John Roberts College Football

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Preseason 2005: A Look at the WAC

The wacky WAC has never been stronger at the top of the conference. Both Boise State and Fresno State could contend for BCS bowl bids by season's end. However, the rest of the conference leaves much to be desired. There is not much at the bottom of the conference to help build any national momentum for the conference, which is why Boise State is taking trips to Georgia and Oregon State and hosting Bowling Green out of conference, while Fresno State goes to Oregon and USC while playing host to Toledo. Those are two tough out of conference schedules. If either team goes unbeaten, they will have a shot to crack the BCS thanks to the scheduling they have done.

1. Boise State (10-2, 8-0)- Last year's unbeaten regular season was not without its challenges. Surviving BYU, Tulsa, and San Jose State was not what BCS folks wanted to see, and this is why the Broncos were on the outside looking in come bowl time. This year's team should be even better. Remember, last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Jared Zabransky is back at quarterback. Zabransky completed 63 percent of his passes for nearly 3000 yards, rushed for 13 touchdowns, threw for 16 more, and threw just two interceptions. The running game will be held down by Lee Marks, who rushed for nearly 1000 yards a year ago. Jon Helmandollar and Brad Lau will also get their hands on the ball a considerable amount of the time. Three offensive lineman return, which should open up enough holes to continue both Zabransky and Marks great play. The receivers are undeveloped at this point, thought Drisan James does return after a season of 40 catches. The defense is always the weak link for the Broncos. The Broncos return three defensive lineman. Alex Guerrero, Andrew Browning, and Mike G. Williams all played very well against the run a year ago. Korey Hall, the linebacker, is the key to the whole defense. He could become a star this year. The secondary, which got burned for 254 yards per game a year ago, good for 99 in the country, returns three starters. Gerald Alexander has the most potential, but has yet to realize it. The schedule opens with trips to Georgia and Oregon State and a home date with Bowling Green. Win 2 out of 3 and the Broncos should be considered one of the Top 25 teams in the country. Win all three and they may be a Top Ten team. The trip to Fresno State on November 12 will not be pleasant, but the Broncos have manhandled the Bulldogs lately, and until that changes, the Broncos have to be considered the favorite.

2. Fresno State (10-2, 7-1)- This has to be the year for the Fresno State Bulldogs. Everything is set up for the taking. Paul Pinegar returns at quarterback. He is experienced and seems to always make the right decision. Bryson Sumlin and Wendell Mathis return at running back. They rushed for over 2000 yards combined last year. Clifton Smith may also make some appearances at running back this year and becoming a dominant force. Joe Fernandez, Adam Jennings, and Jermaine Jamison are all possession receivers, but Paul Williams exploded in the spring game as a potential deep threat. This could open up the offense. Four offensive lineman return which means this offense could improve on their Top Five scoring offense from a year ago. The defense needs to fill some holes on the line. Garrett McIntyre was All WAC last year, but is changing positions to make room for some very talented underclassmen to step in. Marcus Riley, Dwayne Andrews, and Alan Goodwin all are very good players at linebacker. Richard Marshall and Marcus McCauley may be the best cornerback tandem in the conference. The Bulldogs go to Oregon and host Toledo early on and go to Hawaii on October 29. If they win those games, the season is set up perfectly for the Boise State/USC double. An 8-0 start would mean that beating Boise State would be not only for a shot at the WAC title, but possibly a shot at the national title if they could take down USC the next week. Things could be very interesting in Fresno this year.

3. Nevada (7-4, 6-2)- Jeff Rowe will be under center again for the Wolfpack. Actually that is inaccurate. He will be in a pistol formation, just three steps behind center. This junior season could be a breakout season for Rowe. With only one returning starting offensive lineman, he needs to have a few more steps back up center to have more time to throw. Nichiren Flowers and Caleb Spencer both are very talented receivers. Flowers is probably the best receiver in the conference. B.J. Mitchell and Robert Hubbard will be depended on to revitalize the running game. The defense will be lead by J.J. Milan. Craig Bailey and Charles Wilson will also be dynamite forces coming off the defensive line. Linebacker Jeremy Engstrom is coming off of offseason surgery, but if he is back healthy, he is one of the better linebackers in the conference. The secondary has some very solid talent in it, as long as everyone stays healthy. Paul Pratt, Kevin Stanley, and Joey Garcia are all going to have to live up to their potential this year. Nick Hawthorne intercepted five passes a year ago. The season opens nicely enough for Nevada. But the second half is loaded with Louisiana Tech, Hawaii, and Fresno State at home, while going on the road to face Boise State. A split in those four games would be good news for the Wolfpack and probably mean a winning season and a bowl game.

