The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 20, 2012

2012 Mountain West Conference Preview

The Mountain West Conference is a continuing league in transition.  Nevada, Fresno State, and Hawaii have left the WAC and joined this league.  Boise State joined last year, but the Broncos will leave for the Big East next season, taking San Diego State with them.  Utah State and San Jose State will come in next year.  Also gone this year is perennial MWC champion TCU.

 

While many expect Boise State to dominate this season, the PiRate Ratings and PiRate Vintage Ratings believe there will be an exciting race for first this season with two or possibly three teams in contention.

 

Here is the preseason media poll from MWC Media Days:

 

 

Mountain West

Votes

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

1

Boise State

27

296

2

Nevada

0

244

3

Fresno State

2

231

4

Wyoming

0

213

5

San Diego State

1

173

6

Air Force

0

170

7

Hawaii

0

116

8

Colorado State

0

111

9

U N L V

0

63

10

New Mexico

0

33

 

Note that Boise State received two second place and one third place vote.

 

The PiRate Ratings have cut three touchdowns from Boise State’s beginning rating for 2012.  Still, the Broncos rank first in the preseason.

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

Mountain West

PiRate

1

Boise State

103.1

2

Nevada

97.6

3

San Diego State

92.0

4

Wyoming

91.8

5

Fresno State

91.7

6

Colorado State

86.9

7

Air Force

85.9

8

Hawaii

82.9

9

New Mexico

79.4

10

U N L V

77.5

  The PiRate Vintage Ratings show this race to be much closer.

 

Vintage Ratings

Rank

Mountain West

Vintage

1

Boise State

103

2

Nevada

101

3

Air Force

97

4

Fresno State

95

5

San Diego State

94

6

Colorado State

92

7

Wyoming

89

8

Hawaii

87

9

New Mexico

83

10

U N L V

80

 

 

Team

Air Force Falcons

               
Head Coach

Troy Calhoun

               
Colors

Royal Blue and Silver

               
City

Colorado Springs, CO

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-4

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

85.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

106

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

97

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

74

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

6-6

 

The service academies tend to play a large amount of upperclassmen and frequently graduate more starters than they return.  Air Force has twice in the last four years returned fewer than half of their starters.  This year takes the cake, as only five starters return from 2011, three on both sides of the ball.

 

Tim Jefferson proved to be one of the best passing quarterbacks in the option scheme at the academy.  Connor Dietz is expected to replace him under center, but keep an eye on Kale Pearson, who could emerge as the surprise starter.  Whoever ends up taking the snaps, he will not replicate the production of Jefferson.

 

The Falcons must replace tailback Asher Clark, who rushed for 1,110 yards last year.  Fullback Mike DeWitt is one of the returning starters on this side of the ball.  DeWitt gained 567 yards and scored 12 times.  He is one of the best downhill runners in college football, and he can be counted to pick up a yard when it is needed.

 

The top four receivers must be replaced, and the leading returnee, Drew Coleman, caught just seven passes last year, and he has been held out of practice with an undisclosed injury.

 

The offensive line returns two starters, but in this offense, run blocking can be effective with limited experience.

 

Air Force averaged 35 points and 455 yards per game last year.  Those numbers will not be approached this year.  Expect something in the order of 26 points and 360 yards.

 

The defense has been decimated with graduation losses and additional unexpected losses to four players expected to contribute (three who were expected to start).  Eight of the top nine tacklers are gone.

 

Alex Means is the lone star in the 3-4 defense.  The outside linebacker sacked enemy QBs six times in 2011, and he recorded 77 tackles.  

 

The secondary is hurting at the safety position where both projected starters will not be around in 2012, and the defensive line is undersized to successfully control opposing offensive lines.  The lone returning starter up front is nose tackle Nick Fitzgerald, and at 255 pounds, he is about 45 pounds too light to be effective in the 3-4 defense.

 

Air Force surrendered 28 points and 386 yards per game last year.  Those numbers will head north in 2012.  However, there are six or seven beatable teams on the schedule, and it would not be all that surprising if the Falcons find a way to become bowl eligible.

 

Team

Boise State Broncos

               
Head Coach

Chris Petersen

               
Colors

Dark Blue and Orange

               
City

Boise, ID

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-1

Overall

12-1

               
PiRate Rating

103.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

53

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

103

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

51

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

9-3

 

It has been six years since the Broncos lost three or more regular season games.  Since that time, Boise has a cumulative record of 73-6!  We expect Coach Chris Petersen to lose three times this regular season because the Broncos return just five starters from last season.

 

The losses on the defensive side are the greater concern.  Boise gave up less than 19 points and just over 320 yards per game, which was a decline from the year before that.  Nine of the top 10 tacklers are missing from last year.  Only linebacker J. C. Percy, who did not start, returns from among the top 10 tacklers, and he registered just one tackle behind the line of scrimmage.

 

Cornerback Jamar Taylor is the only returning starter on this side of the ball, but fellow cornerback Jerrell Gavins would have been the star of this unit had he not missed 10 games due to injury.  The secondary will be more than adequate.

 

Up front, no starters return, but the four new starters have talent.  Tackles Michael Atkinson and Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe saw considerable action as key reserves last year.

 

The first replacement to be made on the offense is the most important position.  Kellen Moore departs as the all-time leading passer in Boise.  Moore put up incredible stats last year that may never be replicated, completing better than 74% of his passes for 3,800 yards and 43 touchdowns!  He averaged 8.7 yards per attempt. 

 

Joe Southwick has withstood a strong challenge from Nick Patti in preseason practice, and Southwick should be named the starter before the Broncos play at Michigan State in the season opener.  Southwick completed 23 of 30 passes for 198 yards over the course of seven mop-up assignments.

 

The Broncos still have some quality talent at receiver.  Matt Miller, Mitch Burroughs, and Geraldo Boldewijn teamed up to catch 130 passes with 12 touchdowns, but Boldewijn is suspended for the first four games.

 

The loss at running back is almost as harmful as the loss at quarterback.  Doug Martin moves on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after leading BSU with almost 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns a season ago.  D. J. Harper has the potential to become the next 1,000 yard rusher at the field of blue, but Harper must find a way to stay healthy.

 

The offensive line returns two starters.  Guard Joe Kellogg is the best on this unit after earning 2nd team All-MWC honors last year.

 

The Broncos face Michigan State in East Lansing to open the season.  They host Miami of Ohio and BYU and venture to Hattiesburg to face Southern Mississippi.  Boise could lose two of those four games.  In conference action, BSU must face Nevada and Wyoming on the road, while Fresno State and San Diego State will be tough outs even at Bronco Stadium.  Look for the Broncos to suffer through a rebuilding season, where they lose as many as three times.

 

Team

Colorado State Rams

               
Head Coach

Jim McElwain

               
Colors

Green and Gold

               
City

Ft. Collins, CO

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-6

Overall

3-9

               
PiRate Rating

86.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

104

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

92

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

96

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

5-7

 

Jim McElwain arrived in Ft. Collins with an impressive resume.  Sure, being the offensive coordinator at Alabama is a bit like being the batting coach of the New York Yankees, but McElwain did an excellent job working for Nick Saban.  His Crimson Tide offenses set records in Tuscaloosa. 

 

McElwain welcomes back 14 starters, seven on offense and seven on defense, from a team that has struggled through three consecutive 3-9 seasons.  The Rams lost four close games last year, and with just a little more offense, they could have been bowl eligible.

