Saturday, July 26, 2008

2008 WAC Preview

Boise State
Seemingly for the first time in eons, the Broncos did not win the WAC in 2007. Their 17-game WAC winning streak, and strangle-hold on the conference, was broken in their regular-season finale on the Islands against Hawaii. Can the Broncos regain their crown and perhaps run the table en route to another appearance in a BCS bowl game?

Despite the departure of quarterback Jared Zabransky following the Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma, the Boise State offense did not miss a beat. In 2006, the offense averaged 421 yards per game (10th in the nation) and scored 39.7 points per game (2nd in the nation). In 2007, they averaged 468 yards per game (12th in the nation) and scored 42.4 points per game (4th in the nation). Quarterback Taylor Tharp acquitted himself quite well under center in his only season as a starter. His passer rating of 152.85 ranked 7th nationally. Like Zabransky before him, Tharp too has exhausted his eligibility. His likely replacement will be redshirt freshman Kellen Moore. While it may be a reach to assume greatness for Moore, the Broncos have a history of turning out quality quarterbacks every season. Bart Hendricks begat Ryan Dinwiddie who begat Jared Zabransky who begat Taylor Tharp. That’s a decade of good to stellar quarterback play. Moore has last season’s top-wideout Jeremy Childs (1045 yards through the air in 2007) and running back Ian Johnson (over 2700 yards and 41 touchdowns on the ground the past 2 seasons) to help him in his transition. The lone area for concern for the Boise State offense is continuity on the offensive line. The lone returning starter is guard Andrew Woodruff. The team will certainly miss departed left tackle Ryan Clady (1st round draft choice), and this may be the Broncos worst offensive line in a very long time. The offense should still be quite productive, but with a new quarterback and inexperienced line, it should not be as good as last season’s version.

Last season, the Broncos finished 25th in total defense, permitting only 338 yards per game. In WAC play, they were the top dog (or horse) in terms of defensive proficiency. The only WAC foes who were able to move the ball against them were Hawaii and Nevada (1213 yards in those 2 games, 1638 in the other 6 conference games. The latter came in a game on the Smurf Turf where the Broncos nearly lost for the first time ever to a conference opponent (69-67 win in 4 OTs). In perhaps their best performance of the season, they held New Mexico State (albeit without Chase Holbrook for the majority of the game) to 89 yards in a 58-0 pummeling. The Bronco defense returns 7 starters in 2008, including leading-tackler linebacker Kyle Gingg. The biggest loss for the Broncos will be in the secondary where safety Marty Tadman (second on the team in tackles and first in passes broken up) and corner Orlando Scandrick must be replaced. The Bronco defense may slip a little, but should remain one of the best in the WAC.

Prediction: Outside of the opener against Idaho State, the Broncos have a very fascinating non-conference schedule. They host Bowling Green (bowl team from last season), travel to Oregon, and also to Southern Miss. While the Oregon game gets top billing (and rightfully so), the Southern Miss game comes right between the WAC opener against Louisiana Tech, and the rematch with Hawaii. Still, the Broncos should go 3-1 at worst against their non-conference slate. I’m not buying them winning in Autzen though. To me, this year’s team seems a bit weaker than last year’s version which lost, lest you forget, on the road to Washington. In conference play, the Broncos should roll through their home schedule as usual and are blessed with a very winnable road slate. The most difficult test will come on November 22nd when they travel to Nevada. 2 losses will keep the Broncos out of a BCS bowl, but it may be good for them in the log run as it will likely ensure Chris Petersen stays in town for another season.

Nevada’s 2007 season was bookended between a pair of embarrassing defeats. They opened the year with a 52-10 throttling by Nebraska and closed it with a 23-0 shutout at the hands of New Mexico in the New Mexico Bowl. In between, they managed only a 6-5 record, but were statistically one of the best teams in the WAC. If their achievement aligns with their performance in 2008, the Wolfpack could find themselves as champions of the WAC.

