Bosie still the 1 to beat in the WAC
Oh, yes. Brace yourselves. Stand back. They've given me another Western Athletic Conference football preseason media poll ballot.
1) Boise State. Of course it's easy to just pencil in Boise State at the top of the list every year (and that has to just eat away at every other team). But now, no "Gandhi." So that has to hurt the Broncos, yeah? Of course, Dan Hawkins going to Colorado is a huge loss, and we're going to see its effects years down the line. (Use your Stephen A. Smith voice here.) HOWEVER ... it's tough to win week in and week out. Perfection is brutal. There's a reason almost nobody does it. You could see it last season, it was wearing on them. They'd heard all the Mother Teresa stories. I think Hawkins knew this. He was a genius, but it was time to go.
In a strange way, in the short term, I think this season the Broncos will be energized without him. Reinvigorated. And they've got horses. All those good players who had so-so seasons last year -- think QB Jared Zabransky -- should bounce back. (Zabransky will be back or he'll be on the bench -- they have depth at the position now.)
Besides, this program is built for the conference season. Wins over BCS programs are bonus points, not bragging points. BSU's bragging point is winning a championship. Every. Single. Year.
Hawkins was a genius, but short-term, this change is the spark that keeps the streak intact.
2) Fresno State. Here we go again. Fresno State has one of the most talented -- if not the most talented -- teams in the WAC. Yet Fresno State will not win the WAC.
You can write it down. In fact I am writing it down. FSU will look great or win outright against big-time BCS teams AND will then go on to lose two conference games against teams it should beat.
Still, the Bulldogs are dangerous. It doesn't bother me at all that 11-year starter at quarterback Paul Pinegar is gone, and it probably doesn't bother many Fresno State fans either. Lost their top two runners, but last year's third back is a former 1,000-yard man. There are a few playmakers on defense and the offensive line is tough. They're dangerous.
You just can't pick them higher than No. 2.
3) Nevada. Did you see the Hawaii Bowl? No, you didn't. There were only 437 of us there. But it was a great game. An undersized, overmatched Nevada team outplayed, outhit, outfought and outcoached a dazzling bunch of UCF physical specimens led by a coach who now makes more than $1 million a year. Nevada had arrived.
Looks like Chris Ault has done it again. He has the program set the way he wants it, and lots of talent is coming back (Caleb Spencer, etc.). If it can get through its tough early schedule without imploding, this is a team you don't want to play. One more reason why you want to see the home team wrap up that bowl bid -- it was a neutral field, yes, not a true road game, but now Nevada knows it can make that long trip to Hawaii and win.
4) Hawaii. See Fresno State, above. Same pattern. UH often plays well against, sometimes beats, BCS teams (especially after Thanksgiving, at home -- look out Oregon State and Purdue). But then a couple of conference games, and ... well, UH usually finishes third or fourth in the WAC.
The hype is already going pretty strong about UH's offense -- it's enough to make you nervous. I'm getting deja vu from the summer of 2004, Timmy Chang's senior year, when 10 of 11 offensive starters were coming back. (Beat Northwestern and Michigan State, finished fifth in the conference.) We've heard this all before. Is Davone Bess really better than Chad Owens? Is Colt Brennan really as good as Chang? A lot to ask and too early to tell. I just hope Brennan doesn't stop throwing up on the field. Now that's exciting offense.
Bottom line, fourth, and enough wins to keep conference rivals out of the hometown bowl.
5) Louisiana Tech. Louisiana Tech is good every five years. This is not the year. (It was last year.) That's all I have to say about that.
6) San Jose State. We all love Dick Tomey, but he's picked a tough situation for himself. Get a Snickers. This may take a while. And now this year his defense is almost all new. Still, the offense should be improved. And if all falls into place the Spartans will be playing Tomeyball -- fighting, hitting, doing everything possible to go into the fourth quarter with a chance to pull it out. There are some bad teams in the WAC. A couple of upsets, and the Spartans could jump a couple of spots on this list.
7) Idaho. Dennis Erickson is a great college football coach. Great. Still, it will be a couple years before he has the Vandals in a bowl, then he bolts for a better job, then he gets back into the NFL, then has to return to college, where he ...
(Cue Elton John singing "Circle of Life.")
8) New Mexico State. If Hal Mumme can hang on, he will win (he did it at Kentucky against SEC competition, for goodness sake). HOWEVER, last year the Aggies went 0-12, he didn't have any in-state kids on his national-signing-day scholarship class and he's already had a grievance filed against him by the ACLU (the university launched an investigation and cleared itself).
But now he finally has his quarterback, his Dan Robinson. Buckle up.
9) Utah State. Good basketball team.