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2007 WAC Preview

2007 WAC Preview

WAC: Boise State or Hawaii?
July 23rd, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Not only did the Broncos sweep their eight conference games last season, they finished the season undefeated after "hook and laddering" Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Boise State ended the campaign 13-0 with a fifth-place finish in the final AP Poll.

The WAC improved dramatically with a 6-14 record against BCS schools, much better than its 0-16 mark from 2005. The league also finished above .500 ATS in non-conference games at 18-17. The top four teams won three bowl games with the only loss coming from Nevada, a one-point defeat, at the hands of Miami- Florida. All four schools (Boise State, Hawaii, San Jose State and Nevada) covered the spread.

Can Boise repeat as WAC champions or will Hawaii reel off an undefeated season as a lot of writers are predicting? The Broncos are 100-1 to win the BCS National Championship Game while the Rainbows are 300-1. The other seven clubs are part of the field, currently listed at 50-1. Let's take an inside look at the conference:

1) BOISE STATE - The Broncos had won 31 consecutive league games until Fresno State squashed them 27-7 in 2005. How did they respond to that defeat? How about 10 straight conference wins to move to 41-1 in their last 42 WAC games! Strengths - Ian Johnson rambled to the end zone 25 times last season to go along with 1,713 yards. The offensive line returns four starters from last year and is by far the biggest and best in the conference. The defense will be strong as well, despite losing two of its top three tacklers. Remember, only three starters returned in the 2001 season and the defense allowed just one- half point more per game than the year before. Weaknesses - A new quarterback must call the shots in Boise after three-year starter Jared Zabransky leaves. In addition, the top four pass-catchers all depart. Bottom line - In Zabransky's first year, the Broncos ended the regular season with a perfect 11-0 record so back-to-back undefeated seasons is not out of the question. However, look for them to lose at Hawaii on November 23 ruining their 26-game winning streak. The last time Boise failed to go over .500 against the spread was back in 1998 so don't look for it to happen in 2007.

2) HAWAII - June Jones breathed a sigh of relief the day Colt Brennan decided to remain in Honolulu. The senior quarterback's two main reasons for returning are to reach a BCS bowl game and finish off his career with an undefeated season. Strengths - The Rainbows led the nation in scoring, passing and total offense last year as Brennan threw for 58 TDs and over 5,500 yards, completing 73% of his passes. Heck, the punter came on the field only seven times the final eight games! Weaknesses - Going into last season, the offensive line had a combined 88 lifetime starts. This season, that number is down to 31 as two first team and one second-team WAC linemen depart. The defensive line was also hit hard as two all-conference performers will be applying their trade in the NFL this season. Defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville, who was the architect of the "D" that shaved off 14 ppg since 2004, leaves the program after accepting a head coaching position at Portland State. Bottom line - Even though the Rainbows will knock off Boise State, they will drop two conference games prior to their match-up with the Broncos. Expect a 10-2 record, 6-2 in conference play. They are a solid team to bet against as the public will jump all over them this season.

3) NEW MEXICO STATE - The Aggies failed to win a single game in Hal Mumme's first season in Las Cruces. Last year, they won four games and have a great shot at doubling that in '07. Strengths - New Mexico State had an amazing 15 more plays per game than its opposition last year which was tops in the country. That's one reason Chase Holbrook had such a stellar season, throwing for over 4,600 yards with 34 TDs against just nine interceptions. Running back Justine Buries missed the last 10 games last year and his return will be a huge boost to the explosive offense. The defense was wrought with injuries, including the death of a linebacker, prior to the season. Even so, the Aggies allowed eight points less per game and almost a half-yard less per rush. More improvement is expected in '07. Weaknesses - The Aggies finished last in WAC play allowing 24 sacks and next to last in offensive turnovers with 21. Bottom line - New Mexico State owns the nation's longest bowl drought of all teams that have played in at least one bowl game (46 years). That streak will end this season with an 8-4 mark and a three-way tie for third place in the WAC at 5-3. The Aggies will also have one of the top ATS records in the country!

4) FRESNO STATE - What an awful season it was for Fresno last year. The Bulldogs lost more games (eight) than they did the previous two regular seasons combined and at one point had dropped seven in a row! Strengths - The offensive line, which opened holes for five yards a carry last year, returns four starters. Injuries on the defensive side of the ball killed Fresno State last year and the unit as a whole will improve on its worst showing in over a decade. Weaknesses - The offense, without consistency at the QB position, scored just 23 ppg, down 15 points from the previous season. Only two clubs (Utah State and Michigan State) had a worse defensive TD-INT ratio as the Bulldogs allowed 26 passing touchdowns and intercepted only five balls. Bottom line - The last time, prior to '06, that Fresno State finished under .500 was back in 1998. The following season the Bulldogs won eight games. Don't expect that type of turnaround this year, but 6-6 and 5-3 in WAC play will be a respectable season. In addition, they won't finish 2-10 ATS like they did in '06.

5) NEVADA - The Wolf Pack have won 17 games the past two years, the best two- year stretch since 18 victories in '95-'96. Strengths - Nevada's defense limited opponents to just 19 ppg last year and recorded 30 sacks the final nine games. Seven defensive starters return so look for another solid season. The Pack lose its leading rusher Robert Hubbard, but Brandon Fragger, who missed the final six games and Luke Lipincott will more than hold their own. The receiving core will be without its top pass catcher in Caleb Spencer, but once again there is loads of talent and speed amongst the holdovers. Weaknesses - Quarterback Jeff Rowe completed his eligibility so the position will be up for grabs between Nick Graziano and Colin Kaepernick. The defense forced 23 turnovers in league play (tops in the WAC), but loses its top two interception leaders, who combined for 10 picks last year. Bottom line - Nevada is a remarkable 15-3 (5-1 each season) at home since Chris Ault took over as head coach. Another 5-1 mark will lead the Wolf Pack to a 7-5 season and a piece of the three-way tie for third in the conference. They may not finish 10-2 ATS like they did a year ago, but should not be taken lightly even with uncertainty at the QB spot.

