Category: 2011 WAC football preview


Today means there’s exactly one month until the Wolf Pack opens its season against the Oregon Ducks. Sept. 10 also marks the first of four road games that Nevada will start its season with. How will Nevada fare this season? Below is the team’s schedule and my predictions and a short reason why.

2011 Nevada Football

@ Oregon: Loss. New quarterback, first game of the season on the road against a BCS contender. Not a good recipe to start the season.
@ SJSU: Win. A break against one of the WAC’s worst teams means a good bounce back game from Oregon, and should give the team some confidence.
@ Texas Tech: Win. I can easily see Nevada losing based upon the progress of Lantrip and the offense. But, I think it’ll be hitting its stride by now.
@ Boise State: Loss. I want to say win here. But the Broncos clearly will have revenge on its mind. Also, players have said in interviews this is the one game they think about. At home, Boise State will prevail.
UNLV: Win. Rebels=Not good.
New Mexico: Win. Both teams from New Mexico won’t be too good this season.
Fresno State: Win. Tough game, but the Wolf Pack hosts the Bulldogs which should give it the edge.
@ NMSU: Win. The Aggies aren’t doing anything this season.
Hawaii: Win. Another difficult game that could go either way. But, Hawaii has to travel to Reno this time.
La Tech: The Bulldogs could be in a position to upset Nevada. However, hosting La Tech means a lot and Nevada will be rolling by this time.
@ Utah State: Win. The Aggies without Diondre Borel makes Utah State much less of a threat.
Idaho: Win. This game could be more difficult if the Vandals are fighting for a bowl spot.

As far as my conference predictions go. I truly believe Nevada will win the WAC this year. Hosting both Fresno State and Hawaii gives Nevada a big advantage in conference play. The Wolf Pack’s defense should be a source of strength this season, able to keep the team in games instead of losing them. Head coach Chris Ault will have to weather the storm with quarterback Tyler Lantrip early in the sason, but I believe the team will be able to.

Lukas Eggen can be reached at eggen.lukas@gmail.com.

The preseason WAC favorites seem to have a leg up on the competition. Quarterback Bryant Moniz returns after a season that saw him throw for more than 5,000 yards and 39 touchdowns. But, do the Warriors have the inside track for a conference title?

The offense

Moniz was one of the nation’s most prolific passers in 2010. However, there won’t be too many familiar faces around him on offense. Leading wide receiver Greg Salas, as well as receivers Kealoha Pilares and Rodney Bradley are gone, leaving Hawaii without a 1,000 receiver returning. Also gone is running back Alex Green, meaning Moniz is also the team’s top returning rusher, with just 102 yards in 2010.

The good news is Hawaii always seems to find new weapons for its passing game. WR Royce Pollard, who had 901 receiving yards, is in a prime position to have a huge year in terms of yards and touchdowns, and should help soften the loss of Salas. Billy Ray Stutzmann also looks to build off his freshmen year but receiver Darius Bright is a player to watch. By all accounts from local media, the junior college transfer has the size and speed to do some serious damage in opponents’ secondary.

The biggest issue will be the offensive line. The Warriors return just one offensive lineman from last year’ s team. Though the team doesn’t run all that much, it was 106th in the nation in sacks allowed. That could get worse this season.

The defense

Strange as it may sound, but it’s the defense that could be the real strength for Hawaii this season. The Warriors may have the best and deepest defensive line in the conference. Senior defensive ends and defensive tackles Zach Masch, Vaughn Meatoga, Liko Satele, Alasi Toilolo and Kaniela Tuipulotu will be competing for minutes against each other and more players, as the Warriors have the depth and talent to keep opposing quarterbacks under pressure all game long.

The linebackers are slightly less experienced, with two seniors and a couple of juniors expected to carry most of the burden. The secondary should be fine as long as the defensive line continues to get pressure.

Special teams

Senior place kicker Kenton Chun is expected to take over from former place kicker Scott Enos, while punter Alex Dunnachie, who averaged 43-yards per punt in 2010 will retain his starter role.

2011 outlook

Hawaii’s early-season non-conference schedule is pretty easy with games against Colorado, Washington and UNLV. Even its late season non-conference games against Tulane and BYU aren’t exactly world-beater games. But, the Warriors do have to travel to play at Nevada. And, I think the offensive line will be a bigger problem than people realize. I think Hawaii wins eight or nine games.

