WAC Football Preview: Hawaii seeks Boise State's BCS dreams with talent and favorable schedule

WAC Football Preview: Hawaii seeks Boise State's BCS dreams with talent and favorable schedule

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

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By TIM BOOTH AP Sports Writer

The expectations are unprecedented, from the hardcore fans who pack Aloha Stadium to those lounging under umbrellas on pristine Waikiki.

The plan is simple for Hawaii: go undefeated, become the second Western Athletic Conference team to crash the Bowl Championship Series and win in exhilarating fashion -- exactly what Boise State accomplished in 2006.

"It's definitely a different thing that the community feels that way for the first time in the history of the school," Hawaii coach June Jones said. "There's never been this kind of national attention given to the team."

Led by record-setting quarterback Colt Brennan, who spurned the NFL and returned to the islands for his senior season, the Warriors could finally break Boise State's five-year hold on the WAC.

The conference is coming off a highly successful season, capped by Boise State's 13-0 record and remarkable 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Four WAC teams qualified for bowl games last year, with the only defeat being Nevada's 21-20 loss to Miami in the MPC Computers Bowl.

"I think our notoriety is growing and people are starting to pay attention to it," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "We're better than a lot of people thought we were."

This year, Boise State and Hawaii have a shot to be ranked when the season begins. Each school can claim legitimate Heisman candidates -- Boise State running back Ian Johnson and Hawaii's Brennan. And both schools have favorable schedules that could lead to a Nov. 23 showdown in Honolulu to decide the conference crown and possibly a second consecutive BCS berth for the WAC.

"When I got here and you told me the WAC would have two Heisman candidates, I would have laughed," Johnson said. "Now, we're a very good conference that people know stuff about and know we have very good teams."

Brennan's numbers in 2006 were staggering. He topped 400 yards nine times and capped his season with 559 yards passing and five touchdowns against Arizona State in the Hawaii Bowl. He finished with 5,549 yards passing and an NCAA-record 58 TD passes.

Three of his top four receivers return, including favorite target Davone Bess, who had 96 catches and 15 TDs. Brennan will get plenty of opportunity to make a case for Heisman consideration, with at least four games on national television and most of the Warriors' tough games in Honolulu. He can also pad his stats against two teams from the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly I-AA.

"I can't imagine there is another quarterback in the U.S. better than Colt Brennan," Jones said. "Someone will have to convince me of that this year."

Johnson and the Broncos will need more than a hook-and-lateral, halfback option pass and "Statue of Liberty" play to go undefeated again. Gone is three-year quarterback Jared Zabransky and stalwart linebacker Korey Hall. Johnson, who rushed for 1,713 yards and 25 TDs, gets to run behind an offensive line that returns four starters, anchored by massive left tackle Ryan Clady.

"You can't live in last year's feelings, but we have guys from last year's team," Johnson said. "We have to build on what we already started."

A capsule look at the teams in predicted order of finish:

HAWAII -- Defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville left to take the head coaching job at Portland State, but Warriors have talented LBs led by Adam Leonard and his 114 tackles from last year. ... Danger game lurks Friday, Nov. 16 at Nevada. It comes in a short week and with Boise State seven days later. Hawaii has never won at Nevada. ... Second game against former I-AA team came after Michigan State pulled out.

BOISE STATE -- Junior Bush Hamdan and senior Taylor Tharp are competing to replace Zabransky. Hamdan was the leader entering fall practice. ... Whoever wins QB competition will need receivers. Top four from last year are gone. RB/WR Vinny Perretta, who threw TD in overtime of Fiesta Bowl, is leading returner with 17 catches. ... Bronco Stadium undergoing renovation that will add club seats, suites and new press box and expected to be completed for 2008 season

SAN JOSE STATE -- CB Dwight Lowery is WAC preseason defensive player of the year. He had nine INTs last year, tied for the most in the country. ... LB Matt Castelo led the country in tackles last year (165), but was just second-team all-WAC. ... Aside from Johnson, the only other 1,000-yard rusher in the conference returning is RB Yonus Davis (1,007 yards).

FRESNO STATE -- Last year's 4-8 record was worst since 1996 season when Bulldogs were 4-7 -- the year before coach Pat Hill arrived. ... QB Tom Brandstater returns but must cut down on interceptions. He threw 14 INTs and 13 TDs last year. ... Bulldogs host Kansas State on Nov. 24, the first Big 12 team to play in Fresno.

NEW MEXICO STATE -- QB Chase Holbrook was second in the country to Brennan in yards passing (4,619), and set a new NCAA record for yards passing by a sophomore, breaking Ty Detmer's mark of 4,560 in 1989. ... Also back is WR Chris Williams, who led the country in yards receiving per game (117.9) and catches per game (7.67).

NEVADA -- QB Jeff Rowe, fifth on Nevada's career passing list, is gone after two years in coach Chris Ault's pistol offense. Sophomore Nick Graziano or redshirt freshman Colin Kaepernick will take over. ... Wolf Pack coming off consecutive bowl games for first time in 10 years. Have never made three straight bowls. ... OLB Ezra Butler anchors defense. He led the WAC in tackles for loss (18) and had 7.5 sacks.

IDAHO -- Robb Akey takes over as head coach, replacing Dennis Erickson, who left for Arizona State after one season. Akey was defensive coordinator at Washington State and plays the Cougars on Sept. 15. ... Only 12 starters return, but that includes top three running backs and top six tacklers, led by LB David Vobora.

UTAH STATE -- Former North Texas coach Darrell Dickey is the new offensive coordinator. The Aggies were shut out four times, including three consecutive games in September. ... WAC freshman of the year LB Paul Igboeli returns after 69 tackles and three sacks in 2006. All 11 starters return on defense.

LOUSIANA TECH -- Derek Dooley takes over the program from Jack Bicknell, who was fired after eight seasons. Dooley was previously on Nick Saban's staff at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins. He is the son of former Georgia coach Vince Dooley. ... Dooley will have 18 starters back, including 10 on defense. But the defense gave up 41 points per game.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-08-07-07 1334MDT

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