POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 26, 2010
For most of the past decade, it's been very simple.
As it is this year ... just put the number "1" right there on the top of the alphabetical list next to the name Boise State when predicting the conference champion in the WAC Football Media Preseason Poll.
The boys in blue might lose a game or even two. But it won't happen in conference play during their last run through the WAC.
It's actually easier to anoint the Broncos than ever before, although many of us would like to give them a bon voyage gift of accurately predicting an upset by one of the also-rans. Problem with that is no logical reason exists to pick against Boise State's seventh 8-0 sweep of the league since 2002 (and third in a row).
It certainly appears that the Broncos saved the best for last. Just five lettermen, including three starters, are not back from last year's 14-0 team that finished ranked fourth in the final AP national poll.
The 21 returning starters include ridiculously efficient quarterback Kellen Moore (39 touchdowns, three interceptions), 1,150-yard rusher Jeremy Avery and 1,041-yard receiver Titus Young.
DAVE'S WAC POLL1. Boise State
2. Fresno State
4. Utah State
7. Louisiana Tech
8. New Mexico State
9. San Jose State
On defense, 11 of the top 12 tacklers are back, including interception leaders Brandyn Thompson and Jeron Johnson and sack master Ryan Winterswyk.
So, as is usually the case with WAC prognostication, the real work comes in figuring out the rest of the order. That includes which team from the bottom third makes at least a cameo appearance among the usual suspects of regular bowl contenders Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada.
Since Boise State to win it all is such a gimme, here's a definite reach for breakthrough performance: Utah State. Well, maybe it's just dent-the-wall rather than breakthrough since the bold projection here is four wins in the WAC and five overall (one more in each case than last year) for the Aggies of Logan. Improvement, but no bowl.
Utah State going 4-4 in the WAC will be contingent on not suffering too many injuries in a nonconference gauntlet that includes Oklahoma and BYU. The eight returning starters on offense include quarterback Diondre Borel, who is quite possibly the best athlete playing football in the WAC. If nothing else, this should be an exciting group as long as Borel remains healthy.
Last year's surprise team, Idaho, returns 22 of the 30 players it considered starters. But one of its losses was 52-49 to Utah State, and they meet in Logan this time. Idaho could be as good as last year's 8-5, but Fresno State and Hawaii present tough road obstacles.
If Jeremiah Masoli plays for Louisiana Tech, all bets are off and the Bulldogs become a wild card -- perhaps good enough to make things iffy for otherwise bowl-bound Hawaii, Fresno State and Nevada. Boise State? Forget about it. The Broncos beat Masoli last year when he quarterbacked Pac-10 champion Oregon.
That loss to Hawaii in 2007 will be Boise State's last to a fellow member of the WAC.