 

McElwain should provide a little more offense.  Garrett Grayson will begin the season under center as the starting quarterback.  As a freshman, Grayson proved to be a decent runner and passer in limited action, running for 193 yards and passing for 542 yards in three games played.  Senior M.J. McPeek has never played in a game since transferring from Kansas State, but he has risen to number two on the depth chart.

 

The Rams have depth and experience at receiver with five of their top six pass catchers returning.  Crockett Gilmore and Lou Greenwood teamed up for 74 receptions and six scores.  Deep threat Thomas Coffman is expected to miss the opener against rival Colorado, following emergency abdominal surgery.

 

The Rams have the top running back in the league in Chris Nwoke.  Nwoke rushed for 1,130 yards and nine touchdowns, while catching 23 passes out of the backfield.  He averaged close to six yards per rush.

 

The offensive line is strongest inside where center Weston Richburg and guard Jordan Gragert earned 2nd team All-MWC honors last year.

 

Look for CSU’s offense to improve immediately under McElwain.  We see this team scoring about 25 points and gaining 375-400 yards.

 

How much the defense improves will determine if the Rams can win enough games to play in December.  The Rams proved to be better against the pass than the run last year, but teams found it so easy to run, they didn’t have to throw as often.

 

The Rams will implement a 3-4 defense, and with the loss of their top pass rusher, expect the passing numbers to take a step back.  John Froland and Zach Tiedgen will man the terminal positions, with Curtis Wilson in the middle.  The trio combined for just 2 ½ sacks last year, but only Froland was a starter.

 

The new four-man linebacker crew will have all three returning starters from last season’s 4-3 alignment.  Shaquil Barrett led the team with 99 tackles, and James Skelton was close behind with 91.  Unfortunately, too many of those 190 tackles were far beyond the line of scrimmage.

 

The back line of defense has potential to excel if a decent pass rush can develop up front.  Cornerback Momo Thomas picked off a pair of enemy passes last year, and fellow cornerback Shaq Bell batted away five passes.

 

CSU surrendered more than 31 points and 413 yards per game last year, and the key to a successful season is chopping those numbers down.  With too many questions on this side of the ball, we see them coming up a bit short.

 

Team

Fresno State Bulldogs

               
Head Coach

Tim DeRuyter

               
Colors

Cardinal and Blue

               
City

Fresno, CA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-4 (WAC)

Overall

4-9

               
PiRate Rating

91.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

91

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

95

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

84

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

8-4

 

Coach Tim DeRuyter steps into a good situation in Fresno.  The Bulldogs underachieved last year, and a lot of quality talent returns in 2012.

 

The offense will make some major changes, as DeRuyter hired Dave Schramm away from Utah.  The Bulldogs will use a hurry-up spread offense this year.

 

Quarterback Derek Carr (David’s younger brother) has an excellent chance to be the top signal caller in the league.  He averaged close to 300 passing yards per game last year and had an excellent TD/Int ratio of 26/9.

 

Carr’s top receiver is Josh Harper, who has a great pair of hands.  Harper caught 35 passes last year, and he should top 50 this season.

 

The Bulldogs have an excellent, albeit undersized running back in Robbie Rouse.  Rouse led the WAC with 1,549 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns, but the MWC has better defenses.  At 5-7 and 185 pounds, he will need relief this year.  Look for Milton Knox and Michael Harris to see more reps this season.

 

Center Richard Helepiko and tackles Austin Wentworth and Cody Wichmann lead an experienced offensive line.  Last year, the Bulldogs’ offensive line allowed 20 sacks protecting Carr in a drop back passing offense.  In the new offense, the sack total could drop into the teens.

 

Fresno State has historically been one of the more balanced teams offensively, and Bulldog fans can expect more of the same this year.

 

Defense was where the Bulldogs dropped the ball last year.  FSU surrendered more than 35 points per game and proved easy to run and pass against.  DeRuyter is a defensive specialist, and you can expect immediate improvement here in the new 3-4 alignment.

 

Linebacker is a team strength.  The Bulldogs have both quality talent and depth in the second line of defense.  It starts with Travis Brown, the team’s leading tackler from 2011.  Brown picked up 8 ½ tackles for loss, and he proved effective in pass defense as well.  Jeremiah Toma and Patrick Su’A are back after starting last season.  Karl Mickelsen and Kyle Wilson are ready to contribute this season, and we expect an immediate overall improvement in the defensive numbers.

 

A couple players that missed last season return to the front line.  Anthony Williams will provide a big presence at the nose, while Nikko Motta has become academically eligible and will provide a strong complement to returning regular Matt Akers at end.  Andy Jennings will supply quality depth both inside and outside.

 

Two potential stars play on the back line.  Cornerback L. J. Jones finished second in the WAC with 16 passes defended.  Safety Phillip Thomas missed last season with an injury, and if he can return to his 2010 form, the Bulldog secondary should be much improved.

 

We tend to believe the new spread offense will be immediately successful in its first year.  How much the defense improves will determine how far the Bulldogs go in their first season in the Mountain West.  If they are slightly improved, then Fresno State will get six wins and be bowl eligible.  If they are considerably improved, the Bulldogs will win eight games and qualify for a better bowl.  If they are greatly improved, then Boise State and Nevada better watch out.  Yes, Fresno State could conceivably be a contender in the MWC race, but alas, the Bulldogs face both heavyweights on the road.  So, we will choose the eight-win option.

 

 

Team

Hawaii Warriors

               
Head Coach

Norm Chow

               
Colors

Green and Black

               
City

Honolulu, HI

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-4 (WAC)

Overall

6-7

               
PiRate Rating

82.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

109

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

87

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

111

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

4-8

 

After many years as an offensive coordinator at BYU, North Carolina State, Southern Cal, UCLA, Utah, and the Tennessee Titans, Norm Chow finally gets the opportunity to be the CEO of a team.  One of his first moves was to hire Thom Kaumeyer as his defensive coordinator.  Kaumeyer was the DC at Kentucky in 2008 when the Wildcats had their best defense this century.  He helped put together the “Darkside Defense” at San Diego State in the early 2000’s, and in those seasons, the Aztecs had their best defenses prior to the arrival of Rocky Long.

 

The Warriors need to rebuild on defense, as seven starters must be replaced and two others expected to start this year will not be available.  Questions abound with all three defensive units. 

 

Only one starter returns up front.  End Paipai Falemalu tied for second with 4 ½ sacks last year.  In the second line of defense, Art Laurel was the top pass rusher.  He recorded nine sacks and 14 ½ total tackles for loss with an additional five QB hurries.

 

The last line of defense features two reliable pass defenders.  John Hardy-Tuliau and Mike Edwards teamed up for 26 passes defended with four interceptions.

 

Expect a modicum of improvement on this side of the ball in 2012, but there are too many liabilities to call this edition of Warriors tough defensively.

 

Hawaii fans may not recognize the offense when the Warriors take the field this season.  The run and shoot offense used in Honolulu for many years is now a thing of the past.  Chow brings with him the multiple pro-set offense.  Tight ends and fullbacks will be used again, and the play-action pass will return to the playbook.  The old offense had maybe four or five different running plays, and the new offense will have at least double that number.

 

Two graduate transfers from Duke have entered grad school here and earned both scholarships and starting jobs.  Quarterback Sean Schroeder’s knowledge of the multiple pro-set offense and his ability to command respect in the huddle allowed him to leapfrog over the rest of the depth chart.  Former Blue Devil tight end Ryan Hall has become the starter and should give Schroeder a welcome target in the middle of the field.

