Conference Breakdown: Ranking the WAC

RunTellMattContributor IAugust 21, 2009

COLUMBIA, MO - SEPTEMBER 13:  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #10 of the Nevada Wolf Pack rolls out during the first half of the game against the Missouri Tigers on September 13, 2008 at Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Every summer I make do with the monotony and the boring, college football-less Saturdays by doing my best to scout all 120 FBS teams. Plus, as a gambling man and a rabid college football fan, I like to know what I’m talking about.

In this 12-part feature, I’ll break down each conference, including the independents, ranking the teams in order of how good I perceive them to be heading into the season, complete with last year’s W-L record and my predictions for each team’s 2009 W-L record.

Feel free to comment on what a splendid job you think I’ve done and how my analysis and forecast is dead-on. Or you can disagree, whatever.

Part 11: Boise gets WACked

9. New Mexico State Aggies | Last Year: 3-9 | My 2009 Prediction: 2-11

New Mexico State will be an entirely new-look program this year as former HC Hal Mumme is out the door. Mumme’s style seemed to be a relentlessly pass-happy OFF, little to no running and with no apparent attention to DEF.

New HC DeWayne Walker, who was the DC at UCLA the past three seasons, takes over for the departed Mumme and will look to focus on two neglected areas of Aggies’ seasons past—DEF and ball control.

While the new DEF attitude will certainly help, Walker also has to find a replacement for QB Chase Holbrook and WR’s Chris Williams and AJ Harris, all of whom hold several of the school’s all-time records in passing and receiving.

The OFF does return a couple of good RB’s and eight O-linemen with starting experience, which will help with ball control.

The DEF, like the OFF, returns just five and will be moving to a new scheme with less experience at the line and in the secondary.

When your team is rebuilding this much, pretty much any schedule is going to be difficult and the Aggies not only play 13 games, but seven on the road. While it’s possible for this year’s Aggies team to improve upon the three-win total of last year, a winning season and their first bowl since 1960 could be a few years away.

8. Idaho Vandals | Last Year: 2-10 | My 2009 Prediction: 3-9

The Vandals have won a combined three games over the last two seasons with two of those games coming against FCS opponents. In fact, over the past five seasons, they’ve only won nine games total against FBS teams, three of which came against New Mexico St. The Vandals are also on their third HC during that same span, so to say it’s been tough-going is an understatement.

Current HC Robb Akey will start his third season with 13 starters returning—seven on OFF and six on DEF. The OFF welcomes back several skill players including QB Nathan Enderle, RB Deonte’ Jackson and two of the top three WR’s. The O-line takes a hit losing two four-year starters and one two-year starter.

The DEF was the worst in the conference allowing 42.8 points per game and 472 yards per game of total OFF, so losing several starters from the D-line and LB unit may not necessarily be a bad thing. The strength of the DEF should be the secondary where only one starter is lost.

The schedule could set up the Vandals for a solid start as their first three game’s opponents (NM ST, Wash., San Diego St) combined for five wins last season. The Vandals also get Hawaii and Utah St at home this season, so the potential is there to get at least five wins.

There should be considerable improvement this year in the Vandals team, but they’re still at least another year away from a winning season.

7. Utah St. Aggies | Last Year: 3-9 | My 2009 Prediction: 4-7

The Utah St. Aggies have not topped three wins in a season in the last six, but this year’s Aggies team has a very good opportunity to do just that.

The schedule has four games that are there for the taking, including at home against Southern Utah, an FCS team. Unfortunately, the other three are on the road at NM St, Hawaii and Idaho. Also, three of their four other home games are against Nevada, LA Tech and Boise ST, all of whom are expected to compete for a WAC title this year.

The Aggies will at least have experience as 16 starters return, nine of which on OFF, including the heart of the Aggies OFF, QB Diondre Borel, who on top completing 56.2 percent of his passes for 1,705 yards with 11 TDs and 10 INTs, was also the team’s leading rusher with 632 yards and five scores.

The rest of the RB’s, as well as all but one from the WR corps and eight O-linemen with starting experience return.

The D-line and LB’s are undersized, but considering new HC Gary Anderson is the former DC at Utah, he should get the most from his players turning them into a decent unit.

Overall, I think the Aggies will be making positive steps in the right direction this year achieving at least four wins. Getting to .500 would be a major success giving the Aggies a lot to look forward to heading into next season.

6. Hawaii Warriors | Last Year: 7-7 | My 2009 Prediction: 5-7

Last year the Warriors took a big step back to a 7-7 season after an offensively potent 12-1 season the year prior. The cause could have been the return of just four starters on both sides and of course the loss of star QB Colt Brennan.