4. Louisiana Tech (4-7, 4-4)- Matt Kubik is the returning starter at quarterback, but Donald Allen is pushing him for time. They will be asked to run a lot of option this year and also to make plays throught the air. Johnathan Holland could be the key to the passing game. He caught just 19 passes a year ago, but had 422 yards. He is speedy and has solid hands and is ready to really start shining. The running game lost Ryan Moats to the NFL, but still should be OK with Freddie Franklin and Mark Dillard. The offensive line returns three starters and should be solid. THe defense must replace all of its defensive linemen. Ladarius Love is the key to the entire defensive line. The linebackers may be the best in the WAC. Byron Santiago is outstanding, and Barry Robertson and Jeremy Hamilton offer a lot of support. The secondary is a big weakness at this point as only Tramon Williams has any starting experience. The schedule does not feature trips to Miami, Tennessee, and Auburn with a home game with Fresno State smashed in between like last year. It does however, still feature tough road games...to Florida and Kansas. This does not even include the trips to Nevada and Fresno State and the home game with Boise State. The Bulldogs will be challenged to come up with a winning record yet again. They need to develop on offense after the loss of Moats and hope that the secondary does not get them beat.

5. Hawaii (5-7, 4-4)- How long was Timmy Chang at Hawaii, 35 years? It may seem that way to the average college football fan, but like after Chang begins this year for the Warriors. The quarterback options are Jack Rolovich, Kainoa Akina, Jeff Rhode, Tyler Graunke, Inoke Funaki, and Colt Brennan. One of these six will emerge to run the Warriors offense. More than likely, they will put up nice numbers. There is no experienced running back on the team either. Nate Ilaoa is the favorite to become the starter, but due to an assortment of injuries has played in just one game since the end of 2002. The receivers are also pretty thin. If Jason Rivers becomes eligible in time, the Hawaii offense will count on him a lot. The offensive line returns four starters, which is the lone bright spot for this normally electrifying offense. The defensive line has a lot of experience and depth. Melila Purcell is the best lineman on the team. Kila Kamakawiwo'ole also has a lot of potential. The linebackers could be lead by four freshman that were recruited to come in immediately and fill a need. Kenny Patton is the corner that this team needs and Leonard Peters had four interceptions a year ago, making the secondary pretty solid. Aloha Stadium is an always tough place to play. Just ask Northwestern and Michigan State, who both went there looking for bowl bids late last year, and both left without bowl bids. The Warriors stole the bowl bid to the Hawaii Bowl and promptly dispatched of UAB. Their struggles on the mainland are well documented, but USC, Fresno State, Boise State, and Wisconsin all come to Aloha Stadium this year. It is likely that at least one will leave an upset victim. Kainoa Akina is the team's leading returning passer (7 completions in 19 attempts for 84 yards and four interceptions with zero touchdowns) and rusher (12 carries, 102 yards, zero touchdowns). Ouch.

6. San Jose State (3-8, 2-6)- Adam Tafralis is the most likely to start at quarterback for the Spartans. He played in nine games as a back up last year and threw for over 400 yards. The good news is that three receivers return who could be among the best in the conference. Rufus Skillern, James Jones, and John Broussard are all solid options are receiver. Lamar Ferguson is the leading returning rusher. He run for just under 150 yards a year ago. The offensive line returns just two starters and must be reshaped. The defense must improve on some numbers- namely being the nation's worst scoring defense from a year ago. They ranked 18 in passing yards allowed per game, but that is deceptive, since most team's only needed to run the ball on them, since they were 116 in rushing defense, allowing 252 yards per game on the ground. The secondary returns virtually in tact. Josh Powell and Brian Nunez make up the safeties on this team and should be very solid. The linebackers are small, but tough. Bobby Godinez needs to step up and become a star this year. The defensive line will probably start three seniors, but is very thin. The seniors Larnell Ransom, Kinji Green, and Justin James all need to step up and have big seasons. The Spartans go to Boise State and Fresno State. They nearly stunned Boise State a year ago, and don't be surprised if there is someone this year that they nearly shock.

