on offense.

Why to be grouchy: Who’s back on offense? QB Chase Holbrook … gone. All-star WR Chris Williams … gone. WR A.J. Harris, WR Kenneth Bunkley, OT Polo Gutierrez, C Richie Bolin … all gone. The offense will likely revolve around the little used running backs early on, but there will be plenty of concerns early on until the attack can find something it can do consistently well.

The number one thing to work on is: Finding players. The recruiting class was a problem because Walker didn’t have any time to work, so there isn’t a major influx of players coming in to replace all the lost production on both sides of the ball. It’s going to take a year or three for the program to be ready to battle with the top teams in the WAC, so the key early on will be to identify who can play and who can’t. Walker has his work cut out for him.

Biggest offensive loss
: QB Chase Holbrook
Biggest defensive loss: FS Derrick Richardson
Best returning offensive player: WR Marcus Anderson, Sr.  
Best returning defensive player: LB Nick Paden, Sr.

San Jose State
CFN Preseason Prediction: 5-7   Final Record: 6-6

Why to get excited: The defense that was the second best in the WAC last year, behind Boise State, returns seven starters and almost everyone on the defensive front. The one loss on the line, WAC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, Jarron Gilbert, is a stinger, and corners Coye Francies and Christopher Owens will be missed, but the potential is there for another good year. The offense gets back everyone on the line, for good and bad. It’ll be experienced, but it needs to be far better.

Why to be grouchy: Don’t underestimate the losses of Gilbert, Francies and Owens. All three will see time in the NFL and they can’t just be immediately replaced by warm bodies. If the team needs time to jell, good luck. The season starts out at USC followed up by Utah and a trip down the road to play an improved Stanford team.

The number one thing to work on is: Scoring. The Spartans scored 17 points or fewer in seven games and never got over the 17-point mark in any of the six losses. The passing game did what it could here and there, but the running game was non-existent behind an awful offensive line. All-WAC WR David Richmond is gone and someone else has to step up and become a No. 1 target. The team needs to find firepower from somewhere.

Biggest offensive loss
: WR David Richmond
Biggest defensive loss: DT Jarron Gilbert
Best returning offensive player: QB Kyle Reed, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Duke Ihenacho, Jr.

Utah State
CFN Preseason Prediction: 1-11   Final Record: 3-9

Why to get excited: New head man Gary Andersen is the architect of some very good, very unappreciated lines at Utah over the last several years. The former defensive coordinator should pay immediate dividends for the long-suffering Aggie defense. The former staff pieced together some decent players to form a group that was fine against the mediocre offense, and now, seven starters are back.

Why to be grouchy: The talent level is still woefully short of the top-shelf playmakers, at least compared to the rest of the WAC. The team didn’t do any one thing particularly well last year other than punt, and Andersen and his staff will have to spend the year identifying players who can actually help the team.

The number one thing to work on is: The overall culture of losing. It’s not like the program doesn’t want to win; it simply hasn’t been able to get the players and the coaches to do it. Andersen is a good get for the program. He knows Utah, knows the recruiting landscape, and he knows what Utah State could potentially become with one or two key players. The effort has been there through the losing seasons, but that’s not enough.

Biggest offensive loss
: WR Otis Nelson
Biggest defensive loss: LB Jake Hutton
Best returning offensive player: OG Brennan McFadden, Sr.  
Best returning defensive player: LB Paul Igboeli, Sr.