Wednesday, September 01, 2010

College Football 2010: WAC

Yes, we're doing a College Football Preview again. Yes, you know I love Phil Steele's work. Order from his plethora of preview options here. I'm also armed with The Sporting News College Football 2010, and I picked up the Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook this year, too. I've also done research through local newspapers and school websites to try to get the most up-to-date information on the teams.

Western Athletic Conference
1. Boise State
2. Fresno State
3. Louisiana Tech
4. Nevada
5. Utah State
6. Hawai'i
7. Idaho
8. New Mexico State
9. San Jose State

Stories to Watch in the WAC

A league in serious flux. Suddenly, the WAC's future is in serious doubt. Boise State, Fresno State, and Nevada are all bolting for the Mountain West, and the league couldn't coax BYU into joining ... even in everything but football. That leaves the WAC at six teams, and while that might be good enough for some leagues, it probably doesn't work when they have lost their three highest-profile universities. We may hear a lot of rumors about the future, as WAC commissioner Karl Benson tries to recruit some new members who can help keep the league viable, especially in football. Even if Benson can find a couple new schools, it's hard to imagine he will succeed at keeping the league a player in football without Boise, Fresno, and Nevada.

Boise's dominance continues. They don't seem to ever fall off now, do they? Boise State is poised to bust into the BCS once again this year, as they are clearly the top team in a non-AQ league. Junior quarterback Kellen Moore is a darkhorse Heisman contender, especially now that defending winner Mark Ingram has a knee injury and could miss some time. The Broncos return an incredible 20 starters (ten on offense and ten on defense). Among them are Moore, running backs Jeremy Avery and Doug Martin (15 touchdowns), receiver Titus Young, defensive end Ryan Winterswyk, defensive tackle Billy Wynn, linebacker Winston Venable, and cornerback Brandyn Thompson. Boise opens on Labor Day night in Landover, Md., against Virginia Tech. If they get by that game, they should be a pretty heavy favorite in every game. Their biggest conference challenge is likely a trip to Nevada in late November. The Broncos are a solid favorite to win the WAC, and they could crash the BCS title game if things break their way.

Is Utah State this year's Idaho? The Vandals had a real element of surprise going last year, because they were terrible the year before, and they won eight games despite their defense allowing 36 points per game. Utah State is a bit different, but the backstory is at least somewhat similar. The Aggies haven't made a bowl since 1997. They've lost at least eight games in every season since 2002. They're rebounding thanks to an energetic coach and an exciting quarterback. USU senior Diondre Borel finished short of 3,000 yards passing last year, and he posted an impressive 17-4 touchdown-interception ratio. The run game will be hampered by a torn ACL suffered in the spring by Robert Turbin, who ran for nearly 1,300 yards last year. Turbin could miss the season, leaving the job to Michael Smith, a senior who averaged 6.3 yards per carry in limited work last year. If the Aggies can survive a tough non-conference schedule, they could make a bowl, but it depends on Borel, the passing game, and a continuously improving defense.

Idaho tries to do it again. While Idaho had a lot going their way last year, they overcame a poor defense to get to the Humanitarian Bowl. To return to the bowl season, Idaho needs that defense to get a lot better. They bring back ten starters, which is nice, and they'll be led by senior safety Shiloh Keo and linebacker JoJo Dickson, their leading tacklers. The Vandals didn't make many big plays on defense last year, and that's where the biggest difference could come in 2010, assuming the Vandals can parlay that experience into a more explosive unit. On offense, senior quarterback Nathan Enderle leads the way. He was accurate and efficient last year, and they'll need more of that, as leading rusher De'Maundray Woodridge and leading receiver Max Komar are both gone. A road trip to Nebraska is their only daunting non-conference games, while league foes Nevada and Boise State both visit Moscow.

Best of the rest
Even without Ryan Mathews in the backfield, Fresno State is formidable. The passing game looks strong with returning quarterback Ryan Colburn, and sophomore running back Robbie Rouse could be a good one. The offensive line will be one of the WAC's best. ... Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua return for Nevada. The Wolf Pack were embarrassed a few times last year, and they will lean on their senior stars to make sure that doesn't happen again. ... Sonny Dykes brings his version of the Air Raid offense to Louisiana Tech. While the transition sounds potentially difficult, the Bulldogs have a capable quarterback in Auburn transfer Steven Ensminger, assuming he can hold off a late charge from returning starter Ross Jenkins. ... Hawai'i could be a darkhorse in this league. The Warriors have a very good secondary returning, and quarterback Bryant Moniz is only going to get better. Hawai'i has a tough schedule, but could surprise in conference play if the defense is stout. ... DeWayne Walker got three wins out of New Mexico State in a transition year. Now, he brings back 15 starters who are used to his way, and a crop of recruits he chose. That means things are likely looking up in Las Cruces after the disastrous Hal Mumme era. ... Former Duke assistant Mike MacIntyre takes over at San Jose State. The Spartans went 2-10 last year, and they have a very tough non-conference schedule. Pile on that a team that was pretty bad last year, and it could be a couple years before the Spartans are again competing for the postseason.

Preseason WAC Superlatives
Best QB:
Kellen Moore, Boise State
Best RB: Vai Taua, Nevada
Best WR: Titus Young, Boise State
Best offense: Boise State
Best defense: Boise State
Best coach: Chris Petersen, Boise State
Coach in the most trouble: Greg McMackin, Hawai'i
Best non-conference game: Boise State vs. Virginia Tech, Sept. 6
Worst non-conference game: Cal Poly at Fresno State, Oct. 2

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