Hawkins spends summer
polishing his WAC crown
The Boise State coach plans on
sticking around and making life
miserable for title challengers
RENO, Nev. » Dan Hawkins stepped up to the microphone, cracked a grin and opened his address to Western Athletic Conference football reporters last week with three words:
"What? No applause?"
This is the Hawkins of July, the loose, jovial Boise State coach who can spend maybe 2 minutes basking in the glory of success that no one can seem to find a way to explain except for hard work and consistency.
The Hawkins of November last year was different, as he grew a little more tense with each win and each week, and with every question about what many thought would be an imminent departure from Boise for somewhere with more football tradition and resources. The hot rumor was Notre Dame one week, Florida the next.
Hawkins answered a question about his status by saying, "I'm all about the Broncos." Hawkins was so hot at the time that some thought he was sending out a tricky message about the Denver Broncos.
No, it appears Hawkins will stay at Boise State for a while. He's got a new contract, and his son, Cody, one of the area's best high school quarterbacks, might go to Boise State (as a walk-on), and he's building a house.
Hawkins also has a foundation set for a fourth consecutive WAC championship. BSU returns 17 starters from the team that went 11-1 last year and was ranked 12th in the nation.
In the preseason WAC media poll, 43 of 57 voters picked the Broncos to win the conference championship again.
Fresno State, which also returns 17 starters after a No. 22 ranking, is a clear choice for second in the WAC for most of the voters. And 14 of them think the Bulldogs will unseat the Broncos.
"I try to put not much credence in what other people think," Hawkins said. "Rankings, preseason polls don't mean much to me. I am looking forward to getting going. No matter what happens, there will be a tremendous amount of drama. There will be a lot to write about and a lot to talk about."
The Boise State-Fresno State battle for WAC supremacy and national recognition will probably be the prevailing storyline (they play each other Oct. 23 at Boise). Here are some others:
» Three new teams. New Mexico State, Utah State and Idaho all join the WAC this fall, with Rice, SMU, Tulsa and UTEP leaving for Conference USA.
The newcomers are all elated to be out of the Sun Belt, which did not make geographical sense for them.
"It's already helped our recruiting, being able to sell the WAC, especially in the areas we recruit, kids know about the conference," Idaho coach Nick Holt said. "We're on better student-athletes. They know it's competitive, it's exciting."
» Hawaii transition. The Warriors will have to endure the biggest rebuilding project since June Jones first came aboard in 1999 and turned an 0-12 team into a winner.
UH will have to deal with its toughest schedule in recent history with a team inexperienced on offense and suspect on defense (second to last nationally in yardage yielded last season).
» Dick Tomey. Can the former UH and Arizona coach win at San Jose State, or at least create fan interest?
» Coaching hot seat. It seems Louisiana Tech's Jack Bicknell is on it every year. Can his team improve from 6-6 after losing tailback Ryan Moats, arguably the league's best player, a year early to the NFL Draft?
"In 2001 we were sitting here, we won the conference the first year," Bicknell said. "I don't recommend it. What you should do is struggle a little bit at first, win, then get a new five-year contract."
» Bowl-game slots. The WAC has only two right now, the Hawaii Bowl and the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise.
WAC commissioner Karl Benson will have to wheel and deal if more than two WAC teams are bowl-eligible.
And what happens to the Hawaii Bowl if Hawaii doesn't win seven games to become bowl-eligible? Hawaii Bowl attendance would take a huge hit if the Warriors don't spend Christmas Eve at Aloha Stadium.