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August 18, 2009

WAC preseason unit rankings

MORE: WAC preview: Boise State looks to continue domination

OFFENSIVE BACKFIELD

1. Nevada: The Wolf Pack have the past two WAC rushing leaders in Vai Taua and the now-healthy Luke Lippincott, who missed last season with an injury, plus the total offense leader in QB Colin Kaepernick.

2. Fresno State: TBs Anthony Harding and Lonyae Miller both topped 800 rushing yards last season, when Ryan Mathews topped 600 in an injury-filled year. The Bulldogs need to find a quarterback, though.

3. Boise State: Sophomore Kellen Moore is the league's best passer. RBs Jeremy Avery and D.J. Harper have potential, but the Broncos will miss Ian Johnson's power running.

4. Louisiana Tech: Daniel Porter was second in the WAC in rushing (1,164 yards, nine touchdowns). QB Ross Jenkins was a steadying influence on the offense after taking the job; he helped the Bulldogs go 6-2 in the final eight games.

5. Utah State: QB Diondre Borel could flourish in the Aggies' new no-huddle spread offense.

6. Hawaii: The Warriors' quarterback situation improved as Greg Alexander took ownership of the job. Former QB Inoke Funaki could become the primary running back.

7. Idaho: Nathan Enderle has thrown 35 interceptions the last two seasons. Deonte' Jackson rushed for 1,175 yards as a freshman but slipped to 696 last year.

8. San Jose State: The anemic running game needs to get better. Senior Kyle Reed once was a highly touted quarterback recruit, but he hasn't lived up to his billing.

9. New Mexico State: The Aggies need to find a quarterback among redshirt freshman Trevor Walls and JC transfer Jeff Fleming. Running backs Marquell Colston and Tonny Glynn should get running opportunities they didn't have under former coach Hal Mumme.

RECEIVERS

1. Boise State: The Broncos have the best receivers in the league despite losing their top two from last season. That's because Austin Pettis (567 yards, nine touchdowns) is back and Titus Young has returned from a suspension. Boise State also is deep at tight end.

2. Hawaii: Greg Salas (831 yards) and Malcolm Lane (613 yards, 17.5 yards per catch) aren't Colt Brennan's "Dread Heads," but they are productive.

3. Fresno State: The Bulldogs return their entire receiving corps but lost all-conference TE Bear Pascoe. Seyi Ajirotutu averaged 16.9 yards per catch on the way to a 795-yard season.

4. Nevada: Chris Wellington should be able to go from the No. 3 option to go-to receiver. And coaches expect TE Virgil Green to step up this season.

5. San Jose State: A healthy Kevin Jurovich and the arrival of JC transfer Marquis Avery will help beef up a receiving corps that lost leading receiver David Richmond.

6. Louisiana Tech: Phillip Livas accounted for 949 yards from scrimmage and four offensive touchdowns last season, but the group lacks depth.

7. New Mexico State: Each of the Aggies' projected starting receivers - Marcus Anderson, Julius Fleming and Todd Lee - are 5 feet 9 or shorter. Expect the production to drop with a change in offensive philosophies.

8. Utah State: Stanley Morrison is the only returning receiver with more than 25 catches last season. He had 26.

9. Idaho: The Vandals' top target, TE Eddie Williams, is gone. No other player topped 300 receiving yards.

OFFENSIVE LINE

1. Louisiana Tech: Led by LT Rob McGill, this line was good when four of the five starters were sophomores last season. The group should be even better this season with all five starters back.

2. Nevada: The Wolf Pack have two All-WAC-caliber tackles who blocked for the nation's No. 3 rush offense.

3. Boise State: This is biggest question on Boise State's offense. The Broncos return three starters off a line that allowed the fewest sacks in the WAC, but the line will be young and undersized.

4. Fresno State: RG Andrew Jackson leads an offensive line that has one senior (the backup center) on the two-deep depth chart.

5. Utah State: C Brennan McFadden leads a group that returns four starters.

6. San Jose State: All five starters return, but the line deserves some of the blame for the offensive struggles.

7. Hawaii: This unit hasn't recovered from the 2008 Sugar Bowl against Georgia. The Warriors allowed more than four sacks per game last season.

8: Idaho: LG Mike Iupati is a legitimate NFL prospect, but the rest of the line - not so much.

9. New Mexico State: The Aggies never found a consistent mix on the line last season. Now, they have to adjust to new blocking schemes.

DEFENSIVE LINE

1. Louisiana Tech: Big-time T D'Anthony Smith leads a line that held opponents to 103.9 rushing yards per game and 3.1 yards per carry.

2. Boise State: E Ryan Winterswyk had 11.5 tackles for loss last season. Sophomores Billy Winn and Chase Baker should come into their own this season and form one of the best tackle duos in the league.

3. Nevada: Es Kevin Basped and Dontay Moch combined for 21.5 sacks last season. Two seniors are expected to start at tackle.

4. Fresno State: Injuries decimated the line last season. E Chris Carter, a converted linebacker, has all-league potential. Four-star E Donnie Pritchett could be the WAC's best freshman.

5. San Jose State: The Spartans must replace T Jarron Gilbert, who led the nation in tackles for loss. E Carl Ihenacho wasn't far behind with 18.5 tackles for loss.

6. Hawaii: E John Fonoti is the only defensive player who started all 14 games for the Warriors last season. He finished with 9.5 tackles for loss.

7. Utah State: New coach Gary Andersen had been Utah's defensive coordinator. He has a lot of work to do with this group.

8. Idaho: The Vandals have an experienced line, but they were the nation's 107th-ranked run defense last season.

9. New Mexico State: No Aggies lineman had more than 1.5 sacks or three tackles for loss last season. New coach DeWayne Walker is a defensive guru, but is there enough to work with?

