2008 WAC Predictions
by Matt Severance - 08/26/2008
The Western Athletic Conference has produced the past two BCS-crashers in Hawaii and Boise State, making it the most high profile of the mid-major conferences. While Boise upset Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, Hawaii was waxed in last season's Sugar Bowl by Georgia, leaving the conference again looking for respect with the big boys in 2008.
Here's a breakdown of the WAC, which this season should be the Big Two and Little Seven, along with some 2008 WAC predictions:
By now every college football fan knows about Boise State, the home of the blue turf and some pretty good football. In fact, the Broncos have become so good that many around the program were disappointed with last season's 10-3 finish and second place in the WAC (behind Hawaii). Boise State returns 11 starters, including star tailback Ian Johnson, who has exceeded 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons. He's healthy after dealing with kidney and ankle issues last season. He may need to carry the load early as the Broncos are starting a freshman quarterback, Kellen Moore, in the season opener for the first time ever. The game of the year is that season finale versus Fresno State, which should decide WAC title. Boise State is 6-1 vs. Fresno State since joining the WAC in 2001.
Fresno Statelooks to be the only team capable of competing with Boise State for the WAC crown and a possible shot at an unbeaten season and a BCS bowl. The Bulldogs went 9-4 last year but haven't won the league title since tying for the 1999 championship. With QB Tom Brandstater and a good running back duo in Ryan Matthews and Lonyae Miller, this will be one of coach Pat Hill's best Fresno offenses in years. This team, with 16 starters returning, could win bettors some good money in the non-conference portion of its schedule. Fresno State is getting 5.5 points for the season opener at Rutgers and almost assuredly will be a home underdog on Sept. 13 against Wisconsin, a very winnable game for Fresno. Throw in another underdog game at UCLA, and those are three potential straight-up victories. In conference, the game of the year is Nov. 28 at Boise State.
COULD UPSET BOISE OR FRESNO
Nevada is the sleeper team in the WAC. Yes, the Wolf Pack lost seven games last year, but five were by touchdown or less, including a four-overtime loss to Boise State and a two-point loss to Hawaii on a last-second field goal. This could be the best offensive team in the conference with eight starters returning, including sophomore quarterback Colin Kaepernick (the 2007 WAC Freshman of the Year) and senior running back Luke Lippincott (the 2007 WAC rushing leader). Those two led Nevada to an average of more than 500 yards and nearly 40 points a game last season. It's not inconceivable that Nevada could upset Texas Tech on Sept. 6 or knock off an unbeaten Boise State on Nov. 22.
Louisiana Tech appears to be the only team other than Nevada with a prayer of upsetting Boise or Fresno or reaching a bowl game. The Bulldogs were 5-7 last season but nearly beat Hawaii (lost 45-44 in overtime) and Boise State (lost 45-31) and finished 4-4 in the WAC. Eight starters return on offense, which also adds former Georgia Tech quarterback Taylor Bennett. Bennett started all 12 games for the Yellow Jackets in 2007, completing 162-of-327 passes for 2,136 yards and seven touchdowns. Tech is an eight-point home underdog for the season opener with Mississippi State, which seems like great value for Bulldogs backers. Fresno State also visits Tech on Nov. 1 in an upset special.
BETTER LUCK NEXT YEAR
Hawaii lost record-setting quarterback and Heisman finalist Colt Brennan, its top four receivers, 13 starters overall and head coach June Jones. The Warriors may not recover from their massive road trip to open the season at Florida. It's a rebuilding year.
New Mexico State hasn't been in a bowl in 48 years and likely won't be this year despite a good QB in Chase Holbrook, who passed for 3,866 yards and 26 touchdowns as a junior. Top receiver Chris Williams is also back, but this team can't stop anyone.
San Jose State does get Fresno State, Boise State and Louisiana Tech at home, so upsetting one of those teams certainly is possible.
Idaho is just looking to improve upon 2007. Being as the Vandals went 1-11 last year, doubling their win total is doable.
Utah State enters 2008 on a roll, having won their final two games of 2007 to snap a 16-game losing streak. Still, the Aggies were outscored 406-247 last year, are 6-29 in three seasons under coach Brent Guy and face seven bowl teams from 2007.