Two years, two BCS bowls. Boise State shocked the world in 2006 by beating powerhouse Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl and made mid-majors hip. Hawaii got blown out in 2007 by Georgia, a clearly superior team that made the Warriors look like a Pop Warner team. Will the trend of a WAC team making a BCS bowl continue or is this the year the WAC bows out of the BCS race?
If any team is going to make a run at a BCS bowl, it is league favorite Fresno State. They return 16 starters from 2007, including quarterback Tom Brandstater, running back Ryan Matthews, and their top 3 receivers. The league is as balanced as it has been in years. Hawaii and Boise State are in rebuilding years, but both will likely be bowl bound. San Jose State, Nevada, and Louisiana Tech are programs on the rise. New Mexico State has a explosive offense that allows them to compete with best teams in the WAC. The basement will likely not change from 2007, but Idaho and Utah State are definitely improving as programs. Only time will tell, but I think the WAC is ready to dethrone the Mountain West Conference as the best mid-major conference.
1. Tom Brandstater staying consistent. Brandstater thrived in his 2nd year as starter for Fresno State. In 2006, he threw 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions while completing only 54 percent of his passes. In 2007, he threw 15 touchdowns and only five interceptions while completing 62 percent of his passes. If Brandstater can continue to progress as a reliable passer and leader, there will be no stopping the Bulldogs from capturing the WAC championship.
2. Can either Boise State or Hawaii come together quick enough to contend in the WAC? Both teams have rebuilding years ahead of them. Boise State, who has not had anything less than a nine win season since 2001, will need to overcome many key losses on offense. They have to find a new quarterback to replace Taylor Tharp, who had a great season as a one-year starter. Also, Star running back Ian Johnson will be running behind an offensive line composed of four new starters. Hawaii only returns 11 starters from last years team that earned a BCS berth. Replacing Heisman-nominee Colt Brennan will be a difficult task for new coach Greg McMackin. Replacing their top four receivers will be even more difficult. Hawaii hopes to make a sixth bowl in the last seven years, but it may be more difficult than in years past.
3. Who will be able to find a running game? San Jose State, New Mexico State, and Hawaii are very good teams with powerful passing attacks. However, if these teams want to guarantee themselves a bowl game, they need find a rushing attack. These three teams ranked 109th or worse in rushing offense last season. They have talented running backs on their rosters, but they have had a hard time incorporating them into the offensive scheme. If San Jose State, New Mexico State, or Hawaii can find a running game this season, they will also find a lot more wins.
OFFENSE: There is good news and bad news for the Boise State offense. The good news is that they return their top five pass catchers and superstar running back Ian Johnson. The bad news is that they lost their starting quarterback and four starting linemen. The offensive line will be key to this team’s success in 2008. The leadership of left guard Andrew Woodruff will help the new starters early in the season. Frehsman Kellen Moore is the likely starting quarterback, but senior Bush Hadman is also an option.
DEFENSE: The defense returns all three linebackers and two explosive defensive ends. Kyle Gingg, Dallas Dobbs, and Tim Brady will likely get most of the playing time at linebacker, but watch for sophomore Derrell Acrey to steal some starts. Acrey broke out against Utah State last season when he recorded five tackles and an interception. The defensive ends are some of the best in the country. Mike T. Williams and Ryan Winterswyk combined for 11.5 sacks last season. The defensive tackles and secondary are the weak point of the defense. Cornerback Kyle Wilson will have to help mold a young secondary.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kyle Brotzman returns after a tremendous freshman year in which he made 16 of 18 field goals. Brotzman backs up Sophomore punter Brad Elkin, who averaged 37.5 yards a punt last year. WR Titus Young, RB Jeremy Avery, and CB Kyle Wilson should handle most of the return duties.
COACHING: Pete Carroll, Jim Tressel, Les Miles, Chris Peterson? Peterson is one of the best coaches in college football. He has BCS conference athletic directors drooling over the thought of hiring him. He is building a program that will have Boise State contending for a BCS bowl every year.
