For complete WAC player rankings and player previews, see our Draft Kit.
With six of the eight teams finishing in the bottom half of the national defensive standings a year ago, it’s easy to see why the WAC is considered an offensive conference. That may change a bit this season as seven of the eight teams return six or more defensive starters while seven teams are either looking for a new starting quarterback or have quarterback battles raging. Yes, friends, the tide may be turning a bit for the WAC, which looks like it’s hunkering down for a wide open race for to the team title. Hawaii and FresnoState seem like the top contenders, though both have enough questions to give pause. Nevada and Louisiana Tech look like the second tier duo, with the other four teams looking to make strides upward. Want a sleeper? Try perpetually downtrodden UtahState, which has playmakers on offense in Robert Turbin and Kerwynn Williams and plenty of returning pieces from last year’s four-win team. If they find a quarterback and the defense improves as expected, they will not be the pushovers they seem to always be.
Fresno State Bulldogs
2010 Record: 8-5
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 48th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 83rd
Base Offense: Pro set
Returning Starters: (4 -- offense) Jalen Saunders (WR), Robbie Rouse (RB), Austin Raphael (FB), Bryce Harris (LT). (5 – defense) Logan Harrell (DT), Kyle Knox (OLB), Travis Brown (OLB), Isaiah Green (CB), Philip Thomas (S). Kevin Goessling (PK) and Andrew Shapiro (P)
Significant losses: Ryan Colburn (QB), Jamel Hamler (WR), Vince Pascoe (TE), Chris Carter (DE), Ben Jacobs (MLB), Desia Dunn (CB), four offensive linemen.
Newcomer of Note:
Derek Carr, brother of famed Bulldog quarterback David Carr, appears to be the man under center heading into the fall. The pressure is enormous, but there are weapons around him offensively to help. Carr has the tools and talent to be big-time, but he’s a youngsters. A lot will depend on a revamped offensive line. Coach Pat Hill said that if the o-line does the job, he’ll turn Carr loose a bit this season. The sophomore is the new face with a ton of pressure on him. All eyes will be on him when 2011 dawns.
Protect Carr, keep Rouse healthy, develop a productive offensive line and redefine the nasty, playmaking defense to its former image – not too much to ask, is it? Those are the points the Bulldogs need to address as they move forward. PatHills’ defenses are not usually located in the bottom half of the national standings and with five returning starters, the chance to rebuild and reload the defense is there. The defense has to give the young quarterback (young offense?) good field position and convertible chances this season. Offense is the question, but defense will be the key.
With only nine total starters back, Fresno State will have a very different look this season. Carr is getting a lot of love and certainly has the skill set to do wonderful things, but for my money the main guy will be Rouse. He’s a dynamic playmaker and if he’s healthy and the line gels, he could take a lot of pressure off the young quarterback. Another 8-5 season and bowl game seems possible, though the long-term future appears even brighter.
2010 Record: 10-4
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 10th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 58th
Base Offense: Shot-gun Spread
Returning Starters: (3 – offense) Bryant Moniz (QB), Royce Pollard (WR), Austin Hansen (OL). (6 – defense) Vaughn Meatoga (DL), Kaneila Tuipolotu (DL), Aaron Brown (LB), Corey Paredes (LB), John Hardy-Tuliau (DB), Richard Torres (S). Alex Dunnachie (P).
Significant losses: Rodney Bradley (WR), Kealoha Pilares and Greg Salas (Slots), Alex Green (RB), four offensive linemen, Elliott Purcell (DL), Jeremy Bryant (CB), Lametrius Davis (CB), Mana Silva (FS), Scott Enos (PK).
Newcomer of Note:
The starting point guard on the Warrior basketball team, Miah Ostrowski surprised everyone in spring drills by sticking his nose into the wide receiver race. He’s quick and elusive and caught just about everything thrown at him in the spring. With the receiving corps depleted except for Royce Pollard, someone is going to rise up to collect a big chunk of Bryant Moniz’s 5,000 yards passing. Ostrowski seems like a guy who has a chance.
Returning only three on offense would seem to scream “rebuilding effort,” but when one of those guys is a quarterback who threw for 5,000 yards and 38 scores a year ago, it’s more a matter of filling in the pieces around him. Bryant Moniz is the big dog in the WAC this season. This offense must find a running back, a detail that proved so vital a year ago with Alex Green, and shore up a new offensive line. Given time and a decent running threat, Moniz will break in his receivers with a passing offense that’s dizzying at times. The defense, fortunately, seems to be in better position with six returners and experience at every stop. The Warriors led the nation in takeaways a year ago, a stat that’s stunning considering the porous defenses we’re used to seeing here. Expect that defense to again be very active, particularly early as the offense works to blend.