6) SAN JOSE STATE - The Spartans won only eight games combined in'03-'05, but went 9-4 last year, including a win in their first bowl game since 1990. Strengths - Quarterback Adam Tafralis finished 11th nationally in passing efficiency with 21 TDs and a 66% completion rate. A marked improvement from his 11 TDs and 50% completion percentage in '05. San Jose's defense allowed 42.6 ppg the year before head coach Dick Tomey arrived and in two short years, the "D" cut that number in half giving up just 21 ppg in 06. The cornerback duo of Dwight Lowery and Chris Owens led the nation with a combined 13 interceptions. Weaknesses - That CB combo must continue to perform at a high level, as the top five safeties are no longer with the team. In addition, the defense allowed 3.5 ypc or more in 10 of the 13 games. It will be interesting to see if Tafralis reverts back to his '05 form as San Jose State loses 78% of its completions with James Jones, John Broussard and Chester Coleman all departing. The leading returning pass catcher is fullback James Callier. Bottom line - The Spartans will not be as successful as they were last season. A 5-7 record, 4-4 in the WAC, will leave the folks in San Jose feeling empty. Play against them early and often.

7) IDAHO - With four wins last year, the Vandals had their best season since a five-win campaign back in 2000. However, head coach Dennis Erickson waved goodbye and Washington State defensive line coach Robb Akey takes over. Strengths - The defense, which finished fourth in league play in yards allowed, returns seven starters, including the top six tacklers. All-WAC cornerback Stanley Franks tied for the national lead in interceptions with nine. Weaknesses - Idaho has given up at least 4.7 ypc each of the last six seasons and the offense will be without its top three pass catchers and its quarterback. Bottom line - The lower echelon teams in the WAC usually have zero chance of upsetting the big boys, so its imperative to knock off the other basement dwellers. The Vandals did that last season and should do so again. They will win three games, two in conference play and by the middle of the season, will be a team to watch ATS.

8) LOUISIANA TECH - The Bulldogs finished last in the country in scoring and total defense, and won just three games after going 7-4 the previous season. Strengths - The major reason for the stumble was the loss of nine defensive starters. With 10 back this year, look for the Dogs to make major strides. Remember, Louisiana Techs recruiting classes from 05 and 06 were rated near the top of the WAC. Weaknesses - L-Tech finished dead last in conference play last season turning the ball over 23 times in eight games. The defense recorded just nine sacks the entire season! Bottom line - The Bulldogs are still a year away from competing in the ever-improving WAC and will win only three games this season, two in league play. Nonetheless, L-Tech is a dark horse when it comes to betting against the spread.

9) UTAH STATE - The goal for head coach Brent Guy is to win at least two games after the Aggies posted just one "W" in the victory column last season. Strengths - Ten of the top 11 tacklers return and that doesnt include LB Jake Hutton, who was leading the team in that department after four games, before an injury shelved him for rest of the season. Injuries also devastated the offensive line. Weaknesses - Both the offense and defense finished 117th in the nation in scoring. Last years leading runner Marcus Cross left the program to be closer to his family in Texas, so QB Leon Jackson is the leading returning rusher with just 105 yards! Bottom line - Utah State has a good chance to go winless this season, as the Aggies are the worst team in the country. They went 3-9 ATS in 06 and might cover the same amount in 07.

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Re: 2007 WAC Preview

2007 WAC Preview

1. Hawaii Predicted record: 12-0 Conf. record: 8-0 Best Offensive Player: QB Colt Brennan, Sr. Best Defensive Player: NT Michael Lafaele, Sr. Offense: Everything worked last year as Colt Brennan and the offense exploded for a nation-leading 559 yards and 46.86 points per game. While Brennan is back, after flirting with the idea of turning pro early, along with star receivers Davone Bess, Jason Rivers and Ryan Grice-Mullen, the line isn't remotely as good as last year's and the running game will desperately miss Nate Ilaoa. David Farmer has to add the run to the run and shoot, or else Brennan won't be nearly as effective. Even so, expect video game numbers out of the nation's best passing attack. Defense: With defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville gone, Greg McMackin will change the D from a 3-4 to a 4-3, even though the one weak spot, at least early on, is experience on the line. The linebackers will be excellent with good depth behind top tacklers Adam Leonard and Solomon Elimimian, and they won't have to do as much compared to last year with a more conservative, though not that much, overall defensive approach. Three starters return to a secondary that needs to be far tighter and far more clutch in big situations.

2. Boise State Predicted record: 10-2 Conf. record: 7-1 Best Offensive Player: RB Ian Johnson, Jr. Best Defensive Player: S Marty Tadman, Sr. Offense: As the Fiesta Bowl showed, there isn't a more creative offensive coaching staff in the country, but the attack, led by a Heisman caliber back in Ian Johnson working behind a tremendous line, could look positively vanilla (by Boise State standards) early on. Ryan Clady leads a dominant front five with four starters returning, and they'll need to be even stronger in pass protection with the quarterback situation unsettled. Taylor Tharp is a good, accurate passer, while Bush Hamdan is a big-armed runner who'll throw it all over the place. The receiving corps has potential, but the top four pass catchers have to be replaced. Even so, look for several different formations and several different looks from game to game. Defense: As expected, the defense was the best in the WAC last year and should be fantastic again with seven starters returning. Stopping the run will be goal one, and it can be with a fantastic returning pass defense. The secondary will be great with safety Marty Tadman and the corner tandem of Orlando Scandrick and Kyle Wilson returning, while the linebacking corps, even with the loss of Korey Hall, will be a strength with Derrell Acrey expected to step up and star, with veterans Kyle Gingg and David Shields keeping the run defense strong. Mike Williams and Nick Schlekeway form a good end tandem, but the tackles will be the team's biggest question mark outside of the quarterback situation.

T3. Fresno State Predicted record: 6-6 Conf. record: 5-3 Best Offensive Player: TE Bear Pascoe, Jr. Best Defensive Player: DE Tyler Clutts, Sr. Offense: New offensive coordinator Jim McElwain will pump some life into a stagnant passing game with a wide-open attack featuring some funky, multi-receiver formations while not running quite as much. Call it playing to the strengths, as the receiving corps is lightning fast, but untested, while Tom Brandstater, who struggled mightily last year, is still a talent who appears ready to make a big jump and become a major player. The running game will suffer without Dwayne Wright, but Lonyae Wright and Clifton Smith should be decent. The line is the strength of the team with four starters returning to a group that allowed just 12 sacks. Defense: After a tremendous 2005 season when the defense dominated, last year was a step back, especially in the secondary. Enough overall experience returns to be better, but the line has to do more to get into the backfield and the corners have to pick off more passes after taking away just three. There's plenty of speed and athleticism in the linebacking corps to swarm to the ball, and there's size and pass rushing ability from the front four, but there have to be more big plays and more takeaways.