SCHEDULE: If Fresno State had Boise State’s schedule, I could see them going undefeated. Boise State has an easy out of conference schedule, with the only challenge being at Oregon. The season will come down to traveling to Nevada Nov. 22nd, and hosting Fresno State Nov. 28th.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... DE Ryan Winterswyk collected 5.5 sacks as a freshman last season. Winterswyk and Williams could easily combine for 15 sacks or more this year. Winterswyk needs to have a good year to help the inexperienced defensive tackles along. If spring ball is any indication of how someone is going to play in the fall, Winterswyk is going to have a monster year.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... The schedule sets up for another run at a BCS bowl. The new offensive line must come together quickly. Jeremy Childs, the teams leading receiver (82 catches), has been suspended for spring practices Whether he comes back or not could make or break the Broncos offense. Although Boise State is rebuilding, they still have on of the best teams in the WAC. The program is too solid to do anything less than eight wins.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... There are heaps unanswered questions on this team. The defensive tackles and secondary will be young and inexperienced. A new quarterback and offensive line might hold the Broncos back from being a top 25 team.
MAKE OR BREAK: The offensive line, which has been Boise State’s strength over the past few years, will be the reason the Broncos win or lose this year. They must protect the new QB and open holes for Ian Johnson to have a successful season.
OFFENSE: The Bulldog offense is loaded with returning starters. The only new starter will be senior Adam McDowell at center. Senior QB Tom Brandstater has had his ups and downs, but everything is finally coming together. His main targets return, including the best tight end in the WAC, Bear Pascoe. Three Fresno State players rushed for over 600 yards last season. Running backs Ryan Matthews (866), Clifton Smith (625), and Lonyae Miller (609) lead a dangerous rushing attack. Luckily for them, they will be running behind the most experienced line in the conference.
DEFENSE: The defense loses star linebacker Marcus Riley, who led the team in tackles. They also lose defensive end Tyler Cutts, who led the team in sacks last season. Sophomore linebacker Ben Jacobs is a blossoming star. He collected 81 as a redshirt freshman. Defensive tackle Joe Monga, who had seven sacks in 2007, will anchor the line. The real issue many people have with the defense is the secondary that only managed four interceptions, the least in the country (Marshall also had four). Three starters return, including safeties Moses Harris and Marvin Haynes. I expect a huge increase in turnovers forced by the defensive backs.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Fresno State will have to replace its place kicker and punter. Freshman Kevin Goessling and sophomore Robert Malone should take over the kicking and punting duties, respectively. The return game is dangerous. Clifton Smith returned two punts for scores, while A.J. Jefferson did the same on kickoffs.
COACHING: Pat Hill has his best team in his eleven years at Fresno State. His run first, pass second ideology has worked wonders for Brandstater. Hill realizes it is his turn to lead a WAC team to the BCS promise land.
SCHEDULE: The schedule will be the thing that holds Fresno State back from an undefeated season. Their out of conference schedule consists of At Rutgers, Wisconsin, At Toledo, and At UCLA. Winning two of those games is realistic. Winning three would be amazing.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Sophomore linebacker Nick Bates made 19 tackles and two sacks last year in limited play. Bates will have a chance to prove himself as a reliable starter with the departure of Marcus Riley. He makes his living in the opposing backfield. However, he will have to display his coverage and tackling skills to stay in the starting role.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... The schedule is loaded with obstacles, but the Bulldogs are also loaded. The offense will be hard to stop. If the Bulldogs can enter conference play at 3-1, an undefeated conference season could catapult them into BCS bowl contention.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The out of conference schedule could get the best of them. The defense is only returning six starters. It is doubtful that the younger players on defense will be ready for teams like Rutgers or Wisconsin in week 1 or 2. A bad out of conference record could diminish the effort of Fresno State during conference play with a BCS bowl out of reach.
MAKE OR BREAK: The season hinges on the defense being able to hang with the big boys (Rutgers, Wisconsin, and UCLA). The linebackers need to gel and the defensive backs need to make some plays.
OFFENSE: The Hawaii offense is closed for remodeling in 2008. Not only do the Warriors have a new head coach, they also have to replace their top four receivers and two tackles. Plus, they need to replace Heisman candidate Colt Brennan. Inoke Funaki will likely start the season under center, but Tyler Graunke will see time on the field as well. The rushing attack will see some changes as well. Leading rusher Kealoha Pilares will spend time in the slot position. Daniel Libre and Nebraska transfer Leon Wright-Jackson will split carries. WR Malcolm Lane returns as the go-to receiver after a 14 catch, two touchdown season.
