Philadelphia, PA – Welcome back to the annual Football Bowl Subdivision conference previews. I have been fortunate to correctly predict the BCS national champion two of the last four years (Florida 2008 and Alabama 2011) but this coming season looks to be a lot tougher than previous campaigns.
There is one thing for certain - the winner will not come from the WAC. This conference has taken a nosedive with the losses of Nevada, Fresno State, and Hawaii, as well as the additions of Texas State and TX-San Antonio.
Time now to take a team-by-team look at the league, with predicted SU overall and conference records for those wagering on over/unders for total victories.
7) TEXAS STATE - The Bobcats were 0-2 ATS last season failing to cover at Texas Tech and Wyoming.
Offense - The offense averaged 26 ppg in 2011 with quarterback Shaun Rutherford and former Navy running back Marcus Curry leading the way. Both return this year but the step up in competition means a huge drop off in production.
Defense - The Bobcats defense could surprise in 2012 with the return of seven of the top eight tacklers. This unit allowed 28.5 ppg last season, the team's lowest total in five years.
Prediction - The schedule is much more demanding. Nevertheless, this club has a chance to be close to .500 ATS (1-11, 0-6).
6) TX-SAN ANTONIO - This will be the Roadrunners first venture into lined games. They were 4-6 SU a season ago.
Offense - All 11 starters return to a team that averaged 27 ppg in its first ever season. The offense put up 27 points versus South Alabama and 22 against Southern Utah, a team that crushed UNLV, 41-16. Don't overlook this unit despite its inexperience.
Defense - The Roadrunners gave up 21 ppg, including 22 at Sam Houston State, the loser of the Football Championship Subdivision's title game. Opposing WAC clubs should not take this defense lightly.
Prediction - TX-San Antonio, the strongest of the four new FBS schools, could reach the .500 mark (both SU and ATS) due to a very easy non-conference schedule (6-6, 1-5).
5) NEW MEXICO STATE (6-1 - All odds courtesy of 5Dimes.) - The Aggies are 2-8 ATS in out-of-conference games the last two years.
Offense - The Aggies had their finest showing in five years with a 25 ppg average. Unfortunately, the starting quarterback, top two rushers and receivers all depart. Furthermore, the three WAC teams they scored the most points against in 2011 are the three that left the conference.
Defense - The coaching staff went heavy with junior college transfers in the offseason due to the loss of eight starters. Expect a ninth straight year allowing at least 30 ppg.
Prediction - One of the easiest schedules in the country will give New Mexico State three SU victories, but the club will not match its 8-5 ATS record (3-9, 2-4).
4) SAN JOSE STATE (3-1) - The Spartans are 0-6 as home favorites the last three years.
Offense - San Jose State jumped from last in the country in third-down conversion percentage to 74th while improving its scoring average inside the WAC from 20 to 28 ppg. Whichever quarterback replaces Matt Faulkner will have a stable of solid receivers to throw to so look for the offense to reach the 30-point mark.
Defense - San Jose State brought back all 11 starters last season (compared to five in 2010) and allowed just 38 fewer yards per game. This year the number of returnees is back to five. If this was last season, the defense would be in deep trouble but since it's a watered down WAC, the defensive numbers could actually improve.
Prediction - The Spartans are 2-19 in their last 21 road games and most of their winnable matchups this season are on the road (5-7, 3-3).
3) IDAHO (8-1) - The Vandals are 12-3 ATS in non-conference play the last three years.
Offense - Not much went right for the Vandals on this side of the ball last year. A new cast of starters could give them the spark that was not there in 2011.
Defense - Even though the defense gave up 36 ppg in league play, the unit allowed a full yard less per rush compared to 2010. The Vandals lose their leading tackler but regain linebacker Robert Siavil (out last year with injured knee), who led the team in tackles the year before.
Prediction - After a disastrous 2011 season, Idaho will more than double its win total. At 8-1 odds, the Vandals are the value play to win the WAC (5-7, 4-2).
2) UTAH STATE (3-1) - The Aggies are 17-7 as road underdogs the last five years.
Offense - The offense sputtered without running backs Robert Turbin and Michael Smith back in 2010, so it will be interesting to see what transpires with Kerwynn Williams as the featured back this season. Utah State could still see a spike in overall production with the easier conference schedule.
Defense - The Aggies were tops in the league in red zone touchdown percentage as they held opposing WAC squads to 51 percent. Six starters return this season but the defense loses Bobby Wagner and Kyle Gallagher, who recorded a combined 247 tackles.
Prediction - Last year's club was more talented, but this year's squad could wind up with better SU and ATS records (8-4, 5-1).
1) LOUISIANA TECH (1-1) - The Bulldogs are 9-2 as home underdogs the last five years.
Offense - The Bulldogs averaged 30 ppg for the first time since 2001. However, their 5.2 yards per play average was second worst in the WAC. They return the most offensive starters of any team in the league, outside of TX-San Antonio, so look for them to lead the WAC in scoring and total offense.
Defense - Last year's unit was No. 1 in the league in scoring and total defense. This year might be a different story with the loss of six of the top eight tacklers.
Prediction - The explosive offense and weak conference foes will mask the defensive deficiencies. The Bulldogs were 8-4 to the under last year. Look for a reversal in 2012 (9-3, 6-0).