The Wolfpack offense was one of the most proficient in the nation in 2007. They averaged 468 yards per game (11th in the nation) and scored 33.5 points per game (27th in the nation). In WAC play, only the incomparable offense at Hawaii gained more yards. The team’s biggest star was freshman quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Pressed into action in the team’s 5th game, against Fresno State, Kaepernick responded by throwing for 384 yards and 4 touchdowns. On the season, Kaepernick posted an efficiency rating of 150.77 (10th in the nation). He also rushed for nearly 600 yards (593) and scored 6 touchdowns on the ground. The most interesting part of Kaepernick’s season was that despite his extremely high rating, he only completed 53.8% of his passes (not even in the top-100). Despite the bevy of incompletions, Kaepernick threw only 3 interceptions in 247 pass attempts. You can be certain he will top that number in 2008, especially if he remains as erratic throwing the football. Should he falter, the ‘Pistol’ offense will still be in good hands, as Nick Graziano (began last season as starter) posted a passer rating of 138.07 (would have ranked 27th with enough attempts to qualify) before breaking his foot. Joining the quarterback duo in the backfield is the rarest of all breeds—a pale-faced running back. Luke Lippincott led the WAC in rushing last season, gaining 1420 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns. Paving the way for Lippincott are 4 returning starters on the offensive line, so no matter how Kaepernick or Graziano perform, the running attack should remain outstanding. It’s also worth mentioning that the Wolfpack bring back their top-receiver from 2007, Marko Mitchell (the Wolfpack are an alliterators dream). Mitchell gained over 1100 yards in 2007 and averaged a robust 21.3 yards per catch (2nd in the nation).

On defense, the Wolfpack have some holes to fill. Last season they finished a mediocre 79th in total defense, permitting 415 yards per game. However, in WAC play, only Boise State and Hawaii allowed fewer yards. The Wolfpack lose 3 of their top-4 tacklers from last season and must replace 3/4ths of their starting secondary. Defense will be a question mark for the Wolfpack, but in a league with Idaho, Utah State, and Mexico State, the Wolfpack should have no worries about fielding the worst defense in the league.

Prediction: After the opener against Grambling State, the schedule stiffens significantly. They host Texas Tech the following weekend before traveling to Columbia to take on Missouri. They close the non-conference schedule against UNLV, who they have beaten 3 straight times. However, the Rebels could be one of the most improved teams in the nation, and the game is in Vegas, so a 1-3 start is very realistic. Once conference play starts, the Wolfpack should begin to assert themselves as one of the best teams in the league. They have the good fortune of hosting Boise State, but must face two of the other traditional powers—Fresno State and Hawaii on the road. Nevada was much better in 2007 than their 4-4 conference record would portend. All 4 of their conference losses were by 8 points or less (15 total points). With some better luck in 2008, they will be in contention for the conference crown.

Fresno State
For a team with so-so stats from last season that faces 3 BCS opponents, the Bulldogs are getting a lion’s share of preseason love. Fresno State followed up their first losing season since 1998 with a 9-4 campaign and a Humanitarian Bowl win over Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs went 6-2 in the WAC, with their only losses coming against the two best teams—Boise State and Hawaii. However, despite their 6 wins, the Bulldogs were actually outgained by over 400 yards over the course of the conference season. Both their units were below average in WAC play. The offense finished 6th in yards gained and the defense finished 7th in yards allowed. Those stats typically don’t signal a team destined to win their conference.

The Fresno State offense should certainly improve upon their lower-division finish in 2007. 10 of 11 starters return with the lone loss coming in the form of center Ryan Wendell. Wendell was a 4-year starter, so he will not be easily replaced. However, the other 4 returning starters on the line should be able to pick up any slack from his replacement. Elsewhere, quarterback Tom Brandstater looks to follow in the footsteps of Trent Dilfer, David Carr, and Paul Pinegar and leave an impressive resume in Fresno. Brandstater improved considerably in his second season as a starter in 2007. After posting a passer rating of 106.74 in 2006 (90th in the nation), Brandstater leaped to 140.48 in 2007 (23rd in the nation). Brandstater may give just a little of his improvement back (his 5 interceptions in 2007 are likely to rise), but the offense as a whole should trend towards the top of the WAC.