Lukas Eggen can be reached at eggen.lukas@gmail.com.

The Fresno State Bulldogs always say they will play anybody anywhere and at anytime. Can the Bulldogs take home a conference title in its last year in the Western Athletic Conference?

The offense

Fresno State fans might get a sense of deja vu this season as a Carr will once again be under center. Quarterback Derek Carr, brother of former Bulldogs QB David Carr, will be taking over from Ryan Colburn. Carr, a junior, will be stepping into an offense that is capable of exploding and putting up some huge numbers this year. Senior wide receiver Jamel Hamler, who had more than 800 yards and six touchdowns in 2010, and sophomore receiver Jalen Saunders, who had more than 400 yards and three touchdowns, are expected to have big years.

Fresno State should have one of the most balanced attacks in the conference. Running back Robbie Rouse surprised a lot of people when he rushed for more than 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns. That kind of production will take a huge load off of Carr’s shoulders and means he won’t have to carry the offense by himself.

The defense

The Bulldogs’ front seven will be difficult to deal with. Led by senior linebacker Kyle Knox and defensive tackle Logan Harrell, Fresno State is expecting to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks and shutting down the run. However, as good as the front seven might be, the secondary will have to prove itself quickly.

Sophomore cornerback L.J Jones and strong safety Deron Smith will likely be tested early and often by opposing teams. The problem? If they struggled and/or get injured, the Bulldogs are paper thin in terms of depth. Jones’ backup is a redshirt freshman. In fact, the team has four redshirt freshmen who are second on the depth chart for the defense. Just something to keep your eye on.

 Special teams

Senior place kicker Kevin Goessling struggled a little bit last season, making 21-0f-26 field goals. Fresno State would like him to return to his 2009 form where he made 15-of-16 field goals. Punter Andrew Shapiro will likely handle kickoff duties like he did last season.

2011 outlook

Like the Wolf Pack, Fresno State has a pretty difficult non-conference schedule, including games at Cal and against Mississippi and San Diego State. But, perhaps even more importantly, it has to go on the road to face Hawaii and Nevada, the two teams most likely to be competing for the WAC title along with the Bulldogs. If Fresno State can win both those games, it’ll be on its way to a conference championship.

Lukas Eggen can be reached at eggen.lukas@gmail.com.

The Wolf Pack is coming off arguably its best season in program history. Nevada went 13-1, including a 34-31 overtime victory against then-No. 4 Boise State. But, with many of its stars on offense and defense departed, what’s in store for Nevada fans this year?

The offense

The days of Colin Kaepernick are gone. Senior quarterback Tyler Lantrip will start. Lantrip is more of a pure passer than Kaepernick was, but lacks the running ability. Expect the Wolf Pack’s offense to be a little more balanced in terms of passing and running. However, running backs Mike Ball and Lampford Mark will get a chance to shine in the running game after seeing former running back Vai Taua getting most of the carries last season. Ball had a five-touchdown game against UNLV in 2009, so Ball has the ability to have a breakout season.

Nevada’s wide receivers core could have a bigger year with a more pass-heavy offense. Rishard Matthews looks to build upon the momentum he gained against Boise State and in the bowl game against Boston College. Matthews could be the star of the offense as he has the big play ability and the chance to become the team’s top receiver. Senior Tray Session also will be looked upon to have a big season as Nevada looks to have a more balanced offense. The team may need both players as it also has to replace tight end Virgil Green, who was a big target for the passing game in the red zone.

However, it could be the offensive line that determines how potent Nevada’s offense is. After losing linemen like John Bender and Jose Acuna, it’s time to see whether “the Union” can continue to be a dominating force and pave the way for what has been one of the nation’s top rushing attacks over the past few seasons.

The defense

While the offense will be undergoing transition, the defense, despite the loss of Dontay Moch, should be a more consistent force for the team. Linebacker James-Michael Johnson will be one of the leaders while Brandon Marshall will have a chance to shine as well. The big question will be on the defensive line, specifically who can step up to help replace Moch’s production. Moch led the team in tackles-for-loss and sacks. Defensive lineman Brett Roy, who was second on the team in sacks, seems the most likely candidate to have a big year and help soften the blow.