 

Schroeder will have several quality receivers in addition to Hall.  Billy Ray Stutzmann earned 2nd Team All-WAC honors last year after catching 78 passes.  Jeremiah Ostrowski added 65 receptions.  Former quarterback David Graves moves to wideout and will provide backup.

 

The running game was only a decoy in the run and shoot, but the Warriors will need to develop a ground attack this year.  Joey Iosefa will see time at both fullback and tailback; he can get the tough yards in short yardage situations.

 

The offensive line has some rebuilding to do, but guard David Lefotu is one blocker Chow can rely on.  Utah transfer Kapua Sai should help make this unit better.

 

A difficult schedule includes games at Southern Cal, BYU, San Diego State, Colorado State, Fresno State, and Air Force.  Hawaii is likely to go 0-6 and at best 1-5 on the road.  They face Boise State and Nevada at home, and it isn’t likely they will win either one.  So, another losing season is in the offing for the Warriors.

 

 

Team

Nevada Wolf Pack

               
Head Coach

Chris Ault

               
Colors

Navy and Silver

               
City

Reno, NV

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-2 (WAC)

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

97.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

72

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

101

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

60

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

10-2

 

Two seasons ago, Nevada pulled off a major upset as a two touchdown underdog to Boise State, which made the Wolf Pack the WAC Champions.  Last year, playing on the field of blue, Boise State got their revenge.  2012 is setting up to be a year where the rubber game could be very interesting.

 

Nevada’s first season in the Mountain West Conference comes at a time when Coach Chris Ault has the pieces in place to return to the success of 2010.

 

Quarterback Cody Fajardo had a rough freshman season, but he proved to be more than adequate as Colin Kaepernick’s replacement—until he got injured.  Fajardo threw for 1,707 yards and ran for 694 in eight games, but he was knocked out of five of those games and sat out the Boise State game on his own decision.  He must prove to be more resilient this year.

 

Fajardo’s favorite target is Aaron Bradley.  Bradley caught 28 passes as a freshman, but that number could possibly triple in 2012.  Tight end Zach Sudfeld gives Fajardo a basketball-sized target at 6-7.  He and Kolbe Arendse form the best tight end tandem in the league.

 

Ault plans to pass more out of the pistol offense this year, so the running backs will be seeing fewer chances.  That could be a good thing, because none of the backs on this roster appear to have 1,000-yard potential.  Stefphon Jefferson and Nick Hale should see the bulk of the reps behind Fajardo, while true freshman Chris Solomon could get some immediate playing time.

 

The reason why the offense will move the ball at will again this season is a highly-talented offensive line that will open holes for the running game and protect Fajardo when he passes.  Guard Chris Barker and tackle Jeff Nady both made the All-WAC team last year, and they should do the same in the MWC.

 

Nevada averaged 32 points and more than 500 yards of total offense per game last year.  It is conceivable that the yardage will fall but the points will rise.

 

The defense took a small turn for the worse last year, as the Wolf Pack proved to be easier to run against.  However, they were one of the toughest in the nation to pass against.  Ask Boise State, as the Broncos could only muster 160 yards through the air.

 

UN has the best secondary in the league this year.  Khalid Wooten, Duke Williams, and Marlon Johnson should all receive some form of all-conference recognition.  The trio combined for 19 passes defended in 2011.

 

The three-man linebacker trio includes a tough pass defender in Jeremiah Green, and a tough run-stopper in Albert Rosette.  Up front is where Nevada has some questions.  The Wolf Pack have to find another pass rusher like Brett Roy, who led the WAC as a senior with 10 sacks.  Junior college transfer Cortez Woods should provide immediate help at the end and team with tackles Jack Reynoso and Rykeem Yates to make a formidable run defense.

 

The schedule could not be more beneficial for this team.  UN opens at California, and the Bears should be better this year, but they are beatable.  The Wolf Pack ends the season at home against Boise State on December 1.  Their 10 games in between are all winnable.  There is a slight chance Nevada could run the table this year, and we see them winning at least 10 games.

 

Team

New Mexico Lobos

               
Head Coach

Bob Davie

               
Colors

Cherry and Silver

               
City

Albuquerque, NM

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-6

Overall

1-11

               
PiRate Rating

79.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

114

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

83

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

117

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Prediction              
Conference

1-7

Overall

2-11

 

New Mexico had a good thing going for multiple years with Rocky Long.  He suffered one poor season after consistently winning in a state that produces few recruits, and he was shown the door.  The Lobos paid by suffering through three consecutive 1-11 seasons and a lot of turmoil.

 

Former Notre Dame coach and ESPN analyst Bob Davie takes over the helm in Albuquerque.  The Lobos will not be juggernauts in 2012, but they should win more than one game.

 

Davie has an unexpected concern with his expected starting quarterback.  Senior B. R. Holbrook missed several days of practice with shortness of breath and chest pain, something that always has to be taken seriously.  It has been diagnoses as chest inflammation, and for now true freshman Cole Gautsche is taking the bulk of the first-team practice snaps.

 

For a team that averaged a measly 12 points per game last year, the Lobos have depth and value at the receiver positions.  Ty Kirk, Lamaar Thomas, and Quintell Solomon caught 74 passes last year, and the trio should raise that combined total to 125 or more this season.  Tight end Lucas Reed should contribute 30 to 35 receptions as well.

 

Kasey Carrier and Demarcus Rogers will split the duties at running back.  Neither will remind Lobo fans of DonTrell Moore, but they should give Davie more balance on offense this season.  UNM could top 120 yards rushing for the first time since Long was let go.

 

Davie is a defensive-minded coach, and the Lobo defense the last two years has looked like it had no mind at all.  UNM gave up 42 points and close to 500 yards per game last year and more than 44 points per game in 2010.  Davie will shore up the stop troops, but he is no miracle worker.  Expect an improvement of maybe a touchdown per game this year.

 

Davie will use a 3-4 alignment, and the front three will be the most talented unit.  Nose tackle Ugo Uzodinma and ends Reggie Ellis and Jacori Greer.  There is some quality in the backups as well, and true freshmen Gerron Borne, Darian Allen and Paytron Hightower could all immediately contribute this season.

 

A pair of talented linebackers headlines the second line of defense.  Dallas Bollema could challenge for All-MWC honors, while former Maryland linebacker Javarie Johnson should be an immediate upgrade at this position.

 

The secondary can only improve, because it is almost impossible to go the other way after giving up a 72.6% completion rate and 8.8 yards per attempt in 2011.  What’s worse is the Lobos only intercepted three passes, and the players that picked off two of those have departed.  Safety Dante Caro is the lone returnee to have picked off a pass.

 

The journey of 1,000 miles must begin with the first step, and New Mexico has 1,000 miles to go before they are respectable once more.  Davie will take that first step this season, and New Mexico just may double their win total from last year.  Of course, the Lobos get a 13th game this season, so they could lose 11 for the fourth straight season. 

 

 

 

Team

San Diego State Aztecs

               
Head Coach

Rocky Long

               
Colors

Scarlet and Black

               
City

San Diego, CA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-3

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

92.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

87

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

94

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

89

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

7-5

 

Losing Brady Hoke to Michigan did not prove to be a killer last year, as longtime MWC coach Rocky Long guided the Aztecs to eight wins.  While the Aztecs will not contend with the big two or three, SDSU should be among the best of the rest this season.