While the defense does not possess the continuity of the offense, 7 starters do return. 5 of the top-7 tacklers are back, but the Bulldogs do have to replace the 2007 WAC defensive Player of the Year—Marcus Riley. Along with Riley, the other significant loss is on the defensive line where Tyler Clutts (team and WAC-leading 7.5 sacks in 2007) has departed. Despite the loss of those two very talented individuals, the Bulldog defense should also improve. They won’t be the top unit in the WAC, but they should be much better than last season.

Prediction: Non-conference road trips to Rutgers, UCLA, Toledo, and a home contest against Wisconsin should temper the preseason enthusiasm for the Bulldogs. In WAC play, Fresno does get Hawaii and Nevada at home, but must travel to Boise to take on the Broncos. If the Bulldogs 2007 numbers matched their actual record, I would not be hesitant to peg them as the conference favorite heading into 2008 with so much returning talent. However, those numbers didn’t match up, and while the Bulldogs should improve (performance-wise), their record won’t.

2007 was the culmination of nearly a decade of work on the Islands. The Warriors were able to parlay a talented offense, a solid defense, some good fortune, and one of the easiest schedules imaginable into an undefeated regular season and Sugar Bowl bid. Unfortunately, the clock struck midnight in the Sugar Bowl as the Warriors were crushed by the Georgia Bulldogs 41-10. In between that game and their opener against another SEC team (Florida); the Warriors have had to replace their coach, quarterback, and 4 starting wide receivers (among others which we’ll get to later). New head coach Greg McMackin has a lot of holes to plug, and with the nightmarish non-conference schedule, may find the team shutout of a postseason invite.

The Warriors finished the 2007 ranked 3rd nationally in total offense, averaging 512 yards per game. Not surprisingly, they were also the number one offense in WAC play, edging out Nevada by about 15 yards per game. But alas, most of those yards are no longer with the team. Record-setting passer Colt Brennan and his quartet of talented, but overlooked receivers (Ryan Grice-Mullen, Davone Bess, Jason Rivers, and CJ Hawthorne) have all moved on. Among returning players, the leading receiver is either wideout Malcolm Lane (14 receptions for 270 yards in 2007) or running back Kealoha Pilares (26 receptions for 249 yards in 2007), depending on your preference of yards or receptions. On the bright side, the likely starter at quarterback, Tyler Graunke, did see significant action in 2007. He threw a pass in 8 games, and started 2. His passer rating of 156.68 was negligibly lower than Brennan’s (159.84). Graunke also has 3 starting offensive linemen back to help protect him, as well as last season’s top-4 rushers. Still, the Hawaii offense has nowhere to go but down with the matriculation of such talent. Since Jones’ system will remain in place, they should remain in the upper tier of the WAC offenses, but will certainly lose their hold on number one.

While the Hawaii offense got the most of the pub, the defense was like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance; quietly making plays in the background and avoiding the spotlight. The defense made a number of clutch plays in overtime wins over Louisiana Tech and San Jose State as well as in BCS-busting wins over Boise State and Washington. On the season, the unit ranked 34th nationally in total defense, allowing an average of 348 yards per game. In WAC play, only Boise State was stingier. Like the offense though, the defense too loses a great deal of talent. The two-leading tacklers, linebackers Solomon Elimimian (9th nationally with 141 tackles) and Adam Leonard are back, but 3 quarters of the secondary and defensive line are gone. The defense will struggle to maintain their lofty ranking from 2007.

