We’re but a few days away from the opening kickoff of the 2008 season, and with it an opportunity to put the “shoulds” and “coulds” of the preseason behind us to find out just how week one of the season will shake down. Here’s some last minute predictions for the non-BCS conferences.
10. Both Wyoming and New Mexico State will Go Bowling- Far from the hype of the BYU’s and Fresno State’s of the world, the Wyoming Cowboys and New Mexico State Aggies both stand at a crossroad. Each program saw relative success early in the tenures of their respective head coaches, but after disappointments and an inability to follow up that success, both Joe Glenn and Hal Mumme find themselves on hot seats. Fortunately for each, I think both these teams make it to a bowl game in 2008, playing each other in the New Mexico Bowl. New Mexico State will take advantage of a power vacuum in the middle of the WAC to get there, while Wyoming will finally get consistent enough quarterback play to get over the hump in the MWC.
9. Ryan Mathews Will Lead the WAC in rushing- Don’t get me wrong; I’m as big of a Luke Lippincott or Ian Johnson fan as you will find, and happen to think both will have tremendous senior seasons. But anyone who saw true freshmen Ryan Mathews dominate conference play last year will tell you he’s something special. With a veteran offensive line returning in front of him, he’ll topple his 2007 numbers and become the offense’s most potent weapon in 2008.
8. San Diego State Will Lose to Cal Poly- What happens when you take one of the better FCS teams and let them play one of the worst FBS teams? Actually, most of the time the FBS team will still win, but with the Aztecs already having one of the worst run defenses in the FBS and having to replace three offensive lineman, their star quarterback, and top two pass catchers from a year ago their prospects do not look good at all in the opening matchup.
7. Tulsa Will Break Scoring Record Against North Texas- What happens when you give the reigns of two non-BCS conference offenses to former record setting high school coaches? What happens when an offense which averaged over 40 ppg in a new system a year goes up against a defense which allowed over 40 ppg last season? You get a recipe for sixty minutes of fast break action, that’s what you get.
6. Buffalo will Win the MAC East- With every MAC East team getting at least one first place vote in the MAC Media Poll at the conference’s media day last month, the consensus is that the Eastern half of the conference is up for grabs. Buffalo has just as good of a shot as anyone else, and with Turner Gill getting a veteran Drew Willy back at quarterback the Bulls will find themselves in the MAC championship game by season’s end.
5. Navy Will Keep the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy- I have no idea why some people think that just because Paul Johnson is gone that Navy will suddenly regress as preeminent among Service Academy teams. Sure, that Troy Calhoun fellow had a decent year out in Colorado Spring last year, but after losing almost all his offensive production to graduation this spring (and what was left of it to injury this summer) the Falcons will be in major rebuilding mode. The same can be said for Army, which likely will have significant “ground express” issues on offense as they move to an option based offense (basically, they will fumble a lot) in Stan Brock’s second year. No, Navy may not be as good this year as they were last year or the year before, but they won’t have to be to make it back to the White House lawn next spring.
4. Florida Atlantic WON’T Win the Sun Belt- The conference is better than most people (myself grudgingly included) give it credit for, and like the MAC I think we’re seeing it even out from top to bottom, with too many teams gunning for the supposed “top team.” I think FAU finds its way into a bowl now that the Sun Belt has secured multiple tie-ins, but a dog-eat-dog conference slate will leave the conference with an unlikely winner. Just don’t ask me who exactly it will be.
3. Max Hall Will Be a Heisman Finalist- I think I’ve said all I could possible say on this subject.
2. Boise State will win the WAC- No disrespect to Fresno State but the Bulldogs have suffered too many past letdowns in conference for me to be downing the Kool-Aid this early. I actually think Pat Hill’s club gets past the likes of Rutgers, UCLA, and Wisconsin; but just like in 2004 when they crushed Washington and Kansas State to come out of the gates they’ll proceed to drop a game against a mid-level WAC team somewhere in the middle of the season, and will eventually fall to a Boise State team which makes it’s pay off of winning conference championships.
1. BYU will go to a BCS Bowl Game…And Win- I’ve said it before in much more detail, but just in case you’ve been turning a deaf ear to me I’ll go over the abridged version one more time. BYU’s offense will be nothing short of prolific now that Max Hall and company have had an entire offseason to gel, while the defense, despite major personnel losses, will be serviceable under Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s tutelage and scheme. Once more, they’re playing a schedule that supports getting to a BCS bowl game, and with Mendenhall’s ability to keep his team humble he won’t likely have them looking past potentially dangerous conference matchups with Utah and TCU.
Aside from covering college football for In The Bleachers, Adam Nettina covers college MAC East and Independent football for CollegeFootballNews.com