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Boise State continued its conference dominance in 2010, winning its 6th outright title in the last 8 seasons with an undefeated conference record of 8-0. The Broncos also shared the title with Nevada in 2005.
Boise State enters 2010 on a 14-game winning streak - tied for longest in the nation with Alabama - after defeating TCU 17-10 in the Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos also have streaks of 25 regular season wins, 26 home wins, 56 regular season home wins, and 42 straight conference home victories. BSU has never lost at home to a fellow WAC member (36-0). The Broncos' last home loss to a conference foe occurred in 1998 when they were a member of the Big West* and fell to Idaho in the final regular season game. The Broncos are 4-1 in their last five matches against BCS conference schools.
The Broncos return 23 of the 24 players who started in the Fiesta Bowl, but lose defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to Derek Dooley's new staff at Tennessee. Montana State DC Pete Kwiatkowski replaces him after spending six seasons in that post with the Bobcats.
Coach Chris Petersen's squad will face Virginia Tech at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins, in the season opener on Labor Day. Last year's team began the year by throttling Oregon on the smurf turf 19-8. This year's squad is projected to blast the Hokies by 15.66 points and then drill Oregon State by 22.21 when it hosts the Beavers almost three weeks later. With those games out of the way, the Broncos would have little else standing in their way. Their most formidable foes in the WAC - Nevada and Fresno State - are respective 21.90 and 29.66-point underdogs to the Broncos.
Convincing wins over Virginia Tech and Oregon State, and total annihilation of its WAC brethren, is probably what Boise State will need to make the computer's ultimate projection come true - a BCS Championship appearance as a 5.95-point favorite over Texas.
Boise State's window of opportunity is small. It must defeat Virginia Tech and Oregon State to have any realistic chance at a national title game.
Fresno State gets 7 home games for the first time since 1994 but will have to adjust to life without the nation's leading rusher from a year ago, Ryan Matthews. The Bulldogs open at home against Cincinnati as a 3.20-point underdog to new head coach Butch Jones. Fresno State closes the slate at home against Illinois as a two-touchdown favorite over a team it defeated 53-52 at Champaign in last year's season finale. The Bulldogs are a tiny 1.24-point favorite over projected 3rd-place finisher Nevada, but a nearly 30-point underdog to Boise State.
Nevada went 7-1 in league play last year, but suffered a humiliating 45-10 loss to SMU in the Hawai'i Bowl. The Wolf Pack led the nation in rushing and became the first school in NCAA history to have three players rush for 1,000 yards in the same season - junior RB Vai Taua, junior QB Colin Kaepernick and senior RB Luke Lippincott. Neither Taua (academically ineligible) or Lippincott (toe injury) played in the bowl game. Lippincott is gone, but Kaepernick and Taua return for their senior seasons.
Louisiana Tech gets a new head coach as former Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes replaces Derek Dooley who was hired away by Tennessee. Dykes is the 40-year-old son of former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes, the head coach of the Red Raiders from 1986-1999. Despite the coaching change, the Bulldogs are expected to improve upon their 2009 showing with a forecasted 6-6 campaign.
Utah State, in its first season under head coach Gary Andersen, went 4-8 to produce its best record since 2002. The computer sees even more improvement this season with a 6-6 forecast that includes a 6.34-point home loss to Fresno State and a 2.39-point road defeat at Louisiana Tech. It would be the Aggies' first .500 season since 1997 when John L. Smith roamed the sidelines in Logan and the school made it to the inaugural Humanitarian Bowl. Utah State opens the season at Oklahoma as a 25.11-point underdog.
Idaho is coming off of its first winning season (8-5, 4-4 WAC) since 2000, and its best record since going 8-5 in 1999. The Vandals ended the year losing four of their last five regular season games, but rebounded to edge Bowling Green 43-42 in the Humanitarian Bowl. Max Komar made a sliding catch of a 16-yard pass from Nathan Enderle with 4 seconds left and Enderle's 2-point conversion pass to Preston Davis gave Idaho the improbable win. Improbable, because the Falcons had just taken a 42-35 lead with only 32 second left in the game when Tyler Sheehan threw a 51-yard bomb to Freddie Barnes. A 50-yard pass from Enderle to Davis put Idaho in business for the comeback.
The computer sees a small step backward for Idaho in 2010, projecting final records of 7-6 overall and 3-5 in the WAC. The Vandals still have a long way to go to be even with the upper tier teams in the league, as evidenced by their losses of 25 points to Nevada, 10 to Fresno State and 38 to Boise State.
It's a bit unusual to see the first mention of Hawaii this far down in a WAC preview column, but the Warriors have been on a downslide since losing head coach June Jones to SMU prior to the 2008 season. Hawaii was 7-7 in its first campaign under Greg McMackin, and missed the bowl season last year for just the second time since 2002 after going 6-7. This year's forecast puts the Warriors at 3-10 (2-6, WAC) with their only victories coming against FCS member Charleston Southern, San Jose State and New Mexico State. However, a projected loss at Army is by just 2.29 points, and forecasted home losses to Louisiana Tech (+1.44), Idaho (+3.99) and UNLV (+1.16) are also by less than 4 points. Hawaii is a 12.52-point home underdog to USC in the season opener.
New Mexico State gets a slight edge over San Jose State at the bottom of the conference, thanks to an expected 5.18-point home victory over the Spartans.
San Jose State is a whopping 42.75-point underdog at Alabama in its first game under new head coach Mike MacIntyre. He comes to the Spartans from Duke where he served the last two seasons as the defensive coordinator. MacIntyre was a defensive secondary coach for the Dallas Cowboys from 2003-06 and the New York Jets in 2007, and was an assistant at Ole Miss from 1998-2002 before going to the NFL. He replaces Dick Tomey who announced his retirement from coaching on November 16. Tomey was 25-35 in five seasons at SJSU. He was also the head coach at Hawaii and Arizona in his 29-year career during which he compiled an overall record of 183-145-7.
San Jose State is one of five teams in the nation that will face two FCS schools this season (Arizona State, Ball State, Syracuse and Virginia are the others). The Spartans host Southern Utah on September 18 and UC-Davis on October 2.
Six teams nationally play 13-game schedules - Hawaii, and five of the six FBS teams that travel to Hawaii. Naturally, the bulk of those teams are from the WAC as Idaho, Nevada and San Jose State all travel to the 50th state. The others are USC and UNLV.
*-The Big West dropped football after the 2000 season. Boise State joined the WAC in 2001.