Prediction: The non-conference schedule contains only 1 sure win among 5 games—Weber State. Of course, one could also argue that there is only 1 sure loss as well—at Florida. But, none of the other 3 games (at Oregon State, home against Washington State, and home against Cincinnati) will be gimmes. 2-3 is probably a realistic expectation, with 3-2 the best possible scenario. In WAC play, Hawaii hosts San Jose State, Louisiana Tech, Nevada, and Idaho. Prognosticating ahead, it would seem that the only team likely to spring an upset in Honolulu would be Nevada. Of course, that is balanced out by the road schedule where the Warriors face Fresno State, Boise State, Utah State, and New Mexico State. Utah State and New Mexico State are winnable, but realistically the Warriors can probably only hope to grab one of their road conference games. Hawaii has a lot of negative indicators for 2008—the loss of a very good head coach, attrition on offense and defense, and a 5-0 record in one-score games in 2007. Despite all those things, the Warriors homefield advantage (28-5 since 2000 against WAC foes at home with 3 losses coming to Boise State) should keep them in the middle of the WAC if not back in a bowl game.

Louisiana Tech
First-year head coach Derek Dooley enjoyed a solid first season at Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs finished 4-4 (tied for 4th in the WAC) and 5-7 overall. Their brightest moment was probably a 45-44 OT loss to Hawaii. Had they won that game, the Bulldogs would have been bowl-eligible, but the league would have lost out on a big-time payday as Hawaii would have likely stayed on the Islands and played in the Hawaii Bowl instead of traveling to New Orleans for the slightly more prestigious Sugar Bowl. What does Dooley have up his sleeve for an encore? Will another solid campaign make him a hot name in the coaching ranks after the season is over?

Last season Louisiana Tech did not do a whole lot of things well, but they made up for it by also not doing a whole lot of things poorly. Overall, they ranked 86th in total offense and 91st in total defense. Both those rankings are slightly below average, but remember, this is a WAC team, not an SEC member, so it’s best to compare them to their conference brethren. In conference play, they were 7th in yards gained (again slightly below average—the difference between them and the 4th best offense was about 18 yards per game) and 5th in yards allowed. Should either unit be substantially better in 2008? The offense could conceivably improve. While last season’s quarterback, Zac Champion, has concluded his Bulldog career, 8 other offensive starters return. Plus, while Champion was a competent player, his passer rating of 110.50 was not even in the top-100. As a team, the Bulldogs averaged a miniscule 5.6 yards per pass attempt (115th in the nation), a number that should improve even with a new starter under center. The new quarterback will be one of two transfers—Steven Ensminger from Auburn or Taylor Bennett from Georgia Tech. Bennett completed less than half his passes (49.5%) last season at Georgia Tech, so I’d be inclined to name Ensminger as the favorite to win the job. Ensminger will have a number of weapons to work with as the top-4 running backs (led by Patrick Jackson’s 935 yards), every player who caught multiple passes, and 3 starting offensive linemen return. The Bulldog offense should improve, but still remain a notch below those highly efficient units at Boise State, Nevada, and Hawaii.

The defense also returns some playmakers from last season. 4 of the top-5 tacklers from 2007, led by safety Antonio Baker are back. Unfortunately, besides those 4 gentlemen, only one other starter returns. The Bulldogs will certainly miss their departing defensive ends, Chris Pugh and Joshua Muse, who combined for 10.5 of the team’s 23 sacks last season. The defense should be roughly on par with last year’s unit; somewhere in the mish-mash middle of the WAC.

Prediction: The Bulldogs open with a very winnable home game against Mississippi State of the SEC. The other Bulldogs will certainly be favored, but a Tech win would not be extremely shocking. Elsewhere outside the WAC, the Bulldogs must travel to Kansas (certain loss), before hosting SE Louisiana (likely win), and traveling to West Point in the middle of the WAC season to take on Army. At worst, the Bulldogs should be 2-2 outside the conference. In conference play, the Bulldogs must face Boise State, Hawaii, San Jose State, and New Mexico State away from Ruston. Boise State may as well be on the road, but the Bulldogs could certainly benefit from hosting the Warriors, Spartans, or Aggies. The Bulldogs need to steal one of those to have a chance at a bowl bid. The home slate features Idaho, Fresno State, Utah State, and Nevada. Idaho and Utah State are likely wins, while the fact that the Fresno and Nevada games are in Ruston gives the Bulldogs a fighting chance. The Bulldogs have a chance to take 3 of those 4 and once again break even in the WAC. Depending upon their performance outside the league, that may be good enough for a bowl bid.