The secondary, which was for so long the major weak spot on the team, now looks to improve more and become one of the strengths. Defensive backs Duke Williams, Isaiah Frey and Khalid Wooten look to lead a unit that has made strides, but still gave up too many big plays, including one that almost cost the team a victory against Boise State.

Special teams

Place kicker Anthony Martinez cemented himself into Nevada’s history when he made the game-winning kick against the Broncos. But, Martinez didn’t handle kick-off duties, which means freshmen kicker Allen Hardison could make an impact on special teams. The Wolf Pack will be debuting a new punter after losing Brad Langley from last season.

2011 outlook

Unfortunately for Nevada, the team starts its season with four road games, two of which are against opponents ranked in the top 10 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ preseason poll (Oregon and Boise State). Add the fact that the team will be getting used to a new quarterback under center and it’s easy to see Nevada going 2-2 or 1-3 in those first four games. However, Nevada hosts UNLV, which could serve as a turnaround game like it did in 2009 when the team started 0-3 but then, starting against the Rebels, reeled off eight-straight wins. The Wolf Pack should contend for a conference title and hosts both Fresno State and Hawaii. The question will be whether the team can stay healthy and if it can survive its early-season schedule without getting discouraged or frustrated.

Louisiana Tech is coming off a disappointing 5-7 season which saw games against Southern Miss and Fresno State  slip away from them and, ultimately, cost them a chance at a bowl game. This season, the Bulldogs are looking to make their mark on the WAC and move into contention for a conference title.

The offense

Quarterback Ross Jenkins is gone, but junior quarterback Colby Cameron gets his chance to shine. In limited action last year, he threw for 491 yards, one touchdown and five interceptions. That’s not going to cut it if Louisiana Tech wants to have a winning season. However, senior running back Lennon Creer will be the focal point of the offense. Creer ran for more than 1,100 yards and had 10 rushing touchdowns last season, which more than doubled his totals for his previous two seasons with the team. Creer will be playing not only to carry the offense, but to show NFL scouts he can be a player in the next level, so expect a big year from him.

Also, helping Cameron is the fact that the team’s top two receivers, Taulib Ikharo and Richie Casey, are both returning. So while Cameron must improve on his touchdown to interception ratio, he should have no shortage of offensive weapons to make life easier for him this season.

The defense

Louisiana Tech lost multiple seniors…but that may not be such a bad thing. The Bulldogs ranked 90th in the nation in points allowed, giving up 30.7 points per game. The team should have a pretty deep secondary, led by strong safety Chad Boyd and cornerback Ryan Williams, who have combined for 123 tackles and six interceptions during their careers.

But, it’ll be the play of veteran linebackers Adrien Cole, Jay Dudley and Dusty Rust play. The seniors will be called upon to be the heart and soul of the defense and the Bulldogs may rise and fall with the trio.

Special teams

Place kicker Matt Nelson made 14-of-18 field goals last season, a pretty solid total as a sophomore. Look for his accuracy to improve even more as a junior.

2011 outlook

Louisiana Tech plays seven of its 12 games on the road. The team plays three teams from Mississippi: Southern Miss, Mississippi State and Mississippi to go along with non-conference games against Central Arkansas and Houston. Whether or not the team will be bowl-eligible probably depends on whether or not the Bulldogs can finish conference play with a winning record or not.

Lukas Eggen can be reached at eggen.lukas@gmail.com.

At one point last season, it appeared as though Utah State, led by former quarterback Diondre Borel, was going to be a serious contender. It suffered a close loss to Oklahoma and dominated Brigham Young University. However, losses to Louisiana Tech and Idaho effectively killed its chances. Now, the Aggies will be looking to rebuild and make a run at the title.

The offense

Borel gave the Aggies an explosive dual threat player. With him out of the picture, it will be up to junior quarterback Adam Kennedy to pick up the slack. Like Nevada, ultimately, Utah State’s success this season will come down to whether or not Kennedy can play well in his first season as a starter. The good news is that he is a junior and has had time to learn the offense and see a good quarterback in action.

To help Kennedy, running back Robert Turbin should be set to have a big big year. Turbin is probably the team’s best pro prospect, and he will be called upon a lot, especially early this season to help take the pressure off Kennedy. Also, Kennedy will have the team’s top two receivers Matt Austin and Stanley Morrison back after both missed almost all of last season with injuries.