 

Long has a reputation for developing strong defenses.  His first team in San Diego took a small step backwards, but he had to replace six starters.  This year, five starters must be replaced, and the Aztecs could be due for a similar outcome—25 points and 390 yards allowed.

 

The star on the stop side is middle linebacker Jake Fely.  Fely can blitz and clobber a quarterback; he can stop a running back for negative yardage; and he can cover receivers like a glove.  He is the only returning starter to this unit, so he will need to improve on his outstanding freshman numbers of last year.

 

The back line of defense in SDSU’s 3-3-5 alignment features a 1st team all-conference cornerback and a potential all-conference “Aztec” (part linebacker/part safety).  Leon McFadden intercepted a couple of passes and broke up 15 others last year and earned 1st team All-MWC awards.  The Aztec is returning leading tackler Nat Berhe.

 

Up front, keep an eye on Sam Meredith at nose tackle.  He’s a bit undersized to be a typical middle man in an odd front defense, but Meredith may be the best pass rusher on the team.

 

The offense suffers some heavy losses this year.  Ronnie Hillman rushed for 1,711 yards and 19 touchdowns, and the Aztecs will try to replace him with a two-headed monster.  Adam Muema and Walter Kazee could team up for about 1,500 rushing yards, but they could average about the same amount of yards per attempt as Hillman.

 

Also gone is career Aztec passing leader Ryan Lindley.  Ryan Katz appears to be the heir apparent.  The senior saw action at Oregon State and has an accumulated full season of starting experience.  Katz has some fine receivers to hook up with.  Colin Lockett led the Aztecs with 58 receptions and 970 yards last year.  Tight end Gavin Escobar added 51 receptions and 780 yards.  Dylan Denso added 49 receptions a year ago, but his status is up in the air as of this writing after he suffered a broken finger in practice.  He will need surgery.  Southern Cal transfer Brice Butler figures to be a key receiver this year.

 

There is some rebuilding to do in the offensive line, where three starters must be replaced.  Center Alex Johnson is among the best in the league.

 

This looks like a slight regression year at State.  Still, the schedule gives Long and company a good shot at bowl eligibility.  Call it a 6-6 or 7-5 season.

 

 

Team

U N L V  Rebels

               
Head Coach

Bobby Hauck

               
Colors

Scarlet and Gray

               
City

Las Vegas, NV

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-6

Overall

2-10

               
PiRate Rating

77.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

115

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

80

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

121

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

3-10

 

Montana has proven to be a Football Championship Series powerhouse, but when its successful coaches have moved up to FBS, their results could not be duplicated.  Joe Glenn never got the Wyoming program moving, and now Bobby Hauck is struggling in Vegas.  After two seasons at the helm, UNLV has just four wins, and last years team was somewhat weaker than Hauck’s first edition.

 

Hauck has enough experienced players returning to avoid a third consecutive two-win season, and if he cannot improve on the record, he may not get a fourth try.

 

There should be an upgrade at quarterback this year.  Caleb Herring started last year, but he will probably be supplanted by redshirt freshman Nick Sherry.  Sherry has been a little inconsistent in August practices, but he has the best arm and the most potential to direct the UNLV offense.  The Rebels could only produce 1,315 passing yards last year, and that number could improve by 50% this season.

 

The Rebels received welcome news when running back Dionza Bradford returned to the team after leaving for personal reasons earlier in the year.  Bradford will back up starter Tim Cornett, after the two split the running duties last year and tallied more than 1,300 yards.

 

The Rebels are a little iffy at receiver, but Sherry should make the new starters’ transition much easier.  Marcus Sullivan and Jake Phillips should emerge as key pass catchers.

 

The defense is not as fortunate as the offense.  The Rebels surrendered more than 40 points per game last year after giving up close to 40 the year before.  There isn’t hope for a lot of improvement here as just four starters return to this side of the ball as well as another player expected to start this season.

 

The one bright spot is at linebacker, where two starters and one promising newcomer look to try to provide a base on which to build upon.  John Lotulelei made 60 tackles last year with three going for losses.  Tani Maka added 54 tackles and three tackles for loss.  Princeton Jackson played at the same junior college as Cam Newton, earning Juco all-American honors.  He will compete against Tim Hasson for the vacant spot.

 

Up front, Tyler Gaston is the only holdover from last year.  Gaston is the only returning defensive player with more than one sack.  He is a tackle that plays like an end.  Joining him up front will be untested but promising junior college transfers James Boyd and Jordan Sparkman, a former tight end. 

 

Sidney Hodge is the only experienced defensive back.  He did not intercept a pass last year, but he did break up eight.  The Rebels’ secondary will be picked apart by the better quarterbacks on the schedule.

 

UNLV has a chance to win five or six games if every break went their way.  They could also lose 11 games if they don’t catch a break.  We can only endorse two games as almost certain wins, which is exactly what this team has won the last two seasons.

 

Team

Wyoming Cowboys

               
Head Coach

Dave Christensen

               
Colors

Brown and Prairie Gold

               
City

Laramie, WY

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-2

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

91.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

90

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

89

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

105

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-6

 

Wyoming is the least populated of the western contiguous states, yet the Wyoming football team always seems to come up with enough talent to compete in the Mountain West Conference.  One reason is that the state is one of the best places to live (coming from a former Coloradan that frequently spent time 90 miles up north).  Fourth year coach Dave Christensen has enjoyed his time in Laramie, and he should continue to do so this season.

 

The Cowboys won eight games last year with a freshman quarterback.  Brett Smith took over as the starter when Austyn Carta-Samuels left.  Smith passed for 2,622 yards and 20 touchdowns, becoming the MWC Freshman Player of the Year as well as a 2nd Team Freshman All-American.  Smith has three talented receivers on hand in Chris McNeill, Robert Herron, and Dominic Rufran.  The trio combined for 129 receptions and nine scores last year, but none of them are true breakaway threats.  Wyoming will move the ball with the passing game equivalent of three yards and a cloud of dust.  Jalen Claiborne could emerge as the deep threat.  Herron should emerge as the top receiver of the four and could top 70 receptions this year.

 

Smith led the Cowboys in rushing last year, and he should do so again this season.  There is no standout running back, and Wyoming could rely on a three-back platoon with Brandon Miller, Shaun Wick, and Zaquoya Parham.

 

The offensive line is average for the MWC, but center Nick Carlson is among the top at his position.

 

On the defensive side, the Cowboys should fare about the same this year as last when they surrendered 28 points and 430 yards per game.  The new star on this side of the ball could be linebacker Korey Jones.  He could emerge as the top tackler on the team after finishing with 59 stops with four sacks and six total tackles for loss last year.  

 

The Cowboys hope to shore up their run defense, but only one starter returns in the trenches.  Tackle Mike Purcell is the only experienced veteran.  The Cowboys have liabilities at end.

 

The secondary has a couple of potential stars.  Cornerback Blair Burns earned Freshman All-American honors as a part-time starter, while safety Luke Ruff made the MWC 2nd Team.

 

The schedule this season is a bit tougher, as the Cowboys make road trips to Texas, Nevada, and Fresno State and face Boise State, Air Force, and San Diego State at home.  We think the Pokes will find a way to become bowl eligible once again, but eight wins is not a reasonable goal this year.

 

Coming Tuesday Afternoon, August 21: A preview of Conference USA.

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August 14, 2010

2010 Western Athletic Conference Preview

Go to www.piratings.webs.com where we beat the spread 60.4% in 2009!

