TIME: US | UK
WEATHER: US | UK
THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE ONLINE
Features & Blogs
"Life in the UK"
Football Predictions: A Second Slice
August 27, 2008
Clint Dempsey Interview
August 1, 2008
NFL Draft Review
April 30, 2008, 2008
Football Predictions: A Second Slice
WESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
Tier 1: Boise State; Fresno State
This year, Boise State will be the Ian Johnson show. The senior runner slipped back to a mere 16 TDs last year after a 25–score season in 2006. He represents continuity on a team that is entering a new era at QB, with freshman Kellen Moore under center. That key inexperience will keep the Broncos from serious contention on the national scene, but bear in mind Taylor Tharp's 30 TDs last season were the answer to losing Jared Zabransky. Aside from the obvious offensive prowess, Boise State has an experienced front seven on defense that may help hide a fluctuating secondary enough to prevent tit–for–tat score–fests. The Broncos also have a good kicker in Kyle Brotzman and will host Fresno State at the end of the season, perhaps the edges they need to take the WAC.
Fresno State are another contender for 'BCS–buster' and already a top 25 team in USA Today's preseason rankings. The combination of a complete offense with an emphasis on hard–running, and a defense that has stayed largely intact and is especially efficient against the pass makes them the obvious top dogs in the WAC. That's almost reason enough not to pick them, but the schedule is a more valid reason: only five games at home (including Wisconsin), and road trips that include Rutgers to open the season and Boise State to close. The wins will certainly come between those two dates, but whether the Bulldogs have defense enough for national ambitions is another matter. But they'll have a national audience for that Boise State game.
Tier 2: Nevada
RB Luke Lippincott and four parts of last year's line suggest Nevada will be producing another 1500 yards on the ground this season. QB Colin Kaepernick should be worth another 3000 through the air. The defense will be changed in personnel, formation, and coordinator, all of which should represent improvement. Last season the Wolfpack lost to Fresno State 49–41 and to Boise State in overtime. They figure to be better than Hawaii this year (another close loss last year), so Nevada rightfully has pretentions as a WAC contender. But more likely they will be a WAC spoiler helping to trip up Boise State just as Fresno trip over Boise.
Tier 3: Louisiana Tech; Hawaii; New Mexico State; San Jose State
Louisiana Tech will hope for a running game, solid defense, and a contributing passing game to move them up the order in the WAC. That isn't impossible. The offensive line is experienced, Patrick Johnson leads a combination of backs that will be produce 1600+ yards, and Georgia Tech transfer Taylor Bennett could be an upgrade over Zac Champion at QB. The defense features some standout players which can take advantage of punter Chris Keagle's ability to pin opponents deep. The Bulldogs went 5–7 last year. Another step forward seems likely.
Greg Mackin arrives as the new Hawaii coach, and will continue with the run–and–shoot offense despite the fact that Colt Brennan and his four favorite targets left the islands. If that sounds a questionable decision, it's probably connected with not upsetting the three returning starters on the line. Any QB decision comes on the heels of that. For now, the Warriors will look to their defense which returns contributing experience, even where starters have moved on. But it could still be a forgettable record at the end of the year unless Tyler Graunke emerges from suspension to make the QB position his own.
Chase Holbrook is a star in Hal Mumme's offense, the New Mexico State QB throwing for almost 4000 yards and 36 TDs last season. He also threw 18 interceptions, and if that number falls, NMSU could shake the WAC a little, but not without the running game and defense becoming more than spectators — last season four teams scored over 50 points against the Aggies. This year, those things will improve, but not enough to dent destiny: New Mexico State remains a vehicle for Holbrook's stats only and beats only those they're supposed to.
San Jose State aren't a terrible team, going 4–4 in conference play last season, but with an anemic rushing game, and a QB position crying out for somebody to take charge and take advantage of some good receivers, defense will be the story until that happens. Even there, the Spartans didn't get to the QB enough last year, so if some of the passers bubbling under in the WAC decide to get pass–happy — and they will — the graduation of corner Dwight Lowery will be felt in '08.
Tier 4: Utah State; Idaho
Dwelling on these two teams would only bring out my cruel streak, so I'll keep it brief. While plenty of teams in the WAC approach the season with the QB job unsettled, Utah State don't even have the receiving talent for the somebody to throw to. That pretty much counteracts a passable pass defense. Meanwhile Idaho have supersoph RB Deonte Jackson (1,175 yards as a freshman) bursting between offensive linemen who may be the most experienced (all of them bad experiences) in the WAC. Not that his legs will be much help if (when) Idaho fall behind in games thanks to their passing attack, which contributed 10 scores and 18 interceptions last year. Mind you, that was last year. This year it could be worse. And in case you're wondering, Utah State and the Vandals meet September 20 — make a note in your diary.