(1) Boise State (0-0, 0-0) vs Weber State, Thursday, 7 PM... the champs until someone knocks them off... 5 true freshmen will not redshirt this year and will get their first taste of college football in front of a sold-out crowd Thursday night at Bronco Stadium... with Nick Harris leaving the team during fall camp, BSU has exactly 4 wide receivers on the roster who caught passes last year: Vinny Perretta (17), Jeremy Childs (14), and Tanyon Bissell (2), and converted tight end Julian Hawkins (1)... the Broncos opened on a Thursday night against a Big Sky foe last season as well, beating Sacramento State, 45-0.
Player Watch: The obvious choice is Taylor Tharp, winner of a spring-and-summer long battle to be the new Bronco starting quarterback. He may not have been the sexy choice, but he was the smart choice.
By the Numbers: 21-14, the final score when BSU hosted 1-AA Portland State on the blue turf during the 2005 season coming off their near-perfect season and appearance in the Liberty Bowl. That should be reminder enough not to take Weber State lightly.
(2) Hawai'i (0-0, 0-0) vs Northern Colorado, Saturday, 10 PM (Mtn)... ranked 24th in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll... the only team to hold Hawai'i under 30 points last season was Alabama... Davone Bess, Ryan Grice-Mullan, and Jason Rivers are all back after combining for 3168 receiving yards and 36 scores in 2006.
Player Watch: Again, we'll go with the obvious choice of QB Colt Brennan. The numbers he put up last season would be difficult to duplicate in Tecmo Bowl. He tossed 58 touchdown passes in just 14 games, piling up 5,549 yards through the air. He and BSU's Ian Johnson may be on the radar as far as the Heisman Trophy goes, but Brennan will likely have to outdo last year's numbers to have a realistic shot.
By the Numbers: Hawai'i was only held below 40 points 3 times last season, including 3 games of 60-plus. Looking at this year's schedule, don't bet against it happening again.
(3) Fresno State (0-0, 0-0) vs Sacramento State, Saturday, 8 PM (Mtn)... they'll most likely go as far as quarterback Tom Brandstetter takes them... DB Sharrod Davis, a transfer from Oregon, had a pair of interception returns for touchdowns in Fresno's final pre-season scrimmage... Fresno State will retire David Carr's jersey (number 8) at the Sac State game.
Player Watch: Lonyae Miller, Clinton Smith, Anthony Harding... take your pick. One of them needs to step up and take the running back job by the horns to take some of the pressure off the inconsistent Brandstetter. Miller, a sophomore, appears to be the frontrunner to fill the vacancy created by the departed Dwayne Wright.
By the Numbers: Minus blowout losses to Hawai'i, Boise State, and LSU, Fresno State's other 5 losses were by a combined total of 31 points. Playing the old "woulda, coulda, shoulda" game, the Bulldogs weren't that far from being an 8-win team. If they can figure out how to win the close ones this year, they should be back in that range this season.
(4) Nevada (0-0, 0-0) at Nebraska, Saturday, 2:30 PM (Mtn)... opening at Nebraska isn't an easy task, but it was made harder for the 'Pack when All-WAC linebacker Ezra Butler was suspended for the game for a violation of team policy... Nick Graziano or Colin Kaepernick at quarterback? That's the big question in Reno among football fans... backup receiver Jack Darlington's career is over after a concussion on August 9, his second in a year.
Player Watch: Luke Lippincott, who came to Nevada as a defensive back, is now the team's primary ballcarrier. He split time in the backfield last season with Robert Hubbard, leading the team with 9 touchdown carries.
By the Numbers: 3, the number of appearances the 'Pack is scheduled to have on the ESPN family of networks: Oct 14 at Boise State, Nov 2 at New Mexico State, and Nov 16 vs Hawai'i. The Nebraska game is also on tap as an ABC regional game.
(5) San Jose State (0-0, 0-0) at Arizona State, Saturday, 7 PM (Mtn)... QB Adam Tafralis is back after setting a school record last fall when he completed 66 percent of his passes and threw 21 touchdowns... the Spartans open with 4 straight road games... after winning 9 games last season, San Jose State looks to post its first back-to-back winning seasons in 15 years.
Player Watch: Who will be catching passes from Tafralis? James Jones and John Broussard, who combined for roughly 65 percent of the receptions last season, are gone. It's been a scramble to fill the position. Head coach Dick Tomey signed 3 junior college transfers and moved a running back and a safety to wide receiver. David Richmond, a JC All American, appears to have the best credentials.
