FRESNO, Calif. — A year ago, the future of Western Athletic Conference football seemed destined for disaster.
Perennial champion Boise State was on its way to the Mountain West. Fellow flagship programs Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada were all on a similar path, set to join the Mountain West this summer.
But with Louisiana Tech evolving from a middling program to win the WAC title outright and Utah State becoming bowl-eligible for the first time in 14 years, perhaps the WAC’s future isn’t as gloomy as originally forecasted.
Both Louisiana Tech and Utah State are remaining in the WAC, along with Idaho, New Mexico State and San Jose State.
The three defecting schools hardly stormed through their final seasons in the WAC as Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada have gone a combined 7-7 against the five programs staying behind. Preseason polls projected Hawaii to win the WAC, followed by Fresno State and Nevada.
On Saturday, Nevada (6-5, 4-2) hosts Idaho (2-9, 1-5) in the final game between the “rebels” and the “unworthy,” as some might interpret the matchups.
“I said back in July at the WAC media preview that it’d be important for one or more of the continuing WAC schools to have a good season,” conference commissioner Karl Benson said. “And at this juncture, for Louisiana Tech and Utah State to be where they are, playing in the postseason and representing the WAC, is exactly the type of regular season that we needed.”
Immediately after capturing the conference title outright Saturday, Louisiana Tech (8-4, 6-1) accepted a bid to the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego.
The Bulldogs are scheduled to play the No. 2 team from the Mountain West (currently No. 9 Boise State).
Utah State (6-5, 4-2) on Monday accepted a bid to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (formerly the Humanitarian Bowl) in Boise and will face the No. 3 team from the Mid-American Conference.
Nevada also is bowl-eligible already but won’t find out where it’s going until after Hawaii’s bowl fate in determined.
Hawaii (6-6, 3-4) must beat Brigham Young (8-3) in its finale Saturday to lock up a spot in the Hawaii Bowl. The WAC also has a secondary tie-in with the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco.
“I’d be confident that all four bowl-eligible teams would be placed (in a bowl),” said Benson, while assuming Hawaii will win Saturday.
For Louisiana Tech, the WAC title marked its first conference title in 10 years, and the Poinsettia Bowl will be only its second postseason bowl played outside of the Central time zone in school history (Tech also went to the Humanitarian Bowl in 2001).
“It’s great,” said coach Sonny Dykes, who is nearing the end of his second season at Louisiana Tech. “Louisiana Tech, in their history, has mostly gone to regional bowls. So this will be a great experience for our players to get to go to San Diego and play in a big stage, against a quality football team.”
On top of trying to become bowl-eligible and convincing the Hawaii administration that he should continue coaching and receive a contract extension, Warriors coach Greg McMackin has had to prepare his team amid point-shaving allegations.
McMackin said last week’s allegations that players were throwing games to impact point spreads were false and that no investigation took place, while also alluding that no investigation ever was needed.
“It was an anonymous letter, and there is no investigation,” McMackin said. “That’s the way that is. There is no investigation. That was an anonymous person that sent it. That’s why (Honolulu Police Department) came out. There’s no investigation. It was an anonymous guy that sent a letter.
“Whatever. That’s what it was.”
NEVADA QB HURTING
Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo sprained an ankle last week in a 21-17 loss at Utah State.
Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault said he expects the sophomore to practice today and perhaps play in the regular-season finale Saturday.