To put it shortly, though the team will have a new starting quarterback, the Aggies will have lots of offensive weapons to help Kennedy.

The defense

Senior linebacker Bobby Wagner is the unquestioned leader of the defense. However, the key to the unit’s success, which struggled last season, will be nose tackle Evan Huahulu. The defensive front seven is a little small, but they have to get into the backfield and give their corners a break. After a season which saw Utah State’s defense rank 101st in the nation in points allowed, something has to change.

Special teams

Sophomore place kicker Braeden Loveless attempted only two field goals last season. With Peter Caldwell out of the picture, Loveless will become the team’s primary field goal kicker, meaning he will have a much more vital role this season.

2011 outlook

After opening the season at Auburn, Utah State has non-conference games against Wyoming, Weber State, Colorado State and BYU. It seems reasonable that the Aggies can win three of those four, maybe even all four. Utah State will need all those because with just three home conference games, competing in WAC play could be a stretch this season. Still, if Utah State can go 3-2 before WAC play, it’ll need just three more wins to become bowl eligible.

Lukas Eggen can be reached at eggen.lukas@gmail.com.

Idaho head coach Robb Akey has begun to change the culture of the Vandals. After winning just three games in his first two seasons, Idaho has 14 wins, including a bowl win in 2009, in his last two seasons. Can the Vandals take the next step and contend for a conference title in 2011?

The offense

Big questions surround the Vandals’ offense. Gone is four-year starter Nathan Enderle, the quarterback who helped lead Idaho to its bowl win in 2009. Senior quarterback Brian Reader seems ready to step into the starting role. He has seen somewhat significant playing time, and he has the experience and knowledge of the offense to step in right away.

However, things get more unstable from there. The team lost leading receiver Eric Greenwood and tight end Daniel Hardy, two of the team’s top targets, especially around the end zone, last season. Still, it’ll give players like Justin Veltung, who was third on the team in receiving last year, a chance to shine. The big question will be how good Idaho’s offensive line will be. By all accounts from local media, the line was dinged up during the spring, so it was hard to assess how they will perform come the fall. But, Idaho needs a strong performance from the line to protect Reader and give senior running back Princeton McCarty lanes to run in.

A possible player flying under the radar right now is Ryan Bass. Bass transferred from Arizona State and had to sit out last season due to NCAA regulations. Bass, however, was a five-star recruit so keep an eye out for him.

The defense

Idaho returns eight starters from a solid defensive unit. However, one of the departed players is safety Shiloh Keo, one of the leaders of the team last season. It’s a big blow to the secondary, and the defense as a whole, and may expose Idaho to the pass. The Vandals’ defensive line could be a force to be reckoned with, led by junior defensive end Benson Mayowa, who had three sacks and three forced fumbles last year.

Special teams

Place kicker Trey Farquhar made 18-of-25 field goals while punter Bobby Cowan had a very nice average of 45.1 yards per punt.

2011 outlook

The good news is that a return trip to a bowl game seems entirely possible for Idaho. The Vandals non-conference schedule includes Bowling Green and North Dakota to start its season. The question will be can it compete with Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada, as the team struggled to compete with those teams in previous seasons. While it may be a few seasons before Idaho can compete for a conference title, the Vandals could be in store for another seven or eight-win season.

Lukas Eggen can be reached at eggen.lukas@gmail.com.

The San Jose State Spartans have been another team consistently near the bottom of the conference standings. Last season, after getting hammered by injuries, especially on the defensive side of the ball, the team won just one game…losing to teams like New Mexico State and even the University of California-Davis. The good news is it’s almost impossible for the Spartans to have a worse season than in 2010. But, how much better will San Jose State be?

The offense

The biggest question surrounding San Jose State’s offense was at its quarterback position. Senior quarterback Matt Faulkner would seem to be a shoo-in, but it becomes a question of whether San Jose State wants to try and win now, or develop one of their young quarterbacks for the future, though with Tate Forcier transferring to San Jose State and eligible to play in 2012, maybe they’re just buying time until then.

The team’s receiving core will have to prove itself this season. Noel Grigsby, the team’s second-leading receiver in 2010, returns as the team’s top wideout. However, no other returning receiver had more than 500 yards receiving or three touchdowns. One of these players will need to step up in order to take some of the focus off Grigsby.

