I never thought I would see a WAC school make a BCS bowl game, much less win a BCS bowl game. Boise State shocked the world when they beat Big 12 champion Oklahoma in an overtime thriller in last year's Fiesta Bowl. You can’t prepare yourself for that type of Cinderella story. Flash-forward to the 2007 season, and the WAC is getting itself ready for another great season of football. The WAC has two contenders for the Heisman trophy in its conference. Serious contenders. Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan and Boise State running back Ian Johnson are ready to lead their teams to more BCS glory. Don’t be surprised if another WAC team makes a BCS bowl this season. Actually, prepare for it.
Hawaii and BSU are the main contenders. However, San Jose State and New Mexico State have very solid teams that can easily win 8 to 9 games this year. Nevada and Fresno State, meanwhile, will keep themselves in almost every conference game. Hawaii and Boise State better watch out, because the WAC is loaded with talent in 2007.
OFFENSE: Ian Johnson should have another stellar year. He has a great offensive line to give him holes to run through, and I think he can match his touchdown total of 25 from 2006. A senior, Taylor Tharp, will be the likely replacement for NCAA 2008 cover boy Jared Zabransky. However, Bush Hadman is making a strong push and could very well be named the starter. BSU will have a new group of receivers in its offense after their top 4 WRs graduated last year.
DEFENSE: Boise State only returns 6 of its top 11 tacklers. They should have an experienced d-line, but it may not be as good as last year's group. Graduated seniors Korey Hall and Colt Brooks were ranked 1st and 3rd respectively in tackles for Boise State last year. Marty Tadman will lead a talented defensive backfield, the backbone of the defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Boise State will have to replace a talented duo in the special teams department. Freshmen Kyle Brotzman (kicker) and Brad Elkin (punter) should not fall to far from the tree of Anthony Montgomery and Kyle Stringer. BSU has always had strong special teams.
COACHING: Chris Petersen is one of the hottest coaches in college football. Any D-1 program with a vacancy from now on will look to see if Petersen is willing to leave BSU for more money. However, I doubt he will be checking out anytime soon.
SCHEDULE: Boise State has a weak schedule in 2007. Their toughest out-of-conference game is at Washington, while they get New Mexico State and San Jose State at home.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Ian Johnson has a big year, the new QB does not skip a beat, and BSU breezes by its schedule until Hawaii. An undefeated season is not that far fetched.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Ian Johnson can’t put up his 2006 numbers, the defense gives up more points a game then the new QBs and WRs can handle, and 2 or 3 conference losses in an improved WAC is plausible.
MAKE OR BREAK: The new QB needs to be poised and ready to lead a serious contender. The defense needs to give the young offense a lot of support early in the season. With an easy non-conference schedule, BSU should have lots of time to gel before November 23rd.
OFFENSE: QB Tom Brandstater needs to improve his play if Fresno State wants to compete in the WAC. His TD to INT ratio last year was 13:14. They do return their top receiver statistically, but lose their top playmaker in injury prone Paul Williams to the NFL. Tight end Bear Pascoe is very talented and is one of the best at his position in the conference. Lonyae Miller should have a solid year running the ball, but I doubt he puts up numbers like 4th round draft pick Dwayne Wright did in 2006. Fresno State will have a great O-line, with lots of talent and experience.
DEFENSE: FSU returns just 4 starters on defense, and last year they gave up an average of 28.3 points per game. Tyler Cutts should have a good year from the defensive end position, but Damon Jenkins was the only defensive back to record an INT last year. The Bulldog defense will have a rough time in 2007.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Fresno State returns its senior kicker and punter. Kicker Clint Stitser was only 11 of 16 last year, with a long of 43. Kyle Zimmerman averaged just under 37 yards per punt a year ago. Clifton Smith is a solid punt returner, meaning the special teams is average, not too bad but not too good.
COACHING: Pat Hill was one of the top up-and-coming college football coaches after Fresno State’s 11-2 2001 season. Since 2001 though, Fresno State has not won more than 8 games. Last year’s 4-8 record was the worst in this decade. Another losing season, and his seat will start warming up.