T3. Nevada Predicted record: 7-5 Conf. record: 5-3 Best Offensive Player: C Dominic Green, Jr. Best Defensive Player: LB Ezra Butler, Sr. Offense: The offense is going to be a work in progress and should be far better midseason than it will be to start. The biggest question marks are on the offensive line, particularly at tackle, after Charles Manu moved to guard and Dominic Green move to center. The receiving corps is big, faster than last year, and should make more big plays with big-armed Nick Graziano taking over at quarterback. The running backs need Brandon Fragger to be healthy to add a speed option along with Luke Lippencott. The Pistol offense will likely use a little more fullback this year, and will try to push the passing game deeper. Defense: There will be some new defensive coaches taking over with coordinator Ken Wilson keeping the 3-4 scheme to take advantage of the great linebackers. Ezra Butler, Jeremy Engstrom, and Joshua Mauga are as good as any trio in the WAC, and will be the team's strength. The line is solid, helped by the emergence of nose tackle Matt Hines as a top all-around playmaker. The secondary is fine, but nothing special; the better WAC passing games won't have a problem against it.

T3. San Jose State Predicted record: 6-6 Conf. record: 5-3 Best Offensive Player: QB Adam Tafralis, Sr. Best Defensive Player: LB Matt Castelo, Sr. Offense: The offense wasn't always explosive, but it was steady, didn't give the ball away, kept the chains moving, and got the job done. Expect more of the same if the offensive line can quickly replace three starters and the new recruits for the receiving corps can play right away. The passing game loses the top three targets and 141 of 181 catches, so ultra-efficient QB Adam Tafralis has to be even better. Yonus Davis leads a small, quick, veteran group of running backs that can take it the distance with a little bit of room. Defense: The Spartan defense took a giant leap forward giving up yards, but not a whole bunch of points allowing fewer than 24 in ten of the final 11 games. Seven starters are back from the ball-hawking crew led by tackling machine Matt Castelo at middle linebacker and corners Dwight Lowery and Christopher Owens. The defensive front has to do a better overall job, and it will now that it's experienced after cutting its teeth last season. Jarron Gilbert and Justin Cole will be pass rushing terrors. Expect this group to give up plenty of yards, but also come up with more than its share of takeaways.

6. New Mexico State Predicted record: 5-8 Conf. record: 3-5 Best Offensive Player: QB Chase Holbrook, Jr. Best Defensive Player: FS Derrick Richardson, Jr. Offense: So that's how it's supposed to work? With Chase Holbrook at the helm, the Aggies finished third in the nation in total offense averaging 475 yards a game, 15th in scoring averaging 31 points a game, and second in passing averaging 399 yards per game. Those numbers might seem pedestrian this year if everyone stays healthy. Nine starters return including the top seven pass catchers, starting running back Jeremiah Williams, four linemen, and of course, Holbrook, who'll be one of the nation's statistical leaders all year long if the line, which found the right combination late last year, gives him just a little more time. Defense: Big plays, big plays, big plays. The call has gone out from defensive coordinator Woody Widenhofer for the defense to use all its experience, with eight returning starters (with safety Gerald Gurrier moving to receiver) to find a way to force more turnovers, come up with more stops on third downs, and most importantly, generate a pass rush. The Aggies came up with a mere 15 sacks and 55 tackles for loss last year, and those numbers need to double to give the beleaguered secondary any shot of being better. There isn't a whole bunch of talent from top to bottom, so everyone will have to be ultra-aggressive and more consistent.

7. Idaho Predicted record: 3-9 Conf. record: 2-6 Best Offensive Player: RB Jayson Bird, Jr. Best Defensive Player: CB Stanley Franks, Sr. Offense: Same idea, different implementation. The new coaching staff will go with a one-back set using four and five-wide formations, sort of like the old coaching staff did, but there will be an even bigger emphasis on tough running. That's a good thing with the strength in the running back corps with four good players, led by junior Jayson Bird, to carry the offense early on. The quarterback situation will be settled this fall with the likely winner being 6-5 redshirt freshman Nathan Enderle, but the receiving corps is going to be a work in progress well into the season. The starting five up front should be fine due to its experience, but it's nothing special. Defense: There's experience and all-star talent to work with, so why was the Vandal defense so miserable last season? The line. The front four has to find tackles that can stop the run, and ends that can get into the backfield. If that happens, there could be a night-and-day improvement as the coaching staff looks to attack, attack, and attack some more. With MLB JoArtis Ratti back and healthy, he should combine with David Vobora to create the WAC's most dangerous linebacking duo. Corner Stanley Franks is an interception machine, and safety Shiloh Keo is an undersized hitter. Now everything has to start working around those four.

8. Louisiana Tech Predicted record: 2-10 Conf. record: 1-7 Best Offensive Player: RB Patrick Jackson, Jr. Best Defensive Player: LB Brannon Jackson, Sr. Offense: It's not like the offense was awful last year, but it wasn't consistent and it didn't do enough to keep in all the shootouts created by its defense. Enough talent returns to look for more overall production, especially in the running game where Patrick Jackson should shine behind a big, veteran offensive line that can block, but can't pass protect. The quarterback situation will be worth watching with Zac Champion likely to get the job to start the season, but will be pushed by Michael Mosley and Ross Jenkins for time. Defense: 2006 was expected to be a year of transition, but yeesh. The D was the worst in America allowing 483 yards and close to 42 points per game, and it was simply awful from start to finish. Step one for the new coaching staff is to find a way to get into the backfield after the Bulldogs finished dead last in sacks and tackles for loss, and it'll alternated between a 3-4 and a 4-3 to try to get some production. The linebacking corps should be decent, the secondary can fly, and the defensive line is full of decent-sized veterans. Now there has to be come semblance of production.

9. Utah State Predicted record: 0-12 Conf. record: 0-8 Best Offensive Player: WR/PR Kevin Robinson, Sr. Best Defensive Player: DE Ben Calderwood, Jr. Offense: The offense did next to nothing last season scoring fewer than 14 points seven times and finishing averaging 10.83 points and 254 yards per game. The offensive line isn't bad and the starting receivers, led by Kevin Robinson, are solid, but the quarterback situation isn't settled with Riley Nelson out on a church mission, and there's no experience whatsoever at running back after Marcus Cross transferred. Basically, the attack needs to find one thing it can do well. Defense: If experience counts for anything, the Aggies should be far better with 11 returning starters and a ton of veteran backups ready to fill in. Now the defense has to stop someone after getting ripped apart by just about everyone. How bad did things get? The Aggies allowed an average of 48.8 points per game over the final five games. Ben Calderwood leads an undersized line that has to do more to get into the backfield. The corners are way too small, the linebackers are way too small, and the tackles are way too small. If the overall team quickness isn't accounting for big plays, there will be problems.

