Here is a look at the upcoming 2004 season and what I expect to see from the nations most geographically diverse conference.
FRESNO STATE (10-1, 8-0)
This very well could be Pat Hill's most talented team. While looked upon by most as the crème of the conference, the Bulldogs have not won an outright conference crown since 1999. With 19 starters returning and a home game against Hawaii, expect that to change in 2004.
BOISE STATE (9-2, 7-1)
The Broncos have to replace a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball. This, however, has been the WAC's most consistant winner over the last several years. Expect more of the same from the Broncos, who get Fresno on the infamous blue field and also have a home game against Oregon State for an opportunity to turn some heads nationally.
HAWAII (10-2, 6-2)
June Jones' offense will be unstoppable. The question is, will the Warriors be able to slow anyone down? Yes and no. I expect a lot of problems on the defensive side of the ball, but they'll put up enough points to land another bowl bid this year on the island.
NEVADA (7-5, 5-3)
Chris Ault returns to the sidelines and brings a renewed sense of optimism to the Wolfpack faithful. Expect a huge year from stud RB Chance Kretschmer, and do not be shocked if the 'Pack breaks into the Big 3 territory this year.
LOUISIANA TECH (6-6, 4-4)
The defense should be a bit better this year with eight starters returning. (I know, it can't be much worse!) With Ryan Moats eating up yardage behind a big, experienced offensive line, expect the Bulldogs to make a little noise this year.
RICE (4-7, 4-4)
They'll put up some good numbers on the ground with the full time return to the triple option, but the defense is shaky and they don't have the skill in the passing game to make up any significant deficits, which they will have on more than one occasion this year.
TULSA (5-7, 3-5)
After a stunningly successful season that culminated in a bowl birth, it is back to reality for the Golden Hurricanes in their WAC farewell tour this year.
UTEP (3-8, 2-6)
The hiring of Mike Price gives the program a little credibility and the fanbase a reason to hope, but he has his work cut out for him. With only two starters returning along the offensive front and questionable ability at the skill positions, expect growing pains to be the norm for coach Price's Miners this year.
SMU (1-10, 1-7)
The Mustang D wasn't that bad statistically but was left high and dry by an anemic offense that averaged less than 12 points per game in a conference not known for outstanding defense. Until the Mustangs increase the talent level on the offensive side of the ball, they are in for some more tough times ahead.
SAN JOSE STATE (1-10, 0-8)
Coach DR Fritz Hill goes about his business with a quiet class and dignity, but he is fighting an uphill battle. The question isn't whether or not this commuter school in the bay area will field a winning football team; they won't. The question is, will San Jose do enough to keep its Division-I status, or will they be relegated to Division-II? The jury is still out.
THE WAC'S BEST
BEST TEAM - FRESNO STATE : The Bulldogs are loaded this year.
BEST COACH - JUNE JONES, HAWAII : Took over an 0-12 team an took them to a bowl his first year. They have been respectable ever since.
BEST PLAYER - TIMMY CHANG, HAWAII : He won't be in the Heisman running, but he should be.
BEST GAME - FRESNO STATE @ BOISE STATE : This will decide the conference championship, again.
BEST FANS - FRESNO STATE : Almost an SEC type feel for night games in the Valley.
BEST STADIUM - BOISE STATE : You can't beat the Blue Field.
BEST TRADITION - FRESNO STATE : Not a lot to choose from, but I'll go with the Bulldogs from Fresno.
BEST BET TO UNDERACHIEVE - BOISE STATE : Replacing a lot of skill on offense, which could pose some problems.
BEST BET TO OVERACHIEVE - RICE : If the triple option gets rolling and they play a little D....
PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
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