The rushing attack, which gained just 1,410 yards combined all of last season, will also need to step up and be more productive. Otherwise, San Jose State’s going to have problems scoring on anyone this year.

The defense

The Spartans gave up more than 200 yards on the ground, more than 460 total yards per game and more than 30 points per game. That would be a recipe for disaster on any team. By all accounts by local media, during the spring, the team’s rushing defense didn’t exactly show too many signs of improvement. If the defense is going to improve, it’ll likely be because sophomore Keith Smith is leading the charge. The conference’s Freshman of the Year in 2010, Smith had 116 tackles and 14 tackles-for-loss. Meaning? Opposing offenses must know where he is on the field at all times.

Senior Duke Ihenacho will also have to have a big year to help the team’s defense improve.

Special teams

Place kicker Harrison Waid was…far from a sure thing last season. He made 14-of-22 field goal attempts in 2010. Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence does it?

2011 season

The good news? The team doesn’t open its season against Alabama like last season. The bad news? The team opens its season at Stanford, at UCLA and hosting Nevada. The team also plays at Brigham Young University.

To put it simply, the team does have one of the more experienced teams in the conference, and should win more than one game. But, two or three wins might be all it gets to.

Lukas Eggen can be reached at eggen.lukas@gmail.com.

The New Mexico State Aggies have been the bottom-feeders of the Western Athletic Conference for years. The team hasn’t had a .500 record since the 2002 season. Head coach DeWayne Walker is entering his third season with the team. After a dismal 2010 season, where the team’s only two wins came by a total of four points against San Jose State and New Mexico, should Aggies fans be optimistic about the direction the team is headed?

The offense

Senior quarterback Matt Christian will be leading the offense after throwing eight touchdowns and two picks in eight games last season. But, if he struggles, QB Andrew Manley, who played in five games, could take over. The Aggies had one of the worst offenses in the nation last season. The team averaged just 15.7 points per game, and had a total of 17 offensive touchdowns. Running back Kenny Turner, the team’s leading rusher, returns, but it remains to be seen whether he can truly carry the load as a feature back. Turner had 461 yards last year.

To put it simply, the Aggies need Christian to lead this offense with confidence. New Mexico State isn’t going to win any more games than it did in 2010 averaging 15 points per game. The quarterbacks did a good job spreading the ball around to different receivers, but think of it this way: the Aggies had nine passing touchdowns last season. Nevada had seven total touchdowns when it played New Mexico State. The Aggies also lost its top receivers in Kyle Nelson and Marcus Allen. Clearly, the team needs a break out star in the receiving core.

The good news is New Mexico State returns its offensive line, which gave up just 20 sacks last season. Still, unless something drastically changes, the Aggies offense will be sputtering again.

The defense

While the offense struggled to score, the defense gave up 39.5 points per game. The defense gave up 40 or more points in seven of the team’s 12 games last season, not exactly a good combination. Yet, returning starters Donyae Coleman (strong safety) and Pierre Fils (defensive end) will be called upon to lead a defense that struggled to stop opposing offenses. However, linebacker B.J. Adolpho, who was second on the team in tackles, tied for second on the team in sacks and led the team in tackles-for-loss, could be the difference maker. If Adolpho can take his game to the next level, he will be feared by offenses and could make a huge difference in stopping the run.

That would be great for the Aggies since New Mexico State gave up 32 rushing touchdowns last season.

Special teams

Place kicker Tyler Stampler made 16-of-19 field goals in 2010, including five-of-seven between 40 and 49 yards. He was generally consistent, and for an anemic offense like the Aggies, that should be good enough to keep his job.

Punter Jake Capraro averaged 36.9 yards per kick, a pedestrian number that must improve to help New Mexico State win the field position battle during games. The return game was ok, if unimpressive. To put it frankly: The special teams isn’t very special.

2011 season

There seems to be little reason to believe the Aggies will be significantly better this season than last. The good news is its schedule includes games against four teams with losing records last year in its first five games. The bad news, that doesn’t necessarily mean New Mexico State can win those games. The Aggies seem headed to improve on its two-win season, but destined to finish below .500 once again.

Lukas Eggen can be reached at eggen.lukas@gmail.com.