Team That'll Surprise:New Mexico State – The offense will simply bomb the weaker teams into submission. The Aggie defense couldn’t stop you and your grandma’s knitting circle from scoring, but when you have an attack that’ll roll for close to 500 yards per game, little things like stopping the opposition don’t tend to matter. There are just enough cream-puffs (SE Louisiana? Arkansas Pine-Bluff?!) to keep the Aggies in the hunt for a bowl game.

Team That'll Disappoint: Boise State – When you’ve lost one game or less in four of the last five years, dropping two would qualify as a disappointment, especially if it means the Broncos don’t win the WAC again. After the Fiesta Bowl, everyone will expect that every time out, and it’s not going to happen. Ho hum, the team that’s rebuilding a bit on both sides might slip into a disastrous abyss … and go 10-2.

Offensive Player of the Year- QB Colt Brennan, Sr. Hawaii – He could throw for 5,000 yards and 45 touchdown passes and some will be disappointed he didn’t break 6,000 and sixty. The stats could overshadow his leadership if the Warriors win the WAC title.

Defensive Player of the Year- LB Ezra Butler, Sr. Nevada – Being the WAC’s best defensive player is sort of like being the winner of a Don Imus look-alike contest, but Butler really is good. He’s a terror in the backfield with a league-leading 17.5 tackles for loss last season, and he’s the type of veteran leader who can make the Wolf Pack defense shine in the offensive-mad conference.

5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight:

1. WR Chris Williams, Jr. New Mexico State

2. WR Davone Bess, Jr. Hawaii 3. DE Ben Calderwood, Jr. Utah State 4. LB Matt Castelo, Sr, San Jose State 5. LB David Vobora, Sr. Idaho

Coach on the Hot Seat: Brent Guy, Utah State- After going 4-19 in his first two seasons, and likely needing to pull off a big upset to come up with a victory this year, Guy’s team at least has to show signs of being ultra-competitive to be around for year four.

5 Non-Conference Games the WAC opponents had better take, very, very seriously: 1. Kansas State at Fresno State, Nov. 24 2. San Jose State at Arizona State, Sept. 1 3. New Mexico State at New Mexico, Sept. 8 4. Nevada at Northwestern, Sept. 1 5. Fresno State at Texas A&M, Sept. 8

5 Best Pro Prospects: 1. QB Colt Brennan, Sr. Hawaii 2. CB Dwight Lowery, Sr. San Jose State 3. WR Davone Bess, Jr. Hawaii 4. OL Jeff Cavender, Sr. Boise State 5. QB Chase Holbrook, Jr. New Mexico State

5 Biggest Shoes to Fill: 1. Taylor Tharp or Bush Hamdan for Jared Zabransky, QB Boise State 2. Josh Bean for Korey Hall, LB Boise State 3. B.J. Batts, Jayson Rego and Kealoha Pilares for Nate Ilaoa, RB Hawaii 4. Nick Graziano for Jeff Rowe, QB Nevada 5. Lonyae Miller or Clifton Smith for Dwayne Wright, RB Fresno State

5 Bold Predictions 1. Hawaii and New Mexico State will wage a war for the ages. October 27th. Make sure you’re schedule is clear to watch two of the nation’s best offenses (if not the top two) put on a show. The Warriors won 49-30 last year with the two combining for 956 yards of total offense. Expect 100 points and well over 1,000 yards. 2. Boise State will slip a bit before roaring back in 2008. Fine, so a slip for Boise State still might mean a double-digit win season, but the team will play more like 2005 (when it went 9-4) than 2006. Next year, the program will be back to BCS challenging form. 3. No one will keep Hawaii to under forty points. Sound crazy? Only Alabama, Boise State and Oregon State were able to do it last year, and even those games were tight until the end. The offense rolled for over sixty in four games and should do that in at least six. 4. Utah State won’t win. At least, the Aggies won’t be favored. The easiest game on the slate is at Idaho. The second easiest is against Louisiana Tech. The team will be far better than last season when it struggled to do anything offensively, but it still won’t be enough to turn the woebegone program around. 5. Fresno State won’t pull off any big upsets, but San Jose State will. The Bulldogs will have their chances against Texas A&M and Oregon in early September, but they won’t have enough run defense to come away with wins. However, the Spartans will beat either Arizona State, Kansas State, or Stanford (if that’s actually an upset).

What Will Happen: The focus and attention will be off Boise State after an early loss at Washington. Then things will quickly change as Chris Petersen’s club rolls through the WAC schedule, including an emotionally-charged battle at Fresno State, only to lose at Hawaii to close things out. - Hawaii won’t lose. As long as Colt Brennan stays healthy, the Warriors will be this year’s dangerous WAC threat for the BCS. The toughest non-conference game is against Washington at home. The toughest road date is at Nevada. - The loser of the San Jose State – Fresno State game on October 20th will be eliminated from a bowl game. - Hawaii, Boise State, and Nevada will go bowling.

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Re: 2007 WAC Preview

SJSU: Was it a one-year wonder?
San Jose Mercury News

San Jose State was one of the best stories in college football last fall, when it went 9-4 and won its first bowl game in 16 years.

What can the Spartans do for an encore?

"We want to be the team that really turns San Jose State around," quarterback Adam Tafralis said. "We want bigger. We want better."

When the Spartans open camp Tuesday, they will be looking to pick up where they left off last season. Most of the key players from that breakthrough squad return, including 15 starters. The Spartans face a more difficult schedule - only five home games - but expectations have not been this high in years.

"If we all do our job, this will be our best team," said Coach Dick Tomey, whose squad has won 11 of its past 15 games dating to the 2005 season. "Whether we can get a better result, that's to be seen."

The Spartans have a lot of work to do before the Sept. 1 opener at Arizona State. Here are the three big questions to be answered in fall camp:

Who will emerge

at wide receiver?

Tafralis in 2006 had one of the greatest seasons by an SJSU quarterback, completing 65.6 percent of his passes and throwing for 21 touchdowns (with seven interceptions). But all of his primary targets are gone: James Jones and John Broussard, both now in the NFL, and Chester Coleman accounted for 141 of the 147 passes caught by receivers last season and all 18 touchdowns.

