The 2008 Western Athletic Conference coaches meeting is this week in Salt Lake City, Utah where coaches and players from each team will gather for three days to discuss the upcoming season and conduct interviews, media polls, coaches polls, and even a little bit of golf. CI.com was selected to submit our rankings for the upcoming football season. The WAC's media preseason rankings will be released on Wednesday, July 23, 2008.
Each WAC school plays either eight or nine WAC games this season, depending on whether the Hawaii game is a home game or an away game. This season NMSU plays eight WAC games with four at home and four away. Only Louisiana Tech, San Jose, Nevada, and Idaho pay visits to the islands this season.
Several media members were asked to rank each team 1-9 in order of finish for the 2008 WAC season. Last year, the WAC end of season rankings finished as follows:
1. Hawaii 12-1, 8-0
2. Boise State 10-3, 7-1
3. Fresno State 9-4, 6-2
4. Nevada 6-7, 4-4
5. Louisiana Tech 5-7,4-4
6. San Jose State 5-7,4-4
7. Utah State 2-10,2-6
8. New Mexico State 4-9,1-7
9. Idaho 1-11, 0-8
In ranking our projected order of finish, we looked at certain criteria for the upcoming season and how we felt that would impact the order of finish. The criteria we selected:
� Number of returning players in starting positions both offense and defense
� Number of returning players in starting positions in the "skilled" slots
� Coaching changes
� Travel out to Hawaii
� Preseason rankings from other media outlets
� Strength of schedule outside of WAC play
� Gut instinct
With all the criteria assembled, we came up with the following predicted order of finish:
1. Fresno State
2. Boise State
4. New Mexico State
6. Louisiana Tech
7. San Jose State
8. Utah State
1. Fresno State � Picked by many media outlets to finish atop the WAC. Fresno State returns a large amount of players including top returning starters. QB Tom Brandstater is a candidate for the Davey O'Brien award. Fresno State's toughest away game in the WAC this year will be in Ruston, LA. Look for Fresno State to go 8-0 in the WAC.
2. Boise State � The Broncos toughest WAC away games this season will be at NMSU and Nevada. The NMSU game is a homecoming game so the Aggies will be pumped and fully loaded for this game. Boise State returns the WAC's best running back in Ian Johnson. We see BSU going 7-2 in WAC play.
3. Nevada � Tough WAC away games await Nevada this year at Hawaii, Fresno, and Ruston. Nevada ended their season last year with a thud against New Mexico Bowl Champion, New Mexico. It's time for Nevada to regroup in 2008. Keep in mind the Wolfpacks QB, Colin Kaepernick, is only a sophomore.
4. New Mexico State � Is this a "homer" pick? We don't think so. With an offense that's fully cocked and loaded and a renewed sense on defense, we feel the New Mexico State Aggies will make up some serious ground in the WAC. We're not saying they'll be WAC champion contenders, but they could shake things up a bit. As with every year at NMSU, depth and injuries will determine their "now or never" season.
5. Hawaii � Wow! What can you say about last season? Hawaii was the team to beat and we agree with coach Mumme that they were the best team in the WAC in 2007, much to the anger of Boise State fans. Still, having to replace a head coach and quarterback will be tough to say the least. Plus, traveling early to Gainesville, Florida (Florida Gators) and Corvalis, OR (Oregon State) may hurt Hawaii early in WAC play. Having the final three games at home helps.
6. Louisiana Tech � Here's a team that could throw a wrench into the whole WAC season and every preseason prediction out the window. Coach Dooley has assembled a football program that is making noise and is even making former Louisiana Tech alum Terry Bradshaw happy. This is only Dooley's second year at the helm and he's already convinced some impressive recruits to join him in Ruston. Add former Georgia Tech quarterback Taylor Bennett to the roster and things are looking up. They open the season with Mississippi State, which is tough, but keep in mind they lost out on a bowl bid last year by losing to Hawaii in their final WAC game. It wouldn't surprise us if Louisiana State finishes as high as third this year in the WAC. Our only disclaimer or "dark horse" for the upcoming season.
7. San Jose State � Probably one of the most unpredictable football programs in America. Last season was a disappointment for the Spartans. Coach Tomey's teams always improve as the season goes along and expect this season to be no different. However, early WAC season losses put the Spartans down in the pack in the WAC race. We don't see much changing in San Jose. Good wins. Tough losses. Same ol', same ol'.
8. Utah State � Coach Brent Guy is in his fourth year at Utah State. This team reminds me a lot of the NMSU football teams. One step forward and two steps backwards seems to be the rally cry for the Utags. Throw in three very tough out of conference games to start the season doesn't help. Well, at least they end the season against New Mexico State which can help determine which football program has made the most progress. My money is on NMSU.
9. Idaho � Other than a cool name for their home dome, "The Kibbie Dome", we don't see much in 2008 for Idaho. Sorry Idaho fans. Expect the win column number to resemble a potato. A final game in Honolulu is a fine way to wrap up a season, wouldn't you say?
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