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WAC preview: La. Tech seeks to rule again before conference disintegrates

by | College Football Blogger
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Senior Colby Cameron hopes to lead Louisiana Tech to another WAC title. (US Presswire)  
Senior Colby Cameron hopes to lead Louisiana Tech to another WAC title. (US Presswire)    

Go ahead, it's OK, check that cheat sheet.

Given all of the conference realignment over the past two years, it's hard to figure out who, exactly, will actually be in the Western Athletic Conference in 2012. There's six football teams competing this season, six of whom will move on to a new conference next academic year. With all that change, this figures to be a season of transition for just about every program, but with the only constant in the fact that the WAC champion last year, Louisiana Tech, is the overwhelming favorite this year.

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"We have been exploring different avenues for the WAC's future," commissioner Jeff Hurd said at the conference's media day. "I can honestly tell you that I don't think there's a scenario you could list that we haven't looked at in one way or another; in terms of is it feasible to sustain FBS football? Is it feasible to sustain the conference without football? And in either one of those scenarios, what would the makeup of the conference be?

"We have gone East Coast to West Coast looking at options."

The WAC enters its 50th year with an uncertain future in what certainly could be its last season playing football. Louisiana Tech and Texas-San Antonio will move on to Conference USA, while San Jose State and Utah State will restock the Mountain West. Texas State and upstart football program Texas-Arlington will join the Sun Belt. New Mexico State and Idaho, the only schools supposed to be in the league next year, are scrambling to find a home and could be forced to drop down to FCS or go independent.

"I've got a coaching staff that is worried about the future. I've got recruits that are going to be a part of us that are concerned. Believe me, I deal with it day-to-day," Vandals coach Robb Akey told the Idaho Statesman. "That's why I say the sooner we make an announcement the better."

First and foremost, though, Akey has to worry about fall camp and getting his team to bounce back after a disappointing 2-10 record in 2011. Despite only 10 starters returning, Idaho figures to be a team that can take advantage of the watered-down league.

The reigning conference champion, Louisiana Tech, also figures to take advantage and roll to yet another title under third-year head coach Sonny Dykes. After a 6-1 mark against the WAC, the Bulldogs return a good chunk of a team that gave TCU a run for their money in the Poinsettia Bowl last season and figure to be one of the better offenses in the country with nine seniors starting. The non-conference schedule features a few coin-flip games, so topping last year's eight-win mark won't be a stretch if quarterback Colby Cameron and WAC preseason player of the year Quinton Patton get off to a hot start.

"We think we have an opportunity to have a pretty good football team," Dykes said. "We did some good things last year and continued to grow. I think the thing last year that we learned how to do was win football games.

"We'll see how our players react to being the hunted instead of the hunters [this year], that will be a little bit different role for us being the favorite in the conference. It will be challenging, it always is. It's hard to repeat in anything."

Chuckie Keeton and Utah State will be looking for another bowl bid. (US Presswire)  
Chuckie Keeton and Utah State will be looking for another bowl bid. (US Presswire)    
Gunning for them are San Jose State and Utah State, two teams looking to capture the league title on their way out the door. The Aggies went 7-6 last season but made a late surge in the second half of the season they're hoping to duplicate behind either Chuckie Keeton or Adam Kennedy, two returning quarterbacks who started multiple games for the team last season.

Mike MacIntyre enters Year 3 with the Spartans and almost got the squad to a bowl game but lost four games by three points or fewer last season. The schedule is quite manageable while the two-deep is stocked with well-coached upperclassmen who should contribute to a nice season after the opener at Stanford.

New Mexico State has experienced quite a bit of roster turnover but should at least match their win total from last year as DeWayne Walker tries to coach them up for a fourth season. The WAC also figures to be intriguing with BCS castoffs Dennis Franchione (at Texas State) and Larry Coker (UTSA) transitioning their teams to a much harder FBS schedule.

"I think this is my third tour of duty. A lot of different faces, but it's still the wacky WAC," Franchione said at media day. "Some of my greatest memories are from this conference. From our standpoint, it's a great league to be a part of. For us to make the move, it's one thing to go to the FBS, it's another to go with a chance of success. And I think we're making this move with a chance to be successful."

The WAC might be on its last legs but -- if you can figure out who's playing in the league -- everybody seems fairly excited about the opportunity to play what should be a newsworthy final season of football in the conference.

Bryan Fischer's predicted order of finish:

1. Louisiana Tech: The Bulldogs are the overwhelming favorite to win the WAC after rolling through the league last year with a 6-1 mark. Sonny Dykes has completely transformed the team and has what should be his most complete squad in his three years as head coach. They gave a very good TCU team a run for their money in the bowl last season and return several key starters that should allow them to roll through a weakened conference.

2. San Jose State: Bobby Bowden had a saying to the effect that, 'You lose big, lose close, win close and then win big,' and that seems to be how the Spartans are tracking as they enter year three under Mike MacIntyre. Last year the squad lost three winnable games by just three points and narrowly missed out on a bowl game. There's some depth to this team and the schedule sets up nicely, hosting both Utah State and Louisiana Tech.

3. Utah State: The Aggies were a bit of a darling in college football thanks to their thrilling, narrow loss to Auburn to open last season but it was a roller coaster ride of a year. Quarterbacks Chuckie Keeton and Adam Kennedy both started several games and return to give Utah State a nice combination under center. Although the schedule is manageable overall, they do have to travel to both Louisiana Tech and San Jose State.

4. Idaho: Last year was a step back for the Vandals as they went just 2-10 on the season and never were consistent enough throughout the year despite being more competitive than their record would indicate. Just 10 starters return but there's decent depth that should allow the program to become much more competitive in a watered-down league.

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5. New Mexico State: After doubling their win total from 2010 to 2011, the 2012 season is shaping up to be a big one for coach DeWayne Walker and the Aggies. Unfortunately there's not much left on the roster as just seven starters return and key positions such as quarterback haven't been solidified in some time. It's possible the team could equal or exceed their record from last year with some breaks but it should be a difficult campaign.

6. Texas State: Making a pit stop in the WAC for one season before moving on to the Sun Belt, the Bobcats are led by experienced coach Dennis Franchione. Not eligible for the conference title as they are in year two of the FCS-to-FBS transition, this will nevertheless be a program looking to make a few waves against a tough schedule.

7. Texas-San Antonio: Also not eligible to win the WAC title as they make the transition to FBS, UTSA is led by former Miami coach Larry Coker and will be seeing a big step up in competition. The schedule has a few winnable games if things go right for the Roadrunners since they return 21 starters but it should be a rough year for the most part as they make a one-year stop in the WAC cellar.

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