DEFENSE: Hawaii returns four starters on defense. Star linebackers Adam Leonard and Solomon Elimian return to anchor a defense full of juniors of seniors that have starting experience. Senior David Veikune played in every game for Hawaii last season. He had 34 tackles and seven sacks. The defensive backfield is lead by safeties Desmond Thomas and Keao Montheilh. The defense will have a different look to it, but it will still be one of the top groups in the WAC.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Seniors Dan Kelly and Tim Grasso lead a solid special teams unit. Kelly made 12 out of 17 field goals last season. Grasso had 10 out of his 35 punts land inside the 20 yard line. Malcolm Lane (two kick return touchdowns) and Michael Washington (one punt return touchdown) are dangerous whenever they touch the ball.
COACHING: Greg McMackin takes over for June Jones, who bolted for SMU, after being his defensive coordinator in 2007 (His second stint with Hawaii). McMackin will keep the run and gun style offense, but look for a lot more snaps under center. McMackin might struggle at first, but he was the right hire and will have success at Hawaii.
SCHEDULE: Uh-oh! Hawaii opens at Florida. The game against Florida will hopefully be used as a growing experience. Hawaii’s final two games are at home against Washington State and Cincinnati. These games could decide whether Hawaii goes bowling in 2008 or not. In conference, the Warriors will have travel to Boise State and Fresno State. However, they get middle tier teams San Jose State and Louisiana Tech at home.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Speedy RB Leon Wright-Jackson is ready to hit the field after sitting out last season (transfer). Look for him to flourish in the Hawaii offense that will rely a little bit more on the run than it usually has in past years.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... The quarterbacks do have experience. The receivers that left will be missed, but I am confident Hawaii will be able to replace them. The special teams is arguably the best in the WAC. Hawaii will not be as good as last year, but they still have enough playmakers on defense to get them to a bowl game.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The out of conference schedule is tough. The offense is inexperienced. The (likely) early season blowout loss to Florida might shake the teams confidence. Hawaii will have to fight to make a bowl game.
MAKE OR BREAK: Hawaii always relies on quarterback play, and this year is no different. Will the starter have the record setting capability of Colt Brennan or Timmy Chang? Or will Hawaii have to accept that those record setting days are behind them?
OFFENSE: A good team starts with a solid quarterback. Sadly, I do not think Idaho has a solid quarterback on the roster. Nathan Enderle, who started lasted season, beat out Quin Ashley for the starting job. In 2007, Enderle threw 18 interceptions and completed just 44 percent of his passes. The wide receivers deserve some blame for Enderle’s poor stats. They dropped way to many passes and failed to get into open space. The Vandals return all their top receivers, including tight end Eddie Williams, the most reliable pass catcher. The bright spot on the Vandals offense is the running game. Deonte Jackson, nephew of Stephen Jackson (St. Louis Rams running back), rushed for 1175 yards last year while fighting injuries. The offensive returns everyone, including senior center Adam Korby, the leader of the offensive line. There will be noticeable improvements on offense.
DEFENSE: The Vandal’s front seven returns only two players, defensive ends Taylor Rust and Josh Shaw. Rust had a solid year in 2007, recording two sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. The defensive tackles will be unproven and inexperienced sophomores and freshmen. Idaho will have to start fresh at linebacker. They will start three sophomores in hopes to build to the future. Safety Shiloh Keo is a great tackler and leader, but the rest of the defensive backs are young. Idaho is likely to have the weakest defense in the conference.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Senior T.J. Conley is a dependable punter. He averaged nearly 41 yards per punt in 2007. Kicker Tino Amancio made14 of 18 field goals last year, including two of 50 or more yards. Shiloh Keo is one of the nations best punt returners. He ranked 6th in the nation last year in yards per return.
COACHING: You cannot judge Robb Akey after his first season where the Vandals went 1-11 and failed to beat a FBS opponent. With a veteran offensive line and a superstar running back, it will be interesting to see how Akey uses the running game to take the pressure off Enderle.
