2009-10 WAC Football Predictions
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 9/1/2009
Simply put, the Western Athletic Conference is relevant and has remained relevant because of Boise State. Not including the Mountain West, no other team in college football outside of the BCS conferences and Notre Dame generates any attention at all. Hawaii had their moment in the sun two years ago but that blew up in their face in the George Dome.
The Broncos are the Western Athletic Conference. Take them away from the WAC and the conference is, well "whack". It can be argued that no other team in the country has more pressure on them than the Broncos. One loss during the regular season and the conference could be out more than $13 million, what Boise State would earn if it reached another bowl like it did the Fiesta Bowl three years ago.
But for all that Boise State means to the conference, the opposing teams in the conference sure do not show their appreciation. Week in and week out the Broncos take the best shot from the eight other teams in the league. Stadiums are sold out, players are amped, opposing coaches go all out, just for a chance to knock off Boise State at home or on the smurf turf at Bronco Stadium.
Picture Gonzaga in the WCC during basketball, it's the same scenario. It's never easy to pick that team, however talented they may be, to win the conference because of the pressure they face every time the players suit up. This year the pressure will be intensified for Boise State from many different angles as four teams have a legitimate shot of dethroning the Broncos. With that being said here are my 2009-10 WAC football predictions.
The Favorite - Boise State
Two years ago Hawaii showed that it was possible to knock Boise State off the throne. That reign lasted only one season. Boise State came out firing last season, with its second undefeated regular season. Six starters on offense and eight on defense are back from that team, whose only blemish came in a 17-16 loss to TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Kellen Moore (3,486 passing yards, 25 TDs, 10 INTs) is back at quarterback. His top rusher Ian Johnson and top receiver Jeremy Childs are gone but the Bronco offense is ready to reload with running backs Jeremy Avery and D.J. Harper set to become recognizable names in the WAC.
The defense at Boise always just needs to be adequate and this bunch is more than that featuring stud cornerback Kyle Wilson and former walk-on defensive end Ryan Winterswyk, who has been named to the Lott Trophy Watch List. In the secondary Wilson is just one of four standout defensive backs, who comprise the best secondary in the conference.
The schedule does throw a few curves the Broncos way in the form of road games at Fresno State, Hawaii and Louisiana Tech. It says here Boise State will not make it through the WAC gauntlet unharmed. The non-conference schedule also will provide two entertaining games starting with a rematch against Oregon on the blue turf on college football's opening Thursday night and then a potential shootout Oct. 13 at Tulsa.
This category is usually reserved for one or two teams but with the WAC this year I included four teams who can and will give Boise State all it can handle. Louisiana Tech is one of those teams and considering they get the Broncos at home, it could very well be the most likely to stake a claim at the conference title.
Most of the weapons on offense are back, including Ross Jenkins, a 1,155-yard passer from a year ago, Daniel Porter, a 1,164-yard rusher last season and Phillip Livas, who can make an impact at receiver, where he caught 43 balls for 607 yards last year, and at kick returner.
On top of that five starters are back on the offensive line. This offense will be a throwback to the days when the Bulldogs were breaking records with Tim Rattay at quarterback and Troy Edwards at receiver.
The Louisiana Tech defense has to continue to show the improvement it did last season. With a stacked offense the team can get into shootouts but it will be dangerous if the defensive unit, highlighted by safeties Deon Young and Antonio Baker, can play consistently
Another group of Bulldogs will not make life easy on Boise State in conference play. Pat Hill's group has a veteran offense with seven starters back and an even more experienced defense with eight starters back.
Quarterback Tom Brandstater is gone and in his place, is… well nobody quite yet. Hill has not settled on a quarterback yet with Ryan Colburn, Derek Carr and Ebahn Feathers all taking rotations throughout camp. The quarterback issue is one that does not look like it will get ironed out before the Bulldogs big showdown against Boise State Sept. 17, their third game of the season.
While the quarterback spot is up in the air, the other skill positions seem to be solidified with Anthony Harding and Lonyae Miller, both 800-yard rushers last season, returning and nearly every receiver who caught a pass last season returning as well. Now if they can just find someone to throw them the ball.