SCHEDULE: Fresno State has some great out-of-conference matchups set up for 2007. They travel to Texas A&M and Oregon early in the year, then host Kansas State late in the year. It is great that they are not scared of the big programs. They also get Boise State at home, but Hawaii on the road.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Brandstater could turn a corner and have a solid year in a balanced Bulldog offense. They squeak out 5 or 6 conference wins and land a bowl bid.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Things could get ugly if the defense does not perform well. Another 4 win season is not out of the question, but I see 5 wins for the Bulldogs.
MAKE OR BREAK: A win against Texas A&M, Oregon, or Kansas State would be huge. An early season upset would give Fresno State lots of confidence heading into WAC play.
OFFENSE: Colt Brennan will lead Hawaii to another dominating year offensively. Davone Bess and Jason Rivers will have huge years receiving. If Leon Wright-Jackson steps into the running back role smoothly, I do not see them averaging anything less than 40 points per game.
DEFENSE: Hawaii returns the majority of its defense, including 9 of its top 12 tacklers. Michael Lafaele leads a talented d-line, while Adam Leonard returns after leading the team with 114 tackles last year. Hawaii’s defense will give the offense enough room to win every game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Dan Kelly and punter Jeremy Shibata will lead the special teams units in 2007. Kelly was 13 of 17 last year with a long of 52, while Shibata will be a 1st year starter.
COACHING: June Jones enters his 9th year at Hawaii. He is a solid coach who has always had a dominating offense. This year won’t be any different, but Jones could be on the move after Brennan graduates.
SCHEDULE: Hawaii only plays 11 games in 2007. They have a weak out-of-conference schedule, with the toughest matchup being Washington to end the year. They host New Mexico State and Boise State, their toughest conference games.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... This team could pull a Boise State and make it to a BCS bowl game. Colt Brennan might also pay a visit to New York for the Heisman ceremony.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... San Jose State, Nevada, or New Mexico State catch Hawaii looking ahead at Boise State. Also, watch out for Washington to play spoiler in the season finale.
MAKE OR BREAK: The season should come down to November 23rd vs. Boise State. If not, the season was a failure.
OFFENSE: The Vandals lose veteran QB Steve Wichman, but that shouldn't be to much of a problem for Idaho as they return their dynamic duo of Brian Flowers and Jayson Bird. The two combined for over 1000 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground in 2006. Look for them to carry the Vandal offense in 2007 because the passing game will stay weak with the loss of their starting QB and top 3 WRs.
DEFENSE: Seven starters return for the Vandals on defense, a unit that is one of the best in the WAC at forcing turnovers. Stanley Franks is the best corner in the WAC. The senior had 9 INTs last year. The defense returns its top 6 tacklers and will be improved and keep Idaho in most of their games.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Idaho returns its punter and kicker. T.J. Conley averaged 40 yards a punt last year, while Tino Amancio was 12 of 17. Special teams is the best unit for Idaho.
COACHING: This will be Robb Akey's first year as head coach at Idaho. He is the former defensive coordinator at Washington State. I expect him to have success at Idaho, but not right away. He should be able to use his northwest recruiting connections to his team's advantage.
SCHEDULE: Idaho will play Pac 10 contenders USC and Washington State out of conference, and Akey will obviously be pumped up for the WSU game. They have a favorable home schedule.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL... Idaho is getting better, and if all goes perfectly, the Vandals could win around 5 or 6 games, with 3 or 4 wins in conference.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Idaho will likely struggle on offense. Last year was the first year in this decade they have averaged less than 20 points. If the passing game does not perform better than last year, I see less than 20 points again.
MAKE OR BREAK: The new QB and WRs must step up and gel quickly, otherwise Idaho is in for a long season. They need at least 2 wins out of conference to gain the proper confidence heading into WAC play.
OFFENSE: Patrick Jackson finished 3rd last year in all purpose yards. He is a threat catching and running out of the backfield, so look for him to carry the LA Tech offense all year. Senior Zac Champion needs to cut down on the mistakes; last year he threw 18 interceptions, and he is the key to a balanced offense. Josh Wheeler will be his number one target, but also watch out for freshman Gabriel Bryant at WR.
DEFENSE: Last year's defense was horrid. They gave up an average of 41 points per game, but do return 10 starters on defense. They should be very improved after only have 2 returning starters last year. Marquis McBeath (transfer), Quin Harris, and Brannon Jackson are the 3 linebackers on the best such unit in the WAC.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Everyone returns this year on special teams. Last year the group was average. This season I look for improvement from kicker Danny Horwedel, who was 8 of 12 a year ago. Chris Keagle is a solid punter who will only get better, while Patrick Jackson is a great kick returner.