 

2010 Western Athletic Conference Preview

 

No team has dominated a conference for an entire decade the way Boise State has dominated the WAC since Alabama toyed with the SEC for 10 years after Bear Bryant went to the wishbone.  The Broncos last eight years in conference play have produced a league mark of 62-2!  Things will change next year, when BSU moves to the Mountain West.  It appears impossible for the Broncos to top last year’s 14-0 record, but this year’s team might be considerably stronger.

Nevada is the clear-cut second best team, and Fresno State is the clear-cut third best team.  After those two, there are three teams that are equally mediocre and three teams that will be fodder for the top six.  With Boise primed to make a run for a National Championship, there is a legitimate possibility that there will not be enough bowl eligible teams for the allotted bowl spots.

Note: The PiRate Ratings are not meant to be used to predict the outcome of future games.  They are usable only as a basis for the current week’s games.  We do not use these ratings to make our selections.  They are only a starting point.  The predictions given below, as for every college conference and NFL division, are not taken from the ratings themselves.

Predictions

Pos Team WAC Overall
1 Boise State 8-0 12-0
2 Nevada 7-1 10-3
3 Fresno State 6-2 9-3
4 Utah State 4-4 5-7
5 Hawaii 4-4 6-7
6 Louisiana Tech 4-4 5-7
7 Idaho 2-6 3-10
8 New Mexico State 1-7 2-10
9 San Jose State 0-8 2-11

 

BCS Bowl: Boise State (possible National Championship Game)

Humanitarian Bowl: Fresno State

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Nevada

Hawaii Bowl: Will need an at-large team

New Mexico Bowl: Will need and at-large team

 

Hawaii is guaranteed a spot in the Hawaii Bowl if they have seven or more wins.  If not, this bowl gets the third choice after the Humanitarian and Kraft Bowls select.

 

Team By Team Breakdown

 

Team Boise State Broncos
               
Head Coach Chris Petersen
               
Colors Blue and Orange
               
City Boise, ID
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 14-0
               
PiRate Rating 121.7
               
National Rating 8
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 8-0
Overall 12-0

 

Offense: Better?  You betcha.  The Broncos return 10 starters on this side of the ball as well as every player that ran the ball and every receiver that caught a pass!

Let’s start with the nation’s number two quarterback in passing efficiency in 2009, trailing only some guy named Tebow.  Kellen Moore made 3rd Team All-American last year, and he could move up two spots if his team runs the table this year.  We expect him to be making a trip to the Downtown Athletic Club in Manhattan in December.  Moore completed 64.3% of his passes for 3,536 yards.  His TD/Int ration was an astonishing 39/3.  He was a down-the-field passer, so those stats were not inflated by having some speedster frequently turning a two-yard pass into a 65-yard touchdown.

Moore’s only problem may be trying to decide which open receiver to throw the ball.  His top two options are 2009 1st Team All-WAC Austin Pettus and Titus Young.  Those two combined for 142 receptions and 24 touchdowns.  Tyler Shoemaker is the bruiser of this group, and he can go across the middle and make the tough catch in a sea of defenders.

When Boise runs the ball, they will have a trio of special backs toting the pigskin.  Jeremy Avery ran for more than 1,150 yards, and Doug Martin added 765.  Martin led the ground contingent with 15 touchdowns.  Third back D. J. Harper accounted for just 285 yards, but he is the best breakaway threat of the three.  He averaged 6.5 yards per rush a year ago.

The offensive line returns four starters a year after allowing just five QB sacks, only three after the first game.  The entire second team has some starting experience, so Coach Chris Petersen can feel confident relieving his starters for a series.

Boise State averaged 42.2 points and 450 total yards last year, and those numbers should be eclipsed by this veteran squad.  Look for 45-50 points and 450-475 yards per game this season.

Defense: Now the bad news: Uh, the only bad news is for the rest of the league, because Boise State will be more improved on this side of the ball than on offense!

The Broncos gave up 17 points and 300 yards per game last year, and 10 starters also return on this side of the ball.  Almost the entire second team returns as well, and it would not surprise us to see BSU finish in the top five in both total offense and total defense.  We’re talking 1997 Nebraska-type dominance if that happens.

If there is a liability of any kind with this defense, it is at linebacker.  Boise uses a 4-2-5 defense, and the two linebackers get lost among all the stars on the stop side.  Aaron Tevis and Daron Mackey combined for just 90 stops a year ago, and they were merely above-average players in the WAC.

In the trenches, the Broncos can rely on four experienced upperclassmen, including a sure future NFL (assuming the NFL plays in 2011 or 2012) end.  Ryan Winterswyk made 17 tackles on the other team’s side of the line—nine sacks and eight tackles of runners.  Tackle Billy Wynn is just as potent at causing teams to lose yardage.

The secondary is even stronger this year.  Nickel back Winston Venable is a monster against both the run and the pass, and when he is on the field, opposing teams may think there is more than one #17 running around.  Cornerback Brandyn Thompson and strong safety Jeron Johnson should both make 1st Team All-WAC after teaming for 10 interceptions last year.

Schedule: It all comes down to the first game of the season.  Boise travels over 2,000 miles across two time zones to face Virginia Tech at the Washington Redskins’ stadium on Monday night, September 6.  The Broncos proved they could beat a BCS conference champion last year when they completely shut down Oregon in the opener.  That game was at home.  If the Broncos beat the Hokies, we don’t see anybody else threatening them.  A home game with Oregon State and a road game against Nevada might be the only other games where they cannot win by three touchdowns or more.  It will be either 1-0 on the way to 12-0 or 0-1 on the way to maybe 10-2.  At 12-0, they would be riding a 26-game winning streak and deserve to go to Glendale, Arizona, on January 10.

Team Fresno State Bulldogs
               
Head Coach Pat Hill
               
Colors Cardinal and White
               
City Fresno, CA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 99.6
               
National Rating 60
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 9-3

 

Offense: Fresno State has always fielded exciting, well-balanced offenses under Coach Pat Hill.  This year will be no different.  The Bulldogs may have lost their top player on this side of the ball, but they return eight starters and should have another successful season moving the ball.

It will be hard to replace running back Ryan Mathews after he led the league with more than 1,800 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns.  We expect Robbie Rouse to step in and rush for 1,000+ yards in his first year as a starter.  He showed flashes of brilliance last year in a backup role.

In a league of outstanding quarterbacks, Ryan Colburn rarely gets a mention in the press outside of Fresno.  Colburn is a capable, but not flashy passer.  He completed 61% of his tosses for 2,459 yards last year, but he needs to cut down on his 3.7% interception rate.

The Bulldogs lost three of their top four receivers, but there is good talent left.  Jamel Hamler and Devon Wylie can turn a short pass into a long gain.

The offensive line welcomes back all five starters.  This unit could be a little better than Boise State’s interior line.  Best among this quintet are center Joe Bernardi and tackle Kenny Wiggins, two seniors that should have a chance to play professionally (maybe in Canada).

Fresno State may take a small step backward on this side of the ball, but the Bulldogs will still be an offensive threat in every game.  Look for about 28 points and 400 yards per game.

Defense: FSU surrendered 214 rushing and 200 passing yards last year, and we see that problem continuing in 2010.  The Bulldogs return the majority of their contributors from 2009, but we see only three really good players on this side of the ball.

One of those three is end Chris Carter.  The 1st Team All-WAC performer accounted for almost half of the team’s sacks (5 out of FSU’s poor 11) and added eight other tackles for loss.  He’s the only star player in the trenches, and he will see double teams on most plays this year.  The Bulldogs gave up a profane six yards per rush last year, so teams will run the ball at them until they can prove they can slow it down.

