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The conference loses Boise State to the Mountain West this year and then sees Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii join the Broncos in the Mountain West next season. The WAC will add current FCS teams Texas State and Texas-San Antonio in 2012.
Nevada, Boise State and Hawaii all shared the conference title last season with 7-1 records. Nevada scored a late-season upset of the Broncos and the Warriors upset the Wolf Pack in midseason.
Two of Boise State's main WAC rivals, Fresno State and Nevada, keep the Broncos on their respective schedules for 2011.
Boise State was 40-0 in home conference games during its 10-year stay in the WAC, so its departure clearly opens the door for a different team to rise to the top.
The Congrove Computer Rankings project Nevada to be that team, even without QB Colin Kaepernick and RB Vai Taua. However, the biggest surprise may be the computer's forecasted second-place team, Idaho. The Vandals are projected to go 8-4 overall, 6-1 in league play, and emerge from a pack of five teams (the others are Hawaii, Fresno State, Utah State and Louisiana Tech) that are no more than 3.34 power points apart to begin the 2011 campaign. The Vandals' bubble doesn't burst until they visit Nevada as a 14.46-point underdog for the season finale.
Nevada is projected to go unbeaten in WAC play (7-0), but just 3-2 out-of-conference. A 1-3 start may get some folks in Reno nervous as the Wolf Pack hit the road for their first four games, three of which come against Oregon, Texas Tech at Boise State. The Ducks and Broncos are ranked 3rd and 5th, respectively, in the AP poll; 3rd and 7th in the coaches' poll; and 8th and 3rd in the CCR Top 120. The forecasted loss at the Red Raiders is by just 4.15 points. The nonconference wins come at home against Mountain West members New Mexico and UNLV.
The seven other WAC teams lag at least 11.46 power points behind Nevada.
Hawaii and Fresno State are projected to fight for 3rd with the Warriors coming out on top of a head-to-head battle with the Bulldogs to break a tie in the standings.
A tight battle for 5th also looms between Louisiana Tech and Utah State. Here, the computer offers another surprise by taking the Aggies over the Ruston Bulldogs. The 6-6 forecast for Utah State represents its best finish since 1997 when the Aggies similarly went 6-6, including a loss to Cincinnati in the Humanitarian Bowl.
As has been the case for the last two seasons, San Jose State and New Mexico State are expected to bring up the rear of a league that has three schools preseason ranked 88th or worse. NMSU is projected to bring home a 3rd consecutive 2-win season, but each of its first six games have preseason computer spreads of less than 6 points.
As a whole, the WAC is predicted to win just 11 of 38 matches against nonconference FBS foes.
Last season's computer forecast came within 1 loss of 5 WAC teams and nailed New Mexico State's 2-10 overall mark and 1-7 league record.
The conference has seen only five head coaching changes in the last four seasons and none this year. There were new hires at Louisiana Tech and San Jose State a year ago; New Mexico State and Utah State made switches prior to the '09 season; and only Hawaii entered the '08 season with a new sheriff in town.