No fewer than 10 players will compete for the receiving jobs, and none of the candidates has caught more than eight passes at the Division I-A level.

"If we're looking for another James Jones, he's not there and we can't expect that he'll be there for a while," Tomey said, "but I believe our receiver corps as a whole will be better as the season gets into full swing."

Entering camp, most of the buzz surrounds junior college transfers David Richmond, Terrance Williams and Kyle Flynn and freshman Josh Harrison. Returners Michael Hooper, Jalal Beauchman, Kevin Jurovich and Jacob French performed well in spring camp.

"We're starting to get on the same page," said Tafralis, who worked out with most of the receivers this summer.

Can the defense handle

inexperience at safety?

The Spartans yielded less than 21 points per game last season (down from nearly 33 in 2005), largely because a vastly improved secondary took away the deep threat.

All-American Dwight Lowery and Christopher Owens return to make up one of the best cornerback tandems in the country. But the top five safeties from last season are gone, leaving a group of inexperienced players to fill crucial spots on a defense that returns seven starters.

Dominique Hunsucker, the 2005 Central Coast Section player of the year as a running back at Valley Christian High, made the transition to safety late last season. Junior college transfers Andrew Ryan, a spring standout, and Jonathan Harris are expected to vie for the other starting spot, with Dimitrous Chattman, Joe Bates and freshman Duke Ihenacho also in the mix.

"There is no reason we can't be one of the top defenses in the conference," Lowery said. "We don't have a lot of experience at the safety position, but that is what camp is for, to learn the tools of the trade."

Can the team handle

raised expectations?

After a run of 12 losing seasons in 13, San Jose State is coming off a campaign in which almost everything went its way. Not surprisingly, confidence is brimming. Players have set their sights on the program's first Western Athletic Conference title and, with so many key pieces returning, appear to be in position to make a serious run.

Tomey has, as promised, instilled a winning attitude. In fact, only a handful of these players were around for the 2-9 season in 2004 that preceded Tomey's arrival or even the 3-8 foundation-setting season in 2005.

"We have to remind the new guys who came in and won right away all the hard work that was put in for that to happen," senior linebacker Matt Castelo said.

The Spartans probably will enter the season with a chip on their shoulder. They were picked to finish fifth by both the media and the conference coaches at WAC media day, and most preseason magazines put them no higher than third.

"It's not an unrealistic thing for people to say that, because we have only put in one good year," Tafralis said. "When you start stacking wins, that's when people take you seriously."

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Re: 2007 WAC Preview

WAC Conference Preview

Boise State goes for six straight but Hawai'i picked No. 1

For the first time in its history, the Western Athletic Conference put together a spring prospectus in April to update the media on its teams. On the heels of Boise State's miraculous win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl - aka "The Game of the Century" - and with two legitimate Heisman candidates and the possibility of another BCS bowl game, the league finally has the on-field product to market.And market it has.

The Heisman glow around the conference is unmistakable. Record-setting Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan seems the likeliest candidate - if you're not sold, check out Hawaii's official Heisman campaign DVD, "A Colt Following" - to become the conference's only Heisman winner besides Ty Detmer, who won in 1990 when BYU was still part of the conference. Boise running back Ian Johnson may be a bit of a dark horse, but he's the type of story the media can't get enough of.

The country is starting to pick up on the rising WAC and realize there's more to it than Boise State and its blue turf. Here's a run down of the country's most pass-happy conference.

Hawaii - 2006: 11-3 Overall, 7-1 WAC


Though some point to the pass-happy Hawai'i system and weak competition to explain Hawai'i quarterback Colt Brennan's mind-boggling numbers, they are impressive: 5,549 yards, 58 touchdowns, and just 12 interceptions last season landed him sixth in the Heisman balloting, and he will likely smash Ty Detmer's career record of 121 touchdowns with just 29 to go. But Brennan isn't a one-man team, and he'll have plenty of help from a receiving corps head coach June Jones said "may be the best receivers that I've ever had. And that includes some of my pro teams." Davone Bess and Jason Rivers both produced over 1,100 yards last season, and Ryan Grice-Mullen would have topped 1,000 if he hadn't missed four games. The offensive line only has two returning starters, losing three players to the NFL, but there are several younger players ready to step up from Hawaii's recruiting central: American Samoa. The big question is the running game, where the Warriors will have to replace the WAC's most efficient runner, Nate Ilaoa, who ran for 7.6 yards a carry last season. There is a committee of young players looking to take over, with redshirt freshmen Kealoha Pilares and Nebraska transfer Leon Wright-Jackson looking like the most likely candidates.


With Brennan and Co. routinely scoring 40 points - twice they hit 68 last season - defense has been an after-thought. But Jones has made an effort to improve the squad this season, particularly with the addition of defensive coordinator Greg McMackin, who plans to switch back to a 4-3 defense. The line is a question mark, where Michael Lafaele is the only returning starter while the Warriors have to replace NFL prospects Ikaika Alama-Francis and Melila Purcell. Jones expects eight or nine players to compete for the other three spots. A veteran linebacking corps is the heart of the defense this year, with All-WAC selections Solomon Elimimian and Adam Leonard leading the charge along with several backups who have starting experience in last year's 3-4 scheme. The coaches are particularly high on sophomore Blaze Soares, who they expect to step up into a starting role. A young secondary struggled last year, but the coaches are hoping a year of taking their lumps means this year will be an improvement.

The Skinny

A non-conference schedule that typically includes teams like Alabama, Purdue, and Oregon State has been replaced with Northern Colorado and Charleston Southern, so a loss for Hawaii in its first eight games would be a shock. A difficult final stretch is another story. Wins against Fresno State and at Nevada should come, but then five-time conference champs Boise State come to Honolulu for what should be a matchup between two undefeated teams - and possibly with a BCS bowl bid on the line. There's little doubt that Brennan will put up Heisman-worthy numbers, but if he hopes to be invited to New York, an undefeated season is all but required. Most of the national media is obsessed with the trick plays and marriage proposals - not to ignore the good football - at Boise State, but the local writers picked Hawaii to win, and if Hawaii can beat the Broncos for the first time since both teams joined the WAC, the Warriors could be this year's Boise.