New Mexico State
It seems to be now or never for the Aggies. In Hall Mumme’s first 3 seasons, New Mexico State has gone a collective 8-29 (3-21 in the WAC), and have only 4 wins over IA foes. With several senior skill position players, this has to be the year Mumme Ball returns to the postseason, or it may be time to start over.

In 2007 New Mexico State averaged 424 yards per game (35th in the nation). However, in WAC play, the Aggies managed only a 5th place finish in yards gained. Hawaii, Nevada, Boise State, and even San Jose State gained more yards in conference play than the Aggies. Now to be fair, the Aggies did suffer some significant injuries in 2007. Quarterback Chase Holbrook missed parts of 2 games (the debacle against Boise State and a 1-point loss the following week to Louisiana Tech). His replacement, JJ McDermott, played very poorly against Boise (no touchdowns and a passer rating of 56.78), and very well against Louisiana Tech (2 touchdowns and a 155.99 rating). The Aggies were not going to win at Boise with or without Holbrook and they lost at Louisiana Tech despite McDermott’s fine game. So it’s hard to say the injury to Holbrook cost them anything except maybe some recruits who viewed the Boise beatdown. The big injury in 2007, and one that likely cost the Aggies a win or 2, was to wide receiver Chris Williams. After gaining over 1400 yards through the air in 2006, Williams began the 2007 season with 53 catches and 746 yards in 7 games. He broked his collarbone in game 8 and missed the last 5 and a half games. The Aggies did beat Idaho in the game when his injury occurred, but lost the last 5 games. Still, the Aggies did gain more yards per game in the last 6 (453 per game) than the first 7 (398 per game), so it’s hard to pin their struggles solely on his injury. All in all, the offense underachieved in 2007 and must be better in 2008 for the Aggies to get back to a bowl. Holbrook and Williams return for their senior campaign, joined by fellow senior receiver AJ Harris (81 catches for 611 yards in 2007) and 3 returning starters on the offensive line. The offense should improve and may challenge Nevada and Boise State for the top spot in the WAC.

The defense, once again, was porous at best in 2007. The Aggies rank in total defense during Mumme’s tenure is listed below. Not good. In WAC play they were not any better. Only Utah State allowed more yards to conference opponents. More than any other, this area will determine what the Aggies are able to achieve in 2008. The Aggies bring back 7 starters, but lose 2 of their top-3 tacklers. It would be hard for the Aggies to be any worse defensively in 2008, but another finish near the bottom of the WAC in defense should be expected.

Prediction: Outside of Nicholls State, there is not a whole lot to like about the non-conference schedule. The Aggies travel to Nebraska and UTEP before hosting New Mexico. While the Aggies did beat the Miners last season, they have not beaten the Lobos since 2002. 2-2 seems to be the ceiling for their non-conference record. In WAC play, the Aggies have the misfortune of hosting Boise State (a likely loss anywhere), but can win the other 3 (San Jose State, Hawaii, and Louisiance Tech). The road conference schedule features 2 very winnable games (Idaho and Utah State) as well as 2 toughies (Nevada and Fresno State). With the offense they have and the likelihood that their turnover margin (-15 in 2007—113th in the nation) will improve, the Aggies have a decent shot at attaining bowl eligibility. However, they are not a contender for the WAC title.

San Jose State
After gaining their first postseason invite since 1990 in 2006, the Spartans slumped somewhat in a 5-7 follow up. However, the Spartans were still solid in WAC play, finishing 4-4 and posting the best yardage margin outside the top-3 schools (Hawaii, Boise State, and Nevada). Unfortunately, some key personnel losses and regression in turnover margin should keep the Spartans out of a bowl game for the second straight season.