SCHEDULE: Idaho could start 2-3. They play at Arizona, then host Idaho State and Western Michigan, and finally travel to Utah State and San Diego State. The rest of the schedule is too tough to expect any Idaho victories.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Deonte Jackson is like a flower in a mine field. He is surrounded by one of the worst teams in the country. However, if you look at him individually, you will see a young running back blossoming into a star.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Idaho should improve on last year’s 1-11 record. Three or four wins are very possible. The offense returns everyone. The only thing holding Idaho back is its defense.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Idaho beat one team in 2007, Cal Poly. This year, Idaho plays one FCS team, Idaho State. With a weak defense and a huge question mark at quarterback, the Vandals could repeat last year’s disaster of a season.
MAKE OR BREAK: Nathan Enderle was only a freshman last year. He has a year under his belt and a solid group of playmakers around him. He needs to throw less interceptions and become more consistent for Idaho to beat a FBS team in 2008.
OFFENSE: The quarterback job is up for grabs at Louisiana Tech. Sophomores Ross Jenkins and Auburn transfer Steven Ensminger fought it out in the spring with Jenkins coming out on top. However, Georgia Tech transfer Taylor Bennett will likely be named the starter. Senior running back Patrick Jackson is the star of the offense. As a junior, Jackson scored eight rushing touchdowns while averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Daniel Porter was more impressive running the ball, averaging six yards per carry and finding the end zone six times. Tech returns its top wideouts, the Phillip duo. Phillip Beck and Phillip Livas caught 58 balls last year, but need to find the end zone more. Tech is unbelievably deep at tight end. Anthony Harrison caught a team high 33 balls last year. Dennis Morris (nine catches) and Dustin Mitchell (29 catches) will also get playing time.
DEFENSE: Tech’s defense improved greatly last season. They went from last in the WAC in total defense in 2006, to 5th in 2007. The big question for the Bulldogs is whether they will continue to progress defensively. They only return five starters. One of those starters is D’Anthony Smith, the only returning defensive linemen. He recorded 42 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss last season. Defensive end Kwame Jordan is a former JUCO star who will be invading opposing teams’ backfields. Linebacker Quin Harris is the leader of the defense, and the only returning linebacker. He made 102 tackles last year and broke up 11 passes. The secondary is solid. Safety Antonio Baker led the team with 118 tackles and three interceptions last year. He is my pick for WAC defensive player of the year.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Chris Keagle is the best punter in the WAC. He averaged 41 yards per punt while pinning the opposing teams inside the 20 a whopping 26 times. Brad Oestricher will take over the kicking duties. Patrick Jackson and the two Phillips make up a very good group of return men.
COACHING: Derek Dooley, son of the legendary Georgia coach Vince Dooley, had a great first season as head coach. He turned a horrid defense into a solid defense and is on his way to creating a consistent WAC contender. Dooley is looking good so far in Ruston, Louisiana.
SCHEDULE: Tech has some easy games out of conference (SE Louisiana and At Army). Not so easy are games against BCS conference teams in week 1 and 2 (Mississippi State and Kansas). There is no reason Tech cannot hang with or upset one of these teams. They travel to Boise State and Hawaii in the first two weeks in October. These games will make or break Tech’s conference championship chances.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Linebacker Brannon Jackson returns after being injured in 2007. In 2006, Jackson was the lone star on a horrid defense. Jackson will help Harris hold down the front seven.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... If Taylor Bennett (assuming he wins the starting job) is productive as quarterback, and the defense keeps improving, Tech could contend for a WAC championship. This team is the real deal.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL....Louisiana Tech might not be ready to make the jump to the top of the WAC. The QB situation could turn into a year long battle if Bennett struggles. The defense has a lot of holes to fill after losing six starters from 2007. An injury to Brannon Jackson would really hurt Tech’s fragile defense. Nevertheless, they should do noworse than last year’s 5-7 record.
MAKE OR BREAK: Early season games against Miss. State and Kansas will be huge for this team. Nothing builds confidence like hanging with the big boys before you take on lesser opponents.