This year may be another step back, at least defensively, as they return just two starters, one D-linemen and one LB, which is a glaring weak spot for the Warriors coming in.

OFF production was down last year from 43.4 points per game to 24.6 points per game, but should be a little better as QB Greg Alexander returns for his senior season after completing 62.9 percent of his passes for 1,895 yards and 14 TDs.

The top RBs are all back as well as a few decent WRs, but most importantly the O-line should be much improved this year as five seniors will start. The O-line really can’t get any worse after allowing a whopping 57 sacks last year, one away from the NCAA record of 58 set by Notre Dame in ‘07.

The schedule is pretty weak and starts out with games against C Arkansas of the FCS and at Washington St.

The OFF production should be there—nothing like ‘06 and ‘07—but should at least give the Warriors a punchers chance in a few games.

However, with a brand new secondary and an overall suspect DEF, the Warriors won’t be complete enough to hang with the likes of LA Tech, Boise ST, Nevada or Fresno St to come anywhere near a WAC title this year.

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5. San Jose State Spartans | Last Year: 6-6 | My 2009 Prediction: 5-7

Not only are the Spartans the only team this season to play two BCS bowl winners from the previous season (at USC, Utah), but they must face them in back-to-back games to start the season, which should put the Spartans behind in an 0-2 start. This means they’ll need to win six of the remaining 10 just to become bowl eligible.

Actually, with a home game against Nevada and road games against Fresno St, Boise St and LA Tech, all games in which the Spartans are expected to lose, they’ll need to win the remaining six to even match last year’s win total. I think I’ve established it won’t be easy to get to a bowl this year, at least from the schedule’s standpoint.

The Spartans do, however, return 15 starters, get back several players who missed last season to injury and lose just 17 of their 70 lettermen, so they’ll certainly have the depth and experience to allow for a competitive season.

The OFF loses their top RB, Yonus Davis, as well as their top WR, David Richmond, but returns the top two QBs, including Cal transfer, senior Kyle Reed.

The DEF was statistically very decent last year allowing 21.6 points per game, 312 yards per game of total OFF and posting 33 sacks.

The D-line and LBs should again be very good, but the secondary loses two NFL draft picks and will start two sophomores.

The Spartans should be a decent middle of the WAC team, but with a difficult schedule and the quality losses on both sides, the Spartans might again just barley miss a bowl invite for the third straight season.

4. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs | Last Year: 8-5 | My 2009 Prediction: 7-6

Third-year HC Derek Dooley has made significant progress with the Bulldogs taking them from a 3-10 team in ’06, to 5-7 his first year in ’07 and 8-5 last year. The stats are there as well to back this up as the OFF has increased production from 18.6, to 20.8, to 24.6 points per game last season and the DEF has gone from allowing 41.7, to 30.7, to 23.7 points per game over the last two seasons.

Significantly improving the W-L this year, however, may not be realistic, but Dooley will have his best Bulldogs team yet with 16 returning starters and the potential for a surprise WAC title.

While getting to six wins shouldn’t be a problem, the rest of the schedule will make it difficult to again get to eight or more with road games against Auburn, Navy, Nevada, LSU and Fresno St.

However, Auburn may finish 10th in the SEC this year, Navy lost the entire three-headed monster responsible for the success of their triple option, LSU went 8-5 last year and could go 8-4 this year and Fresno replaces their star QB with an inexperienced Jr, so there’s still hope yet for some of those games.

The OFF returns their best weapon in senior RB Daniel Porter, who last year rushed for 1,164 yards at a 5.2 yards per carry average with nine scores. The focus on OFF will be the pass game as the production was dismal last year with just 156 yards per game, nine TDs and nine INTs.

The O-line should be fantastic and perhaps one of the best in the WAC, so returning starting QB Ross Jenkins’ numbers should improve.

The DEF was solid against the run last year allowing just 104 yards per game and should again be stout with the return of seven of the top eight D-linemen. The pass DEF, however, was a focus in the offseason as they allowed 273 yards per game—good for second worst in the conference.

The secondary will be solid, led by first team WAC selection, FS Antonio Baker, whose 115 tackles were second highest in the conference last year.

The W-L may not look much better this year, but if ever the Bulldogs had a shot at a WAC title, the time would be now.

