When it comes to the WAC the tough part is not determining which team will win the football championship, but how they will finish behind the conference champ. At least, that is the case this season as Boise State, fresh off an impressive 14-0 season, will play the role of team to beat in the WAC for a third straight season.
The three time defending WAC champs were shut out of a shot at the national championship in 2009 but could be placed in good position to play for all the marbles in January. The quest for a rare opportunity for a non-BCS conference program begins on September 6 with a game against Virgina Tech in FedEx Field. Virginia Tech could be one of the better teams in the ACC this season and playing close to home will have as close to a home field advantage as can be expected. Should Boise State pull out a victory over the Hokies then Boise State will be set up perfectly for a BCS run once again.
But before we hand the conference crown to Boise State, let’s not forget about Nevada. The Wolf Pack will welcome Boise State to their place in the next-to-last week of the season in a Friday night prime-time showdown. Could the WAC championship be on the line to kick start a big weekend in college football?
Are there any surprise teams in the mix? Which team is on the biggest rise, or decline, in 2010? Here are my predictions for the WAC below. Feel free to read through them and share your predictions in the comment section.
- Boise State – If there is an easier conference to predict a conference champion than the WAC then I must be blind. Everything about Boise State screams conference championship to me and it should be easy to see why. Boise State returns ten starters on offense and ten starters on defense from a team that went 14-0 a season ago. This is why Boise State will not only be looked upon as a WAC champion favorite, but in some eyes could be a favorite to reach the BCS Championship game.
So how can Boise State reach the BCS Championship game? Obviously an undefeated schedule is a must. The Broncos will get a chance to make a big statement in the season opener as they take on Virginia Tech in FedEx Field. If they score a victory for what appears to be a Hokies home game on a neutral field, Boise State will have one more BCS conference test with a home game against Oregon State. Should the Broncos reach October 3-0 then all eyes will be set on a late season trip to Nevada where the conference bragging rights could realistically be on the line.
- Nevada – Nevada looks to be the next top team in the WAC and they probably can not wait for Boise State to make their move to the Mountain West Conference. The Wolf Pack return nine offensive starters from the WAC’s top offense in 2009. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick will have some steady targets in Brandon Wimberly leading the way. The defense will be tested but should be among the best in the conference. Last year’s third ranked defense in the WAC returns six starters including Dontay Moch (13.5 sacks in 2009).
Nevada starts the season at home against FCS Eastern Washington and follows with Colorado State and California at home before taking to the road at BYU. Nevada will host Boise State on November 26 with the WAC title likely on the line.
- Fresno State – If there is one team that can be labeled as a sleep pick in the WAC, it is Fresno State. the Bulldogs return eight offensive starters and seven on defense from a team that went 8-5 in 2009 but played well enough to win in all but two games. Fresno State came up on the wrong end of conference blow outs against Boise State and Nevada but played close games on the road at Wisconsin, losing in double overtime by three, and Cincinnati, losing by eight points to the eventual regular season unbeaten Big East champions.
Fresno State gets their toughest games of 2010 at home with one exception. Fresno State will host Cincinnati in the season opener, and will get Nevada and Illinois at home. A week after hosting Nevada though Fresno State will play on the road at Boise State in a Friday night game. That is a tough back-to-back schedule, with short rest for Boise State.
- Hawai’i – The Warriors are a team I remain uncertain about, but I’ll go with the low risk high reward result with a fourth place finish. Wide receiver Greg Salas will have to carry the offense. Last year’s leading receiver in the WAC (1,590 yards) will be quarterback Bryant Moniz’s primary target, but the defense will have to improve in order to give Hawai’i a chance in make a surprising run in the WAC.
The schedule will be challenging for Hawai’i in 2010. A season opener at home against USC is followed by the longest trip in school history as they visit Army. The next week is a road game at Colorado. conference play does not get much easier, with road games at Fresno State and Boise State.
- Louisiana Tech – Life in Louisiana can be pretty tough for a college football team not named LSU. The Bulldogs are coming off a 4-8 season and look to be in line for a better season in 2010. Despite winning just four games last season Louisiana Tech had the fourth best scoring offense in the WAC, averaging 32.4 points per game while fielding the conference’s seventh best offensive yardage production.
Last season Louisiana Tech lost three conference games by a combined five points, but lost to Nevada and Boise State by double digits. Can they close the gap and perhaps turn some of those close decisions in their favor in 2010?
- Idaho – Idaho is coming off their first bowl season since 1998 but will have some big shoes to fill in 2010 in order to make a second consecutive bowl trip for the first time in program history. Gone is massive Mike Iupati on the offensive line but the Vulcans still have some beef on the line in 2010. The offensive line is the heaviest in FBS, averaging a weight of 334 pounds. Is it the potatoes? Idaho has one of the toughest schedules in the conference, with just two home games from the start of the season through the middle of October. Road games at Nebraska and Colorado State will be tough and back-to-back home games against Nevada and Boise State in November could be rough. The two top teams in the WAC outscored Idaho 133-70 last season.
- Utah State – The Aggies return eight starters on offense and defense but still have a lot of work to do to be considered a threat in the WAC. The offense averaged nearly 30 points per game last year and they scored at least 20 points in all but one conference game last season (New Mexico State of all games).
- San Jose State – The Spartans look to rebound form one of the more disappointing seasons in program history in recent memory. San Jose State managed just one win in the WAC last season, and it was also their only win against an FBS opponent (New Mexico State). The scoring production has been on the decline over each of the past three seasons, with 13.9 points per game last season. Can those numbers get any lower? Well…
- New Mexico State – New Mexico State’s streak of consecutive seasons without a bowl appearance appears to be headed for the not-quite-golden milestone of 50. The last time New Mexico State played in a bowl game was the 1960 Sun Bowl, a victory against Utah State. Last year’s Aggies offense struggled with just four returning starters, averaging just 11.5 points per game. This season they return eight starters and hope to improve slightly, but the defense continues to average over 30 points allowed on the other side of the ball so there is a lot of work to be done.
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