The second line of defense is much better than the first and considerably better than the unit behind them.  Linebacker Ben Jacobs led FSU with 106 tackles last year, but too many were five or more yards down the field.  Neither he, nor outside linebacker Kyle Knox recorded a sack.

The secondary is pedestrian, but it was hard to cover the WAC’s receivers when there was no pass rush.  Strong safety Lorne Bell earned 2nd Team All-WAC honors, but he is better in run support than in pass coverage.

Fresno State will give up a lot of points again this season, and it will prevent the Bulldogs from contending with the big two in the league.  Look for 26-30 points and 400-425 yards allowed—about the same as last year.

Schedule: Outside of the WAC, Fresno plays its usual contingent of BCS schools.  This year, they host Cincinnati and Illinois and visit Ole Miss.  They get a breather with FCS member Cal Poly.  Boise State is a road game, and they have no chance in that one.  They get Nevada at home and could sneak up on the Wolf Pack.  6-2 in the league is a strong possibility, and we believe the Bulldogs can upend two of the three BCS conference teams they play.  Call it nine wins and a bowl in 2010.

Team Hawaii Warriors
               
Head Coach Greg McMackin
               
Colors Green, Black, and White
               
City Honolulu, HI
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 6-7
               
PiRate Rating 85.0
               
National Rating 97
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-7

 

Offense: Hawaii has once again become a great vacation trip for BCS schools.  Since June Jones left for SMU three years ago, the Warriors have fallen on hard times.  The UH offense went from a 40+ per game juggernaut to a 20-point per game patsy.

Don’t look for any improvement on this side of the ball in 2010.  Coach Greg McMackin has too many holes to fill to expect a better showing.  In fact, things could get worse.  Only five starters return, but only one of them is from the offensive line.  Tackles Austin Hansen and Laupepa Letuli give the Warrior a good couple of anchors.

Quarterback Brian Moniz returns to pilot the attack after starting eight times last year.  He is a good runner as well as passer, but he won’t be confused with Colin Kaepernick.

Moniz will benefit from the return of receivers Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares.  The two combined for 172 receptions and 2,280 yards.  Speedy Rodney Bradley gives Moniz a third good option.

The running game has not been much of a factor in recent years.  As long as the back in the game can block for the quarterback, run a good safety valve route and cut on a draw play, he has done his job.  Alex Green should fit the bill nicely, and he should catch 25-30 passes this year.

With the troubles up front, we just cannot see Hawaii topping 24 points per game this season.  Look for 21-24 points and 375-400 yards.  The Warriors turned the ball over a lot last year, and that trend may continue in 2010. 

Defense: There should be improvement on this side of the ball, but it may not show up that much in the stats.  If the offense gives up the ball quickly due to incompetence, the defense will stay on the field longer.

Seven starters return on this side of the ball, but the top two tacklers from a year ago are gone.  One area that should not be a problem is the secondary.  All four starters return after giving up just 203 passing yards per game (low for this league).  All four (corners Jeramy Bryant and Lametrius Davis and safeties Mana Silva and Spencer Smith) proved to be excellent pass defenders, combining for 10 interceptions and 24 passes batted away.

The front seven is more of a problem.  Hawaii did a poor job against the run last year, and it could continue this season.  Two starters must be replaced up front, and two starters must be replaced at linebacker.  None of this year’s front seven will contend for even honorable mention all-conference.

Hawaii will give up 30-35 points and 400-425 yards per game.  

Schedule: The opener should draw a lot of national attention.  UH entertains bad boy Lane Kiffin and his Southern Cal Trojans on Thursday night, September 2.  They follow it up with a trips to West Point to face Army on 9/11 and to Boulder to take on the Colorado Buffaloes on 9/18.  It could actually be snowing in the Front Range on that date.  The Warriors return home to face Charleston Southern, which should be their first win.  UH concludes the season with UNLV.  The Rebels could possibly be playing for bowl eligibility in that game.  In league play, UH has road games with Fresno State and Boise State and will come home with their tails beneath their legs. 

We believe the Warriors will break even in league play, but they will fall one game short of bowl eligibility again.

Team Idaho Vandals
               
Head Coach Robb Akey
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City Moscow, ID
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 90.3
               
National Rating 88
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 3-10

 

Offense: 2009 was one of those years when the stars aligned just right for Coach Robb Akey’s Vandals.  Idaho won five close games, including a 43-42 Humanitarian Bowl thriller over Bowling Green, on its way to its first winning season of the century.  With the graduation of most of their offensive line, their top running back, and their top receiver, it looks like the one year recovery will be an anomaly. 

The one bright spot on this side of the ball is the return of quarterback Nathan Enderle.  After the big two, he may be the third best QB in the WAC.  Last year, he passed for 2,906 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Enderle’s top target has graduated, and Max Komar was vital to this team’s success.  Maurice Shaw returns after averaging more than 20 yards on his 32 receptions.  He should form a solid trio with Preston Davis and tight end Daniel Hardy, but Komar will be sorely missed.

Idaho used a platoon at tailback, and two of the three principle members of that platoon return.  Princeton McCarty and Deonte Jackson combined for 1,108 yards, so the Vandals’ running game is in good hands this year.

Because the rebuilding blocking wall will be a liability this year, expect both the rushing and passing yardage to fall back in 2010.  Call it about 23-26 points and 380-420 yards per game.  

Defense: Idaho didn’t win because of great defensive play in 2009.  They gave up 36 points and 433 yards per game!  With 10 starters returning, there should be some improvement, but we don’t see enough improvement to justify picking Idaho to return to a bowl.

The entire front seven returns intact.  They were not particularly strong against the run or the pass.  While the Vandals gave up just a tad over 150 rushing yards per game, opponents averaged 4.7 yards per rush.  They were too busy picking the secondary to shreds to run the ball much more than 30 times per game.

The strength of the front seven is on the outside where end Aaron Lavarais and outside linebacker Jo Jo Dickson will contend for all-conference honors.

The secondary will not fare much better than their dismal performance last year after giving up 278 passing yards per game and allowing better than 66% completions.  Without a much better pass rush, look for the Vandals to maybe give up 300 yards per game through the air.

Idaho will once again give up 30+ points per game, but maybe it will be less than last year’s 36.  Let’s go with 32-35 points and 425-450 yards allowed.

Schedule: The Vandals should start off the season on a winning note when they open with North Dakota at home.  Then, they must play at Nebraska, where they could lose by six touchdowns.  A home game with UNLV should tell the fans whether they have any reason to remain optimistic, and we believe the Rebels will leave Moscow with a win.  A trip to Colorado State the following week will either put the nail in the coffin for the 2010 season or give the Vandal hope.  The Rams will treat that game as a must-win contest.  A final non-conference game at Western Michigan won’t give them a win.  Idaho hosts both Nevada and Boise State, which should be considered a curse this year.  They cannot compete with either, and it would be better for the Vandals to have two other home games.  At least, UI gets New Mexico State and San Jose State at home—those are their two conference wins for 2010.

Team Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
               
Head Coach Sonny Dykes
               
Colors Red and Blue
               
City Ruston, LA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 96.5
               
National Rating 66
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 5-7

 

Offense: After half of the coaches in FBS football turned down the Tennessee job last year, Tech coach Derek Dooley took the job.  Welcome new coach Sonny Dykes.  Dykes turned around the Arizona Wildcats’ offense after learning the “Air Raid” Spread offense at Texas Tech under Mike Leach.  Expect a complete overhaul of the offense this year, as the Bulldogs return to a wide open offense like teams of yesteryear in Ruston.