Moniz needs to have a huge year with a lot of new pieces around him. Expect him to put up huge yardage and touchdown numbers and for Pollard to be a hugely productive wide receiver, particularly is no running game emerges. The defense should be decent, but the offense will be filled with questions until things sort themselves out. In truth, the WAC seems to be a battle between Hawaii and Fresno State with the complete rebuilding job about to begin a Nevada. The Warriors could very easily get 10 wins again this season and battle for the WAC title.
2010 Record: 6-7
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 60th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 70th
Base Offense: Multiple
Returning Starters: (5 – offense) Sam Tupua (OG), Matt Cleveland (OT), Tyrone Novikoff (OT), Princeton McCarty (RB), Preston Davis (WR). (8 – defense) Michael Cosgrove (DT), Benson Mayowa (DE), Robert Siavii, Homer Mauga and Tre’Shawn Robinson (LBs), Kenny Patten (CB), Aaron Grymes (CB), Gary Walker (FS). Trey Farquhar (PK) and Bobby Cowan (P).
Significant losses: Eric Greenwood and Maurice Shaw (WRs), Nathan Enderle (QB), Deonte Jackson (RB), Tevita Halaholo (OG), Clell Hasenbank (C), Aaron Lavarias (DE), Jonah Sataraka (DT), Shiloh Keo (S).
Newcomer of Note:
Running back Ryan Bass, an Arizona State transfer, turned heads this spring and should be a player in the running back rotation. The Vandals rushing attack stunk it up big-time a year ago, so Princeton McCarty’s handle on the job is tenuous at best. Bass could get quality touches early and roll from there.
A new quarterback and 2010 rushing attack that was anemic at best make you wonder what the Vandals are going to do this season. Idaho could very well test a couple quarterbacks early on, which means they may have to get help from a rushing game that, a year ago was one of the worst in the nation. Fortunately, the defense returns eight starters, including all three starters at linebacker. Expect a better defensive effort up front in stopping the run and more turnovers from a pretty seasoned group. Like other teams in the conference, the emphasis in the spring was finding more speed and playmakers on both sides of the ball. We’ll see.
Expect Idaho to get near the six win total again this year. Fortunately, the WAC is a conference that will offer opportunities this season and that’s going to give this offense and its slew of new skill position players, a chance to develop and shine. A new quarterback, two new receivers and revamped running game will be big enough hurdles to get over, but Idaho should play teams that allow it to mature. After the big two of Hawaii and Fresno State, Idaho could be a sleeper for that third slot and a possible bowl bid.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
2010 Record: 5-7
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 59th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 90th
Base Offense: Spread
Returning Starters: (6 – offense) Richie Casey, Andrew Guillot and Taulib Ikharo (WRs), Lennon Creer (RB), Kevin Saia (OL), Stephen Warner (OL). (7 – defense) Matt Broha (DL), IK Enemkpali (DL), Adrien Cole (LB), Jay Dudley (LB), Ryan Williams (CB), Chad Boyd (S), Javontay Crowe (S). Matt Nelson (PK), Ryan Allen (P).
Significant losses: Ross Jenkins (QB), Phillip Livas (WR), Cudahy Harmon (OL), Randy Grigsby (DL), Mason Hitt (DL), Olajuwon Paige (CB), Josh Victorian (CB).
Newcomer of Note:
David Gru played a bit last year at wide receiver, recording 10 receptions, but he turned it up this spring. Gru was a constant producer in the spring and had four catches and a touchdown in the spring game. He’s not a speed guy, but he certainly could make hay as a possession guy keeping the chains moving.
Lennon Creer is a nice running back who can make teams pay in the passing game, too. He’s a good one to start an offense with and should see plenty of touches as the Bulldogs break in a new quarterback. The offense and defense return enough starters and experience to give rise to optimism, though replacing quarterback Ross Jenkins and receiver Phillip Livas won’t be easy. Colby Cameron exited the spring as the starter after a huge spring game, but this offense will likely be directed by the play of Creer. Expect Louisiana Tech’s defense to make a big leap, though. With seven starters back and some very nice pieces plugged in this spring, the Bulldogs appear ready to jump into the top half of the national rankings at last.
If they find a quarterback who doesn’t lose them games, the pieces and schedule appear to be in place to better last year’s five win season. A second year in coach Sonny Dykes’ offense should help everyone, which means the Bulldogs will hit the ground running offensively a little better. A big year from Creer, a better defense and more comfort with the system seems to indicate about seven wins this year.
