Believe it or not, last year was not all about Boise State in the WAC. Sure the Broncos hogged a lot of the attention because of their national title-busting capabilities, but Nevada actually finished with one more win than Boise State (they played one more game than the Broncos) and Hawaii tied the Broncos and Wolf Pack with a WAC-best 7-1 conference record. Fresno State even finished a respectable 8-5 overall (5-3 in WAC play).
Nevada ended the year two spots behind Boise State in the AP Poll and five behind them in the BCS, but pulled off the upset of the year in college football when they took down the Broncos on Black Friday in a 34-31 overtime thriller. The Wolf Pack’s only 2010 loss came in a 27-21 road loss to Hawaii who got out to an early lead and never relinquished it.
Now, as we all know, Boise State will play its conference games in the Mountain West, while Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii will finish their final season in the WAC before joining the Broncos in 2012. But with Boise State gone this year—they would have likely dominated conference play with Nevada, Hawaii and Fresno State each enduring some big personnel losses and BSU coming back pretty strong—the WAC promises to be an entertaining battle for at least another year before it loses the remaining three of its four marquee teams.
Next season, this is the football landscape fans of the WAC have to look forward to: Idaho, San Jose State, Utah State, New Mexico State, Louisiana Tech, Texas State and Texas-San Antonio (non-football schools the University of Denver and Seattle University will also join the conference in 2012). Sun Belt, consider yourself moved up on notch in the conference hierarchy.
But that’s next season. This year, the WAC will feature two of last year’s top six offenses, and four teams with a realistic shot at winning the conference. Hawaii is the only of the three WAC frontrunners (Louisiana Tech is the fourth team with a realistic shot at the title, at least as it seems in the preseason) to return its starting quarterback, but Fresno State is excited about Derek Carr taking over under center and Nevada still has a good deal of talent coming back on offense.
Offense is not expected to be the major problem for the WAC’s top squads this year, but it’s the defensive side of the ball where the conference title could be claimed. Hawaii finished last year with the conference’s second ranked defense after Boise State, but the Warriors lose two defensive ends and three starting defensive backs. Fresno State and Nevada each lose a dynamic pass rusher as well as other key contributors, while Louisiana Tech finished last year 116th in total defense.
The frontrunners each lose their fair share of key contributors—Nevada loses its quarterback, running back, tight end, a key receiver, star defensive end, etc.; Fresno State loses its quarterback, leading receiver, several offensive linemen, star pass rusher, etc.; and Hawaii loses its two leading receivers, its leading rusher, several offensive linemen, its star safety, etc. Yet, all three have aspirations for a WAC title and it’s difficult to figure out which is the preseason frontrunner, which often results in an exciting conference battle. In my preview of the WAC, I predicted a finish of Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii, followed by a Louisiana Tech team that could end up playing a bigger role in the conference than some think.
Key matchups on the ’11 WAC schedule:
October 1 Hawaii @ Louisiana Tech
October 22 Fresno State @ Nevada
November 5 Louisiana Tech @ Fresno State
November 12 Hawaii @ Nevada
November 19 Louisiana Tech @ Nevada
November 20 (Sunday) Fresno State @ Hawaii