WAC spotlight shines on Brennan, Johnson
SAN JOSE, Calif. » Is the Western Athletic Conference big enough for two marquee players?
Boise State running back Ian Johnson feigned concern yesterday after taking a look at the poster promoting him and Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan at the San Jose Hilton, site of the WAC Media Preview.
"Why's he bigger than me?" Johnson deadpanned.
Probably because in real life Brennan is 6-foot-3 and Johnson 5-11. But they both shine brightly on the national college football scene because of their performances last year. Brennan threw an NCAA record 58 touchdown passes and was sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting. Johnson was eighth while leading Boise State to an unbeaten season.
Commissioner Karl Benson said the WAC hasn't had one player returning with credentials and notoriety like Brennan or Johnson, much less two in the same preseason.
"Not in my time," said Benson, who has been the WAC head man since 1994. "We didn't have two returning players like Brennan and Johnson, guys who had done something so special the previous year. Their numbers and the Heisman voting, and obviously Johnson's Jan. 1 display (in the Fiesta Bowl victory) put him on the map, and a week ago the ESPYs brought it back into focus. Even LaDainian Tomlinson, he wasn't on any preseason Heisman list."
The WAC invested $10,000 in promotional material highlighting Brennan and Johnson, as well as several other WAC stars.
"We spent time and money to make sure people didn't forget about them and I think that it's worked," Benson said.
Brennan and Johnson make the WAC's job easier. Both are articulate and engaging and never boring -- although many think Johnson's favorite sport to watch isn't very exciting.
Johnson claims to not be bothered or distracted by all the attention on him because he doesn't read newspapers or the Internet, and he only watches TV to view soccer.
"I'm a huge soccer fan. I never played it. I'm horrible at it," Johnson said. "I like it because it's a different culture. Football is going to be my job, and it's something I enjoy. But when I'm relaxing, I don't want to watch football and analyze what the running back is doing. I want to sit down and truly enjoy the sport. I can't play soccer, I'm not good at it, so I can truly appreciate what they do."
As for Brennan, Johnson said he's glad there is another star to help carry the conference flag.
"It definitely helps. He's a real good guy and presents himself well. It helps show we're from a classy conference," Johnson said. "As a player, there's an extremely great chance that he's going to be drafted very high."
Johnson is aware many prognosticators think Hawaii will finally upend Boise State this year and win the WAC championship. He's not offended by such talk, but also said that in some ways, the Warriors are just another team in the WAC hungry to gun down the Broncos after five years of domination.
"Not to take away from Hawaii, but we totally feel like every school in the WAC is a rivalry because we have bad blood with everyone," Johnson said. "We're in a lot of people's cross-hairs. We're told San Jose State's talking about us, and the Idaho guys are talking about us. That's the way we love it. That's the way we want it to be."
Johnson couldn't resist another playful jab at his fellow poster boy yesterday.
"I've got an ESPY. Where's your ESPY, Colt?"
Brennan arrives in San Jose and gets his chance to fire back today.
Pac-10 teams declined game
Benson yesterday disclosed the names of three Pac-10 schools that declined to play at Hawaii in the upcoming football season despite a guarantee of $1 million and a national TV appearance.
"Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington State turned down the offer," Benson said. The schools did not accept 11th-hour invitations from UH (working in conjunction with the WAC and ESPN) to play at Aloha Stadium on Oct. 20.
The Pac-10 would have paid $400,000 of the amount and UH would have paid $600,000.
Because of its scheduling difficulties, Hawaii will play 12 regular-season games this year rather than the 13 it is allowed. Two of the nonconference games are against Division I-AA opponents, and only one of the other two is against a BCS conference opponent (Washington of the Pac-10). Hawaii also plays at UNLV of the Mountain West.
Hawaii opens its season Sept. 1 at Aloha Stadium against Division I-AA Northern Colorado.