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January 14, 2010

WAC Breakdown: Boise makes some noise

ALSO: ACC | Big East | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | C-USA | MAC | Mountain West | Sun Belt

The old Big 8 once was called Nebraska and the Seven Dwarfs. Boise State probably can relate, but the Broncos don't have national championships to ease their pain.

These days, the WAC may as well be called "Boise State and Friends." Boise State, the only undefeated team other than Alabama, finished fourth in the final polls - but no other WAC team received a single vote in either poll.

Kellen Moore could become No. 1 in all-time wins by a QB before his career is over.

Player of the year: Boise State QB Kellen Moore.
Texas' Colt McCoy might not hold the career wins record for a quarterback for long. McCoy finished with 45 victories. Moore has 26 in two seasons. This season as a sophomore, Moore passed for 3,526 yards with 39 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Oh, and he led Boise State to a 14-0 season.

Rivals.com 2009 All-WAC Team

With nearly everyone returning, Boise State could start 2010 in the top five of the polls, but improvement by other WAC teams could determine the Broncos' ultimate ceiling.

Coach of the year: Robb Akey, Idaho. Akey made sure Boise State wasn't the only feel-good story in the state. After being picked last in the WAC preseason poll by the coaches, Idaho sprinted to a 6-1 start before fading a bit to finish the regular season at 7-5. The Vandals then capped the season by converting a winning two-point conversion in the final seconds for a 43-42 victory over Bowling Green in the Humanitarian Bowl.

Freshman of the year: Boise State LB J.C. Percy. Linebacker was perhaps the only question about Boise State's defense heading into the season. Percy answered with 64 tackles, third-most on the team. He finished with 4.5 tackles for loss.

Offensive coordinator of the year: Bryan Harsin, Boise State. Nevada put itself in the history books with three 1,000-yard rushers, but the Wolf Pack were ineffective outside of the WAC. Boise State didn't put up huge offensive numbers against Oregon and TCU, but the Broncos did play well enough to win. They finished the season leading the nation at 42.2 points per game.

Defensive coordinator of the year: Justin Wilcox, Boise State. The trick plays and myriad offensive formations get the bulk of the attention for the Broncos, but they have lost just once in the past two seasons on the strength of the defense. The Broncos are miles ahead of the rest of the WAC in this regard. Boise State ranked 14th in the nation in total defense. The next-highest WAC team was Louisiana Tech at No. 60.

Biggest surprise: Idaho. The Vandals won eight games. To put things in perspective, the Vandals represented the defunct Big West in their last bowl appearance. Since then, Idaho has changed conferences twice and had a revolving door at coach. Idaho won as many games in September (three) as it did in the previous two seasons combined.

Biggest disappointment: Non-conference performances. Boise State finished undefeated after a win in the Fiesta Bowl, but the Broncos could have slipped out of the BCS altogether had Nebraska upset Texas in the Big 12 championship game. Why? The pollsters and computers held the other eight WAC teams in low regard -and with good reason, too. WAC teams not named Boise State went 8-20 against non-conference FBS competition, and the only wins against Big Six opponents were over Illinois (3-9) and Washington State (1-11).

Best postseason performance: Boise State's defense. A year after losing a defensive struggle with TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl, the Broncos turned the tables by holding TCU to a season-low 308 yards. Horned Frogs QB Andy Dalton entered the game with five interceptions, but he threw three against the Broncos.

Worst postseason performance: Nevada. Two of Nevada's 1,000-yard rushers were out (Luke Lippincott was hurt, and Vai Taua was academically ineligible), but the Wolf Pack's embarrassing 45-10 loss to SMU in the Hawaii Bowl can't be pinned on two players. The Mustangs built a 31-0 halftime lead and finished with 460 passing yards.

Underclassmen liable to leave early: Fresno State RB Ryan Mathews (already declared).

Next season's breakout offensive player: Fresno State RB Robbie Rouse. Mathews led the nation in rushing, and when he didn't get the ball, the carries went to the 5-foot-7, 175-pound Rouse. He had 82 carries for 479 yards, but that was more touches than veterans Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding, who both topped 800 yards in 2008.

Next season's breakout defensive player: Boise State CB Jerrell Gavins. The Broncos don't have many holes to fill on defense, as CB Kyle Wilson was the only senior starter. Gavins will step into that role. He showed he was up to the challenge this season as a sophomore, with 31 tackles and four pass breakups.

Player most on the spot next season: Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick was the quarterback for the No. 2 offense in the country and a 1,000-yard rusher for the nation's top ground attack. The numbers are good, but there's plenty of room for improvement, as the Hawaii Bowl showed. Kaepernick completed 57.9 percent of his passes and averaged only 3.0 yards per carry in losses (compared to 59.9 percent and 9.0 yards per carry in wins).

Next season's conference champion: Boise State. The undefeated Broncos return just about everyone from the Fiesta Bowl champions. No one in the WAC is close to Boise State. The Broncos outscored conference opponents by an average of 28 points per game. Once again, they will be judged by a non-conference schedule that will include a home game against Oregon State and a game against Virginia Techin Washington, D.C.

National title contenders: Boise State. Boise State should open the season in the top four or five. If the Broncos beat Oregon State and Virginia Tech, they should finish unbeaten. Would that get them in the BCS title game?

ALSO: ACC | Big East | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | C-USA | MAC | Mountain West | Sun Belt

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

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