by Matthew Blunk
LAS VEGAS-After a turbulent offseason marked by realignment throughout the Football Bowl Subdivision, teams in the WAC are ready to take the field and play football.
As much could be surmised from Thursday's WAC Football Preview at the Orleans Arena. Coaches and players alike expressed their eagerness to get the offseason over with and to go out and compete. Competition may very well be the essential term of the 2012 season in the WAC, as all seven teams appear to have a plausible chance at competing for the conference championship.
The defending champion Louisiana Tech Bulldogs figure to be an excellent team once again, but will be playing with a target on their backs.
"We'll see how our players react to being the hunted and not the hunters," head coach Sonny Dykes said.
Senior quarterback Colby Cameron enters 2012 looking to build on his efficient play in the latter part of last season, and senior defensive back Chad Boyd has been selected to the Jim Thorpe Award preseason watch list.
Utah State is clearly a program on the rise, after nearly upsetting the defending national champion Auburn Tigers on the road last season and finishing with seven wins for the first time since 1993. But the Aggies will have to make up for the production of the 2011 WAC Offensive Player of the Year, Robert Turbin, who was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in April's NFL Draft. Sixth-year senior receiver Matt Austin could help take some of the offensive workload.
The San Jose State Spartans are making progress under the watchful eye of head coach Mike MacIntyre, who guided the team to a four-win improvement in 2011.
"You're either getting better or you're getting worse," MacIntyre said. "Nothing stays the same - period."
Senior left tackle and team captain David Quessenberry made the Rotary Lombardi Award preseason watch list.
New Mexico State showed some signs of improvement last season, and hope to make even more strides in 2012. Head coach DeWayne Walker has great expectations for his team. Sophomore quarterback Andrew Manley is recovering from a knee injury, but expects to be ready to play week one. Senior defensive end Donte Savage has overcome academic issues to regain eligibility after missing all of the 2011 season and wants to make up for lost time.
The Idaho Vandals finished 2-10 (1-6 in conference) last season, but figure to be a more competitive team this season. Head coach Robb Akey led Idaho to a victory in the 2009 Humanitarian Bowl in his third season, so the Vandals are no strangers to success. Senior punter Bobby Cowan has been selected to the Ray Guy Award preseason watch list for the nation's best punter. Akey summed up the 2012 season for his team perfectly: "We've got some winning that needs to take place here again."
Texas State is coming off a 6-6 season in the Football Championship Subdivision and entering its first season in the FBS and as a member of the WAC. Head coach Dennis Franchione has an abundance of winning experience at the FBS level, so the Bobcats will be far from deer-in-headlights. Franchione also displayed a similar abundance of faith in seniors running back Marcus Curry and cornerback Darryl Morris.
"There's no limit to what they can accomplish," Franchione said.
The UTSA Roadrunners are only in their second season of playing college football. Led by head coach Larry Coker, who coached the University of Miami to a national championship in 2001, the Roadrunners won four games in their first season. And while they do figure to face much stiffer competition in the FBS, UTSA is not without hope. Junior linebacker Steven Kurfehs is a difference-maker on defense. Junior quarterback Eric Soza showed potential.
"My expectations are high," Coker said. "I expect to win every football game."
The Roadrunners will have their Alamodome crowd to cheer them on (UTSA set records for largest average home attendance for a new football program and for the highest-attended game for a FCS "start-up" program with 35,521 and 56,743, respectively).
Louisiana Tech, NMSU, Idaho, UTSA and Utah State open their seasons on Aug. 30. San Jose State on Aug. 31 and Texas State on Sept. 1. Conference play begins on Sept. 29, when NMSU hosts the Roadrunners.