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WAC Football Preview
by Matt Fargo - 08/09/2009
Like the Mountain West Conference, the WAC does not get a whole lot of respect. From top to bottom, it is far from a strong conference but it has had its share of top caliber teams in recent years. In 2006, Boise St. went undefeated culminating with a historic and unforgettable win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. In 2007, it was Hawaii that crashed the party, going undefeated during the regular season but it fell far short in the Sugar Bowl against Georgia. Last season, it was the Broncos again as it went undefeated during the regular season and came a couple points away from defeating TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl. Who will it be this season to make it four in a row?
Boise St. Broncos 12-1 SU, 8-3-1 ATS, 5-7 O/U
Summary: My money is on the Broncos. Boise St. will look to make it three undefeated regular seasons in the last four years and it has a good shot at doing so. This is not the most talented Broncos team to take the field but its schedule sets up nicely to be able to run the table. Winning at home is not an issue as the Broncos are 56-2 on the “Blue Turf” since 2000 so if they can take care of business on the road, another BCS Bowl is imminent. They are led by quarterback Kellen Moore who shined as a freshman last season but they do have to replace running back Ian Johnson and their two leading receivers. The good news is that the defense should be even better
Schedule: The schedule is no cakewalk but there are not many roadblocks either. The Broncos host Oregon to open the season and the other three non-conference games are easy wins. Sandwiched in there is a game at Fresno St. to open WAC play. The other road tests are at Tulsa and at Louisiana Tech and the championship could come down to a home game against Nevada on November 27th.
Bottom Line: Don’t be surprised to see Boise St. in a BCS Bowl if it goes undefeated. Last year the Broncos came into the season unranked but this season they are going to come in ranked in the top ten so they are already way ahead. There are definitely stumbling blocks and with a rebuilding offense, anything can happen but this team just finds ways to win.
Betting Forecast: Last year, Boise St. had its first losing season ATS at home since 2003. Don’t be surprised of a repeat because of the overpriced numbers.
Nevada Wolf Pack 7-6 SU, 5-7 ATS, 8-4 O/U
Summary: Nevada made it to its fourth straight bowl game last season but the year was considered a disappointment. The Wolf Pack finished tied with Hawaii and Louisiana Tech for second place in the WAC at 5-3 but all three of those losses came by a touchdown or less including an inexcusable home loss to 1-7 New Mexico St. Those close losses could be good for the team this year and it can use those as a motivational factor. Nevada has the best backfield in the conference with quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua who combined for 2,651 rushing yards a season ago. In order to take down Boise St., the Wolf Pack need to improve their defense which was 91st overall last season including dead last against the pass.
Schedule: The schedule was tough last season and it is tough again this year. The Wolf Pack open their season at Notre Dame, at Colorado St. and at home against Missouri. As for WAC action the good news is that Nevada gets both Louisiana Tech and Fresno St. at home but it closes the season at Boise St. That game could feature the two remaining undefeated conference teams.
Bottom Line: Nevada does not have the favorable schedule to be able to make a BCS run. It also has a suspect defense and in the WAC, that is not a good thing to possess. Still, the Wolf Pack could start the year 0-3 before rebounding with eight straight wins before that game against the Broncos. The school record of consecutive bowl appearances will continue for Nevada.
Betting Forecast: Nevada went 2-3 ATS at home last season after four straight winning ATS years at Mackay Stadium, going 17-5 ATS. Expect the winning to resume.
Fresno St. Bulldogs 7-6 SU, 2-11 ATS, 7-5-1 O/U
Summary: Fresno St. was picked to win the WAC by many last season and crash the BCS party but it turned into a dreadful campaign. The Bulldogs lost their first three games by three points and they seemed to never recover. This time around, they are not predicted to do much and that is probably for the best. It seems when Pat Hill teams are playing the role of the underdog, they step up and that is what they are going to have to do this season. The running game will be the strength of the offense as the Bulldogs will be breaking in a new quarterback for the first time in three years. The normally strong defense has allowed more yards in each of the past four seasons but gets nine starters back.
Schedule: The schedule is rarely easy for Fresno St. and that is no different this season. The three non-conference road games are at Wisconsin, Cincinnati and Illinois after it opens at home against UC Davis. The WAC season opens at home against Boise St. on a Friday night and that always presents a problem for the visitor.
