August 20, 2012
By Marc Lawrence
Talk about a conference in serious decline.
Only six of the 28 first-team all-WAC players in 2011 return this year. Considering a mere five of the 29 first-team all-WAC players in 2010 returned last season, it's what's known as going from the frying pan into the fire.
Not only are the ranks thinning dramatically in this conference, so are the members. After losing Boise State to the Mountain West last season, Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada have bolted this year.
Just seven teams compose the 2012 WAC, and two of them - Texas State and UT-San Antonio - are making the giant jump from FCS to FBS territory.
Confounding matters this year, of the WAC's 42 non-conference matchups, 19 are against teams that played in a bowl game last season.
Silver lining in a black cloud comes from the fact that the WAC was 15-31 in non-conference play last year. Of the 31 losses, they were either tied or leading in the 2nd half of 17 games, including 14 fourth-quarter leads.
They may try hard but our best advice is to get your cell phone cameras ready and take a picture of teams calling the WAC home these days. Like free hors d'oeuvres at a weight watchers meeting, they don't figure to be around much longer.
Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Designated 'Play On' and 'Play Against' Best Bets follow each team's preview.
Team Theme: HOLD THE FRIES
Since its dramatic come-from-behind win over Bowling Green in the 2009 Humanitarian Bowl, it's been a precipitous fall from fame for the Spuds. A 2-10 effort last season can be directly attributed to an offense that declined 13 points and 150 YPG from the 2009 juggernaut that averaged 33 points 451 yards per game. And despite returning only five starters on offense, HC Robb Akey still holds out hope after the spring game. "I'm happy with the progress our offense is making," Akey said. "We have a lot of work to do, no doubt about it. But I'm excited about what we can be." If that isn't coach talk… well, we're not drinking the Moscow Kool-Aid.
Stat You Will Like: Akey is 1-6 ATS as a conference favorite.
PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite vs. San Jose State (11/3)
LOUISIANA TECH (*8/6)
Team Theme: DIVIDEND KINGS
In two short years, Sonny Dykes has taken the Bulldogs from obscurity to prosperity and, like a fat kid at McDonald's or John Travolta at a massage parlor, La Tech backers are lovin' it. That's what happens when you cover the spread 11 out of 12 times in one season while nabbing the conference crown. The blueprint for success laid out by Dykes last year should continue to pay future dividends as the combination of the best recruiting class in the WAC and an infusion of JUCO talent (read: QB Nick Isham) has Ruston barking for more. With the offense pretty much back intact, investors are standing by. Here's hoping for a happy meal - and 'ending' - in 2012.
Stat You Will Like: The last time UNLV visited Ruston (1993), the Rebels snapped the Bulldogs' 18-game home win streak.
NEW MEXICO STATE (*7/6)
Team Theme: MOVIN' ON UP
The good news in Las Cruces is that the offense continues to make big strides under 4th-year mentor DeWayne Walker, improving 9 points and 103 yards per game last year alone. Unfortunately, the defense is in denial, having declined every season under Walker. To accentuate the positive, there are two options at quarterback in 2012 as sophomore Travaughn Colwell is back after having been thrown into the fire last year when fellow soph Andrew Manley saw his season end after three games with a knee injury. If the Aggies ascent is to continue, they'll need to take advantage of a season-opening six-pack that features five losing squads.
Stat You Will Like: The Aggies are 2-19 ATS as a favorite or a dog of 4 or less points versus an opponent with revenge.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. New Mexico (9/22)
SAN JOSE STATE (7/5)
Team Theme: ONE HUGE STEP FORWARD
The second year of the Mike McIntyre era proved fruitful for the Spartans when they went from one-win wonders in 2010 to one-game shy of being bowl-eligible in 2011. In the process, they also managed to shake a gnarly 16-game road-losing skein. Unfortunately, QB Matt Faulkner and RB Matt Rutley depart, as well as four along the defensive front seven. The good news is the hiring of Gene Blaymaier, the former Boise State athletic director who built a perennial football power in three decades with the Broncos. Sadly, McIntyre doesn't have 30 years, and it appears the huge step forward last year will likely translate into two steps backward this season.
Stat You Will Like: The Spartans are 0-16 SU and 3-13 ATS versus conference opponents off BB SU and ATS wins.
TEXAS STATE (*8/9)
Team Theme: HE'S BACK
After guiding Alabama, New Mexico, TCU and Texas A&M to bowl games and national prominence, Dennis Franchione resurfaces with the Bobcats in their maiden season with the big boys as a member of the soon-to-be-defunct WAC. This is actually Franchione's second stint with TSU (1990-91), where he is 19-15 overall. At first glance, 17 returning starters from a 6-6 squad appears imposing. However, a deeper look reveals losses in five of their final six games last year - all to FCS opposition. Let's hope the 'belting' they're expected to take this season only better prepares them for next year's move to the Sun Belt Conference.
Stat You Will Like: Franchione is 11-4 ATS as a home dog of more than 6 points, including 8-1 ATS versus greater than .667 opponents.
PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Nevada (9/29)
UTAH STATE (*7/6)
Team Theme: UPS AND DOWNS
Gary Andersen reached the summit in his third season in Logan when his Aggies gained a school-record 5,945 yards last year - including 3,675 on the ground - en route to their first bowl appearance since 1997. Led by the two-headed QB attack of Chuckie Keaton, who started the first eight games before getting injured, and Adam Kennedy, who won five of six starts, the Aggies have logged six double-digit comebacks the past two seasons and are 8-1 ATS as double-digit dogs under Andersen. Unfortunately, USU is a 'Reverse Mission' team and our Black Book tells us these 'Brilliant Disguisers' tend to revert back to their losing ways more often than not.
Stat You Will Like: The Aggies played in 10 games decided by one score or less last season, tops in the nation.
PLAY ON: as a dog at Colorado State (9/22)
UTSA (TEXAS-SAN ANTONIO) (*11/10)
Team Theme: BUILT FROM SCRATCH
Talk about building a program from scratch. When UTSA decided it wanted a football program, they initiated 'Step Up UTSA' as a fundraiser. They proceeded to raise $15 million, enough to pay salaries, scholarships and build practice facilities. Former national championship head coach Larry Coker (Miami Fla.) was hired and the rest is history. The Roadrunners kicked off their maiden season as a Division 1 FCS Independent last year and now bump up to FBS status in the WAC before moving on to C-USA in 2013. Twenty-one returning starters and a slate that includes four FCS foes should have the fans in the Alamodome 'remembering' 2012.
Stat You Will Like: The Roadrunners coaching staff features more than 100 years of combined coaching experience at the collegiate level.