2010 Record: 13-1
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 8th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 31st
Base Offense: Pistol spread option
Returning Starters: (6 – offense) Brandon Wimberly*, Rishard Matthews and Tray Session (WRs), Jeff Meads, Chris Barker and Jeff Nady (OLs). (7 – defense) Zack Madonick (DL), Brett Roy (DL), James-Michael Johnson (LB), Brandon Marshall (LB), Marlon Johnson (DB), Duke Williams (DB), Isaiah Frey (DB). Anthony Martinez (PK).
*Wimberly suffered a gunshot wound to the abdomen and likely won’t play again.
Significant losses: Colin Kaepernick (QB), Vai Taua (RB), Virgil Green (TE), John Bender (OL), Dontay Moch (DE), Ryan Coulson (DE), Kevin Grimes (LB), Doyle Miller (DB).
Newcomer of Note:
Replacing departed RB Vai Taua is a tall order, but sophomore Stefphon Jefferson sure looks the part. Jefferson was a playmaker all spring, and then demonstrated just how much potential he has during the spring game with 137 yards on just 10 carries (2 TDs). With questions at quarterback, a running game that clicks could really help this team stay on track. Jefferson certainly made a case for a lot of carries with his spring work.
Who are these guys? That’s going to be the sentiment among WAC defenses when they look across at Nevada’s offense and see no Colin Kaepernick or Vai Taua in the backfield. The Wolfpack will need to re-establish their offensive identity around a new quarterback who probably won’t have the skill set Kaepernick did. New and effective running backs have to be found and the veteran receivers need to make plays for whoever the quarterback is. This is an offense that’s going to be a development project. Fortunately, there’s a lot back for a defense that was a top-35 unit in 2010. Expect the defense to be the lynch-pin for this program early on as the offense figures itself out. The scoring will probably be down considerably from 2010, so we’ll see some wins via defensive effort – can you believe that?
Put last year’s 13-1 record on the shelf, it isn’t happening again. The Wolfpack likely will fall back towards the crowd in 2011. The offense will have to take a step back as it gains solid footing and gets the personnel in place it needs. The defense will carry the banner early on, but it’s likely the Wolfpack are going to get nicked a bit as it grows. Consider nine wins a good season at this point.
New Mexico State Aggies
2010 Record: 2-10
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 117th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 115th
Base Offense: Pro set (uptempo)
Returning Starters: (9 – offense) Todd Lee (WR), Taveon Rogers (WR), Kenny Turner (RB), Matt Christian (QB), Sioeli Fakalata (OL), Davonte Wallace (OT), Aundre McGaskey (OT), Maveu Heimuli (OG), Mike Grady (C). (8 – offense) Pierre Fils (DE), Donte Savage (DE), Tommy Stuart (DL), Augafa Vaaulu (DL), B.J. Adolpho (LB), Boyblue Aoelua (LB), Jonte Green (DB), Donyae Coleman (S). Tyler Stampler (PK) and Jake Caprano (P).
Significant losses: Seth Smith (RB), Marcus Allen (WR), Dwayne Barton (OL), Kyle Nelson (TE), John Finau (DT), Kawika Shook (DT), Frank Padilla (LB), Alphonso Powell (S).
Newcomer of Note:
Running back Robert Clay has been in the program a couple of years, earning his bones via special teams and some work on offense. Though Kenny Turner is a returning starter, Clay showed big-play ability in the spring and led the team in rushing in the spring game. Coach DeWayne Walker singled him out as one of a couple guys who were the kind of playmakers the Aggies needed more of. It’s a pretty good sign you’ve turned a corner when the head guy holds you up as something the team needs more of. He would seem to be in position to get the ball in his hands quite a bit.
The offensive line returns intact, which has to be a good thing, right? In fact, nine starters return to an offense that didn’t do a lot well a year ago. However, that’s then, this is now and the rule of maturity would seem to say this is a team about to make a step forward. 17 starters return overall from a crummy team, but that’s a lot of experience and hard-fought lessons they now get to fall back on. The offense wants to go quicker, the defense thought it made huge strides in the spring, but the hunt for difference-makers continues. The quarterback battle must have an effective winner and the offense as a whole must help the defense stay fresh, something it failed to do with an onslaught of three-and-outs and turnovers a year ago. They took their lumps a year ago, now we’ll see if they learned anything.
