With six of 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 ongoing. Yes, friends, the tide may be turning a bit for the WAC, which looks like it's hunkering down for a wide open race.

Hawaii and Fresno State 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 Utah State, which has playmakers on offense in Robert Turbin and Kerwynn Williams, and plenty of returning pieces from last year's four-win team. If it finds a quarterback and the defense improves as expected, Utah State might no longer be a pushover.

Fresno State

2010 Record: 8-5
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 48th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 83rd
Base Offense: Pro set
Returning Starters (Offense/Defense): 4/5
Significant Losses: QB Ryan Colburn, WR Jamel Hamler, TE Vince Pascoe, DE Chris Carter, MLB Ben Jacobs, CB Desia Dunn
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 a big-time quarterback, but he's a youngsters. A lot will depend on a revamped offensive line. Coach Pat Hill said that if the offensive 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.

2011 Thoughts: Protect Carr, keep Robbie 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. Pat Hills' 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 good field position and convertible chances this season. Offense is the question, but defense will be the key.

Final Analysis: 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: Shotgun spread
Returning Starters (Offense/Defense): 3/6
Significant Losses: WR Rodney Bradley, WR Kealoha Pilares, WR Greg Salas, RB Alex Green, DL Elliott Purcell, CB Jeramy Bryant, CB Lametrius Davis, FS Mana Silva, PK Scott Enos
Newcomer of Note: The starting point guard on the Warrior basketball team, Jeremiah Ostrowski, surprised everyone in spring drills by sticking his nose into the wide receiver race. He's quick, 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 passing yards. Ostrowski seems like a guy who has a chance.

2011 Thoughts: 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. 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 one of the nation's best. The defense, fortunately, seems to be in better position with six returning starters 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 in the WAC. Expect the defense to be very active, particularly early as the offense works on cohesion.

Final Analysis: 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 if no running game emerges. The defense should be decent, but the offense will initially be a work in progress. In truth, the WAC seems to be a battle between Hawaii and Fresno State with the complete rebuilding job about to begin at Nevada. The Warriors could easily get 10 wins 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 (Offense/Defense): 5/8
Significant Losses: WR Eric Greenwood, WR Maurice Shaw, QB Nathan Enderle, RB Deonte Jackson, OG Tevita Halaholo, C Clell Hasenbank, DE Aaron Lavarias, DT Jonah Sataraka, S Shiloh Keo
Newcomer of Note: Running back Ryan Bass, an Arizona State transfer, turned heads this spring. 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.

2011 Thoughts: A new quarterback and rushing attack that was anemic at best last year make you wonder what the Vandals are going to do this season. Idaho could very well try a couple quarterbacks early on, which means it might have to get help from a rushing game that was one of the worst in the nation in 2010. Fortunately, the defense returns eight starters, including all three 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.

Final Analysis: Expect Idaho to get near the six-win total this year. Fortunately, the WAC is a conference that will offer opportunities this season, and that's going to give the offense and its slew of new skill-position players a chance to shine. A new quarterback, two new receivers and revamped running game will be big enough hurdles to overcome, but Idaho should play teams that allow it to develop. After conference favorites Hawaii and Fresno State, Idaho could be a sleeper looking at a possible bowl bid.

Louisiana Tech

2010 Record: 5-7
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 59th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 90th
Base Offense: Spread
Returning Starters (Offense/Defense): 6/7
Significant Losses: QB Ross Jenkins, WR Phillip Livas, OL Cudahy Harmon, DL Randy Grigsby, DL Mason Hitt, CB Olajuwon Paige, CB Josh Victorian
Newcomer of Note: David Gru played sparingly last year at wide receiver, recording 10 receptions, but he turned up the intensity this spring. Gru was a constant producer in the spring, and he 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.

2011 Thoughts: Running back Lennon Creer is a good start on offense 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 dictated 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.