Unfortunately, Tech won’t have Tim Rattay, Luke McCown, or Terry Bradshaw lining up at quarterback.  Actually, neither Dooley nor offensive coordinator Tony Franklin know who will be lining up at quarterback in the opener.  As August practices began, it was a four-way race between incumbent Ross Jenkins, Auburn transfer Steven Ensminger, last year’s backup Colby Cameron, and junior college transfer Tarik Hakim.  Whoever wins the battle will be throwing the ball anywhere from 40 to 60 times a game.

Tech has a fine stable of pass receivers thanks to the school that stole their prior coach.  Tennessee transfer Ahmad Paige left Orangeville last year to escape the tornado known as Lane Kiffin.  Paige will join holdovers Cruz Williams and Phillip Livas to form a solid first team.  In this offense, expect at least five other receivers to catch more than 25 passes. 

Another escapee from the Kiffin asylum is tailback Lennon Creer.  We expect Creer to step in and start from day one, but the Bulldogs backs will not match the production of graduated star Daniel Porter.

The offensive line returns four starters, but there could be some rough times in the transition from a predominantly running attack to an offense that will pass the ball at least 60% of the time and as much as 80-85% of the time.

LT averaged 29 points per game last year, and we think the Bulldogs will shatter that mark this season.  Look for 31-35 points and 400-425 yards per game in year one of the “air raid.”

Defense: This is the reason Dykes won’t turn things around in year one.  Tech gave up 26 points per game last year, and the defense is noticeably weaker this season.

The problems start up front where only one starter returns to the four-man trench.  Included in the graduation losses was two-time All-WAC star D’Anthony Smith.

The three-man linebacking corps returns two starters, including 2009 1st Team All-WAC Mike linebacker Adrien Cole.  Cole led the Techsters with 93 tackles last year.

The secondary is better than average and returns three starters, but they may have trouble matching last year’s numbers due to the weaker pass rush. 

We expect LT to give up more than 28 points and maybe as much as 33 points per game to go along with 375-400 yards per game.

Schedule: Finally it will happen!  Louisiana Tech will play Grambling for the first time ever to kick off the 2010 season.  The schools are within walking distance, but they have been separated by mountains of Southern philosophical opinion for years.  It should be an interesting game, but any chance for Grambling to pull off the upset disappeared when they weren’t able to gain approval for a medical hardship redshirt for their starting quarterback.  Tech will be 1-0 when they venture to Aggieland to take on Texas A&M, and that game should be a shootout.  Ditto the following two weeks’ games with Navy and Southern Miss.  When Tech enters WAC play, they may be just 1-3, but they could be averaging 40 points per game.  We see them splitting their league games, coming up one win short of bowl eligibility.

Team Nevada Wolf Pack
               
Head Coach Chris Ault
               
Colors Blue and Silver
               
City Reno, NV
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-1
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 102.6
               
National Rating 51
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-1
Overall 10-3

 

Offense: Coaltown, Alydar, Sham, the 1961 Detroit Tigers, the 1962 Detroit Lions—what do these have in common?  Coaltown, Alydar, and Sham were great horses that might have won the Triple Crown in their three-year old campaigns, but they happened to race against Citation, Affirmed, and Secretariat.  The 1961 Tigers won more than 100 games and was probably better than the 1968 World Champions.  The 1962 Lions were probably the best ever in the Motor City.  Those Tigers played second fiddle to the Maris and Mantle Yankees.  Those Lions played second fiddle to the greatest NFL team in history—the 1962 Green Bay Packers.

Nevada is this year’s Coaltown.  The Wolf Pack is clearly the second best team in the WAC and one of the best teams in WAC history (in the current alignment) not wearing an orange and blue uniform.

Coach Chris Ault’s team ran the pistol offense to near perfection a year ago.  Nevada outpaced Georgia Tech and the three service academies that run triple option and averaged a nation’s best 345 yards rushing per game.  They had three players top 1,000 rushing yards.  Not even the great Oklahoma teams of the 1970’s that rushed for more than 400 yards a game had such a trio.

Two of those three stars return this season.  One is quarterback Colin Kaepernick.  He rushed for almost 1,200 yards (actually well over 1,300 when you factor out sacks) and 16 touchdowns.  He tossed another 20 touchdown passes on his way to 2,052 yards passing.

Joining Kaepernick in the pistol backfield will be Vai Taua, the other 1,000 yard back.  He totaled 1,345 yards with 10 touchdowns.  Backup Mike Ball will take over as the number two running back.  He averaged almost 10 yards per try in limited action last year, so he could replace Luke Lippincott as the third 1,000-yard rusher this year.

The receiving corps isn’t exactly chopped liver.  The four main receivers return after combining for 130 receptions and 14 touchdowns.  Brandon Wimberly was the WAC Freshman of the Year after grabbing 53 passes for 733 yards.

The offensive line lost two All-WAC performer, but we think this unit will be close to last year’s unit in blocking ability. 

Unless one of the option teams has an incredible season, there is no reason not to believe that Nevada will top the rushing charts again this season.  Look for another 325-350 effort on the ground with an additional 175-200 yards through the air.  The Wolf Pack should top 40 points per game after threatening that mark the last two seasons.

Defense: This side of the ball is missing just enough to prevent Nevada from competing with Boise State for the title.  As it is, the Wolf Pack is still the second best team by far.  Three of the top four tacklers must be replaced, so it is likely that Nevada will have to outscore opponents this season.

Up front, one of the returning starters is end Dontay Moch, who earned WAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2009.  Moch registered 20 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including  6 ½ sacks.  At 6-1, he may be on the small side to be a star at the next level.

Brandon Marshall gives Nevada an outstanding strong-side linebacker.  Marshall dumped defenders for loss 9 ½ times in 2009, and he batted away four passes as well.

It is the secondary where Nevada cannot stop Boise State and thus cannot win the WAC this year.  The ‘Pack surrendered almost 300 yards through the air and 61.5% completions in 2009, and no starter had more than one interception.  Former Utah quarterback Corbin Louks has been brought to Reno to anchor the secondary at free safety. 

Nevada will once again give up more than four touchdowns per game.  Look for about 30 points and 425 yards allowed per contest.

Schedule: Nevada gets two breathers to open the season.  They host Eastern Washington and Colorado State.  A third consecutive home game against California could give the Wolf Pack a good chance to pull off the minor upset and crack the polls.  The following week finds them venturing to BYU for a potentially great shootout.  A week later, Nevada plays at UNLV.  They could be 5-0 when WAC play starts, and they will be no worse than 3-2.  They should be 4-0 in conference play when they go to Fresno State on November 13.  After a breather with New Mexico State, they host Boise State on Friday, November 26.  It isn’t impossible, but highly improbable they will win this game unless Boise State falls apart with numerous injuries.  Still, this should be Ault’s best team in Reno since he returned for the third time in 2004.  Call if a double-digit winning year.

Team New Mexico State Aggies
               
Head Coach DeWayne Walker
               
Colors Crimson and White
               
City Las Cruces, NM
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 3-10
               
PiRate Rating 78.4
               
National Rating 109
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 2-10

 

Offense: One word can best sum up the Aggies’ offense—offensive.  NMSU scored just 11.5 points per game and tallied just 229 total yards per game.  That looks like stats you would see from a college team in the days when players went both ways.  The Aggies had no passing game whatsoever, and they were not an option team.  They averaged just 88 yards per game and completed less than half of their passes.