By the Numbers: SJSU has some serious playmakers back on defense, including CB Dwight Lowery (preseason WAC Defensive Player of the Year). But the key to this defense is likely LB Matt Castelo, who is averaging nearly 9.5 tackles per game... for his career. He was 2nd in the nation in tackles last season.
(6) New Mexico State (0-0, 0-0) vs SE Louisiana, Thursday, 6 PM... seems to be the "fashionable" pick to break out this season... the Aggies return 4 starters along the offensive line, a key to an offense that is so dependent on pass protection and timing... want a defensive sleeper to watch? Keep your eye on Aggie LB Dante Floyd, who surged down the stretch... WAC schedule isn't friendly to the Aggies this year, as they go to Boise State, Hawai'i, and San Jose State.
Player Watch: In a conference full of players who have been talked about for months on end, perhaps the most underrated offensive player in the WAC is WR Chris Williams. A case could be made that he's a so-called "product of the system," but 92 receptions for 1,425 yards is pretty impressive. He led the nation in receptions per game and yards per game. He also finished top-5 nationally in all-purpose yards.
By the Numbers: Junior quarterback Chase Holbrook set school records in total yards (4,541) and passing yards (4,619) last season. He broke 17 NMSU records in all. He was 2nd in the nation in total offense per game (378.4/gm). He tossed 34 TDs against just 9 interceptions. Can he duplicate those numbers in '07?
(7) Idaho (0-0, 0-0) at USC, Saturday, 8:15 PM (Mtn)... picked last by both the coaches and the media at the preseason meetings in July... new head coach Robb Akey will entrust his offense to redshirt freshman QB Nathan Enderle... another freshman, Deonte Jackson, will join Jayson Bird and Brian Flowers in the Idaho backfield to give the Vandals a solid trio of running backs behind a solid offensive line, anchored by team captain C Adam Korby.
Player Watch: Linebackers David Vobora and Jo Artis Ratti form perhaps the WAC's most athletic-- and most unknown-- tandem. Vobora was credited with 134 tackles last season, 16.5 for loss. Ratti, despite only playing in 6 games due to an injury, still finished 10th on the team in tackles with 32 tackles and a team-high 3 sacks.
By the Numbers: Of the 4 receivers who had more than 10 receptions last season for Idaho, only one (Max Komar, 17) is back. Flowers-- a running back-- is the team's leading returning receiver with just 18 receptions. Finding someone to catch passes from Enderle is vital to Idaho's hopes in '07.
(8) Louisiana Tech (0-0, 0-0) vs Central Arkansas, Saturday, 5 PM (Mtn)... after opening with Central, the Bulldogs host nationally ranked Hawai'i before heading to nationally-ranked Cal... new head coach Derek Dooley gets his top three rushers (Patrick Jackson, Daniel Porter, William Griffin) from '06 back... the flip side of that is that the offense lost their two most potent wide receivers (Eric Newman and Johnathan Holland).
Player Watch: Incumbant Zac Champion didn't really live up to his name in 2006, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. With the new coaching staff, Champion's job was thrown open for competition. It appears that he'll go into the season as the starter, but there is no guarantee he keeps the job.
By the Numbers: Like Williams, Patrick Jackson posted a strong season in relative anonymity outside of his home stadium. He ran for 888 yards (5.0 per carry), caught 22 passes, and was also the team's primary return man. When it was all said and done, he finished 7th in the nation in all-purpose yardage at over 140 per game.
(9) Utah State (0-0, 0-0) vs UNLV, Thursday, 6 PM... Brent Guy likely enters a make-or-break season as Aggie head coach with the team coming off a 1-11 campaign... USU only plays 5 home games... Leon Jackson III looks like he'll be the starting QB again after losing his job last year to Riley Nelson (LDS mission), but don't be surprised if JC transfer Sean Setzer gets the job sooner rather than later... Jackson also punts... 11 starters return to a defense that gave up at least 38 points in 9 of the team's 12 games.
Player Watch: If a big play is made by the Aggie offense, it's a fair bet that WR Kevin Robinson is involved. He averaged over 16 yards per catch and 5 scores last fall and will likely be a key figure in an offense that has no proven ground game.
By the Numbers: 51 yards-- that's how many yards Aaron Lesue had last season rushing the football. That's the top mark for returning running backs... and Lesue didn't even start the year as a running back. He was converted from receiver late in the season.