As we look ahead to the 2011 college football season, we take with us the lessons we learned from seasons past. We calculate, scrutinize, dissect and digest schedules, returning starters, coaching changes, injuries, and yes, even hunches, and spew it back in the form of how we think each of the 11 Division 1 FBS conferences — and independents — will pan out by year’s end.
Of course, these are merely our opinions. Feel free, as we know you will, to disagree. We know that’s why you really come here anyway.
Here are our predictions for the Western Athletic:
The Western Athletic Conference takes a huge hit this year with the loss of Boise State to the Mountain West, and the future of the WAC as we know it to be could very well be in jeopardy after next season when Hawaii, Fresno State and Nevada also bolt for the same destination. Commissioner Karl Benson, in an effort to keep his conference from imploding, went out and did what Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott could not: get not one, but two programs from Texas.
FCS programs, that is — Texas State and UT-San Antonio. Both will join the conference in 2012. It was a nice consolation prize after getting snubbed by North Texas, which is currently working on a 24/7 TV network with PBS.
Getting to some actual rankings, the WAC’s soon-to-be deserters will finish their final year strong. Hawaii and Fresno State will battle it out for conference supremacy now that the Broncos are gone, and Nevada should still be competitive under long-time coach Chris Ault despite the loss of several key playmakers, most notably quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess how the rest of the conference will play out. Sonny Dykes and Gary Anderson are doing nice jobs at Louisiana Tech and Utah State, respectively, but they’re a few years (and a few team departures) away from having any impact at the top of the standings.
And I’m sure New Mexico State and San Jose State are just foaming at the mouth to take their bottom-feeder aggression out on UTSA and Texas State next year.
John Taylor’s take
Wait, the WAC is still alive? Yeah, I’m just as surprised as you. But, after a year of upheaval, the on-life-support conference will indeed play another season of college football. And, for the first time in a very long time, there will be a handful of schools with a realistic opportunity possibility of claiming a conference crown at the end of the regular season road.
There are three teams — maybe four — that will likely become serious contenders for the top spot in the conference and, oddly enough, the trio are the same schools that are fleeing for the 2012 season. Hawaii is the only one of the three to return its 2010 starting quarterback (Bryant Moniz), giving the Warriors an advantage at the key position. Not only will Nevada have to replace Kaepernick, but star running back Vai Taua; those two combined to average more than 400 yards of total offense, a total that will be nearly impossible to replace, not to mention the leadership hole left by the duo’s departure.
Fresno State could be the biggest threat to the title dreams of both schools, given the defense it returns as well as a very stout running game somewhat mitigating the inexperience under center.
Louisiana Tech could very well be a dark horse, although it may be a year away when the deck’s cleared of the four power WAC schools.