Quarterback Jeff Fleming might do better if he could throw to himself.  He just doesn’t have much talent in which to throw the ball.

Things are much better with the running game.  Seth Smith ran for more than 1,000 yards even though defenses placed an extra defender and sometimes two extra defenders up close to stop the run.

The offensive line returns three starters, but the Aggies pick up a plum in former Texas Longhorn tackle Aundre McGaskey.

With stats like last year, there is only one way to go for Coach DeWayne Walker’s offense, but we don’t expect State to fool many defenses this year.  Look for a slight improvement to 14-17 points and 250-275 yards per game. 

Defense: When your offense cannot sustain many drives and convert first downs, your defense will be on the field much longer than average.  Opponents ran an average of eight more plays per game against the Aggies last year, and more of the same will happen this season.

One unit that will be better is the back line.  All four starters return to the secondary.  This quartet of Stephon Hatchett, Alphonso House, Jonte Green, and Davon House teamed up for 32 batted passes and five picks.

The defensive line will be a little better this year, and that will make the secondary that much better.  Ends Pierre Fils and Donte Savage teamed up to make 13 QB sacks.

It’s at linebacker where there will be difficulties this year.  The Aggies must break in three new starters, only one of whom saw any real action last year.

The Aggies will give up 28-32 points and 400-425 yards again this season.  They are still a long way from competing for bowl eligibility.

Schedule: The one plus for New Mexico State is that as weak as they are, their in-state rival is weaker.  The Aggies should beat New Mexico.  They won’t be so lucky with San Diego State, UTEP, or Kansas.  NMSU gets upstart San Jose State at home, so we believe they will win twice this season.  That is one less than last year.

Team San Jose State Spartans
               
Head Coach Mike MacIntyre
               
Colors Dark Blue and Gold
               
City San Jose, CA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 2-10
               
PiRate Rating 82.7
               
National Rating 101
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-8
Overall 2-11

 

Offense: New Spartan head coach Mike MacIntyre takes over at San Jose after earning the national Assistant Coach of the Year award as the defensive coordinator at Duke.  Too bad he won’t get to defend against his own offense.  The Spartans scored just 13.8 points and produced 284 yards of total offense in 2009. 

Quarterback Jordan La Secla returns after passing for 1,926 yards at a 60% completion rate.  He tossed more interceptions than touchdown passes.

La Secla will have to make do without the top two receivers from last year.  Kevin Jurovich graduated, while Marquis Avery was declared academically ineligible.  Throw in the sudden departure of offensive coordinator Hugh Freeze to Arkansas State, and it looks like another long season on this side of the ball.

The running game was abysmal last year; don’t expect much improvement, after the Spartans averaged a meager 77 yards per game.

The offensive line is probably the strongest component of the offense, but it is still below average in the WAC. 

If MacIntyre can squeeze 17 points and 300 yards out of this offense, it will be a huge success.

Defense: San Jose State must replace four of their front seven defenders, so there won’t be much improvement on this side of the ball.  The Spartans didn’t fare much better on defense than offense last year. 

SJSU surrendered 259 rushing yards (6.1 yds./rush) last year, and with three of the front four having to be replaced against a slate of teams that can pound the ball down the field, the Spartans might actually fare worse this year.

All four starters return to the secondary.  Unfortunately, this quartet had to stop a lot of running plays last year and didn’t face many passing plays, as opponents ran the ball almost 65% of the time.

After giving up 35 points and 443 yards per game last year, the numbers could actually head south this year.  Look for maybe 36-40 points and 450-475 yards allowed.

Schedule:  By the time San Jose State faces a team they can beat, their players will be demoralized after beginning the season on the road with Alabama and Wisconsin. The Spartans will be 0-2, nursing a lot of bumps and bruises, and facing a scoring deficit of about 90-10!  They should find a way to beat Southern Utah in game three.  The following week finds them heading to Utah, where the Utes will remember the scare this team gave them last year.  Look for another blowout loss.  Then, SJSU faces UC Davis.  They should get a nice win in that one, but that will be their last of the season.  We see them losing all eight league games.

Team Utah State Aggies
               
Head Coach Gary Andersen
               
Colors Navy and White
               
City Logan, UT
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 95.3
               
National Rating 72
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 5-7

 

Offense: Coach Gary Andersen was a defensive genius as Utah’s defensive coordinator.  In his first year in Logan, he looked more like Urban Meyer.  If it wasn’t for a couple of key injuries, Utah State might have been looking at a winning season and bowl bid this year for the first time since 1997.

Running back Robert Turpin tore his ACL earlier this year and appears to be out for the season.  He led the Aggies with close to 1,300 rushing yards.  In his place, Michael Smith will carry the load.  Don’t expect 1,300 yards, but Smith has breakaway speed and can turn a small hole into a big gain.

Quarterback Diondre Borel ranks with Nathan Enderle as one of the WAC’s two best passers not named Moore or Kaepernick.  Borel had a splendid junior season in 2009 passing for 2,885 yards with 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions. 

The Aggies had a lot of options in the passing game, but they have been henpecked with injuries.  Turpin was a great receiver out of the backfield.  2009’s top receiver, Stanley Morrison, caught 33 passed and averaged 19 yards per catch.  He is gone for the season with a broken foot.  Then, just before practice began, wide out Eric Moats dropped a refrigerator on his foot.  He needed stitches, and as of this writing, he has yet to practice.  Junior college star Matt Austin was supposed to be a starter last year, but he missed the entire season.  He returns and will have to live up to his potential immediately.

The offensive line returns four starters, so if Borel has any talent running routes, he will have time to find them. 

Even with all the injuries, we believe USU will move the ball and score points this year, just not enough to move from middle of the pack to within shouting distance of Fresno State.  Look for 25-30 points and 400-425 yards per game.

Defense: Defense was a major problem last year, as USU gave up 34 points and 455 yards per game.  They could not stop the run or the pass.  With eight starters returning, expect some form of improvement.

The three linebackers are as good as any other WAC unit short of Boise State.  Bobby Wagner, Kyle Gallagher, and Junior Keiaho should team for more than 200 tackles.  Hopefully, not too many will be more than five yards downfield.

The defensive line returns three starters, but there is nothing special up front.  Actually, new starter Levi Koskan recorded more three more sacks than the three returning starters, who recorded ZERO SACKS!

The secondary had no chance last year with no pass rush.  Two starters return, and the two new starters saw considerable action last year.

If the Aggies can trim a touchdown off their defensive scoring average, they have a shot to emerge as the fourth bowl eligible WAC team.  Look for the defense to yield 26-31 points and 425-450 yards.

Schedule: The Aggies start the season at Oklahoma.  Assuming they have any depth left after that game, they should slaughter Idaho State.  If they are relatively healthy, game three could determine whether or not they can get over the hump and become the Idaho of 2009.  The Fresno State game in Logan is a make or break game.

Following that game, USU plays at San Diego State and then hosts BYU on Friday, October 1.  They should go 1-3 out of league play, so they will need five WAC wins to become bowl eligible.  They will have to beat either Fresno State or Louisiana Tech plus Hawaii to get there.  We believe they will come up one win short.

 

Coming Tomorrow: The Mountain West Conference—Can anybody beat TCU?  Are there six bowl eligible teams?

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