LINEBACKERS

1. Boise State: This is the biggest question area on Boise State's defense. Unfortunately for the Broncos, Oregon and its dominant running game is the first opponent.

2. Fresno State: All three starting linebackers from the second half of last season return, led by Ben Jacobs. He had 113 tackles last season.

3. San Jose State: Seniors Justin Cole and Travis Jones anchor the linebacker spots in the Spartans' 4-2-5 defense.

4. Nevada: James-Michael Johnson and Brandon Marshall should be much improved as sophomores. And the Wolf Pack should be more comfortable in their second season in the 4-3 defense.

5. Louisiana Tech: The Bulldogs need to replace two starting linebackers. Senior Brian White started five games last season before his season was cut short by injury. Projected starter Dusty Rust will get consideration for any all-name team.

6. Utah State: Paul Igboeli is the heart and soul of the Aggies' defense after recording 78 tackles and six tackles for loss last season.

7. Hawaii: The Warriors have some major rebuilding to do with the departures of Solomon Elimimian and Adam Leonard and the season-ending shoulder injury to Brashton Satele. A healhty Blaze Soares is a plus.

8. New Mexico State: Losing All-WAC linebacker Nick Paden for the season to a knee injury is a major blow to a shaky defense.

9. Idaho: A young group of linebackers is led by junior Joseph Dickson, who missed time last season and during spring practice with injuries.

SECONDARY

1. Boise State: This clearly is the strength of the defense and perhaps the strongest unit, offensively or defensively, in the WAC. CB Kyle Wilson leads a secondary that was second in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

2. San Jose State: S Duke Ihenacho can play linebacker, but he's at home in the secondary. The Spartans need to solidify their cornerback situation after losing two seniors to the NFL.

3. Fresno State: Versatile SS Moses Harris leads a veteran secondary. The Bulldogs must improve after recording only five interceptions last season.

4. Louisiana Tech: FS Antonio Baker has topped 115 tackles in each of the past two seasons. He has eight interceptions in that span.

5. New Mexico State: Led by CB Davon House, the Aggies were third in the nation in pass defense. One reason for that was that it was so easy to run on the Aggies.

6. Utah State: CB Kejon Murphy and FS James Brindley (five combined interceptions) could flourish under new coach Gary Andersen.

7. Idaho: Having SS Shiloh Keo healthy for a full season will be a major boost to a program that ranked 107th in pass defense.

8. Nevada: This is the Wolf Pack's weakest link. Nevada was last in the nation in pass defense (311.6 yards per game) last season. CB Antoine Thompson and FS Jonathon Amaya return.

9. Hawaii: The whole defense is rebuilding, but the secondary has more holes to fill - as in all four starters and three backups - than the front seven.

SPECIAL TEAMS

1. Boise State: K/P Kyle Brotzman pulled double duty and still led the WAC in field-goal percentage (17-of-26) and net punting (39.6 yards). Kyle Wilson scored three touchdowns on punt returns and averaged 14.2 yards per return.

2. Fresno State: A.J. Jefferson was fourth in the nation with 29.3 yards per kickoff return. K Kevin Goessling and P Robert Malone make up one of the best kicking tandems in the league.

3. Utah State: Kejon Murphy is a dual threat on punt and kickoff returns. Peter Caldwell handled most of the punting and kicking duties last season, but Chris Ulinski could take over on field goals.

4. Louisiana Tech: The Bulldogs will have freshmen at kicker and punter. Phillip Livas is a standout return man.

5. Nevada: The Wolf Pack must replace steady K Brett Jaekle. P Brad Langley averaged 44 yards per boot.

6. San Jose State: The Spartans have struggled on field goals lately. P Philip Zavala (33.3 net yards) and KR Brandon Rutley (26.7 yards) are solid.

7. New Mexico State: Kyle Hughes was the kicker and punter last season, but he was far more effective as a punter. Marcus Anderson could factor into the return game.

8. Idaho: Shiloh Keo will help as the Vandals' punt returner. Idaho must replace its kicker and its punter.

9. Hawaii: The Warriors must replace their kicker, their punter and a long snapper who was taken in the NFL draft.

COACHING STAFFS

1. Boise State: Chris Petersen has lost four games in three seasons at Boise State. He doesn't expect to add much to that total anytime soon.

2. Nevada: Chris Ault's "pistol" offense is the best in the conference. Nigel Burton's defense needs to catch up in his second season on the staff.

3. Louisiana Tech: Derek Dooley is a rising star in the profession after increasing the Bulldogs' win total from three in the season before he took over to five to eight.

4. Fresno State: Pat Hill replaced both coordinators this season. Derek Frazier and Jeff Grady split offensive coordinators duties. Randy Stewart replaced respected defensive coordinator Dan Brown, who died in March after a battle with brain cancer.

5. San Jose State: The Spartans' attacking defense causes trouble for the WAC. Too bad the same can't be said of the offense.

6. Hawaii: The Warriors went through an expected downturn in Greg McMackin's first season. His second season brings another set of challenges, this time on defense instead of offense.

7. Utah State: Gary Andersen brings winning credentials after spending five years (including two undefeated seasons) at Utah. Offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin has head-coaching experience at San Jose State and Cal State Northridge.

8. New Mexico State: DeWayne Walker expects growing pains as New Mexico State transitions from a 3-3-5 defense to a more conventional scheme.

9. Idaho: Third-year coach Robb Akey has stayed longer than the previous two coaches, Nick Holt and Dennis Erickson. The wins aren't there, but the stability on the coaching staff can't hurt.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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