Boise State - 2006: 13-0 Overall, 8-0 WAC


The team with the best record in the country since 1999 has to answer a big question for the first time in three years: who will replace starting quarterback Jared Zabransky? Coach Chris Petersen has four quarterbacks looking to keep up Zabransky's 33-5 record as a starter, and the coach claims he doesn't know which one will be starting yet - never a good sign. The likely candidates are Zabransky's backup Taylor Tharp, the experienced candidate, or junior Bush Hamdan, who has the better arm and more mobility. Thankfully for whoever steps in to Zabransky's shoes, Fiesta Bowl hero Ian Johnson is a dark horse Heisman candidate after finishing 8th in the voting last year and may be the country's best running back not named Slaton or McFadden. If the Broncos are to get back to a BCS bowl, Johnson will have to repeat last season's performance when he led the nation with 25 touchdowns and was second in yards per game. He'll be running behind four returning offensive linemen, led by All-American stud tackle Ryan Clady, who started all 13 games for the Broncos last season. The wide receiving corps is deep but young and without a true star, so the big question mark will be seeing how the new quarterback meshes with equally fresh targets.


Though the Boise State defense was glossed over in the coverage of last year's Fiesta Bowl - you can't run hook-and-ladders and the Statue of Liberty on defense, after all - the Bronco defense was actually the team's stronger unit and tops in the conference. Unfortunately, there were considerable losses from the nation's 8th best run defense. Losing WAC Defensive Player of the Year Korey Hall leaves a gaping hole in the linebacking corps, but thankfully this is also the team's deepest position. The secondary returns three of four starters, led by hard-hitting safety Marty Tadman, but the toughest replacement may be defensive tackle Andrew Browning - the guy Peterson says is the graduated senior he would want back most, even over Zabransky. Boise has a history of tough defenses, and the young players stepping up have a full season to get ready for Brennan and Hawaii in the season's final game.

The Skinny

"Alright, who's got non-Fiesta Bowl questions?" Petersen asked reporters last week, hoping to move on from the story line that has defined his team since January. And you can't blame him for trying to escape an unenviable position: having to outdo winning possibly the greatest bowl game of all time. And after losing 23 seniors, including 11 who ended up in NFL camps, it isn't a foregone conclusion that Boise will repeat the performance. But a defense that isn't going to give up many points and a running attack led by Johnson will make the new quarterback's transition that much easier. The Broncos are playing an odd schedule, with two games each on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday, and an October span of 3 games in 13 days. If they can get by that, a Thanksgiving weekend match-up in Honolulu should decide if Boise State gets a sixth straight WAC title - and a shot at topping last year's bowl memory.

San Jose State - 2006: 9-4 Overall, 5-3 WAC


Hawaii has the best passing game in the conference, Ian Johnson gives Boise the top ground attack, but who has the best overall offense? It might be San Jose State. Quarterback Adam Tafralis would be a shoe-in for All-WAC honors if some guy named Brennan had leapt to the NFL, but as it stands he'll have to settle for having the 11th best passer rating in the country last season. With an 11-4 record as a starter, the big challenge for Tafralis will be finding new targets after the loss of top receivers James Jones and John Broussard. The receivers are young and inexperienced, with tight end Jeff Clark the leading returning receiver. But what Tafralis has that Brennan doesn't is two-time All-WAC selection Yonus Davis in the backfield. The first Spartan since 2000 to rush for more than 1,000 yards, the lightning-quick Davis averaged 6.2 yards a carry and gives SJSU the WAC's most balanced attack. Up front all five linemen will be upperclassmen, led by junior center Justin Paysinger. The Spartans also return two all-WAC performers in punter Waylon Prather and kicker Jared Strubeck.


The lynchpin of the defense is pretty obvious: All-American cornerback Dwight Lowery, who finished second nationally in interceptions last season, with nine. The comparison made by head coach Dick Tomey is also an easy one: former Spartan, and current Baltimore Raven, Chris McAlister. "The best thing about Dwight Lowery has nothing to do with his interceptions, or his performance on the field. He's as serious as a heart attack these days." Lowery broke his jaw in the spring and had his mouth wired shut for about seven weeks but didn't lose a pound and should see no after effects. It's because of Lowery and fellow cornerback Christopher Owens, who locks down opposing receivers, that Tomey can institute a new form of the "Desert Swarm" attacking defense he made famous as head coach at Arizona in the early 90s. And though Lowery is the star of the defense, the heart is all 5-10, 230 pounds of linebacker Matt Castelo: the nation's No. 2 returning tackler, having compiled 256 tackles the past two seasons and 18 tackles in the New Mexico Bowl win. The defensive line should be much improved, after using eight freshmen at different times last year, but the secondary and linebackers that will make or break the Spartans' defense.

The Skinny

The improvement for SJSU in recent years has been startling, and along with a 300 percent improvement in fan attendance in the past two years, the Spartans should go bowling in back-to-back years for the first time since 1987. A rough early schedule at Arizona State, Kansas State, and Stanford could trip up the Spartans, but this team is built for WAC play. With the best secondary in a pass-happy conference, the Spartans may have the best chance at upsetting Hawaii if the defensive line can get enough pressure on Brennan to allow Lowery and Owens to shut down the receivers. Back-to-back games at Fresno State and Boise State could decide where the Spartans land in the top half of the conference, but with good experience at key positions, Coach Tomey says this will be his best squad.

Nevada - 2006: 8-5 Overall, 5-3 WAC


Nevada's modified shotgun formation, or "pistol" offense, will be under new leadership after the loss of three-year starter and NFL draft choice Jeff Rowe. Though a lot of Wolf Pack faithful are putting their hopes in redshirt freshmen Colin Kaepernick, a 6-6 rocket-armed quarterback who fits the Nevada offense, the snaps early in the season will likely go to Nick Graziano, who is surprisingly mobile for his 6-1, 210-pound frame, and was near perfect in the spring game. "Both of these kids have very strong arms, both can run the ball, both can get the ball downfield, but I'm anxious to see them in competition because I'm looking for a quarterback that can manage our offense," says head coach Chris Ault. That quarterback will have to play behind an offensive line that is strong inside, but weak and inexperienced in the tackle spots. The running game lost leading rusher Robert Hubbard, but Luke Lippincott started five games for the Wolf Pack and is expected to be the every-down back, though he'll share time with sophomore Brandon Fragger and speedy, converted-receiver Dwayne Sanders. The receiving corps may be the deepest, and perhaps best group on the team. Ault loves the speed this group has, and expects them to be a big part of helping the new quarterback.


