Though a couple of other teams were not far behind, the 2002 WAC race was basically a sprint to the finish by Boise State. The Broncos went 12-1 overall and were undefeated in conference play. Their only loss of the season came on the road at Arkansas early in the year. Hawaii and Fresno State were in second and third place, respectively. It looks as if those three teams should again be leading the pack in the WAC in 2003.
BSU returns only three starters on offense from last year's team, but seven defensive starters return. One of the best QBs in the league, senior Ryan Dinwiddie, is at the helm of the Bronco offense. Dinwiddie threw for almost 2,300 yards and 20 TDs last season. Top RB Brock Forsey is gone, however. The senior from a year ago scored 26 TDs rushing while also catching 6 TD passes. Boise State's conference schedule doesn't begin until the Broncos have already made trips to Idaho and Oregon State. Trips to Louisiana Tech, Fresno State, and Hawaii will be the key games of the season for BSU.
The Fresno State Bulldogs had finished second in the WAC standings for two straight seasons before dropping to third last year. Seven offensive and six defensive starters return from last year's team that went 9-5 overall and won six conference games. Sophomore QB Paul Pinegar has already solidified himself as one of the best QBs in the WAC after throwing for almost 3,000 yards and piling up 21 TDs. Senior RB Rodney Davis also returns. Davis scored 9 TDs last season for FSU while running for 1,500-plus yards. The top six leading receivers from last year's team all return, as does WR Bernard Berrian who sat out last season due to injury. If Berrian comes back full strength, he is a potential all-American candidate. The Dawgs open up the schedule with a trip to Tennessee followed by a visit from Oregon State. A trip to Big XII-power Oklahoma follows that. A road trip out-of-conference to Colorado State comes one week before possibly the biggest game of FSU's 2003 season: a road trip to Honolulu to take on the Warriors.
Hawaii went 10-4 last season and captured a bowl berth in their home stadium, dropping the decison to the Tulane Green Wave. Seven starters return on each side of the ball this year; junior QB Timmy Chang may be the most key member of the players returning. Chang threw for almost 4,500 yards in 2002, finishing off drives with 25 TDs but also throwing 22 INTs. Four of the Warriors' top five returning WRs are also back. Those four combined to catch 23 TDs last season. The month of September brings back-to-back road trips to Southern Cal and UNLV. Hawaii gets to host both Fresno State and Boise State in Honolulu this season, as well as Alabama for a non-conference showdown. Trips to Nevada and Louisiana Tech will be tough but are winnable for the Warriors.
The Nevada Wolfpack went 5-7 last year, just missing out on a .500 record and possible bowl berth. Seven offensive and ten defensive starters are back from last year's team, a good sign for the Pack. A even better sign would be a completely healthy Chance Kretschmer. As a redshirt freshman, Kretschmer was the NCAA's leading rusher before tearing his ACL last year and ending his season. Now a junior, though, he should be able to step in and take over again immediately. QB Zack Threadgill must be replaced, as must leading WR Nate Burleson. The Wolfpack travels to Oregon the first week in September and opens conference play on Thursday, September 18 at San Jose State. A trip to Washington out of conference later in the season will also be a tough matchup for Nevada. The Wolfpack gets Louisiana Tech, Fresno State, and Hawaii all at home this season before traveling to Boise State to round out the 2003 regular season.
The San Jose State Spartans came in tied for fourth place in the WAC in 2002, going an even .500 in the league and 6-7 overall. A total of sixteen starters return from that team, eight on each side of the football. The top four team leading rushers all return, as does QB Scott Rislov. The Spartans must travel to Florida and Stanford back-to-back to end August and begin September. The schedule isn't all that kind to SJSU as they must make trips to both Boise State and Fresno State, as well as host Hawaii, in the last month of the season.
Louisiana Tech was a sub-.500 3-5 in the WAC last season and only finished 4-8 overall. This year, the Bulldogs return six offensive and four defensive starters to Ruston. QB Luke McCown is one of the best in the league. The senior threw for 3,500 yards in 2002 while converting on 58% of his attempts. He did, however, throw as many INTs as TDs (19). Leading rusher Joe Smith has departed, but three of the team's top four WRs are back for another year. LA Tech opens with Miami at home (in Shreveport), followed by trips to LA-Lafayette, Michigan State, and Fresno State consecutively. A non-conference trip to in-state rival LSU follows later in the season. Hawaii and Boise State both travel to Ruston, giving the Bulldogs a shot to pull an upset or two.
The Rice Owls hope to make just half of much noise in football as they did in baseball this past summer. Last season, Rice went 3-5 in the WAC and won just four games overall while losing seven. Seven offensive but only three defensive starters are back. All of the team's leading rushers return as do the Owls' QBs who split time, and the teams' top three pass catchers. Road trips to Hawaii, Fresno State, and Louisiana Tech won't make the task any easier.
SMU, UTEP, and Tulsa will bring up the rear in the WAC for the second straight season. The Mustangs return seven starters on each side of the ball from last year's 3-9 team. The team's top two passers and leading rusher both return. The Miners went to a bowl game just three seasons ago but have dropped off dramatically since 2000. They went 2-10 in 2002, but fourteen starters return this season. UTEP's three-headed QB system is 100% back, as is leading RB Howard Jackson. The Tulsa Golden Hurricane won just 1 game last season, a shutout of UTEP. The Hurricane returns nine offensive and eight defensive starters from 2002. Virtually every offensive play-maker is back, and four of the top seven tacklers also return.