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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Forecasting the WAC in 2011

Which WAC program is happiest to see Boise State leave for greener pastures? Can we have a three-way tie? If so, in alphabetical order, it goes Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada – one team that’s been stymied at every turn by the Broncos, another that tasted brief success in 2007 and a third that won the battle but lost the war a season ago. So who wins when Boise leaves for the Mountain West? Those three win, at least in 2011 – come 2012, it’ll be the same old days all over again, once the Bulldogs, Warriors and Wolf Pack rejoin the big, bad Broncos, recommencing the battle for second which defined the WAC over the last half-decade.

That’s a happy, optimistic little paragraph, isn’t it? And it takes an outsider, someone not associated with the three above programs, to ignore the opportunity that awaits in 2011 and look towards a tougher road a year in the future. The opportunity: an outright conference title. Imagine, if you would, a team other than Boise State taking home the WAC. It’s not so easy to picture, is it?

Most likely to succeed

Hawaii As noted in yesterday’s Hawaii preview, that the Warriors enter 2011 with more issues surrounding the offense than the defense bodes well for this team’s chances. One thing we know about U.H. is that the offense is going to roll, even an offense that needs to rebuild up front and locate at least three additional options at receiver. That’s because the system is locked in; having a great quarterback helps, but even if the Warriors were breaking in a new starter under center the offense would score points in bunches. And the defense is good enough to carry the water while the new faces break into larger roles. Hawaii might not win another 10 games, but this team is the best in the conference.

Most likely to struggle

New Mexico State Who else could it be? At least San Jose State seems to have a plan: the Spartans are going to run with the youngsters and look ahead to 2012 and 2013. The Aggies have a nice coach in DeWayne Walker, but even he doesn’t seem to have a grasp on the situation at this moribund program. New Mexico State is on its third offensive coordinator in as many years; have no offensive skill players of consequence; lost an all-WAC cornerback; have a gaping hole at nose tackle; and worse yet, get San Jose State on the road. It’s going to be another ugly season.

Most likely to start ugly, finish with style

Nevada Few non-B.C.S. conference programs start with a tougher September. Hey, at least the Wolf Pack have a bye on the first Saturday of the season. From there, however, Nevada takes on Oregon, San Jose State – well, that’s a win – Texas Tech and Boise State, all on the road. That’s 1-3, more than likely. The Wolf Pack are a lock for at least six wins the rest of the way, however, with Hawaii and Fresno State really the only teams capable of scoring with Nevada.

The WAC favorite in 2012

Louisiana Tech By default? Maybe. But the Bulldogs are definitely improving under Sonny Dykes, and even if the soon-to-be-departed threesome hung around the WAC for another year or two I wouldn’t doubt Tech’s ability to take home the conference crown in the near future. The key for the Bulldogs will be landing the sort of recruits needed to run this Air Raid system. But Tech is still growing, and should be better in 2011 before standing as the WAC’s best heading into next season. And yes, at least partially by default.

Best coach

Chris Ault, Nevada It’s not just the body of work, but what Ault and Nevada have achieved over the last the six years: no outright conference titles, but 51 wins, a program-record 13 a year ago. Nor can you ignore how innovative his Pistol offense has been, nor how it has spread through the F.B.S. in a very short span of time. The offense will be put to the test this fall without Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua leading the way, but in theory, the Pistol will rack up yardage regardless of whether it’s an all-American or a fifth-year senior running the show.

Offensive player of the year

Bryant Moniz, Hawaii Now that Kellen Moore and Kaepernick have left the conference, Moniz can step into the void as the WAC’s first-team quarterback. Only the above duo could knock a 5,000-yard passer off that team, it seems. Moniz was the centerpiece of last year’s offense despite great seasons from Alex Green, Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares. We’ll see that proven in 2011, as Moniz will continue to lead the nation in passing despite a new offensive line, a new starting running back and only one leading receiver back in the fold. If Moniz isn’t the WAC’s best offensive player, it might be his new favorite target, Hawaii receiver Royce Pollard.

Defensive player of the year

Corey Paredes, Hawaii I don’t want to give the Warriors too much love at the expense of the rest of the conference, but if the pick isn’t Paredes, then who? Utah State’s Bobby Wagner is a good linebacker, but the Aggies won’t be stout enough in the first season running the 3-4 to have Wagner as the best defender in the conference. I wonder if Fresno State’s Logan Harrell will be equally productive without Chris Carter drawing attention at end. James-Michael Johnson will again pace the Nevada defense, but will he do enough statistically to warrant a vote? The clear answer is Paredes, who makes tackles, interceptions and big plays for the Warriors.

Five biggest non-conference games

Nevada at Oregon Sept. 10
Nevada at Boise State Oct. 1
Hawaii at Washington Sept. 10
Nevada at Texas Tech Sept. 24
Fresno State at Nebraska Sept. 10

Five biggest conference games

Hawaii at Nevada Nov. 12
Fresno State at Hawaii Nov. 20
Fresno State at Nevada Oct. 22
Hawaii at Louisiana Tech Oct. 1
Louisiana Tech at Nevada Nov. 19

Projected order of finish

Fresno State
Louisiana Tech
Utah State 

San Jose State
New Mexico State

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  1. michael says:

    You might have undersold Fresno State, but the schedule is difficult enough compared to Hawai’i's that a better team may have a poorer record this season. Playing at Nebraska is very tough, as is the game at Hawai’i (though surprisingly, the visitor is actually 5-1 the last six seasons), and even though the match up against Boise State is at home the record against the Broncos isn’t good. Fresno State should split the non-conference schedule and be a good-size favorite against 5 of 7 conference foes. They can win at UNR but that game will be very decisive in how the conference shakes out.

  2. WashingtonDCduck says:

    A few teams in this conference should seriously consider moving down a tier, to the FCS. New Mexico State and Idaho come to mind, and you could include San Jose State in that conversation as well. These teams don’t exactly play in gigantic stadiums and really struggle to keep them even at 50% capacity throughout the year. The competitiveness of these programs needs to be considered as well. Idaho granted finally made it to a bowl game, and had a thrilling victory a few years back. New Mexico State has not made a bowl game in over 50 years. San Jose State’s Spartan Stadium has less people in the stands than most Texas Friday night high school games.

    Why not move to the Big Sky or another conference in the FCS? I think they’d make great marriages with the Great West or Big Sky conference, and create some buzz amongst the fan base by competing for playoff berths and some postseason appearances. Save some money as well, move from 85 scholarships that you hand out from major D1 football down to 63. That’s millions strapped athletic departments can save.

    Now, I root for these guys. I’m a Pac-12 guy, and I want to see these programs succeed. I watched Idaho’s Bowl game a few years back and nobody was cheering for them harder than I was. It’s great when New Mexico State can get a victory against arch rivals UTEP and UNM, but I just don’t see them ever climbing out of their FBS cellar.

    Just a thought from an outsider’s perspective. Keep the good work up Paul.

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