WAC Football Preview

September 1st, 2009

Boise State looks for a return to the BCS


The last decade has been a rather successful one for the Boise State football program, and the last two seasons have been rather special. Under Chris Petersen Boise State has won thirty-five of thirty nine games, and they’ve also finished the regular season undefeated on two separate occasions. Because Utah was ranked higher in the final BCS poll Boise State ended up taking on TCU in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl instead of going back to the BCS, but that shouldn’t take away from an outstanding campaign. And last season’s 12-1 outfit was expected to be even better in 2009, meaning that the Broncos could be poised to once again crash the BCS party.


Quarterback Kellen Moore had an outstanding rookie season, throwing for nearly 3,500 yards and twenty-five touchdowns. Only six starters return on each side of the football, but with just three seniors on the preseason two-deep the Broncos could be poised for a sustained run at the top of the WAC. Boise State finished 2008 ranked second in the WAC in total offense and first in total defense, numbers that should replicate themselves in 2009. Boise State’s credentials are known; a season-opening grudge match with Oregon will determine how realistic their BCS aspirations are.


The better question may be who finishes second behind the Broncos: Fresno State, Louisiana Tech or Nevada? Louisiana Tech improved their win total by three games under Derek Dooley, finishing in a three-way tie for second in 2008. Nine starters return on offense with First Team All-WAC performers Daniel Porter and Phillip Livas (as a punt returner) leading the way. Quarterback Ross Jenkins had a solid campaign for the Bulldogs, who were expected to rely on Georgia Tech transfer Taylor Bennett when the season began.


Jenkins didn’t put up the greatest numbers but he kept his turnovers to a minimum while making sure the ball ended up in the hands of the Bulldogs’ best playmakers. Look for more out of him in 2009. Defensively Louisiana Tech returns seven starters, including leading tackler FS Antonio Baker (115 tackles). Baker and defensive tackle D’Anthony Smith were both First Team All-WAC selections last season and will be expected to make the same impact in 2009. But while Louisiana Tech hosts Boise State they have to visit both Fresno State and Nevada.


Speaking of the Wolf Pack, Chris Ault has the pleasure of welcoming back one of the nation’s most underrated quarterbacks in junior Colin Kaepernick. As well as Kellen Moore played at Boise State last season it was Kaepernick who was named WAC Offensive Player of the Year, accounting for nearly 4,000 yards of total offense and thirty-nine combined touchdowns.


Seven starters return on both sides of the football for Nevada, and the fact that they get both Bulldogs (Fresno State and Louisiana Tech) in Reno. If the Wolf Pack can improve a defense that ranked sixth in the WAC in total defense, they may be able to go into the regular season finale at Boise State with a shot at the conference title.


There was the question of whether or not Pat Hill would stick around after last season, but he’s back and the Bulldogs are hungry to improve upon a disappointing 2008 season. Things started off pretty well for Fresno State, winning at Rutgers in the season opener. But the defense faltered, finishing seventh in the conference in total defense, and the offense turned the ball over twenty-four times (the defense forced just thirteen turnovers). But they were still able to get to a bowl game, losing to Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl.


Fresno State returns eighteen starters with nine being on defense. Defensive end Chris Carter and linebacker Ben Jacobs led the Bulldogs in tackles last season; in fact the top four tacklers from 2008 return. Offensively Fresno State will need a big year from their running backs, and with the top five rushers from 2008 back they’ve got a chance to do just that. With a new quarterback taking over for the graduated Tom Brandstater the running game becomes that much more important. Fresno State gets Boise State and Louisiana Tech at home, a scheduling quirk that could give them an advantage over the other contenders.


The next tier could be just as hard-fought, with San Jose State, Hawaii and maybe even Utah State jockeying for position. Hawaii didn’t end 2008 on the best note, getting blown out in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl by Notre Dame. Head coach Greg McMackin didn’t help matters with some comments made in poor taste at WAC Media Day, and it remains to be seen if the controversy has any impact on the Warriors. Seven starters return on offense, led by a quarterback in Greg Alexander who progressed as the season went on. The defense may have some problems with just two starters returning. Defensive end John Fonoti and middle linebacker Brashton Satele will need to be leaders in every sense of the word if the Warriors are to exceed expectations.


San Jose State’s issues aren’t on the defensive side of the football; the Dick Tomey era has been defined by tough defensive play. But can the Spartans put up enough points to win a game or two they won’t be expected to. SJSU ranked second in the conference in scoring defense, allowing just under twenty-two points per game. Not a bad number…unless the offense is scoring just under twenty points per game (last in the WAC). Seven starters return on each side of the football, and they’ll be tested early with games against USC, Utah and Stanford to start the season.


There’s intrigue in Logan due to the arrival of Gary Andersen, who over the previous five seasons was the defensive coordinator at Utah. The Aggies return seventeen starters, including ten on offense, and the hope is that the change in messenger can bring about a change in results. There’s an awful lot of experience back, led by QB Diondre Borel, C Brennan McFadden and OLB Paul Igboeli, but how quickly can you teach a team not used to winning how to win? If the Aggies prove to be quick studies could surprise some people.


Fighting to stay out of the cellar are perennial doormat Idaho and rebuilding New Mexico State. Rob Akey dropped into a tough situation in Moscow taking over an Idaho program that had been dropped by the wayside by Dennis Erickson when the Arizona State job opened a couple of years ago. When combining the lack of trust the players may have in the coaching situation (and it’s understandable) with a lack of success rebuilding can take a bit longer than anticipated.


The Vandals return seven starters on offense and nine on defense, making up arguably the most experienced team of the Akey era. QB Nathan Enderle will need to cut down on his seventeen interceptions while staying right around the twenty touchdowns number he posted last season, and the top three rushers from last season also return. Free safety Virdell Larkins, who led the Vandals with eighty-two tackles in 2008, returns to lead a defense that was last in the conference in total defense by sixty yards.


New head coach DeWayne Walker has quite the task ahead of him in taking over for the departed Hal Mumme. The Aggies had offensive capabilities due to the system combined with QB Chase Holbrook, but when you can’t stop anyone you’re going to have a hard time winning football games. Hence the decision to hire Walker, who consistently had UCLA in the top half of the Pac-10 in most of the major defensive categories during his time in Los Angeles.


The task is to take a team that returns seven starters on each side of the ball and teach them how to win consistently (NMSU hasn’t finished above .500 since 2002). Junior Jeff Fleming will start the opener at quarterback, which also happens to be their conference opener (Idaho). New Mexico State got in trouble last season due to turnover margin and the fact that they could neither run the football nor stop the run. Look for those aspects to improve under Coach Walker.


Storyline: Can Boise State get back to the BCS? For all the talk about the Mountain West clamoring for an automatic spot, can the success of the Broncos over the last decade be ignored? And don’t expect a cakewalk through the conference either; BSU will visit Fresno State, Hawaii and Louisiana Tech this year. Not to mention non-conference games against Oregon and Tulsa.


Players of the Year: QB Colin Kaepernick (Nevada) and CB Kyle Wilson (Boise State)


How they’ll finish

1.      Boise State

2.      Nevada

3.      Louisiana Tech

4.      Fresno State

5.      San Jose State

6.      Hawaii

7.      Utah State

8.      Idaho

9.      New Mexico State


Next: WAC Ultimate Schedule