Before analyzing the Spartans performance in 2007, I feel it’s appropriate to pay some respect to the Spartans head coach Dick Tomey. For the uninitiated, Tomey guided the Hawaii and Arizona programs before resurrecting the moribund Spartans. Tomey posted a 158-100-7 record at those 2 schools, and since being let go by the Wildcats after suffering only his 3rd losing season in 14 campaigns in 2000, Arizona has gone a collective 28-53, and posted zero winning seasons. Anyway, time to jump off the soapbox. As stated before, the Spartans were a solid WAC team last season. They were 4th in the league in yards gained. Unfortunately, their starting quarterback from last year’s team (and the school’s all-time leading passer), Adam Tafralis, has no eligibility left. His replacement will either be Cal transfer Kyle Reed (who broke his foot in spring practice) or redshirt freshman Jordan LaSecla. Either gentleman will have a bevy of position players to get the ball to. The team’s top-3 receivers all return, highlighted by Kevin Jurovich (85 receptions for 1183 yards last year). In addition, the team’s leading rusher from 2006, Yonus Davis, will likely return for a 6th year of eligibility after carrying the ball only 3 times last season. If Davis is granted a 6th year, the running attack should certainly improve upon the atrocious 2.61 yards per rush (116th in the nation) they averaged last year. Of course, improvement in that area is likely no matter who totes the rock. Collectively, the running game should be better than last season, but with the loss of a senior quarterback, the passing game should decline.

Last season, the Spartan defense finished 4th in WAC play in yards allowed. Again only the big 3 (Boise State, Hawaii, and Nevada) allowed fewer yards. That defense should decline in 2008 as the team’s top-3 tacklers are gone. The Spartans will certainly miss linebacker Matt Castelo who finished 9th in the nation with 141 tackles in 2007. Besides Castelo, the Spartans also lose a second player who posted over 100 tackles in 2007 (linebacker Demetrius Jones). The Spartan defense will be a work in progress and should improve as the year goes on, but should not be as strong as the 2007 version.

Prediction: Besides UC Davis, the non-conference slate is very tough with a home game against San Diego State sandwiched around trips to Nebraska and Stanford. In league play, the Spartans get 3 very winnable games at home (Utah State, Louisiana Tech, and Fresno State). The 4th comes against Boise State. Of course, the Spartans gave BCS-bound Boise all they could handle last time they strolled into town in a 23-20 loss in 2006. The road schedule includes games in 2 very tough venues (Hawaii and Nevada) and 2 very winnable games (New Mexico State and Idaho). The Spartans could conceivable knock off both the Aggies and Vandals, but a loss to one or the other is likely. Another area to watch for the Spartans is turnover margin. The Spartans were +13 last season (7th in the nation), thanks mostly to the fact that they committed only 14 turnovers all season (6th lowest in the nation). Part of that was the measly 11 interceptions that Tafralis threw, but it should also be noted that the Spartans lost only 3 fumbles all season (lowest in the nation). With a new quarterback and worse luck in the random bounces that occur throughout the season, the Spartans should commit a few more turnovers in 2008. This facet of the team will contribute greatly to their bowl-less campaign.

Robb Akey begins his second season in Moscow hoping to win his first WAC game and notch his first victory over a Division IA program in 2008. As one of only 4 Division IA teams that plays its home games in a dome (Syracuse, Minnesota, and Tulane are the others), I’ve always been fascinated by the Vandals. Do the Vandals enjoy any kind of special homefield advantage by playing their home games indoors? With the regular season set to begin in less than 5 weeks, I don’t have the time, energy, or wherewithal to conduct a systematic study of all 119 Division IA teams, but I will offer a miniscule analysis of Idaho’s 2007 season with some home/road splits. The following table displays Idaho’s performance at home and on the road in 2007. For a fair comparison, their road game against Southern Cal is not included as the Trojans are in another stratosphere talent wise, and that game would only serve to skew their road numbers. As you can see, Idaho was actually a solid team at home, outgaining their foes by about 8 yards per game. Unfortunately, this did not translate to wins (1-5 at home) thanks to their poor turnover margin (-4) and some other extenuating factors. This fact is best illustrated in their game against Northern Illinois. The Vandals outgained the Huskies by 230 yards (586 to 356), but lost 42-35 thanks to 3 non-offensive touchdowns from the Huskies (a 95-yard interception return, a blocked punt recovered in the end zone, and a fumble recovery in the end zone).

Despite their winless record in the conference, the Vandals were far from the worst team in the league. Based on the yardage version of SDPI, the Vandals were better than both New Mexico State and Utah State. With 10 starters returning on the offensive side of the ball (the lone departing starter is a guard), the Vandals have a chance to rise in the standings. The starters who do return on the offensive line are all seniors so sophomore running back, and nephew of St. Louis Rams’ running back Steven Jackson, Deonte Jackson (1175 yards in 2007) should easily go over the 1000-yard mark again.

On defense, the future does not appear to be as bright. Only 4 starters return, and the Vandals lose 5 of their top-6 tacklers. While they were far from a dominant force last season (6th in yards allowed in conference play), the loss of so many experienced players should cause a decline.

Prediction: The Vandals have lost 13 straight games against WAC foes and 16 straight to Division IA teams. Both of those streaks should come to an end when the Vandals travel to Utah State on September 20th. With winnable conference home games against New Mexico State and San Jose State, the Vandals could conceivably win 3 or 4 times as many games as last season.

Utah State
The Aggies are the youngest son in the Utah family. You know, the one who dropped out of school and is currently ‘between jobs’, depending on the kindness and couches of others for sustenance and sleep. Older brothers BYU (doctor) and Utah (lawyer) constantly look down and berate them for their failed life choices. Can the Aggies get their big break in the form of a Power Ball ticket in 2008 (first winning season since 1997)?

Despite their 2 conference wins in 2007, the Aggies were by far the worst team in the WAC. They gained the fewest yards among their conference brethren and allowed the most. The only thing the Aggies did well in 2007 was complete a high percentage of their passes. Their team completion percentage of 65.1% ranked 12th in the nation. Unfortunately, their starting quarterback from last season, Leon Jackson, has exhausted his eligibility. Aside from Jackson, the offense also loses leading-receiver Kevin Robinson. 6 starters, including 3 along the offensive line, do return, but the Aggies will be hard-pressed to improve offensively.

On defense, the Aggies could shine (relatively) in 2008. 9 starters, including the top-7 tacklers return. Of course, as mentioned earlier, last year’s defense was the worst unit in the WAC. If nothing else, the Aggies should do a better job at getting to opposing passers in 2008. The Aggies totaled only 11.5 sacks last season (116th in the nation) so it would be hard to be any worse. The defense should be marginally better, but still among the worst in the WAC.

Prediction: With UNLV, Oregon, Utah, and BYU on the non-conference slate, the Aggies had better win a conference game or they could be looking at an 0-12 year. Their best chance for a conference win will come either in the conference opener (hosting Idaho) or the finale (hosting New Mexico State). With improvements elsewhere in the league, I’ll call for a winless campaign in 2008 and a new coach in 2009.

Predicted Records:


Scott A said...

Why doesn't Utah State just move on back to DIAA? They don't have the resources or interest from the administration needed to compete on their current level, but could probably hold their own against other FCS opponents and then generate a little fan interest when they win some games. When I talk to Utah State alum now, they are very proud of the basketball program and seem oblivious to the fact that their school has a basketball program.

Scott A said...

"oblivious to the fact that their school has a (football) program"

matt said...

That might not be a bad idea Scott. The WAC could certainly survive with 8 members, and those could always poach someone from the Sun Belt, like North Texas.

As far as Utah State basketball, they are one of my favorite mid-majors to watch. And Stew Morrill is one of my favorite coaches.