Eight starters return from the WAC's second-best defense last season, and Ault's most experienced group may be the best defensive squad in the conference this year. The linebackers in the Wolf Pack's 3-4 scheme are the key to the defense, particularly the outside duo of Ezra Butler and Jeremy Engstrom. Butler, with 17.5 tackles for loss last season and sub-4.5 speed, gets most of the attention as a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, but Ault expects Engstrom to be the team's biggest surprise in his second year as a starter. Josh Mauga moved to middle linebacker to make room for Engstrom and Butler, and is the lynchpin of the defense behind an experienced front line whose primary job is to allow the second-line to make stops. Competition in the secondary should be fierce, with several freshmen getting a chance to play, along with some experienced players, particularly hard-hitting safety Jonathon Amaya. "The defense has gotta be the difference in trying to compete for a championship," says Ault.

The Skinny

With around 2/3 of the squad freshmen or sophomores, week one could be rough introduction for the young team: a date with Nebraska in Lincoln. But there is enough talent on the team to make a run at a third straight bowl game, and possibly challenge for the top spot in the conference. Whether or not the Wolf Pack can push Hawaii or Boise, let alone San Jose State, may depend on how well the new quarterback adjusts. The defense should be good enough to control the stellar offenses at the top of the conference, but it's the Wolf Pack's own offense that will need to play better if the program is going to take another big step. This team should improve as the season goes along, so a November upset of Hawaii at home - a week before the Warriors face Boise - isn't out of the question.

Fresno State - 2006: 4-8 Overall, 4-4 WAC


Whither David Carr? The days of the Heisman Trophy candidate giving defensive coordinators nightmares in Bulldog Stadium seem ages ago after the Bulldogs finished 101st in passing offense last season. Junior quarterback Tom Brandstater had a rough debut season, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns, and head coach Pat Hill brought in his third offensive coordinator in three seasons, Jim McElwain, to revamp a defunct offensive machine. Leading receiver Chastin West will be back, but even he grabbed just 365 yards last season. The backfield has equally tough shoes to fill, tasked with replacing 1,400-yard rusher Dwayne Wright, with the duty likely to fall by committee to sophomores Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding. Both runners will have four athletic returning starters to help them on the offensive line, anchored in the middle by center Ryan Wendell and guard Cole Popovich. Ask any coach in the WAC, and they will insist that legendary coach Hill will have his offense back on top soon. The skill players are there to make improvement, and a Week 2 match up with Texas A&M will test the progress quickly.


Six starters return for the defense, but there are even more question marks all over the field. Jason Shirley anchors the defensive line, but the defensive ends and linebackers are largely untested. Transfers Jason Roberts and Chris Lewis, from Washington State and Miami, respectively, will compete to give the team a pass rushing presence off the edge. The linebacking corps will be aided by the return of Marcus Riley from a knee injury in 2005, but only middle linebacker Ahijah Lane has any starting experience. The biggest questions are in the secondary. Three starters will likely be sophomores, and Damon Jenkins led the secondary with a paltry three interceptions. Free safety Marvin Haynes was one of only a few bright spots last season as a freshman, and his development could be crucial in helping the young secondary progress.

The Skinny

Don't ask head coach Pat Hill about 2006. There wasn't much worth saying about the 1-7 start for a team that just six years ago was 11-3 and the pride of the mid-major conferences. This year will likely be rebuilding for the Bulldogs as some younger players find their roles, but the potential for a run at a bowl game is there. For one thing, after a rough start at Texas A&M and Oregon, the schedule is fairly forgiving for the Bulldogs. Fresno has more balance than most of the teams in the top half of the conference, but they also lack the one true weapon that might allow them to make a run at the title. If the team doesn't break .500 - a possibility - the WAC's highest paid coach, Hill, could be on the hot seat after not winning a conference title since 1999.

New Mexico State - 2006: 4-8 Overall, 2-6 WAC


Calling the New Mexico State offense unbalanced would be unfair. It's a matter of the scale. The Aggies' "Air Raid" offense throws the ball twice as often as they run, and it shows: the Aggies had the second best passing game in the country, and the nation's sixth worst running game. Colt Brennan may get all the Heisman attention, but Chase Holbrook fell just behind Brennan in most national statistical categories. Holbrook will have all of his top seven receivers from last year, including the 1,425 yards from speedy Chris Williams. Running back Justine Buries returns from a season-ending knee injury last season and improvement from him will be needed to provide some sort of a diversified attack. Both the running and passing attack will benefit from an offensive line that returns four starters, losing right guard Maveu Hemuli to a Mormon mission. If Buries can provide some sort of offense, the NMSU attack could be among the most potent in the conference, and even the country. They'll need to put the ball in the end zone, though: Aggie kickers combined to go just 4 of 10 on field goals, missing seven PAT's as well.


As good as the Aggies are at throwing the ball, they're just as bad at stopping other teams through the air, ranking 98th in pass defense. Head coach Hal Mumme will need to find two serviceable corners quickly if he hopes to keep the WAC's high-flying offenses under 40 points a game. Three starters are back from last season's secondary, including leading tackler Derrick Richardson, but it's pass coverage, not tackling, that has Mumme worried. All three starters return on the front line of Mumme's 3-4 defense, but will need to do better than last year's total of 12 sacks to ease the pressure on New Mexico State's weak secondary. The linebacking crew will have new faces, but also one of the team's more promising players on the defensive side in Dante Floyd. The defense won't be dominant, and probably not even above-average, but it doesn't have to be. Holding opponents under 30, or even 40, may be good enough for Holbrook and company.

The Skinny

If any team in the bottom half of the conference has a chance to make a surprise bowl run, the Aggies might it - but it all hinges on the arm of Chase Holbrook. If nothing else, anything less than 100 points combined in the Oct. 27 match up with Brennan in Honolulu would be a disappointment. The players have set two goals for this season: beating local rivals New Mexico and UTEP in September, and winning the conference title. The latter is probably a few years off, but the former is certainly doable this season. Either way, Coach Mumme has an exciting team to watch, and a program moving in the right direction.

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Re: 2007 WAC Preview

Louisiana Tech - 2006: 3-10 Overall, 1-7 WAC


New head coach Derek Dooley has exactly zero years of head coaching experience - at any level. And his first year in the top spot won't be an easy one. Quarterback Zac Champion will be back under center for the second season, though last year was a mixed bag of success for him, throwing for 2,466 yards - 46th in the nation - but also throwing four more interceptions (18) than touchdowns (14). Coach Dooley puts it simply, if with a bit of defeatism: "He has to know it's OK to punt the football." Champion has lost his top two targets from last year, but the running game will give him a breather. Patrick Jackson averaged over five yards a carry and will have three experienced linemen to run behind, including bookend senior tackles Ryan Considine and Tyler Miller. With some more consistency from Champion in his senior campaign, the Bulldogs have a shot at joining the top offenses in the conference.


