2011 WAC Football Predictions and Western Athletic Conference Odds
by Darin Zank - 8/3/2011
The Western Athletic Conference fought off its reputation as the Boise State-and-the-rest conference to place two teams in the top 11 in the final BCS rankings last year. Unfortunately for WAC fans, this conference is going through some changes, which makes that feat highly unlikely this season. Perennial power Boise State has left for the Mountain West, and three of its better programs have announced they will leave the conference after this season. So as this season approaches the long-term future of the WAC is uncertain.
With Boise State gone the WAC becomes much more competitive. As many as five teams look to have a shot to win the conference this season. But one team, despite losing its talented quarterback to the pros, seems to have the inside track. Here are my 2011 WAC football predictions with Western Athletic Conference odds for betting:
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Nevada's Wolf Pack finished in a three-way tie atop the WAC last year, going 7-1 in conference play for the second straight season. And they exorcised a demon when they beat Boise State in that crazy game in Reno the night after Thanksgiving. This year Nevada returns only 12 starters, and they have to replace their three-year starter at QB, Colin Kaepernick. But seven of their returning starters are on defense, and, most importantly, the 2011 Nevada Wolf Pack football schedule is the easiest among the main contenders in the WAC. Their three toughest conference opponents have to come to Reno and they only have three conference road games. Sportbet is listing Nevada as a +215 favorite to win the WAC this season.
Any of about three teams could fit this bill, but we'll place Hawaii here. The Warriors were the biggest surprise in the conference last year, picked to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack but instead tying for first at 7-1 in WAC play. This year Hawaii returns just nine starters, only three on offense, but one of them is senior QB Bryant Moniz. He threw for 5,000 yards and 39 TDs last year. And six starters are back on the WAC's second-ranked defense. The Warriors do draw four conference road games, but they should be able to at least split those. The shootout that might decide the WAC is Nov. 12 when Hawaii visits Nevada. Sportbet is offering the Warriors at +250 to win the conference title.
The Dark Horse
Again, a couple of teams could fit in here, but we'll go with Louisiana Tech. Better things were thought of for the Bulldogs last year, but they could only go 4-4 in the WAC and they couldn't beat anybody that finished above them. This year, as they enter the second season of the Coach Dykes era, Tech gets back 13 starters -- six on offense -- including the WAC's second-leading returning rusher Lennon Creer, and seven on defense. The 'Dogs are solid along both lines and might have the best collection of skill players in the league. Unfortunately, their weak point is at QB, and they've got four conference road games, although a couple of those are winnable. And with decent QB play Tech could start out 4-0 in league play. Sportbet is listing the Bulldogs at +700 to win the WAC.
Fresno State developed a reputation of playing anybody anywhere over the years, and they've had some success. But one thing has eluded the Bulldogs recently: an outright conference championship. Fresno State hasn't finished higher than second in the league standings since 1999. This year the 'Dogs return five starters on both sides of the ball from a team that went 5-3 in league play last year. They get back the league's leading returning rusher, Robbie Rouse, and should field the WAC's best set of special teams. But they've also got four conference road games, and they will be fortunate to split those. Fresno State could make a run at the WAC title this season, and they could finish fifth. It's just hard to tell. Sportbet is offering the Bulldogs at +350 to win the conference.
San Jose State has won one WAC game the last two seasons combined. But after a slow start to last year, their first under Coach MacIntyre, the Spartans showed some life, losing by two at New Mexico State, by four to Utah State, by seven to Louisiana Tech, and by three in overtime at Idaho. This year State gets back 18 starters, including the entire defense. And they get four conference home games. They may have to start a freshman at QB, but they might also field one of the best defenses in the league. Sportbet is listing the Spartans at +1,900 to win the WAC this season.
2011 WAC Predicted Order of Finish
First - Nevada
Second – Hawaii
Third – Louisiana Tech
Fourth – Fresno State
Fifth – San Jose State
Sixth – Idaho
Seventh – New Mexico State
Eighth – Utah State
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