Wednesday, July 25, 2012
A projected preseason poll for WAC football
Most everyone knows that this is a big year for New Mexico State football.
The Aggies could do themselves a big favor by going to a bowl game in 2012, and beating the opposition once they get there — even then it doesn't seem to guarantee them any sort of conference affiliation in 2013, but at least it gives the decision makers something to consider.
Still, while on the surface it looks like their schedule is one they can win with, it's actually tougher upon further inspection.
Putting Louisiana Tech and Utah State above NMSU at this point is just a move that has to be done, and San Jose State looks to be a surprise team in the WAC this year as well.
Even the University of Idaho — a team the Aggies will face in Moscow — will not be a pushover in their own backyard.
Yes, a bowl game is a possibility. But the Aggies are also going to have to step up their play in order to get it done. In other words, they have to beat their WAC competition — along with their regional rivals along the way — teams that appear to be either equal to NMSU, or at this point better.
With the WAC set to unveil its preseason polls Thursday, we give our rankings going into the 2012 season.
1. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Head coach: Sonny Dykes (third season)
Last year: 8-5 overall, 6-1 in WAC (league champions). Lost in Poinsettia Bowl to TCU 31-24.
The rundown: It's tough not the put the Bulldogs atop the poll, simply because the defending WAC champions return the best team on paper, with the top overall talent. Quarterback Colby Cameron played very well down the stretch for Louisiana Tech last year and will have to do so again — this time for a whole season, while remaining healthy — as last year's promising freshman Nick Isham has since transferred to the University of Arizona. The Bulldogs seem sure of themselves and are likely to be atop the official preseason polls — such an attitude that can lead to overconfidence, and a potential danger.
2. Utah State Aggies
Head coach: Gary Anderson (fourth season)
Last year: 7-6 overall, 5-2 in WAC. Lost in Famous Idaho Potato Bowl to Ohio 24-23.
The rundown: The UtAgs had a crazy season last year — they let a handful of games slip away early in the year, lost their star freshman quarterback Chuckie Keeton to injury, and then ripped off five-straight wins to close out WAC play and go to a bowl game. The team did lose some firepower this offseason — two special running backs in Robert Turbin and Michael Smith, along with middle linebacker Robert Wagner, a threesome that all were selected in the NFL Draft. Still, Keeton is back, and running back Kerwyn Williams is not slouch himself — both have WAC Offensive Player of the Year potential — while head coach Gary Anderson has done a nice job here. Similar to Louisiana Tech, their Qbs health — in this case Keeton's — will be a key factor in their run to the top of the WAC.
3. San Jose State Spartans
Head coach: Mike MacIntyre (third season)
Last year: 5-7 overall, 3-4 in WAC
The rundown: Although conventional wisdom has the WAC's top teams as Louisiana Tech and Utah State, the Spartans can make a push for second-place in the conference. Mike Mcyntyre has done a good job at SJSU — the WAC has its fair-share of good head coaches — and scheduling is on their side, as the Spartans host both Louisiana Tech and Utah State this year, which is huge. In general, San Jose State has the potential to be a scary program. Why with their geographic location — the bay area, where population, and talent, are nearby, SJSU doesn't have to search far for players, and can attract castoffs from nearby BCS programs such as Cal and Stanford. An improved team last year, and one to be wary of in 2012.
4. New Mexico State Aggies
Head coach: DeWayne Walker (fourth season)
Last year: 4-9 overall, 2-5 in WAC
The rundown: Tough to put the Aggies here, who need to put a winner on the field in 2012. But let the facts remain, this is a team that lost a great deal from a season ago in terms of talent and leadership — Matt Christian, Kenny Turner, Taveon Rogers, three starters on the offensive line, and an entire starting secondary that was filled with good players. That and offensive coordinator Doug Martin did a wonderful job last year, and is now gone. A big key to the Aggies season will be protecting their sophomore quarterback Andrew Manley — last year he took too many seven-step drops and was knocked out for the season in the third game of the year. That, and look no further than their schedule: if NMSU can sweep its rivals — UTEP and the University of New Mexico — and/or take two of three games against Louisiana Tech, Utah State and San Jose State, than a bowl game should be granted. Both of these tasks won't be easy.
5. Idaho Vandals
Head coach: Robb Akey (sixth season)
Last year: 2-10 overall, 1-6 in WAC
The rundown: The Vandals were awful last season, although head coach Robb Akey returns some players from a season ago and Idaho could surprise. The Vandals and Aggies will lock horns on Oct. 6 in Moscow — another key contest on the schedule, and a possible swing game in the standings for two teams desperate for a bowl berth.
6. Texas State Bobcats
Head coach: Dennis Franchione (fourth season)
Last year: 6-6 overall as a member of the FCS
The rundown: Dennis Franchione could be building something here, and there is some talent. Still, the Bobcats are the equivelant of an expansion team. Once again, when they meet NMSU it will appear to be a big game, and possibly a scary one, for the Aggies. In the final week of the season, Dec. 1, in San Marcos, Texas State won't lie down for the opposition.
7. Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners
Head coach: Larry Coker (second season)
Last year: 4-6 overall as a member of the FCS
The rundown: This team could get out of the gates quickly — just look at the schedule, which begins at South Alabama, vs. Texas A&M-Commerce, at Georgia State, and then vs. Northwest Oklahoma State. Still, while their future potential is evident, they're a young and inexperienced team — just eight seniors make up the roster — and are in similar style to Texas State in terms of being a first-year program on the FBS level in 2012.
Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg