About the Rankings and Predictions
After months of evaluating talent and depth charts, reviewing preseason magazines, ranking coaches and recruiting classes, and browsing a number of websites, here is my conference preview for 2009. These rankings are based on my own formula that takes into account recruiting, returning experience, player talent, coaching, recent history, and adjustments from last season (turnover margin, close game win/loss record, injuries, etc.). These variables create a power ranking.
Team schedules are then evaluated, and predictions made for each game based on power rankings and home field advantage scoring. The final rankings are reflective of power rating, projected win/loss record, and strength of schedule.
The past few years, the WAC has been about one team—Boise State. The Broncos are still the heavy favorite to win the league, especially considering they have lost only four conference games this decade. Expect an upset this season though.
The WAC overall comes in ranked as the 10th conference in my 2009 rankings, mainly due to the weakness at the bottom. Utah State, New Mexico State, and Idaho are all near the bottom of the college football world right now. The middle tier is also average at best.
9. Utah State Aggies
The Aggies are actually rated higher than NMSU or Idaho in the power rankings, but due to scheduling must travel to play both of those teams. As a result, two winnable games are likely losses. The team returns 10 offensive starters for Coach Gary Andersen, but the real issue is on defense.
This team does not have the talent or depth to play against some of the better WAC offenses. In addition, there is a scheme change to a pressure man defense, and that will not be easy as eight of the two deep will likely be freshmen and sophomores.
Factor in a schedule versus eight bowl teams, including non-conference games at Utah, Texas A&M, and BYU, and the results will likely be a regression from last year’s three wins.
Projected Record: 1-11 (0-8 WAC)
8. Idaho Vandals
Rob Akey is entering his third season, but has just three wins thus far. This year should be another struggle. The Vandals allowed 470 yards and 43 points per game last season, and must replace its entire linebacking corps.
Returning QB Nathan Enderle has been inconsistent in two years as a starter, throwing 30 touchdowns versus 35 interceptions. This year, there will also be a need to replace three offensive linemen as well as replacing do-everything TE Eddie Williams.
The schedule is easier than last seasons, but the win total will likely be about the same. Steal a win in the opener at New Mexico State, and maybe the team will build some confidence for a few more, but most likely, this is a one win team.
Projected Record: 1-11 (1-7 WAC)
7. New Mexico State Aggies
These Aggies are actually rated the worst team in the WAC, but playing home games versus Idaho and Utah State make a difference, as they should pick up two close wins. Still, this is a transitional year for New Mexico State, as new coach DeWayne Walker will focus on defense and eliminate the pass-happy offense of former coach Hal Mumme.
The team needs to find a new quarterback, running back, and receivers, and the defense must replace its entire front four, though this might not be a bad problem to have. Last year’s defense allowed 220 yards rushing per game.
Watching DeWayne Walker transform the program over the next few years should be interesting. He might or might not succeed, but going from a Mumme offense and a 3-3-5 defense to more traditional sets will certainly be noteworthy.
Projected Record: 3-9 (2-6 WAC)
6. Hawaii Warriors
Last season, the program recovered from a 1-3 start to finish the year 7-7 with a bowl loss versus Notre Dame. It will take some magic to continue the bowl streak this season. The Warriors continue to slide without coach June Jones and his Run’n’Shoot offense.
Hawaii has only nine returning starters (only two on defense). The offense might produce respectable numbers, if the OL can cut down on the sacks (57 allowed last season). There will also be a greater emphasis on balance.
The defense is essentially starting over, and that is not a good thing in the offensive-minded WAC. Having to replace the entire secondary will be painful, but the return of linebacker Blaze Soares (injured for most of 2008) should help solidify the middle of the defense.
Projected Record: 5-8 (3-5 WAC)
5. San Jose State Spartans
Dick Tomey continues to elevate this team to mediocrity. That seems an oxymoron until this fact is considered: From 1993-2004, the team had one non-losing season. Tomey has done that in two of the past three years.
This year’s team features an offense that returns its entire front wall, as well as a WR in Jurovich who missed most of last season with an illness. Throw in a seasoned QB and JUCO help coming in at running back, and this team should be much more potent on offense.
The defense returns most of its front seven, as well as two secondary players, one of whom is Duke Ihenacho, an All-WAC linebacker last season. This unit, despite playing in the offensive oriented WAC, managed to finish 21st in the country last year, allowing just 312 yards per game.
Projected Record: 5-7 (4-4 WAC)
4. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
The Bulldogs appear to be ready to continue their upswing. Though they will never be confused with the 1980s Dooley’s Dogs from Athens, GA, the program appears to be turning the corner entering Derek Dooley’s third season.
There are nine starters returning to an offense that was somewhat inconsistent last season, but seemed to find its groove in the final five games of the regular season. There are potential All-WAC players all over the offense, most notably RB Daniel Porter who has a shot to become the school’s all-time leading rusher.
On defense, the Bulldogs struggled against the pass last season (113th nationally), but were superb against the run (13th). Expect more of the same, as three of the front four return, but the team will need to replace five of last year’s starting back seven.
The talent is there for a winning season, but the team has a few too many questions to compete with the best in the WAC right now. Additionally, there are road dates with Auburn, LSU, Fresno State, and Nevada (a tough schedule for a retooled defense).
Projected Record: 6-6 (5-3 WAC)
3. Fresno State Bulldogs
Pat Hill’s team has generally been one of the most talked about “upset” teams of the past decade. The fact is, however, that the Bulldogs are only 37-26 over the past five years, and they have not shared or won a conference title since 1999.
This year’s team, however, is loaded. The only serious concern on offense is at quarterback, while a host of talented runners return. Look for more rushing to take the pressure off the new starter under center.
The key to the season will be the improvement of a seasoned defense. Nine starters return from a team that struggled to stop opponents last year, allowing 31 points and 410 yards per game. This unit figures to be much, much better, especially with LB Ben Jacobs anchoring the middle.
As usual, the Bulldogs play a tough non-conference slate (at Wisconsin, Cincinnati, and Illinois), and this year they get Boise State at home, but have to go to Nevada. They will upset the Broncos but fall against the Pack.
Projected Record: 8-4 (7-1 WAC)
2. Nevada Wolfpack
Coach Chris Ault’s Pistol offense should be in high gear this season. QB Colin Kaepernick, arguably the nation’s best unknown quarterback, will lead a strong rushing attack, which also passes well when needed. This team averaged 509 yards a game last season, and seven starters return.
If the defense has adjusted to the 4-3 scheme change, there is enough returning experience to make significant gains. The program allowed 312 yards a game through the air last season, seemingly giving up big plays at every turn. If the secondary has stabilized even a little, the offense will be enough to win most games.
The schedule sees Fresno come to Mackay Stadium, but the team closes the regular season on the Smurf Turf. There are likely losses to Notre Dame and Missouri, but everything else appears winnable.
Projected Record: 9-3 (7-1 WAC)
1. Boise State Broncos
This is the USC of the WAC, but this season, the Broncos will have to share a conference title. Still they should be considered number one in the conference, as they are the most talented team in the WAC. There will be no BCS this season, however, as the team will have one loss and not enough strength of schedule to make up the difference.
The offense, led by Kellen Moore, will still be potent, but there should be a slight dip due to the need to replace the left half of the line, RB Ian Johnson, and two starting receivers. Still, this is a very dangerous team that by mid-season will be humming right along.
The defense’s 4-2-5 alignment will continue to feature a dynamite secondary, but the loss of both linebackers and three linemen will hurt. TCU was able to control the line of scrimmage and run the ball in its bowl victory, and teams will likely take that approach this year.
The schedule on paper looks tougher than it will actually be, with games versus Oregon and at Tulsa (both teams are going through coaching transitions of some sort). The rest of the non-conference slate is a joke—Miami, OH, Bowling Green, and UC-Davis. Hardly the sort of teams for a BCS resume.
Projected Record: 11-1 (7-1 WAC)