3. Fresno State Bulldogs | Last Year: 7-6 | My 2009 Prediction: 8-4

Last year, Fresno State was surprisingly picked by the media to win the WAC, but after losing to Hawaii in OT and dropping four of their last six games, including their bowl game against Colorado St, the Bulldogs posted a disappointing 7-6 mark.

Could the Pat Hill era finally be coming to an end after 12 seasons for once again not living up to expectations? Maybe, maybe not, but his seat could get awfully hot depending on how his 13th season as HC goes.

The OFF loses their star QB, Tom Brandstater, and a three-way competition is still in progress to find a suitable replacement. The OFF gets back nearly their entire WR corps, less one Bear Pascoe, who was second best on the team last year, as well as three solid RB’s in Anthony Harding, Lonyae Miller and Ryan Matthews, who are all capable of 1,000-plus yard seasons.

The O-line loses their best left and right tackles, but returns five with starting experience. Eight of the 15 starters return on DEF, including their top four tacklers, and will be led by MLB Ben Jacobs, who had 115 tackles last year.

The D-line loses a few starters from a unit that gave up 210 rush yards per game last year, which ranked 108th in the nation and tied Idaho for second worst in the conference.

The schedule will be difficult with just five home games and three difficult non-conference games at Wisconsin, Cincinnati and Illinois. They do catch Boise St at home, but get Nevada on the road, both of which are the preseason frontrunners for a WAC title.

The expectations are not as high—a position the Bulldogs seem to perform better in—but I think Fresno State will actually perform better this year resulting in a better W-L record come season’s end.

2. Boise State Broncos | Last Year: 12-1 | My 2009 Prediction: 11-2

Over the last seven years, Boise St has made seven bowl games, captured six conference titles and have won 80 games total—only the USC Trojans can say the same.

This year, despite being picked once again as preseason favorites to win the conference, the Broncos might not find it so easy going as they return just half their starters from a year ago.

The OFF gets six of those returning, including QB Kellen Moore, who was fantastic last year as a redshirt freshmen completing an absurd 69.4 percent of his passes for 3,486 yards, 25 TDs and 10 INTs. Moore loses, however, his top OFF weapons of RB Ian Johnson and most of his WR corps.

The O-line, which used 11 different combination of players in 13 games last year, loses their best player, three-year starter Andrew Woodruff.

The DEF will overall be pretty good once again with arguably the WAC’s best secondary led by preseason DEF POY, CB Kyle Wilson. The LB unit may be a little less experienced as will the core of the D-line, however, First Team All-WAC DE Ryan Winterswyk returns to anchor the unit.

The schedule may be one of the weakest in the country—which has always been the argument to keep them out of the BCS bowls—but will start off with a difficult home game against Oregon, which should set the tone for the rest of the season.

Beat the Ducks and the Broncos should no doubt be undefeated when they face Nevada on November 27th in what should be the equivalent of a conference title game.

I think the Broncos have several more questions to answer with less overall experience, which is why I’ve give Nevada the advantage to win the conference this year.

1. Nevada Wolf Pack | Last Year: 7-6 | My 2009 Prediction: 11-1

QB Colin Kaepernick is one of only two QBs in the nation to have thrown for 2,000-plus yards and rushed for 1,000-plus yards last season, the other being UAB’s Joe Webb. In fact, Kaepernick rushed for 1,130 yards with an impressive 17 rushing TDs to go along with 2,849 passing yards, 22 passing TDs and just seven INTs in 383 attempts.

In 2007, RB Luke Lippincott led the WAC in rushing with 1,420 yards and in 2008, RB Vai Tua did the same with 1,521 yards—both are back for the 2009 season. The WR corps loses their 1000-plus yard receiver, Marko Mitchell, but remains a solid unit, and the O-line should once again be among the best in the WAC.

On top of the OFF being incredibly loaded with dangerous talent, the DEF returns seven starters, including DE’s Dontay Moch and Kevin Basped, who were first and second in the WAC last year in sacks with 11.5 and 10, respectively.

Last year’s DEF was stout against the run and one of the best in the nation allowing just 89 yards per game. The pass DEF, on the other hand, was worst in the nation allowing 312 yards per game. I expect both unit’s numbers to balance out with considerable improvements in the pass DEF and a slight drop in run DEF, statistically speaking.

The schedule shouldn’t be too bad although they start the season with a road game against a significantly improved Notre Dame team—a game I don’t expect the Wolf Pack to win. If they beat ND, however, they should be undefeated when they face Boise St on the road in the season finale.

The outcome of that game should determine the WAC champions, but I’m predicting the Wolf Pack to finally get the nod after nine straight losses to Boise St.

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