Picking UH Third In The WAC

Bobby Curran
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Friday - July 14, 2006
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Enough about season tickets, premium seat contributions, logos, music, uniforms and the rest.

What about the football? The top of the WAC looks as strong as ever, the bottom is so far down you can barely hear the cries for help. Here’s a sneak preview of the upcoming WAC season.

1. Boise State

The Broncos have been the class of the conference for years, going a perfect 24-0 between 2002-04. Last year was a down year by Boise’s standards, finishing 9-4, losing a conference game to Fresno State and managing only a share of the conference championship. Coach Dan Hawkins has moved on to Colorado, but don’t feel sorry for the new guy, Chris Peterson. He’s the brains behind the constantly shifting Bronco offense, and he’s got nine starters back on offense, including QB Jared Zabransky.

Oh, and he’s got nine starters back on defense too. The schedule is beautiful - both Hawaii and Fresno State at home, and winnable non-conference games. If someone is going to dethrone the Broncos, they’ll have to go muscle it away on that hideous blue field.

2: Fresno State

The Bulldogs fell apart at the end of last season, losing their last four games and costing them even a share of the WAC title. And that has made head coach Pat Hill ornery ... or more ornery. Fresno State has six starters back on offense, but plenty of playing expertise at the new spots. With a new quarterback, Tom Brandenstater, expect a retreat to the basics of the power running game, a Hill trademark.

As usual, they’ll be big up front and have speed at the skill positions. Dwayne Wright could become a household name. The defense returns eight starters and will be solid if unspectacular. Special teams need to improve if Fresno State is going to be good enough to keep its coach and fans happy.

3: Hawaii

Looks extremely good on offense. Nine starters are back, all the skills, the nation’s leading passer in Colt Brennan, a healthy and fit Nate Ilaoa. The Warriors should score points on anybody. The defense has six starters back, and more athletic talent than the last couple of years But they’ll have to show me - we’ve heard this before. Leonard Peters’ return should help, and Mel Purcell and Ikaika Alama-Francis are bigger and stronger, and the D has a season of Jerry Glanville under its belt. We’ll see.

Special teams need to be better, especially punt and kick-off coverage. The schedule is brutal - both Fresno State and Boise State on the road, and that opener at Alabama.

4: Nevada

Chris Ault has turned it around, going 9-3 and winning a share of the WAC title. The “pistol” offense, an abbreviated shotgun featuring QB Jeff Rowe, one of seven starters back on offense, but RB B.J. Mitchell is a big loss. The receiving corps is capable, the line is more than adequate, and they’ll be solid on offense. The defense also returns seven, anchored by DL Charles Wilson and OLB Ezra Butler. The schedule is tough with Hawaii and Fresno State on the road.

5: Louisana Tech

The Bulldogs always have good homegrown athletes, and very good speed at the skill positions. They have veteran receivers, but a brand new QB in Joe Danna. The defense returns only two starter, and needs to come together if the Bulldogs are going to approach last year’s 7-4 mark.

6: San Jose State

Dick Tomey has his work cut out for him. The Spartans have seven returning starters on offense, led by QB Adam Trafalis, and should be able to move the ball. The problem is the D, where they have only two starters from a unit that resembled a sieve last year. If they’re going to be better than their 2005 mark of 3-8, they’ve got to find some stoppers, and quickly.

7: Idaho

Dennis Erickson is back, and he’s got nine starters on offense returning. Problem is, they’re not very good. QB Steve Wichman needs to improve on his 56 percent completions and 15-18 touchdowns to picks ratio. The defense has seven starters back, but LB Cole Snyder is gone and this group gave up 38 points and 421 yards a game. By November, Erickson will be wondering what he was thinking when he took this job.

8: Utah State

Another team without sufficient talent. The Aggies have seven starters back, but managed less than 19 points a game. They desperately need a RB. The defense has a chance to be decent. LB Jake Hutton, a former walk-on, is back with 87 tackles under his belt. If Utah State wins four, it’s a great year.

9: New Mexico State

The Aggies were winless in 2005, and just learned that projected starting LB Shana Leaupepe was killed in a drive-by shooting. New systems forced a learning curve on thin talent, but Hal Mumme’s offense should take hold this year. The defense needs more playmakers, and will probably struggle mightily against the run.

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