2006 Western Athletic Conference Preview
by Jordan Adams - 08/30/2006
If you love high-powered offenses, lackluster defenses and late night match-ups, the WAC might just be the conference for you. While the casual college football fan may only know about Boise State from its recent dominance of the conference, 2006 should provide for a much more exciting race. The league is full with deeper competition that will be gunning for both the Broncos and last year's surprise co-champs, Nevada.
Yes, Boise State and Nevada are again slated to reign as the best two teams in the WAC, however with the likes of Hawaii, Fresno State and Louisiana Tech, no favorite will cruise to an easy conference win. The WAC does have some of the worst teams in the country; so don't expect barnburners every weekend as the Idahos and New Mexico States will earn a good whooping. Overall this conference will dazzle your television screens with more 40 and 50-point games than most other conference match-ups. Guns blazing, saddle up for a dynamic offensive explosion this fall.
One year ago the Nevada Wolfpack rose from obscurity to pounce right past conference favorites Boise State. Granted, they split the conference title, but Nevada's overall record proved they were the superior team. Once you got past those two, no other team provided much of a challenge. Fresno State did finish conference play 6-2, but lost its last four games of 2005. Hawaii was inconsistent all year and could not put together more than two straight victories, finishing 4-4 in conference play. As a whole, last year's WAC was miserable, especially defensively. Offense has always been a constant force in the conference, and that continues to be the reason for the high output. The thing that does separate the teams is the defensive showing that one or two of the programs manage to put together: In last year's case it was Nevada and Boise State.
CONFERENCE FAVORITE: Boise State Broncos (9-4 overall, 7-1 conference, T-1st in WAC)
Returning Starters: 20 (9 offense; 9 defense, kicker, punter)
Skinny: With all but one starter returning on both sides of the ball, quarterback Jared Zabransky and co. should return to top form in '06. After struggling out of the gate last year out of conference, Boise State starts this year at home and should cruise through the first part of its schedule. One of the few impressive defenses in the conference, the Broncos should be able to score on anyone and stop their opposition, too.
Best Bet: Nov. 1, vs. Fresno State. While the Bulldogs aren't an easy win, they should be ripe for the picking this year without quarterback Paul Pinegar. Last year's embarrassing loss should be rectified at home.
TEAM ON THE RISE: Hawaii Warriors (5-7, 4-4; 5th in WAC)
Returning Starters: 16 (9 offense; 5 defense, punter, kicker)
Skinny: Defense has rarely been a strong suit for the Warriors. However, this year's offense should be able to overcome what those defensive woes. June Jones' offense is deadly and should almost be impossible to stop through the skies. Gunslinger Colt Brennan is prime for a gigantic year with his two terrific sophomore wideouts. Davone Bess and Ryan Grice-Mullen could be the best tandem in the nation. Last year as freshmen, they combined for 174 catches, 2,352 yards and 26 touchdowns. And with a bad defense, the offense better be on target.
Best Bet: Oct. 21 at New Mexico State. Cruising last year to a 49-28 win, this year's game should be similar to the scoring output that Hawaii threw on NMSU.
TEAM ON THE DECLINE: Fresno State Bulldogs (8-5, 6-2; T-3rd in WAC)
Returning Starters: 18 (8 offense; 8 defense, punter, kicker)
Skinny: While Fresno State will in all likelihood stay closer to the top of the WAC than the bottom, the Bulldogs must replace valuable signal caller Paul Pinegar, and that's no easy task. Whoever is called to fill in as the starter, experience is lacking with all candidates. Having also to carry the rushing load is Dwayne Wright, its starter that has not rushed for more than 1,000 yards since 2003. In the WAC, if you can't score, you don't win. Sad to say Pat Hill's program might be in for an off year in 2006.
Best Bet: Oct. 7, at. Utah State. A constant bottom feeder in conference play, Utah State should be pushed around yet again when they host Fresno State in early October.
TEAM TO WATCH OUT FOR: Nevada Wolfpack (9-3, 7-1; T-1st in WAC)
Returning Starters: 15 (7 offense; 7 defense, kicker)
Skinny: Again the 'Pistol' offense should do wonders for the Nevada offense, looking to yet again blow past the competition and defend half of last year's conference championship. Senior quarterback Jeff Rowe is masterful as the offense's general and should build on his unit's top 20 scoring average in the nation a year ago. Despite a difficult non-conference schedule, Nevada should be right in the thick of things come December in the WAC.
Best Bet: Oct. 21, vs. San Jose State. Having only defeated the Spartans by a touchdown on the road, a friendlier match-up at home should spark a big time victory.