The WAC is not a strong league, this is a team with a lot of experience, the time seems ripe for the Aggies to take a step forwards – perhaps into the four or five win territory. Taveon Rogers and Todd Lee are two capable and productive receiver types who need good quarterback play from Matt Christian (or whoever ends up playing quarterback). This should be a team that makes more plays on defense and helps its offense more often. Expect improvement, understand reality. The Aggies will be better on most fronts.
San Jose State Spartans
2010 Record: 1-12
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 115th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 104th
Base Offense: Multiple
Returning Starters: (6 – offense) Nicholas Kaspar (OG), Andres Vargas (OT), David Quessenberry (OT), Ryan Otten (TE), Brandon Rutley (RB), Noel Grigsby (WR). (12 – defense) Cedric Lousi (DE), Pablo Garcia (DT), Anthony Larceval (DT), Travis Johnson (DE), Tiuke Tuipolotu (LB), Vine Buhagiar (LB), Keith Smith (LB), Brandon Driver, Peyton Thompson, Ronnie Yell, Bene Benwikere and Alex Germany (DBs). Harrison Waid (P/PK).
Significant losses: Jordan La Secla (QB), Jalal Beauchman (WR), Isaac Leatiota (OG), Ailao Eliapo (C).
Newcomer of Note:
With four quarterbacks battling for the job heading into fall, the smart money might be on someone other than redshirt freshman Blake Jurich. Still, after watching him hold his own in the spring game (2-5, 76 yards), including throwing and rushing touchdowns, it would be easy to see him lining up behind center fairly soon. He may be the baby of the bunch, but he’s got the skills to do a lot of things – something this offense may very well need.
You could see this team getting close at the end of 2010, losing four of its last five games by one score or less. The defense returns everyone – and then some to what, admittedly, was a generous defense a year ago. If spring practice revealed anything, it’s that the defense will be much improved, much more confident, must more prone to making big plays rather than giving them up. Still, they’ve got a long way to go, but certainly the experience to make a leap. If the offense can find a quarterback (as many as four could compete for the job in the fall) and then get something out of a very bad running game (Brandon Rutley or a newcomer), the offense may not be the obstacle it so easily could be this year. Tight end Ryan Otten and receiver Noel Grigsby are assets that need to be taken advantage of.
The Spartans will win more than once this season, count on it – partly because they will be much improved, partly because the WAC is a mystery conference in terms of overall strength this season. A four-win season is very possible and with a little luck, maybe five. The defense was one of the nation’s worst a year ago, but figures to rebound with all that experience. The question is whether the offense gets a quarterback under center that isn’t a liability. If they do, they’ve got a chance to raise eyebrows. They’ll be better than 2010 – how much remains to be seen.
Utah State Aggies
2010 Record: 4-8
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 94th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 101st
Base Offense: Multiple
Returning Starters: (9 – offense) Robert Turbin (RB), Matt Austin (WR), Stanley Morrison (WR), Kerwynn Williams (WR/RB), Kellen Bartlett (TE), Funaki Asisi (LG), Tyler Larson (OL), Philip Gapelu (RG), Eric Schultz (RT). (6 – defense) Quinn Garner (DE), Levi Koskan (DE), Bobby Wagner (LB), Kyle Gallagher (LB), Jake Doughty (LB), Walter McClenton (SS).
Significant losses: Diondre Borel (QB), Spencer Johnson (OL), Casey Davis (DT), Sean Enesi (DT), Curtis Marsh (CB), Chris Randle (CB), Rajiric Coleman (S), Peter Caldwell (P/PK).
Newcomer of Note:
In a defense needs playmakers, redshirt freshman linebacker Parker Hausknecht may have found his niche. Hausknecht was unblockable at times during the spring game recording three of his team’s six sacks. His spring effort pushed him into the mix at linebacker, or maybe as a rush end.
First and foremost, the Aggies have some playmakers. Yes, their quarterback is gone, but Robert Turbin’s return from knee surgery and the development of big-play WR-RB Kerwynn Williams is exciting. Both these guys can make teams pay and should handle the ball plenty in multiple roles this season. As with so many teams in the WAC, finding a quarterback who won’t screw it up is key. With receivers Matt Austin and Stanley Morrison also returning, the skill positions are set and just need a quarterback to make music. Defense has never been the Aggies calling card, but with five of six starters from the front seven, Utah State has a chance to keep teams under a little better control this year. The secondary needs rebuilding, but a trio of experienced and productive linebackers offer hope that there will be some stops coming.
If Turbin, Williams and company get into a groove, this offense could be one of the WAC’s best. Utah State won four games a year ago, but you can’t see the speed and skill and not think that, given decent quarterback play, an improved defense and decent schedule, this team couldn’t get to six wins and challenge for a bowl berth.