WAC Media and Coaches Preseason Polls
Dan Hawkins had been immensely successful as head coach at Boise State. So when he left for Colorado at the end of the 2005 season, you had to wonder how the Bronco program would respond.
The results are in and the program responded quite well, thank you.
With Hawkins' offensive coordinator Chris Petersen at the helm, the program simply turned it up a notch and capped an undefeated regular season with a memorable win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos were, in fact, the only team that went unbeaten as it captured a second-place ranking in the final CCR Top 119 and missed out on the number one slot by a scant 0.05 points to BCS champion Florida.
Regardless of those accomplishments, Boise State is conspicuously absent from the preseason top 25 of Phil Steele, Lindy's, Athlon's and some other major preseason publications.
What do the Broncos have to do to prove themselves? They could simply just make another run at the BCS party by starting at No. 6 in the unbiased CCR Top 119.
The Congrove Computer Rankings also give recognition to Hawaii by placing the Warriors at 15th, setting the stage for a showdown between the WAC's top two schools on November 23rd at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu with Boise State getting a 1.18-point edge.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the remaining WAC teams are inarguably weaker. As a result, the perception of teams like Boise State, Hawaii, Nevada and Fresno State is diminished by the conference's over-all power rating.
Indeed, once you get past No. 34 Nevada and No. 59 Fresno State, the remaining five schools are in the bottom 49.
That's why you find BSU favored to win five games by more than 22 points, and all but the Hawaii game by double-digits. It's also why Hawaii is favored to win its first six games by no less than 18.70 points.
Hawaii has another perception problem - the appearance of two 1-AA schools on the nation's weakest schedule. That schedule could possibly prevent the Warriors from climbing high enough in the BCS Standings to nab a lucrative BCS bid, even if they dispose of Boise State and win all 12 games.
Nevada, a 21-20 loser to Miami (Fla.) in the MPC Computers Bowl, is the next-best choice to overtake the Broncos and Warriors. Their biggest obstacle is a road trip to Boise where the Broncos have never lost to a WAC opponent and have reeled off 38 straight regular season victories. The Wolf Pack is a 13.10-point underdog on that journey. Nevada is just a 2.92 underdog at home to Hawaii.
The WAC's comeback team of the year should be Fresno State. The computer expects the Bulldogs to surge back into the upper echelon of the conference after suffering through a 4-8 campaign a year ago for their first losing season since 1998. We won't have to wait long to find out how good the Bulldogs could be. Weeks two and three send them on visits to Texas A&M and Oregon in back-to-back non-conference games. The computer puts Fresno State at just a 14-point disadvantage in both of those contests. However, the Bulldogs are a 12-point home underdog to Boise State and a nearly 14-point road dog at Hawaii. Somewhat surprisingly, they're favored to beat Kansas State in the next-to-last game of the season - albeit by one-tenth of a point.
San Jose State is projected to be the WAC's fifth-best team after going 9-4 in 2006. It was the first winning season for the Spartans since 2000, and only their second since 1992. San Jose State will have to prove that last year's success wasn't just smoke and mirrors as their eight regular season wins came against teams that were a combined 17-65 against 1-A opposition. To top it off, the Spartans rode their ridiculously weak credentials all the way into the New Mexico Bowl where their 20-12 win came against the host Lobos who squeaked into the bowl season with a 6-6 record.
New Mexico State, Utah State, Louisiana Tech and Idaho take the bottom four slots of the WAC which is where they finished last year.
In Hal Mumme's second season, New Mexico State improved from 0-12 in 2005 to 4-8 last season and picked up two conference victories. The computer sees further improvement this year with the Aggies moving to the fringes of bowl eligibility with a 6-7 record. The slate is easy enough to get there with a pair of 1-AA schools on the docket, including a season-opener against Southeastern Louisiana for the second consecutive year. SE Louisiana disbanded their football program from 1986-2002 and Mumme was the head coach chosen to resurrect the program in 2003.
Just like Mumme, Brent Guy enters his third season as a head coach in the WAC. But Guy's Utah State Aggies aren't expected to see much improvement. His first team went 3-8 in 2005 but dropped to 1-11 last year. This year, the computer calls for a baby step back up the ladder to 3-9. For that little bit of progress, Utah State fans can be thankful for the malaise of Louisiana Tech and Idaho, as well as UNLV's appearance as the non-conference season-opener.
The two schools expected to bring up the rear of the conference are both welcoming new head coaches.
Louisiana Tech gave Jack Bicknell the boot when the Bulldogs slipped to 3-10 last season after going 7-4 in 2005. The Bulldogs hired Derek Dooley - son of former Georgia head coach and athletic director Vince Dooley - away from the Miami Dolphins where he was the tight ends coach under Nick Saban.
Bicknell was 42-53 in eight seasons with Louisiana Tech, including a trip to the 2001 Humanitarian Bowl for its first bowl appearance since 1990, and the only time the Bulldogs have traveled outside the state for a bowl game. All of their previous postseason invitations
had been issued by the nearby Independence Bowl in Shreveport.
Dennis Erickson spent just one season with Idaho after signing a five-year contract and vowing to rebuild the program. Erickson had coached the Vandals prior to more high-profile stints with Miami (Fla.), Oregon State, and the NFL. On December 9, Idaho announced that Erickson had taken the job with Arizona State and the Vandals named Washington State defensive coordinator Robb Akey as its new head coach eleven days later. It will be the 40-year old's first head coaching position after nine years with the Cougars.
Hawaii and Fresno State are the only WAC schools that have not had a head coaching change in the last three years.