OFFENSE: Nevada has one of the most dynamic and balanced offenses in the WAC. It all starts at the quarterback position. Sophomore Colin Kaepernick took over for the injured Nick Graziano last season and worked miracles. Kaepernick threw 19 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He also ran for six scores and nearly 600 yards. Nevada has another great rusher in the backfield. That man is Luke Lippincott, who ran for 1420 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2007. The Wolfpack return two talented receivers, Mike McCoy and Marko Mitchell. The M&Ms are great targets for Kaepernick. The offensive line returns all but one starter. John Bender, a 6’8’’ sophomore, will take over at left guard.
DEFENSE: The defense loses seven starters, including star linebacker Ezra Butler. Nevada will make a switch from the 3-4 defense to the 4-3 defense to help with the lack of depth at linebacker. Senior linebackers Joshua Mauga and Jerome Johnson will be the stars of the front seven. Mauga had 71 tackles after seven games before an injury kept him out for the rest of the regular season. Defensive end Kevin Basped had 4 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss as a freshman in limited time. Look for him to become the main focus of the front four. The back four will be led by safety Uche Anyanwu, who made 62 tackles last year. The secondary needs to work on forcing turnovers. Nevada had seven interceptions last year, three by linebacker Ezra Butler.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Brett Jaekle will likely perform the kicking and punting duties in 2008. In 2007, he made 16 out of 21 field goals. Dwayne Sanders and Jonathon Amaya will handle the return duties.
COACHING: Hall of Famer Chris Ault is in his third stint with Nevada. Back since 2004, Nevada has made three bowl games and won one conference title. Ault, the creator of the Pistol offense, is one of the best college football coaches in the past 50 years.
SCHEDULE: Nevada will be tested in week two and three against Big 12 contenders Texas Tech and Missuori. Past those games, everything else is winnable. Nevada has to travel to Fresno State on November 7th. However, they get Boise State at home on November 22nd. Nevada will want revenge after a 69-67 overtime loss to Boise State in 2007.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Thaddeus Brown is a talented freshman that will have the chance to start at corner during the season. Two JUCO recruits, cornerback Antoine Thompson and safety Maurice Harvey will see the field a lot during the year as well. These new defensive backs will be the key to the Nevada defense.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Nevada has the offense to win the WAC. They have the best rushing backfield, and two quarterbacks that could start on any given day. Boise State and Fresno State may be a little better, but pulling off wins against the two are not far fetched. Last year, the Wolfpack lost to Hawaii, Boise State, and Fresno State by a combined 12 points. Necada can win the WAC if the defense can hold opponents under 30 points per game.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The defense is unproven. The young defense might struggle to adapt to the new 4-3 defense. Nevada might be a year away before they can capture a conference championship. Still, Nevada’s offense is too good to miss a bowl game in 2008 (barring a disaster).
MAKE OR BREAK: The defense will define this team in 2008. The offense will be dynamic. The big question is will the defense be able to stop Boise State’s and Fresno State’s offense enough to give the Wolfpack a shot at the title?
New Mexico State
OFFENSE: New Mexico State has an unbalanced offensive attack led by their passing game. Chase Holbrook had another great year in 2007, throwing for 3866 yards and 26 touchdowns. His main targets (Wes Neiman, A.J. Harris, and Chris Williams) return. Williams scored 11 touchdowns last year while Harris and Neiman combined for 125 catches. The running game could use some work. Tonny Glynn is better than some give him credit for. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2007. The problem is that he never got more than 11 carries in a game. JUCO transfers Seth Smith and Marquell Colston will only strengthen the Aggies ability to run the ball. The offensive line returns three starters. Sophomores Ryan Franzoy and Patrick Blount will take over at left and right tackle. These tackles will play an important role in the Aggie offense. If Holbrook has time, the Aggies are nearly impossible to stop.
DEFENSE: The Aggies will switch to a 3-5-3 defense this year. Any change is good for a defense that ranked 94th nationally in total defense and 107th in scoring defense. Safety Derrick Richardson is the team’s returning leading tackler. Corner Davon House returns after a four interception season. The linebackers should be strong with three returning starters (Jamar Cotton, Chris Nwoko, and La’Auli Fonoti). However, look for juniors Ross Conner and Nick Paden to see the field just as much. The defensive line is the weakest part of the defense. Of the projected starters for 2008, only Rhyan Anderson had a sack last year.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Aggies willhave to replace both their kicker and punter. Sophomore Kyle Hughes will handle the kicking duties. He will also battle Jordan Davenport for the punting job. Chris Williams, Wes Neiman, and Tonny Glynn will manage the returns.