7. New Mexico State (2-10, 2-6)- The offense will be lead by either Muammar Ali or David Romaka at quarterback. They played to a dead heat in the spring. The running game will be lead by Muammar Aliu and David Romaka, both of whom have a lot of talent. The receivers return Tim Tolbert and Brandon Allen. But the go-to guy is Paul Dombrowski, the converted quarterback. Three starters return along the offensive line. The defense will need to see some vast improvement on the line. Chase Spicer and Jared Naylor appear to be the most likely to give the help they need. Jimmy Cottrell is a phenomenal linebacker and is looking to lead the Aggies in tackles for the fourth consecutive season. The secondary is lead by Gill Byrd, Shukree Shabazz, and Matt Griebel. They should be a very good unit. The schedule offers six home games for the first time since 1997, and the nation will get a chance to see the Aggies on September 23 in a nationally televised home date with California. Moving from the Sun Belt to the WAC probably does not mean improvement, but with new coach Hal Mumme around, the offense could be exciting and the team could be a potential surprise team for this year, although maybe next year is more likely.

8. Idaho (2-9, 2-6)- Michael Harrington is the returning starting quarterback for the Vandals, but he is being pushed by Steven Wichman. Jayson Byrd and Rolly Lumbala provide an excellent duo in the backfield. They will be helped by the return of five starting offensive linemen. The receivers are the real trouble spot on the offense. Wendell Octave and Desmond Belton both need to explode onto the scene this season. The defense forced 27 turnovers a year ago. There was little pass rush from the defensive line, but the depth is there. Jeff Edwards and Siua Musika are the two players that coach Nick Holt is most hoping will contribute. The secondary provides more questions than answers. Dan Dykes is the lone returning starter and the secondary needs to find several other pieces to help out or else many teams will exploit their passing defense. The linebackers are one of the more solid units on the team. Cole Snyder and Mike Anderson are two of the better linebackers in the conference. Avoiding the conference basement has to be the goal for the Vandals, who are into baby steps right now. They were 0-3 last year against current WAC members (Boise State, Hawaii, Utah State), and got beat by an average of 43.7-11.7.

9. Utah State (2-10, 1-7)- Eric Sobolewski and Leon Jackson III are battling it out for the starting quarterback job for the Aggies. They will not be aided much by the running game, which returns Beau Herbert and Marcus Crawford from injury and Chris Forbes from a decent freshman season. Wide receivers Kevin Robinson and Tony Pennyman are both excellent returning threats that caught a combined 87 passes for 1200 yards a year ago. The offensive line returns just two starters, but the starting five should be experienced. The back-ups, on the other hand, are not. The defense will be lead by an experienced front seven. John Chick and Michael Gates are both very talented pass rushers. The linebackers only return one starter (Nate Frederick) but they return plenty of depth. The secondary is solid in the starters, but lacks any true back ups. Cornelius Lamb has a chance to really be something special for the Aggies secondary. The schedule opens with Nicholls State, but after that there is no game on the schedule that the Aggies should feel too confident in. They should pull off one upset along the way, but it would be a surprise if they were favored the rest of the season after the first game.

ALL WAC

Offense
QB Jared Zabransky, Boise State
RB Lee Marsk, Boise State
RB Bryson Sumlin, Fresno State
WR Nichiren Flowers, Nevada
WR Drisan James, Boise State
TE Derek Schouman, Boise State
OL Dartangon Shack, Fresno State
OL Kyle Young, Fresno State
OL Daryn Colledge, Boise State
OL Aaron Lips, Louisiana Tech
OL Nick Cole, New Mexico State

Defense
DL Melila Purcell, Hawaii
DL Alex Guerrero, Boise State
DL Garrett McIntyre, Fresno State
DL J.J. Milan, Nevada
LB Jeremy Engstrom, Nevada
LB Byron Santiago, Louisiana Tech
LB Jimmy Cottrell, New Mexico State
DB Richard Marshall, Fresno State
DB Marcus McCauley, Fresno State
DB Leonard Peters, Hawaii
DB Josh Powell, San Jose State

Specialists
K Jarrod Jakubiak, Utah State
P Kyle Stringer, Boise State
KR John Broussard, San Jose State
PR Kevin Robinson, Utah State

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