Wednesday, August 31, 2011

2011 College Football Preview: WAC

As usual, my 2011 College Football Preview includes information compiled from a variety of sources, most notably the work of Phil Steele. Check out his preview publications and material on his website. I also scour local newspapers and school websites for updated information, but it should be noted that all information contained in team and conference previews is only current up to the date of that post's publication.

Predicted Order of Finish
1. Fresno State
2. Nevada
3. Louisiana Tech
4. Hawai'i
5. Utah State
6. Idaho
7. San Jose State
8. New Mexico State

Top Storylines in the WAC

Parity at the top, but Fresno will climb the mountain. If there's a benefit to Boise State bolting for the Mountain West, it's that the top of the WAC is as wide-open as it's been in years. I think Fresno State and Nevada are a bit ahead of the rest, but I could be completely off my rocker. No matter what, I expect the WAC to be won by a team that won't be in the league next season (Fresno, Nevada, and Hawai'i all join the Mountain West). Fresno State only returns ten starters, but among them is junior running back Robbie Rouse, who topped 1,100 yards and at least flashed some brilliance in his effort to replace the largely-irreplaceable Ryan Mathews. Derek Carr, younger brother of former Fresno State star David, should take over the offense for the Bulldogs, and I expect he will do many of the things his brother was famous for in college. Pat Hill's defense has struggled for a few years, but senior tackle Logan Harrell and junior linebacker Travis Brown should both be stars as part of a resurgent unit this year. Nevada loses Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua, along with sack leader Dontay Moch. The Wolf Pack start senior Tyler Lantrip at quarterback, and they have Lampford Mark and Mike Bell at running back, along with seven starters back on defense. They went 13-1 last year, and that probably won't happen again, but there's plenty of reason for hope in Reno.

Another stud quarterback at Hawai'i. He needs nearly 10,000 yards to pass Timmy Chang, and some 6,500 to reach Colt Brennan, but Bryant Moniz is the latest in a long line of big arms to lead the Hawai'i offense. Moniz topped 5,000 yards passing last year, with nearly 40 passing touchdowns, as the Warriors won ten games, including handing Nevada its only loss of the season. The Warriors have Moniz, but little else, back on the offensive side, but Hawai'i is known for quickly reloading. Left tackle Austin Hansen anchors the line, and senior receiver Royce Pollard returns. JUCO transfer Darius Bright will be a main target for Moniz, too. The Warriors have gotten progressively better on defense since 2005, and that should continue this season, thanks to guys like linebacker Corey Paredes and tackles Vaughn Meatoga and Kaniela Tuipolotu. Hawai'i's schedule features Louisiana Tech and Nevada on the road, so its final WAC slate isn't an easy one.

The Rest of the Story

Louisiana Tech is the best hope among the non-leaving teams to win the WAC. The Bulldogs need to settle on a quarterback, but they should be competitive on defense and along both lines. ... Diondre Borel departs, but Utah State gets star running back Robert Turbin back from a torn ACL, and junior receiver Stanley Morrison -- the team's leading receiver in 2009 -- is back off a medical redshirt. ... Idaho narrowly missed out on a bowl game last year after winning the Humanitarian Bowl in 2009, and now the Vandals have to replace four-year starting quarterback Nathan Enderle. Senior Brian Reader has played the position a bit, and eight starters return on defense. ... A 1-12 season hasn't stopped Mike MacIntyre from continuing his work at San Jose State. The Spartans get 18 starters back, because MacIntyre played a ton of freshmen last year. He paid for it with a bad record, but this is going to be a good team very soon. ... Back-to-back ten-loss seasons at New Mexico State should be followed by a better team this season. DeWayne Walker has 16 starters back, and he hit the JUCO ranks hard for talent, but the Aggies still are likely to finish last.

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