COACHING: This will be Derek Dooley's first year as the head man at LA Tech. Dooley followed Nick Saban from LSU to the Miami Dolphins where he coached special teams, running backs, and tight ends.
SCHEDULE: Tech has 3 BCS schools on the out-of-conference schedule, continuing their history of scheduling difficult games outside of the WAC. The schedule really hurts their chances of topping their 4 win total from last year.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Patrick Jackson could have a huge year, and the defense should cut its points per game in half. If this happens, the Bulldogs could win 4 or 5 games.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The defense fails to improve, and early blowouts against Hawaii and California stall an improving team. Worst case scenario, LA Tech gets 2 wins.
MAKE OR BREAK: Dooley needs to turn this program around, and he has the young talent to do so. However, I see LA Tech winning 2 games this year due to their difficult schedule and lack of a strong passing attack.
OFFENSE: Nevada returns only 5 starters on offense, and they lose their leading passer, rusher, and receiver. I think the handoffs will be shared between Brandon Fragger and Luke Lippincott. Mike McCoy is Nevada's biggest offensive threat. Last year, he caught 9 touchdown passes. but lack of QB experience will be Nevada’s weakest point.
DEFENSE: Last year, Nevada only gave up 19.2 points per game. That was their best such average since 1991. The defense returns 7 starters and 1st team WAC linebacker Ezra Butler, the leader of this senior laden defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Nevada returns their punter and kicker for 2007. Punter Zacary Whited is talented and averaged 39.1 yards per punt last year. Kicker Brett Jaekle missed 4 extra points last fall and needs to work on his range.
COACHING: Chris Ault has a great 47-25 record at Nevada. He has had several stints as head coach at Nevada and recently gave up his AD spot in 2003 to take over the coaching duties in 2004. He will not let the Wolf Pack fall too far in 2007.
SCHEDULE: Nevada has 2 interesting out-of-conference games. They open with Nebraska, then take on Northwestern. They should beat the 'Cats and stay close with Nebraska. They get Hawaii and Fresno State at home, but Boise State and New Mexico State on the road.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... A third straight bowl bid for this inexperienced club, at least offensively. I see the defense being the backbone of this team, and Nevada scoring just enough points to win the games they should.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Only 5 returning starters on offense really hurts Nevada. They lose their first 2 games and struggle against the big boys in conference. A sub .500 record is possible, but I refuse to predict an Ault coached Nevada Wolf Pack team to fall under .500.
MAKE OR BREAK: Winning one of the first 2 games would be huge. Keeping it close with Nebraska would be a great confidence booster for the team.
New Mexico State
OFFENSE: Chase Holbrook is the 3rd best offensive player in the WAC behind Johnson and Brennan. Holbrook threw for 4619 yards last year and 34 touchdowns. They also have a talented crop of receivers. Tight end Nick Cleaver is the best receiving tight end in the WAC, and Chris Williams caught 12 touchdowns last year and is Holbrook’s number one target. The offense returns 10 starters and will be nearly unstoppable in the WAC.
DEFENSE: The defense returns 7 starters, but loses 4 of its 6 top tacklers. The Aggies need to work on their turnover ratio. They were -10 in turnovers in 2006 and also recorded a lowly 14 sacks. However, the d-line will be improved greatly. Three seniors will anchor the front of the 3-4 Aggie defense. I look for New Mexico State to stay put in terms of defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Jared Kaufman returns as the WAC’s best punter. Last year he averaged 41.8 yards per kick, and had a net average of 38.3. Freshman Kyle Hughes will take over the kicking duties.
COACHING: Hal Mumme’s first year was horrible. They went 0-12. Last year, they improved to 4-8. I think the Aggies improve even more and become bowl eligible this fall, making this one of the quickest turnarounds in recent years. Mumme is a great offensive mind and is definitely a keeper.
