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April 8, 2009
The WAC gained more national attention last fall as Boise State became the third league team in as many seasons to finish the regular season unbeaten. Alas, the Broncos ? as with Hawaii the season before ? lost their bowl game.
Boise State looks to be the class of the league again, assuming the Broncos can adequately tweak their wide receiver corps.
Here's a team-by-team look at the WAC and what each needs to accomplish in spring practice.
New Mexico State's DeWayne Walker: Walker takes over after a successful run as UCLA's defensive coordinator. The Aggies have been lax on defense for a while, and Walker's arrival should help them start to turn it around quickly. Look for the Aggies to continue to emphasize the pass, but not to the extent they did under former coach Hal Mumme.
Utah State's Gary Andersen: Andersen had been defensive coordinator at Utah before being hired to replace Brent Guy. Utah State made some small strides under Guy last season, and Andersen takes over a program in better shape than it was when Guy arrived after the 2004 season. Making the offense more productive has to be the highest priority for Andersen.
KEY POSITION BATTLES THIS SPRING
Boise State: Four of the top five receivers are gone, and juniors Austin Pettis and Titus Young will vie to be the go-to receiver. Neither has held the role before, and Young is returning from a suspension.
Fresno State: The Bulldogs are looking for a new quarterback after the graduation of Tom Brandstater. The Bulldogs should have one of the best rushing attacks on the West Coast, so ? at the least ? a solid game manager needs to emerge at quarterback. Junior Ryan Colburn is the leading contender, with redshirt freshman Ebahn Feathers, sophomore Matt Faulkner and true freshman Derek Carr the others in the mix. Carr, who enrolled early, is the brother of former Bulldogs star David Carr. Feathers is the best athlete of the bunch and would give Fresno a running threat at quarterback. Faulkner's claim to fame is that his dad, Tom, wrote the "Baby Back Ribs" song used in ads for Chili's restaurants. Colburn, a left-hander, was the backup last season, though he didn't attempt a pass. Of note: Fresno will have its fifth play-caller in as many seasons after coordinator Doug Nussmeier left for Washington.
Hawaii: The entire starting secondary must be replaced. At cornerback, Chris Black, Jeramy Bryant, Melvin Hopkins, Lewis Walker and Richard Torres look to be the leading candidates. At free safety, Spencer Smith will battle Lametrius Davis. At strong safety, Kenny Estes and Mana Silva are the contenders. Davis and Hopkins are junior college transfers who already are enrolled.
Idaho: Rebuilding the offensive line is the key for the Vandals. Guard Mike Iupati will keep his starting job. Senior Irvin Stevens, who played guard last season, is the top candidate at center. Matt Cleveland, who was injured last season, looks like a likely starter at one tackle spot. Bryce Sinclair, Tyrone Novikoff, redshirt freshman Ron Mallory and junior Kellen Beam also are in the hunt at tackle. Redshirt freshmen Bilal Liggins and Bryan Wilson should vie for the other guard spot, though a tackle could slide inside.
Louisiana Tech: The Bulldogs return 16 starters from a team that won the Independence Bowl, but the back seven on defense will have four new starters. The key spots are at cornerback, where both starters from 2008 are gone. Sophomore Terry Carter has the inside track to one of the spots, while three players ? junior Josh Victorian, sophomore Darrius Terry and JC transfer Olajuwan Paige ? are in the mix at the other spot. Look for one of that trio to end up backing up Carter.
Nevada: The Wolf Pack, who already have finished spring drills, were looking to replace their two leading receivers. Junior Chris Wellington, the leading returning receiver, had a solid spring, as did junior Malcolm Shepherd, who redshirted last season after transferring from junior college. JC transfer Maurice Patterson, who already is enrolled, had his moments, as well. In addition, tight end Virgil Green showed he can be a receiving weapon.
New Mexico State: Junior college transfer Jeff Fleming and redshirt freshman Trevor Walls are vying for the starting quarterback job after three-year starter Chase Holbrook graduated. But the most important battle to watch is on the defensive line as the Aggies move from a 3-4 scheme to a more conventional 4-3 set ? and no starting linemen return. Ends Ka'ua Adolpho and Donte Savage and tackles E.J. Cannon and Dejuan Yates look to have the inside tracks to starting jobs, though depth could be an issue.
San Jose State: The Spartans need to replace three-fourths of their secondary, including both cornerback spots. And given that last season's starting corners, Coye Francies and Christopher Owens, are considered certain NFL draft picks, the holes there are huge. Senior Austin Carter and sophomores Ralph Johnson ? who walked-on last season and played in 11 games ? and Peyton Thompson are the leading contenders. Touted junior college transfer Brandon Driver will arrive in the summer and is expected to be a prime contender for a starting role.
Utah State: Some position changes on defense, made in an effort to get more speed on the field, are worth watching in the spring. Nathan Royster, who started 11 games at end last season, now is at tackle. Linebackers Quinn Garner and Steven Clark now are at end. And Curtis Marsh has moved from running back to cornerback. Marsh and Chris Randle are vying for a starting job opposite incumbent starter Kejon Murphy. Royster and Garner also have solid opportunities to start.