AROUND THE WAC
STAR-BULLETIN FILE / 2006
Idaho and the conference's other also-rans have taken some of the shine off Boise State and Hawaii's star.
Weaklings weigh down WAC
SAN JOSE, Calif. » This time, when the Western Athletic Conference football coaches spent two days telling the assembled media how good their league is, the reporters didn't have to hide smirks behind their tape recorders and laptops.
Undoubtedly, Boise State and Hawaii give the WAC an attractive top of the conference. The middle is beginning to look better with Nevada and San Jose State continuing to establish themselves. New Mexico State is expected to make a move into bowl contention. And just about everyone believes that Fresno State will bounce back strongly from its uncharacteristic 4-8 debacle of 2006.
"It's nice now that WAC football is nationally known and nationally respected," said Nevada coach Chris Ault, still feeling the contact high of the Broncos' Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma half a year later.
But what of the bottom third of the widespread WAC? Is there any hope for Louisiana Tech, Idaho and Utah State? These three teams were a combined 8-29 last fall, and they aren't expected by most to improve anytime soon.
Fresno State's Pat Hill doesn't look like a cheerleader, but he always brings out the pom-poms for the entire league every July. Yesterday he said he submitted Top-10 votes for two WAC teams ("I won't tell you which ones," but you can probably guess) in the preseason national coaches' poll.
"If San Jose State wins their first two games, I'll vote for them, too," he added.
Hill bristled when asked if the Little Three drags down the rest of the WAC as the inevitable conference comparisons affect how others perceive the league -- from top to bottom.
"We never talk about the bottom third of the Big Ten, we never talk about the bottom third of the Big 12. We never talk about the bottom third of the ACC," Hill barked. "I don't think we have a bottom third now. We don't talk about top third, middle third or bottom third. I don't think they're all high-powered teams from top to bottom in all those big conferences."
Hill is a loyal soldier, but he's only part right. People do talk about the have-nots of college football, almost as much as the haves.
It's because the lousy teams affect the fate of the good ones by their mere presence on their schedules, sometimes regardless of who wins the game.
The WAC's weaklings are a severe hindrance to Hawaii's hopes (as premature as they are) for a berth in a BCS bowl game. Even if the Warriors do win all their games, they are penalized from the beginning by many voters who have no respect for a schedule that includes games at the Kibbie Dome, rustic Ruston and against Utah State at home. This is a problem for any WAC team trying to make a move up the ladder other then Boise State, which has established itself as a legitimate national power by going 58-6 over the past five years.
You hate to say it because he's a class act, but Utah State coach Brent Guy's job is rightfully -- by the standards of his profession -- on the line. Yes, recruiting talent to Logan is nearly impossible and the Aggies aren't exactly made of money. But going from 3-8 to 1-11 doesn't help Guy's case and the 1-6 nonconference record is an albatross for the WAC. Of course, somebody has to be last, but in the truly good leagues the worst teams win more than once in two years outside of the family.
Guy knows the heat is on, like it was on LaTech's Jack Bicknell, who was asked to not return after a 3-10 campaign in 2006.
How does he save his job?
"We have to be the San Jose State (which won nine games last season)," Guy said. "Every year you see a team jump up. We have to have a winning season and play in a bowl game. Then you can compete for championships. And before you talk about winning seasons and championships you have to talk about winning the first game. We have to win and start with positive momentum."
Commissioner Karl Benson knows that the have-nots must improve for the league to attain true respect. He said the schools have committed to the WAC's strategic plan of increased spending on athletics.
The WAC has a commercial that shows highlights of all nine teams, ending with Boise State's Statue of Liberty play in the Fiesta Bowl. The ad concludes with the question "Who's next?"
We won't know until December if it's meet the new boss, same as the old boss -- or, as most of the league's observers believe, Hawaii can knock Boise State out of the top spot.
While Idaho, LaTech and Utah State won't figure into the equation at the top of the WAC standings, they will likely factor into Hawaii's national-respect quotient.
And, compounded by two I-AA opponents on the schedule, that's not a good thing for the Warriors.