1. Nevada Wolf Pack-
With Boise State out of the picture, the top 4 teams in the WAC are very evenly matched and it could be anybody's conference. However, I feel like Nevada has the best shot at the title for one big reason. Because they return only return 12 starters and have lost star QB Colin Kaepernick and others to the NFL, this team will not be as talented as last year's. However, the primary reason they are my 2011 favorites is their extremely favorable schedule. They only play 3 conference road games, and they are against the conference's 3 worst teams. Altitude is always a factor and will add to their home field advantage. They also don't play talented, but warm weather teams, Hawaii and LA Tech, until back-to-back weeks in cold November. If the Wolf Pack doesn't manage to win the WAC, it will be no one's fault but theirs.
2. Hawaii Warriors-
I firmly believe Hawaii to be the most talented team in the WAC this year, despite returning only 9 starters (3 on offense). I've been impressed with QB Bryant Moniz whenever I've watched him and he is perfect to lead Hawaii's explosive offense. The fact that their defense is more experienced than the offense is probably a good thing, because the offensive scheme can make up for some rawness. 2 of their 3 toughest conference games are on the road, and if they had a schedule like Nevada's I would certainly chose them 1st. For now though, they remain my close 2nd.
3. Fresno State Bulldogs-
Fresno finds itself right in the middle of a very evenly matched top 4 of the 2011 WAC. They only return 10 starters, but I am very interested to see how QB Derek Carr (younger brother of former Houston Texan's QB David Carr) does leading the Bulldogs. The conference schedule is manageable, but the OOC slate is tough. Road games against Hawaii and Nevada should result in losses and place FSU at a solid 3rd in the conference standings.
4. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs-
The other bulldogs of the WAC, though talented this year, should still be chasing FSU. QB Colby Cameron is a question, but he is surrounded by a good o-line and a great RB and WR. The d-line is also solid. The schedule difficulty is similar to FSU: 2 tough conference road games and a very challenging OOC. If Cameron steps up, this team could easily compete for the title. A finish in the top half of the conference is to be expected, but myself, and most experts, anticipate 4th.
5. Idaho Vandals-
Idaho finds themselves in a somewhat disappointing position in 2011. They appear much better than the conferences bottom 3, but not good enough to crack the top 4. Thus, they are stuck in the middle. They lose virtually every major contributor to last season's offense, but the defense is salty and experienced. Replacements at QB and RB are solid as well. Idaho's best shot at a title would be if the top four evenly beat each other to the point that a tie is created including the Vandals.
6. San Jose State Spartans-
For what it's worth, I see SJSU as easily the most talented of the WAC's worst teams. 18 returning starters make the Spartans among the WAC's most experienced teams. An arguement could actually be made that they have the conference's best defense. But will it translate to wins? I will say this: once the WAC is evacuated following this season, SJSU could emerge as one of the WAC's new dominant teams under Coach Mike MacIntyre.
7. Utah State Aggies-
While this could quite possibly be USU's best team in the last 3 years, they lose their QB and their schedule does them no favors. I see multiple upset opportunities, to the point where the Ags could flirt with a winning season, but I'm being conservative and placing them at a safe 7th.
8. New Mexico State Aggies-
NMSU finds themselves in a similar situation to in-state rivals UNM. They are the conference's worst team and are slowly rebuilding. There is nowhere to go but up, especially considering their 16 returning starters. The Ags are in their 2nd year of a new offense and will be improved, but they simply aren't on the same plane as this year's WAC competition. 7th place and beating UNM is the best case scenario.
MY All Conference Team:
|Bryant Moniz, Hawaii|
QB- Bryant Moniz, Hawaii
RB- Lennon Creer, Louisiana Tech
RB- Robbie Rouse, Fresno State
WR- Rishard Matthews, Nevada
WR- Royce Pollard, Hawaii
WR- Ahmad Paige, Louisiana Tech
TE- Kellen Bartlett, Utah State
|Rishard Matthews, Nevada|
C- Jeff Meads, Nevada
OG- Chris Barker, Nevada
OG- Kevin Saia, Louisiana Tech
OT- Matt Cleveland, Idaho
OT- Bryce Harris, Fresno State
DE- Matt Broha, Louisiana Tech
|Bobby Wagner, Utah State|
DT- Logan Harrell, Fresno State
DT- Kaniela Tuipulotu, Hawaii
LB- Corey Paredes, Hawaii
LB- Bobby Wagner, Utah State
LB- Aaron Brown, Hawaii
CB- Isaiah Frey, Nevada
|Duke Ihenacho #2, San Jose State|
S- Duke Ihenacho, San Jose State
S- Duke Williams, Nevada
K- Kevin Goessling, Fresno State
P- Bobby Cowan, Idaho
Ret- Kerwynn Williams, Utah State
5 Games to Watch:
1. Hawaii @ Nevada: A matchup of two of the WAC's best teams, and one of the hardest games on Hawaii's schedule. Nevada has a major homefield advantage, but Hawaii has a lot of talent. Should be a shootout and likely decide the WAC champion.
2. Fresno State @ Nevada: Fresno State is historically a pretty solid road team, and they will need to muster all their past successes in order to get past Nevada at home. Both teams are evenly matched and will be jockeying for position in the WAC championship race.
3. Fresno State @ Hawaii: As I said before, the Bulldogs are strong on the road, but Hawaii is a LONG trip, and the Warriors are tough. Yet another game with major championship implications. Fresno's defense will have their hands full.
4. Louisiana Tech @ Fresno State: This is somewhat of a rivalry game and should have a major impact on the order of the top 4 teams in the final standings. LA Tech is much better than many think and could pull the upset on the road. Both Bulldogs could potentially be in the mix for a WAC championship, and the winner of this game will have a huge advantage over the other.
5. BYU @ Hawaii: The Warriors are one of many WAC schools this year to play BYU. While Hawaii should already be bowl eligible, and this game will have no impact on conference standings, I think this season finale presents a very juicy matchup. I believe these two teams to be fairly evenly matched and I'm excited to watch BYU's improved defense take on Bryant Moniz and his air raid offense.
We're on the home stretch! Last (and probably least) I'll talk through the worst of all BCS conferences and the future home of the TCU Horned Frogs (heck of a deal for us, if you ask me): the Big East! Stay Tuned!!!!