The good news is that the defense returns 10 starters. The bad news is that those starters were part of the worst statistical defense in the country last season. Last in scoring defense, last in total defense, and just one spot better in rushing defense, there's nowhere to go but up. Half of those returning starters were freshmen or sophomores last season, so the added time on the field and in the weight room should provide a boost. Dooley is particularly excited about the interior duo of Josh Muse, who is healthy after an injury-plagued 2006, and sophomore D'Anthony Smith. Linebacker Quin Harris, an Academic All-WAC selection, led the team with 95 tackles last season and is looking to lead a group that returns entirely intact. A young secondary got thrown around by the high-flying passing attacks in the WAC, but Dooley expects them to use that as motivation. It remains to be seen whether that motivation will turn into success.

The Skinny

"I won a couple cases, I got my (butt) kicked a couple times. It was kind of like football," says Dooley about the year and a half he spent as an attorney before entering coaching. Sadly, even the best legal defense won't mean much if the Bulldogs' actual defense doesn't improve. If any past experience will help Dooley at Tech it will be his seven years under Nick Saban at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins - not to mention learning from his dad, former Georgia head coach Vince Dooley. Dooley says that without recruiting and summer camps, coaching in the NFL is "Like getting a PhD in X's and O's. It's football 365 days a year." He'll need that expertise to take a team with some raw young talent - and a program that was the last team to win a conference title besides Boise State, in 2001 - back into the top half of the conference.

Idaho - 2006: 4-8 Overall, 3-5 WAC


There is a lot new head coach Robb Akey has introduced at Idaho. Seventeen players were dismissed from the team this summer. There's a new offense with a one-back package that employs plenty of option plays and designed QB draws. Now Akey just has to figure out who's going to run it. At this point there are three quarterbacks competing for the job, and all are close to even money for having the privilege of leading Idaho in its breather of a first week game: at No. 1 USC. Thankfully, whoever the signal-caller ends up being, he'll have two returning rushers in Brian Flowers and Jayson Bird who can provide some stability in the backfield. And the running game better step up, because no returning receiver gained more than 150 yards last season, though Lee Smith has the speed to provide a deep threat. The line has solid experience with three returning starters, led by center Adam Korby and tackle Kris Anderson.


The Vandals may play in Moscow, Idaho, but their offense has been more of a velvet than an iron curtain: Idaho had the fifth worst scoring defense last season. If there's a bright-spot for Idaho, it's in the linebacking corps. Weak-side linebacker David Vobora was fourth in the country in tackles, and fourth in solo tackles. His numbers might get even better this season when the return from injury of middle linebacker Jo Artis Ratti takes some load off Vobora - the Vandals were 3-3 with Ratti and 0-5 without him last year. Seniors Brandon Ogletree and Josh Bousman have starting experience, a point that may push Akey to switch to a 3-4 defense to lessen the pressure on an inexperienced front line. Lockdown corner Stanley Franks led the nation with nine interceptions, and sophomore safety Shiloh Keo gives the Vandals a solid secondary. If an untested defensive line can get pressure in the backfield, the Idaho defense could be in the top-half of the conference. "If we can play good defense, I think we have a good chance," says Akey.

The Skinny

Change is a fact of life at Idaho - fifth-year quarterback Brian Nooy has seen four different head coaches. Coach Akey is trying to institute a new option-based offense, and maybe even a 3-4 defense, but most of all he's trying to change the culture of Idaho football. The 17 players dismissed from the team over the summer - a process Akey referred to as "the massacre" - was meant to instill a new mindset for his team. It will be tough for the Vandals to get to .500 with non-conference games at USC and Washington State, as well as a tough WAC slate, but Akey has Idaho moving in a new direction, which can't be worse than the old one.

Utah State - 2006: 1-11 Overall, 1-7 WAC


Last season was not good to Utah State on offense. It took five games for the team to even get into the end zone. The likely starter will be Leon Jackson III, who has started 14 games but was benched for Riley Nelson after Jackson threw just three touchdowns, and even worse, had even more passes (five) returned for scores against the Aggies. But Nelson left the team for a planned Mormon mission trip in Spain, so Jackson will be back in the saddle with several experienced targets to throw to, namely all-conference receiver Kevin Robinson. But with new offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey, whose North Texas teams were last in the country in passing, the focus will be on the running game. Unfortunately, there isn't much to speak of at that position (Jackson is the leading returning rusher, with 105 yards). Converted receiver Aaron Lesue will likely share time with freshmen Curtis Marsh, running behind three returning middle linemen. Dickey will also expect Jackson to run with the ball more than Aggie quarterbacks have in the past. Dickey's offense at North Texas ranked 115th in scoring in the country last season, but for better or worse, it's an improvement on Utah State's own rank: 117.


Though the stats weren't particularly good last year, the defense shows promise. Eight starters are back from a side that held Darren McFadden and Arkansas to just 20 points - although the offense, unfortunately, was shut out in that game. The front four will be all upperclassmen and returns three starters, including All-WAC second team selection Ben Calderwood on the edge. But it's in the linebacking corps that most of the promise lies. WAC Freshmen of the Year Paul Igboeli has the most upside, while junior Jake Hutton returns from a foot injury to anchor the middle. Two-year starter Devon Hall and junior college transfer Deshon Benton round out a group that will be leaned on to help a defense that was second-to-last in the WAC. Twenty of the team's top 21 tacklers return, so the question won't be whether the team can tackle, but whether it can make enough tackles to keep the other team out of the end zone.

The Skinny

With 14 starters returning, and only three sophomores expected to start, there is plenty of experience coming back. Unfortunately, that experience is coming back from a school record 11-loss season. The Aggies had few bright spots last year, and after losing Nelson, who had a promising season, it will be tough going on offense in particular. If the Aggies hope to win a few games in the WAC - not to mention avoid a shellacking at Oklahoma - it will be the Aggie defense that has to carry the load. As for the team's goals, Dickey has been modest. "You have to have a winning season first. Each year we've seen a team in this league jump up from the bottom-half to the top-half, like San Jose State. We have to be San Jose State."

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