Bottom Line: Fresno St. could be staring at a 1-3 start to the season and that could have a ripple effect for the rest of the year. An upset or two, especially at home against Boise St., could springboard the Bulldogs to a very good season and a possible WAC title, something that is has never won. It will come down to the defensive improvement as well as the play at quarterback to see if that is a reality.
Betting Forecast: Fresno St. went 2-10 ATS in 2006 and went 7-5 ATS the following year. After going 2-11 ATS last season, expect another reversal in 2009.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs 8-5 SU, 6-6 ATS, 5-7 O/U
Summary: Despite finishing 75th in total offense and 73rd in total defense in the nation, the Bulldogs managed an eight-win season including the first bowl victory in over 20 years. A lot of the success came their way because of a turnover margin that was 19th in the country and five wins that came by eight points or less. This stuff tends to even out and Louisiana Tech will be hard pressed to put together a similar season. The offense brings back nine starters including the entire offensive line and All-WAC running back Daniel Porter. The passing game was abysmal as was the passing defense and both need to improve if the Bulldogs want to go bowling in back-to-back years for the first time since 1977-78.
Schedule: The non-conference schedule was manageable last season but this year includes games at Auburn, at Navy and at LSU. In the WAC, the Bulldogs catch Hawaii and Boise St. at home but they have to travel to Fresno St. and Nevada, two extremely difficult trips. Six wins look to be what Louisiana Tech is looking at so it will need an upset along the way.
Bottom Line: The Bulldogs were picked to finish in the bottom half of the WAC last season and overachieved. This year, expectations are higher so they no longer will have teams looking past them. There is talent on the roster to have another good season but it is going to have to catch some breaks along the way.
Betting Forecast: Louisiana Tech is 5-22 ATS as road underdogs the last five seasons and don’t be surprised to see that get worse with a tough road slate this year.
Hawaii Warriors 7-7 SU, 7-6 ATS, 7-6 O/U
Summary: Last year was probably considered a success for Hawaii despite winning the fewest amount of games in three years and getting blown out on its home field in the Hawaii Bowl against Notre Dame. After all, the Warriors had to deal with the loss of head coach June Jones as well as rebuilding almost the entire offense. Despite retuning only six starters on offense this season, Hawaii should be better moving the ball and producing points. The problem is on the other side where the Warriors have to replace nine starters on a unit that finished 62nd in the nation in total defense. That is going to be a challenge and the main reason why they are picked to finish in the middle of the pack of the conference.
Schedule: Hawaii plays six road games for the second straight season and that is a lot of travel to the mainland. Two of those games are non-conference games at Washington St. and at UNLV. The other three are at home against Central Arkansas, Navy and Wisconsin, the latter two to close the year. The Warriors do get Boise St. and Fresno St. at home.
Bottom Line: Hawaii’s defense had improved for four straight seasons until last year and I expect another decline with so many newcomers in place. The schedule is extremely tough both home and away and like all of the teams in the WAC, it will have to have some upsets along the way to make a move. It might be too much to ask although the same was said at the beginning of 2008.
Betting Forecast: The best time to bet Hawaii is following a loss as it is 13-6 ATS the last five years. We should have plenty of opportunities to take advantage this year.
San Jose St. Spartans 6-6 SU, 5-6 ATS, 4-7 O/U
Summary: San Jose St. started last season 6-3 but it lost its final three games and was snubbed by the bowls as one of its wins came against FCS team UC Davis. The Spartans aspirations are high in 2009 as it brings back a ton of experience with 53 lettermen including 30 seniors. It is still going to be tough to match last season’s win total however. The running game was putrid last year, finishing 115th in the nation in rushing and was the main reason for the late collapse. The Spartans do get Patrick Perry back after a two-year absence and they return the entire offensive line so there should be improvement. The defense lost three NFL draft picks and for a team such as San Jose St., that is near impossible to overcome.
Schedule: Another reason the Spartans could struggle is that the schedule is brutal. They start the season with back-to-back games against BCS Bowl winners USC and Utah before traveling to rival Stanford. Three WAC road games include Fresno St., Boise St. and Louisiana Tech, three teams picked to finish ahead of them. San Jose St. could easily start the season 2-6.
Bottom Line: Head coach Dick Tomey has brought life back into this program as it went bowling in 2006 for the first time in 16 years. Despite fielding arguably his best team in five years, it may take his best coaching effort to produce a winner. With the toughness of the schedule, I just do not see a top tier finish. However, in 2006, the Spartans were picked to finish dead last in the WAC but went 9-4 including 5-3 in the conference.
