Boise State was the sweetheart of the BCS rodeo last year, cracking the entry for the elite bowls and acquitting itself marvelously once there. The Broncos’ upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl bodes well for this year’s WAC champ, should they make it though the 2007 regular season with an unblemished record.
Not only did Boise State do the conference proud, but the WAC’s overall 3-1 straight-up (SU) and 4-0 against the spread (ATS) bowl records underlined its improvement in recent years.
No use avoiding the obvious: the Warriors have been widely-touted as 2007’s answer to Boise State (including by us) and have a high-octane run-and-shoot offense to thank for the national attention.
Quarterback Colt Brennan returned after his record-breaking 2006 season along with a trio of receivers who caught 36 touchdown passes between them. Brennan passed for 58 majors last year but will have a hard time matching that total in 2007 for two reasons: Hawaii plays one fewer regular season game and loses three All-WAC offensive linemen. Finding the right fit at running back to replace Nate Ilaoa in June Jones’ complex offense is also a vital key to BCS success.
The defense lost Jerry Glanville as its coordinator and reverts to a 4-3 under new man Greg McMackin. That’s a bit dodgy, considering the Warriors’ depth at linebacker and the lack thereof on the D-line. Hawaii’s ridiculously favorable schedule, however, will have them 9-0 before facing a challenge. It’s also an easy enough schedule to let the Warriors improve on their 46.9 point-per-game average from 2006.
Predicted record: 11-1
Boise State Broncos
Now what? The undefeated run capped by the big bowl win and the proposal to the cheerleader was so January. The 2007 regular season is right around the corner and the Broncos lost so many starters from last season they’ll hardly be recognizable to casual fans.
Boise State retained star running back Ian Johnson, however, alongside head coach Chris Petersen and his big bag of tricks. Add a top-notch offensive line, the most defensive talent in the WAC and another non-threatening schedule to the mix and the Broncos are guaranteed another double-digit win season. Another undefeated run to a repeat BCS Bowl appearance is possible, if not likely.
The aerial game will feature an entirely new cast of starters, the defensive front seven lost a ton of talent and new men will fill the major special teams roles. Considering the vulnerability Boise State showed in a couple of WAC games last year, the Broncos are bound to drop one before making the season-ending trek to Hawaii.
Predicted record: 10-2
Fresno State Bulldogs
What happened in Fresno last year? The Bulldogs lost their bite, suffering their first losing and non-bowl season in a dog’s age under head coach Pat Hill. They also became America’s worst bet in the process, going 2-10 ATS, with one of those covers being a 32-point loss as 33-point underdogs at LSU.
Things might not immediately bounce back to normalcy, with the school losing six of its top seven tacklers from last year and facing a far tougher non-conference schedule than either of the WAC’s two frontrunners.
On the plus side, things can hardly go worse than they did last year. The plummet on offense (from 38 points per game in 2005 to just 23 last year) was way too drastic. Fresno State has the second-best O-line in the conference and returns quite a bit of experience at the skill positions. And while the defense lost a lot of starters, the Bulldogs recruit defensive talent as well as any WAC school.
Predicted record: 6-6
Nevada Wolf Pack
The Wolf Pack were tough opponents the last two seasons under head coach Chris Ault, especially at home. They were 17-8 SU and 18-7 ATS overall in 2005-06, 10-2 SU and ATS in Reno.
Ault lost a lot of firepower, however, from an offense that topped 30 points per game in each of those seasons. Nick Graziano is the new man behind center in Nevada’s unique “Pistol” formation and the unit also lost its thousand-yard back. Luckily there’s plenty of depth at running back and potential at wideout. The defense returns a couple of all-conference talents but not last year’s coordinator.
Nevada fans would like to think a WAC challenge is in the cards, but the Wolf Pack can’t match the top two teams in the conference and will face some key opponents on the road.
Predicted record: 6-6
New Mexico State Aggies
Can the Southeast Louisiana combo of head coach Hal Mumme and quarterback Chase Holbrook make the turnaround complete in 2007?
New Mexico State was horrible on the field and at the betting window in Mumme’s first year, going 0-12 SU, and 2-10 ATS. The Aggies improved to 4-8 SU and 7-3 ATS last year, largely on the strength of Holbrook’s 4,619 passing yards and 34 touchdown passes. Now to be a winner on the field and at the window in the same season… that’s the trick of it all.
The passing game will be fine, especially with such an experienced O-line protecting Holbrook. To make the next step, however, the Aggies have to run the ball better and stop opposing runners more frequently. New Mexico State has a home-heavy schedule and improved confidence in its favor, but a lack of recruiting ability going against it.
Predicted record: 6-6
San Jose State Spartans
San Jose State pieced together its first winning season since 2000 last year, then celebrated by booking four straight road games to open the 2007 schedule (with the first three at BCS conference schools).
Quarterback Adam Tafralis had an excellent year in 2006, as did 1,000-yard runner Yonus Davis, the top two parts of a deep backfield on offense. The O-line is decent but the receivers are a question mark.
The Spartans allowed 43 points per game in 2004, Dave Baldwin’s last year as head coach. That number was more than halved by Dick Tomey’s second year in charge. The defense’s two biggest stars, linebacker Matt Castelo and cornerback Dwight Lowery, are back and the defensive numbers could be nicer than ever if it weren’t for that nasty schedule.
Predicted record: 5-7
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
It’s a new regime as Derek Dooley takes over the head coaching gig for the Bulldogs. The Dooley name carries sway in the southeast and not solely because of father Vince’s years at Georgia. The younger Dooley takes over at Tech after an assistant gig at LSU and has an experienced team upon his arrival.
The skill positions are more than adequately stocked compared to other teams expected to vie for the title of “worst Division 1-A team in America”. The O-line is experienced and the defense returns 10 starters too.
The Bulldogs should handle the dregs of the WAC in spite of an entirely new regime. Louisiana Tech’s problem, however, is another tough slate of non-conference games on the schedule and its WAC home games including the conference’s two premiere schools.
Predicted record: 4-8
The Vandals hoped for a return to winning ways under Dennis Erickson, but the legendary coach left after just one season along with those high hopes. Robb Akey takes over as Idaho’s third head coach in three seasons after serving as Washington State’s defensive coordinator since 2003.
Akey inherits a defense that returns its top players but is experimenting with new formations under a new coordinator. The offense also has a new coordinator too, but only five starters return to put points on the board.
Idaho won three conference games last year for only the second time since 2000 and has the home games to meet last year’s “success”. It depends on how quickly things come together in Moscow, however, and starting the season against mighty USC likely won’t help anyone’s confidence.
Predicted record: 3-9
Utah State Aggies
The good news in Logan is that nearly everyone’s back on defense. The bad news is that they’re the same crew who allowed opponents to score 39 points per game in 2006. Even worse news is that the production-challenged offense averaged only 11 points per game. The worst news of all? The ‘O’ lost its backfield playmakers from last year.
The Aggies won only once in 2006, a 13-12 squeaker over Fresno State when they’d been 27-point underdogs. It’s difficult to look at their 2007 schedule and peg a likely win, but last year’s shocker against the Bulldogs underlines how anything can happen on any given Saturday.
Predicted record: 1-11