COACHING: Hal Mumme has the hottest seat in the WAC. He is 8-29 in three years at New Mexico State. His inability to instill a running game and solid defense has fans angry.
SCHEDULE: New Mexico should go 3-1 in out of conference play, 2-2 at the worst. They have to travel to Nevada on October 11th. This opening conference game will be very telling. They will get San Jose State and Hawaii at home. Winning these games will be crucial if the Aggies plan on going bowling.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Chris Williams is the perfect example of big things coming in small packages. Williams is 5’8’’ and 157 lbs. He led the nation in receiving yards per game in 2006. He only played in eight games last year. The Aggies were 4-4 with him, 0-5 without him.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... New Mexico State has a great offense and a new defensive coordinator (Joe Lee Dunn). If a running game helps balance the offense, a bowl game is a possibility, the first since 1960.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The defense is still one of the worst in the WAC. The offense has never been balanced under Mumme. A new kicker and punter could hurt the Aggie’s special teams. Another losing record will send Mumme packing. As long as Chris Williams stays healthy, New Mexico State should win five or more games.
MAKE OR BREAK: “Make or Break” sums up the 2008 season for New Mexico State. Mumme is gone if the Aggies have another losing season. No matter what, Holbrook, Harris, and Williams are leaving after this season. It is now or never for the Aggies.
San Jose State
OFFENSE: San Jose State heads into the fall without a starting QB. Cal transfer Kyle Reed’s foot injuries have held him back from taking the starting job like many predicted. Until he does, elusive Myles Eden has the job. The running game was horrid last year. SJSU ranked 112th nationally in rushing offense. The offensive line returns three starters. JUCO transfer Steve Lightsy (6’4” and 350 lbs) could find himself starting by the time conference play starts. There are tons of options at running back, but nobody knows who is going to step up and take the reins as starter. My guess is Dominique Hunsucker, a former defensive back with serious speed. The receiving corps are fantastic. David Richmond and Kevin Jurovich return after strong seasons. In 2007, they combined for 2035 yards and 12 touchdowns. Jalal Beauchman, Marquis Avery, and Michael Avila will also find spots in the rotation.
DEFENSE: The San Jose State defense loses star linebackers Matt Castelo and Demetrius Jones. Duke Ihenacho and Justin Cole return after making several starts last year. The linebackers must click quickly to make this defense a force in the WAC. The defensive line returns solid starters Jarron Gilbert and Carl Ihenacho. Jeff Schweiger, a transfer from Southern California, will make an impact on the end right away. The secondary loses All-WAC cornerback Dwight Lowery, but they will replace him with someone just as good or better. Coye Francies, an Oregon State transfer, will be a lockdown corner that will help teammate Christopher Owens shut down opposing team’s top receivers.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Jared Strubeck started the season making 2 out of 10 field goals. He finished making 8 out of 10. Either Shaheen Pourfallah or Phillip Zavala will take over the punting duties. SJSU will have solid return men in Coye Francies, Josh Harrison, and Dominique Hunsucker.
COACHING: Dick Tomey has done a great job in three years at San Jose State. Before Tomey, SJSU was a weakling in the WAC. He has turned around the program, taking them to a bowl in 2006 for the for the first time since 1990.
SCHEDULE: San Jose State will want revenge on Stanford, after losing to Cardinal 37-0 last season. SJSU gets Fresno State at home to end the year. I have a feeling this game will be very important for many reasons.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Coye Francies and Christopher Owens will be the best corner duo in the conference. Opposing teams are going to have a hard time throwing on SJSU. The Spartans need stars like these two if they plan to contend with the top teams in the WAC.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... San Jose State did not meet expectations last year. The expectations are high yet again. I think they will meet them this year. If SJSU can settle on one QB and find a running game, there is nothing stopping them from winning seven or eight games.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... San Jose State is good enough to hang with Fresno State, Boise State, and Nevada, but can they beat them? SJSU will have to beat a top tier team to make a bowl game. Otherwise, they will find themselves hovering around .500.