SCHEDULE: The Aggies have a easy schedule in terms of non-conference games. Their only tough matchup is at Auburn, and they should be favored in the other 4. The conference schedule is tougher, as they get Boise State, Hawaii, and San Jose State all on the road.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... New Mexico State could win 8 or 9 games this year with their 13 game schedule. Holbrook will be overshadowed by Brennan, but I expect him to throw around 40 touchdowns. Their offense will be fun to watch.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The Aggies running game can be weak, so opponents will drop their defense back. A lack of balance could hurt the Aggies. A new kicker could kill possible point-getting drives.
MAKE OR BREAK: New Mexico State can make a lot of noise this year. Games against Hawaii and Boise State will be very close. If any WAC team is going to upset the giants, it will be NMSU.
San Jose State
OFFENSE: San Jose State went from a joke to a bowl team last year. The transformation was unexpected, and all thanks to QB Adam Tafralis. Tafralis had a 3:1 TD to INT ratio last year, and completed 64 percent of his passes. Yonus Davis rushed for over 1000 yards and 6 touchdowns, and backup Patrick Perry dashed for 7 touchdowns. SJSU, however, does lose their top 3 WRs.
DEFENSE: The defense is lead by linebacker Matt Castelo, the top tackler in the WAC last year. Dwight Lowery is a superstar cornerback who had 9 INTs a year ago. The defense looks to be just as solid as it was last season, which saw it only give up 20.8 points per game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Spartans return their starting kicker and punter from 2006. Jared Strubeck was 9 of 12 last year with a long of 48. Punter Waylon Prather averaged a booming 44 yards per punt. This is a solid special teams duo that should have success during the season.
COACHING: This is Dick Tomey’s 3rd year at SJSU. So far he is 12-12, very good for a new coach at a program that was very weak. Tomey will soon be getting career win number 200 coaching SJSU.
SCHEDULE: SJSU has 3 BCS out-of-conference games, but 2 are games that I expect them to win. Arizona State, Kansas State, and Stanford will be early tests for SJSU. Last year's game vs. Boise State was a thriller. This year the game is at Boise State, but I expect another close game.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... SJSU beats 2 BCS conference teams, and wins 5 or 6 conference games. The offense will be the strongest it has ever been under Tomey, and I see big time stats for this team.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.… SJSU struggles out of the gate and loses the confidence it built last year. The worst I see is 5 or 6 wins.
MAKE OR BREAK: The 3 out of conference games are very important. I also see close battles with Boise State and Hawaii. This will be a very good year for the Spartans.
OFFENSE: Utah State continued its woes last year with its worst overall record this decade. They averaged only 10 points per game. Senior Leon Jackson III should see most of the time at QB, but could get pulled at sometime during the season. In limited time last fall, Jackson completed less than 50 percent of his passes and threw 7 interceptions to 3 touchdowns. He is also the Aggies' leading returning rusher, which is bad news. They do return their top 2 WRs. Kevin Robinson is the go-to guy in the passing game.
DEFENSE: The Aggies return all 11 starters and nearly everyone that played a snap on defense last year. Ben Calderwood is the Aggies' best player on the experienced defense. The defensive lineman was a 2nd team All-WAC selection last year. Linebacker Paul Igboeli lead the team in sacks and tackles for loss last year. The defense should be improved, but nothing special.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Jackson III is not only the Aggies' best QB and rusher, but he is also their punter. Last year he averaged a respectable 37.7 yards per kick. Freshman Peter Caldwell will take over the kicking duties.
COACHING: Brent Guy enters his 3rd year at Utah State. In his first 2 campaigns, Utah State has won a combined 4 games. With 19 players returning, this is his most experienced team yet.
SCHEDULE: Utah State gets its most winnable game at home versus LA Tech, but only has 5 overall home contests. Utah State will struggle to find any games that they feel they can really have a good chance at winning.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Three to four wins is the best case scenario for the Aggies. They are returning lots of players, and the dynamic Jackson III could have a solid year.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... One to two wins just like the past years is in the cards. Utah State just does not have the playmakers to compete.
MAKE OR BREAK: The running game needs to be more than just Jackson III. Aaron Lesue needs to have a good year, but I just don’t see it happening.
Hawaii will beat Boise State on November 23rd, locking up the WAC title and a BCS appearance. However, the WAC is much deeper than it has been in a long time. Nevada, Fresno State, New Mexico State, and San Jose State will have good teams this year and will be ready to pull the upset against the big two. There will be a lot of close calls, but the big two will play for the title in late November.