Final Analysis: If the Bulldogs find a quarterback who can be a game manager, 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 should hit the ground running offensively. 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
Returning Starters (Offense/Defense): 5/7
Significant Losses: QB Colin Kaepernick, RB Vai Taua, TE Virgil Green, OL John Bender, DE Dontay Moch, DE Ryan Coulson, LB Kevin Grimes, DB Doyle Miller
Newcomer of Note: Replacing departed Vai Taua is a tall order, but sophomore Stefphon Jefferson appears ready to meet the challenge. Jefferson was a playmaker all spring, and then demonstrated just how much potential he has during the spring game with 137 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries. 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.

2011 Thoughts: 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 Kaepernick or 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 uncovered, and the veteran receivers need to make plays for whoever is quarterbacking. This is an offense that's going to be a project. Fortunately, there's a lot returning on defense that was a top-35 unit in 2010. Expect the defense to be the linchpin for this program early on as the offense tries to gel. The scoring will probably be down considerably from last season, so we'll see some wins via defensive effort. Can you believe that?

Final Analysis: Put last year's 13-1 record on the shelf. It isn't happening again. The Wolfpack likely will drop in the WAC standings 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, 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

2010 Record: 2-10
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 117th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 115th
Base Offense: Pro set
Returning Starters (Offense/Defense): 9/8
Significant Losses: RB Seth Smith, WR Marcus Allen, OL Dwayne Barton, TE Kyle Nelson, DT John Finau, DT Kawika Shook, LB Frank Padilla, S Alphonso Powell
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 the kind of playmakers the Aggies need. It's a pretty good sign you've turned a corner when the head guy holds you up as something the team needs. Clay seems to be in position to get the ball in his hands quite a bit.

2011 Thoughts: 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 and this is now, and the rule of maturity would seem to say this is a team about to take a step forward. Seventeen starters return from a disappointing 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 and the defense thought it made huge strides in the spring, but the hunt for playmakers continue. 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. The Aggies took their lumps in 2010 and now we'll see if they learned anything.

Final Analysis: The WAC is not a strong league. This is a team with a lot of experience and the time seems ripe for the Aggies to take a step forward -- perhaps into the four- or five-win territory. Taveon Rogers and Todd Lee are two capable receivers, 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, but understand reality.

San Jose State

2010 Record: 1-12
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 115th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 104th
Base Offense: Multiple
Returning Starters (Offense/Defense): 6/11
Significant Losses: QB Jordan La Secla, WR Jalal Beauchman, OG Isaac Leatiota, C Ailao Eliapo
Newcomer of Note: With four quarterbacks battling for the starting job heading into fall camp, the smart money might be on someone other than redshirt freshman Blake Jurich. Still, after watching him hold his own in the spring game (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.

2011 Thoughts: You could see this team improving at the end of 2010, losing four of its last five games by one score or less. The defense returns everyone 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 and more prone to making big plays rather than giving them up. Still, the Spartans got a long way to go, but certainly the experience to make a positive 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 on offense.

Final Analysis: Count on the Spartans to win more than once this season, partly because they will be much improved and the WAC is a mystery conference in terms of overall strength this season. A four-win season is very possible. The defense was one of the nation's worst a year ago, but figures to rebound with all that experience. The big question is whether the offense gets a quarterback under center that isn't a liability. If they do, the Spartans got a chance to raise eyebrows. They'll be better than 2010. How much remains to be seen.

Utah State

2010 Record: 4-8
2010 Offensive Rank (out of 120): 94th
2010 Defensive Rank (out of 120): 101st
Base Offense: Multiple
Returning Starters (Offense/Defense): 9/6
Significant Losses: QB Diondre Borel, OL Spencer Johnson, DT Casey Davis, DT Sean Enesi, CB Curtis Marsh, CB Chris Randle, S Rajric Coleman, PK Peter Caldwell
Newcomer of Note: On a defense that 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.

2011 Thoughts: 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 wide receiver/running back Kerwynn Williams gives Utah State hope. 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 suitable quarterback is key. With receivers Matt Austin and Stanley Morrison also returning, the skill positions are set and Utah State just needs a quarterback to move the chains. Defense has never been the Aggies' calling card, but with five of six starters from the front seven returning, 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.

Final Analysis: 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 given its speed and skill, decent quarterback play, an improved defense and decent schedule, this team could get to six wins and challenge for a bowl berth.