MAKE OR BREAK: A win against rival Stanford in week 4 would do wonders for SJSU’s confidence. Another 37-0 blowout would rattle the team to the core.
OFFENSE: Sean Setzer and Jase McCormick are battling it out for the quarterback job. Whoever wins the job will throw to an average group of receivers now that Kevin Robinson has graduated. Tight end Rob Meyers is the best pass catcher, while Otis Nelson is a fairly reliable receiver.155 lbs. freshman Stanley Morrison is someone to keep an eye on. Curtis Marsh and Derrvin Speight will get most of the handoffs, but watch out for former linebacker Derrick Cumbee to see some short yardage carries. The offensive line has two main question marks, guards Phillip Gapelu and Ty Rogers.
DEFENSE: Utah State ranked 106th in total defense last season. They gave up nearly 200 rushing yards a game last season. Jake Hutton, Kyle Gallagher, and Paul Igboeli fill out a solid group of linebackers. The secondary returns several players with starting experience. Safety Caleb Taylor is a powerful hitter with an eye for the backfield. He led the team with 8.5 tackles for loss. JUCO recruits Gregg Clark and Casey Davis will look to improve the Aggies defensive line.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Peter Caldwell will double as a punter and kicker this season. He mad 13 out of 21 field goals in 2007. Kansas City Chief’s draftee Kevin Robinson became the NCAA career all-purpose yards per play record holder last year. He will be impossible to replace. Kejon Murphy and Curtis Marsh will be the main return men for the Aggies.
COACHING: Brent Guy has gone 6-29 in three years at Utah State. As he enters his fourth season, Guy is feeling the heat. Another one or two win season could get him fired.
SCHEDULE: The only winnable game on the schedule is at home against Idaho. Utah State could beat UNLV, Utah, or the other WAC bottom dweller, but it is unlikely.
IMPACT/BREAKOUT PLAYER.... Stanley Morrison is a small speedy receiver, the type that usually flourish in the WAC. Utah State need all the playmakers they can get on offense. If Morrison comes together as a run after the ccatch threat, it will free up possession receiver Otis Nelson.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Utah State could win three or four games this season if they can find a reliable quarterback and stop the run. The linebackers will be fine. The rest of the defense will need to step up and shine in 2008 to have a four win season.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Utah State has not had a winning season since 1996. They have not won more than three games in a season since 2002. The team is getting better, but they do not have the playmakers to hang with the middle WAC teams like San Jose State, New Mexico State, Hawaii or Louisiana Tech.
MAKE OR BREAK: Utah State had a lousy 12 sacks last season. The front seven has to put pressure on the quarterback to help a good secondary play up to its potential. The only way they can stop quarterbacks like Chase Holbrook or Colin Kaepernick is to get in their faces..
I do not expect a WAC team to make a BCS bowl in 2008, but there are some quality teams that have the ability to upset the big boys in non-conference play. Boise State, Nevada, and Fresno State should battle it out for the conference title. Boise State is such a strong program, you can expect them to have success in rebuilding years. Nevada is the most dangerous team in the conference. They have an offense that should be able to score at will. Colin Kaepernick is the future star of the WAC. The young Nevada Wolfpack will give Fresno State all they can handle. However, Fresno State is too experienced and explosive for the rest of the conference. Their ability to stay balanced offensively is what has experts picking Fresno State across the board. The middle of the pack will be decided by who can find a reliable quarterback to lead their team. San Jose State, Hawaii, and Louisiana Tech are still uncertain about who will start at quarterback heading into the fall. Whoever can emerge with the best quarterback will likely soar above the middle teams. The WAC will improve collectively as a conference. It is easy to see that San Jose State and Louisiana Tech are building programs that will be a force to reckoned with in a few years. Hawaii will be back in conference contention in 2009. The WAC is turning into a dangerous conference. They are leading the mid-major revolution. The WAC is slowly but surely earning the respect of college football fans everywhere. It will be fun to watch the conference grow more powerful in 2008.