By: Chris Cassavecca
Losing their marquee team in Boise State is awful for the viewership and the power emulating from the Western Athletic Conference, but the teams in the conference could not be happier. Nevada shocked the world last year when they beat the mighty Broncos, and look poised to defend their ground this season. But where will they all finish? Hit the break to check out the Squeeze’s Prediction for the WAC.
The Nevada Wolfpack has a couple of tough games right from the outset of the season, facing #3 Oregon on the road Opening Weekend with a trip to Boise looming a month later. Luckily for Nevada, their conference is no SEC, so they should have no problem winning the WAC.
Nevada did lose star quarterback Colin Kaepernick to the NFL Draft, but Tyler Lantrip seems poised to fill those shoes. Do keep an eye on Rishard Mathews, who put together a nice 2010 campaign, racking up 879 yards on 56 catches and 5 touchdowns.
The top ranked passing team in 2010 looks to repeat those numbers in 2011. Hawaii was ranked first overall in passing yards per game, averaging 394.3 yards per game last season. Quarterback Bryant Monlz did an impressive job during his junior year, passing for over 5,000 yards with 39 touchdowns and only 15 interceptions.
There is no doubt that Monlz will have to step up as the definitive leader of this team with the loss of Alex Green, who had some impressive numbers of his own, rushing for over 1,100 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2010. The Warriors do not have to face any top 25 teams (as of pre-season ranks), which makes them a pretty good contender to win the WAC, but that is only if Monlz can have another mistake-free season.
3.) Fresno State:
The Bulldogs have it rough this season. Fresno will face two top 25 teams, while also facing two tough WAC teams in Hawaii and Nevada. Scoring was definitely a concern last season, and that same concern will follow through this season. They were 48th overall in scoring, and even lower on the chart with total offensive yardage.
Fresno State also struggled defensively as they were ranked 83rd overall in points against. Despite their winning record last season (8-5) they were 0-2 against top 25 teams and 5-3 in the division. If the Bulldogs want any chance at all this season, they will have to do a lot better than 5-3 against opponents in the WAC.
4.) Louisiana Tech:
The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs are another team who were absolutely horrific on the defensive side of the ball. They ranked 90th overall in points against and did not recruit anyone with any significance to make their defense better. Louisiana Tech fans will most likely see another under .500 season.
The Bulldogs did not really improve in any area of the game and will not be able to contend in the WAC until they are able to at least win in-conference games.
Unfortunately for the Vandals, Enderle is now a Chicago Bear and will have to look for his replacement; no easy task. Brian Reader seems to be the starter for the 2011 season, but his lack of experience could lead to the demise of this team this year.
I feel that I may have ranked Idaho a little low here, but with games against teams like Texas A&M lead me to believe that they will not be able to match Louisiana Tech’s record. This is the time for Idaho to look forward to the future to try to improve for 2012.
6.) Utah State:
Their starting quarterback last year, Diondre Borel is now a Green Bay Packer, and their potential starter for this year decided to pack his bags and head over to Hawaii. You can say that Utah State got the short end of the stick, but they were also unable to help themselves in the recruiting stage.
The Aggies will have to take the Idaho approach and look forward to developing some of their younger players this season to get ready for 2012.
7.) San Jose State:
The Spartans had it rough last year, facing five top 25 opponents and going winless in conference play. The Spartans top concern would have to be the defense. The Spartans gave up more than 34 points per game and could not put any pressure on the quarterback.
San Jose State will have to find a way to cause penetration on the line, while also providing good coverage down field. The Spartans will also have to deal with a quarterback who has never started a game in Matt Faulkner. Their rushing attack is not strong at all, so Faulkner will have to get comfortable fast.
San Jose State will definitely be better than 1-12, but that is only because they face only one top 25 team.
8.) New Mexico State:
The only highlight that the Aggies have is that they have a returning quarterback in Matt Christian. Christian had a decent year in 2010 throwing for only 1,372 yards and 8 touchdowns.
The Aggies expect a lot more out of Christian this year, and they hope that he can lead them to at least one win. This will most likely be a throw away season for New Mexico State.