The defense is a mixed bag right now. Last season the rush defense ranked 12th worst in rushing yards allowed. Three-year starter at middle linebacker Ben Jacobs gives the Bulldogs at least one major playmaker on defense.
Games at Wisconsin and at Cincinnati will only help Fresno State prepare for WAC play. The biggest advantage Fresno State has is its schedule. Boise State, San Jose State and Louisiana Tech all will have to travel to the San Joaquin Valley.
Boise State has developed into a household name around college football and now so has Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Only a junior, Kaepernick had star potential entering last season and emerged as one of the country's elite running quarterbacks. He flourished in the Nevada pistol offense, passing for 2,849 yards and rushing for another 1,130. Kaepernick, along with returning running back Vai Taua (no pronunciation key available) combined to rush for more than 2,600 yards last season and gave the Wolf Pack the nation's third best ground game.
A few receivers are gone but Chris Wellington and Virgil Green return as does Taua, who was fourth on the team in receptions and receiving yards.
The defense is where Nevada may catch some people off guard this season. Last year the secondary was beaten repeatedly as it finished worst in college football in passing yardage allowed per game, but two starters are back. Antoine Thompson and Jonathan Amaya return and if Nevada can find some capable players to fill in alongside them, the defense should be improved thanks to a ferocious pass rush fueled by defensive ends Kevin Basped and Dontay Moch.
San Jose State
Perhaps a sleeper of sort, but with solid coaching from Dick Tomey and enough weapons back San Jose State fits more into the role of a serious contender this season. On offense and defense combined 14 starters are back from a team who went 6-6 last season while playing a challenging schedule.
The Spartans were actually 3-0 and 4-1 at a point in conference play before the wheels fell off and they lost their final three WAC games. Quarterback Kyle Reed, a 1,500-yard passer last season, is back and joined in the backfield by the top two rushers from last season, Yonus Davis and Brandon Rutley. Wide receivers Terrance Williams and Kevin Jurovich are more than capable.
In the Mountain West the thing to do is change coaches and in the WAC it is to change coordinators. A number of teams are undergoing coordinator changes and San Jose State is no different as it brings aboard Terry Malley, an offensive mad scientist who was a former assistant with the San Jose Sabercats of the AFL.
Tomey's defense was ranked second best in the conference last season. It loses critical pieces but the linebackers are solid and Tomey should be able to build around them. An opening week game against USC will be interesting to watch, but in conference play the Spartans have the ability to challenge. They will be need to show the ability to play on the road where they went 3-3 last season. In the span of 14 days San Jose State travels to Fresno and Boise State and also has a road date with Louisiana Tech to close out the season.
New head coach Greg McMackin probably cannot wait to get the season started as the Warriors have to rebuild an already atrocious defense from last season. Only two starters are back from that unit. Offensively things are more settled with Greg Alexander back at quarterback and the top two rushers, Daniel Libre and Kealoha Pilares, returning as well as top receiver Greg Salas. Unfortunately, those skill players do not appear to be enough to help rebuild this Warriors team.
The backfield returns intact with Nathan Enderle at quarterback and Deonte Jackson and Princeton McCarty at running backs, but that could be bad news as it did next to nothing last season while going 2-10.
Another WAC team, another new coordinator. This time it is Dave Baldwin who is furthering the spread of the spread offense around the country. Junior quarterback Diondre Borel could be a special player on a mediocre team. He led the Aggies, who went 3-9 last season, in passing (1,705 yards) and rushing (632 yards).
New Mexico State
Let me guess, a mediocre 2-9 season, so let's get a new offensive coordinator. Bingo! Timm Rosenbach, he of the 1989 NFL Supplemental Draft fame, takes over the Aggies (yes there are two teams battling for the WAC basement both named Aggies) offense that was inadequate to put it nicely last season.
The Aggies scored seven points in its season opener last season and were shutout by Boise State, 49-0. Technically the New Mexico State offense was shutout twice as it lost its season finale to Utah State 47-2.
The New Mexico State offensive line regularly weighs as the largest in college football amongst teams from the Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC. It will be big once again (what are they feeding those kids?) but as of right now they have no official starting quarterback to protect. That job is up in the air between a JUCO transfer and a freshman, basically pick your poison.
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