Betting Forecast: San Jose St. is 16-7 at home under Tomey (12-7 ATS) and a new field surface (FieldTurf) might give it a bigger edge.
Utah St. Aggies 3-9 SU, 7-4-1 ATS, 5-6-1 O/U
Summary: After going to the Humanitarian Bowl in 1997, Utah St. has not had a winning season and has compiled a 35-90 record in the 11 season since then. Despite winning the most WAC games ever in a season last year (three) head coach Brent Guy was shown the door after four years and a 9-38 record. In comes Gary Anderson who spent the last five years at Utah as the defensive coordinator and we all know the success he had there. Now he will have to bring that success into Logan but he does have some pieces to work with. Utah St. lost two games last season by a touchdown or less and another by 10 points and its -10.7 ppg differential was the lowest in six years. In total the Aggies bring back 16 starters so progress is perhaps on the way
Schedule: The schedule may detour that progress however. The Aggies play seven road games including games at Utah, Texas A&M, BYU, Fresno St. and Hawaii. They do get bottom feeders Idaho and New Mexico St. on the road but both of those games can be considered winnable. Catching Boise St. and Nevada at home is a plus but will still result in losses.
Bottom Line: This is definitely one of the better coaching hires in the country this season even though I think Guy should have gotten one more season to turn things around. The Aggies have never contended in the WAC and they won’t do it again this season but a new attitude could do wonders. New schemes on both sides of the ball could mean a work in progress but it could also mean a tougher time for opponents to prepare.
Betting Forecast: Utah St. was 5-1 ATS coming off a win under Guy and while wins will be scarce, it is a good situation to keep an eye out for this season.
Idaho Vandals 2-10 SU, 4-7 ATS, 8-3 O/U
Summary: Idaho has not had a winning season in 10 years when it went to its one and only bowl game in 1998. It has lost at least eight games in each of the last eight seasons and while it is possible that string could come to an end, it won’t be easy. The Vandals are extremely young as they have only six senior starters including only one on defense. That unit finished 116th in total defense and 117th in scoring defense so it remains to be seen whether it can improve and if so, how much. The offense will be led by the running tandem of Deonte Jackson and Princeton McCarty who combined for 1,176 yards last season. Idaho needs to become more balanced however or teams will stack the box. The Vandals were -14 in turnover margin last year, 114th in the country.
Schedule: The good news is that the schedule is bottom heavy which means a fast start could inject some much needed confidence into the Vandals. Idaho starts the season against New Mexico St., Washington and San Diego St. who combined for only five victories last season. The bad news is that it faces the top four teams in the WAC in consecutive weeks before ending the season against Utah St.
Bottom Line: Head coach Robb Akey is firmly planted on the hot seat after putting together a 3-21 record in his first two seasons at Idaho. However, it can’t be all blamed on him as he was the third coach in three years when he was hired following the unexpected departures of Nick Holt and Dennis Erickson. The Vandals should increase their win total this year but it won’t be by much and might not be enough to save Akey’s job.
Betting Forecast: Idaho has not had a winning ATS season since 2002, going 26-39 ATS. We could see some value this year as no one will want to be backing Idaho.
New Mexico St. Aggies 3-9 SU, 4-7 ATS, 5-6 O/U
Summary: Everything will be different in Las Cruces this season. New head coach DeWayne Walker takes over for Hal Mumme whose results never met expectations. Walker was the defensive coordinator at UCLA the past three seasons and he will be bringing in new looks on both sides of the ball. The pass happy offense is a thing of the past as is the 3-3-5 defense that led to close to 35 ppg allowed the past four seasons. While new schemes are the right way to go, with that comes growing pains and not much progress in the first season of implementation. New Mexico St. has not been to a bowl game since 1960 and that run will no doubt continue in 2009.
Schedule: New Mexico St. opens the season with three straight home games for the first time since 2006. It starts with Idaho, which is a possible win followed by Prairie View A&M and then UTEP. However, seven of the final 10 games are on the road including games at New Mexico and Ohio St. out of conference. The final two home games are against Fresno St. and Nevada.
Bottom Line: Only 10 starters are back from last season but that could be a positive. The Aggies finished 118th in rushing offense and 115th in rushing defense so shoring up the lines is top priority. The quarterback situation is a mess making the rushing offense an even greater concern. Starting the season 2-0 is a possibility as is ending the season 0-11.
Betting Forecast: This is a team that we will have to watch and wait before betting on or against because of all of the uncertainties to start the season.