NCF Nation: Western Athletic Conference

Posted by's Graham Watson

When asked about the state of the conference during the WAC media preview in July, several coaches had the same goal -- emulate Boise State.

Boise State has been a model of consistency since joining the WAC in 2002. During those seven seasons, Boise State had five undefeated conference seasons. The other two seasons it had just one conference loss.

It's no surprise that the rest of the teams in the WAC would want similar success, but as of yet, few have found it.

Hawaii completed an undefeated season in 2007, and prior to that Fresno State found itself on the national map with wins against Kansas State and Washington back in 2004 and a near win over USC in 2005.

Other than those small uprisings, Boise State has ruled the roost. Last season, behind a freshman quarterback, the Broncos defeated their conference opponents by an average of 31.13 points per game.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with having a dominant team, but there is a need to have additional teams in the top half or ranked in the Top 25," WAC commissioner Karl Benson said. "What the Mountain West did a year ago with BYU, Utah and TCU, that type of strength at the top is the ideal distribution of teams."

But it's not like the other teams aren't trying. Each of the past two seasons Nevada has been within a touchdown or less of Boise State. Louisiana Tech finished second in the conference and went to its first bowl game since 2001 and won its first bowl game since 1977. Teams such as Utah State and New Mexico State hired new coaches in an effort to dig those teams out of the WAC cellar. And Idaho is finally working its way back from NCAA-mandated APR penalties.

Benson said the WAC wouldn't truly have a place on the national map until it can get teams out of the national basement.

"You still always want to guard against having any teams in the 100-120," Benson said. "That's just as important. If you can eliminate the 100-120, and I think last year we had maybe three in New Mexico State, Idaho and Utah State. Those teams bring you down."

Posted by's Tim Griffin

By all accounts, 2008 was a landmark season for Big 12 football.

The unprecedented three-way tie for the South Division championship that involved Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma made the conference must-see television for the second half of the season for fans across the country. Attention was riveted to the conference unlike any previous time in the Big 12's history.

It should be more of the same this season as strong races are expected in both the North and South Divisions.

The conference again will feature cutting-edge offensive units that will score boatloads of points and be powered by the most talented collection of quarterbacks that can be found anywhere.

Those numbers are nice, but the Big 12's lack of defensive production is the main reason I still think it ranks behind the Southeastern Conference.

The top athletes in the Big 12 are clustered on offensive units, helping to result in shootouts.

In the SEC, those same athletes seem to end up playing defense. It might not be as much fun to watch, but the physical nature is apparent.

In recent bowl games, the Big 12 has struggled to match that defensive nature of the SEC for many statement-making victories.  Oklahoma's loss to Florida in the BCS title game and Texas Tech's defeat to Mississippi in the Cotton Bowl last year indicated there's still a gap between defenses found in the SEC and the Big 12.

The SEC also has a deeper concentration of top teams, as seen by its four teams in the top 10 when the USA Today coaches' poll was released earlier today.

It doesn't mean the Big 12 won't be exciting or fun to watch this season. Because it will be -- again.

But until Big 12 teams can notch some statement-making victories where defense isn't an afterthought, its national perception will continue to lag behind the SEC's.

The rest of the nation is no comparison. Big 12 teams can occasionally win their BCS bowl games, unlike the ACC. It might not have the fancy television network of the Big Ten, but has a more exciting brand of football to showcase. And it's not nearly as top heavy as the Pac-10 with its concentration of USC and Oregon at the top and little balance after.

Here's my ranking of the top eight conferences heading into the upcoming season

    1. SEC
    2. Big 12
    3. ACC
    4. Big Ten
    5. Pac-10
    6. MWC
    7. Big East
    8. WAC
      Posted by's Graham Watson

      For the six months between the end of the college football season and the beginning of media days, the Mountain West Conference shouted to anyone who would listen the merits of their inclusion into the BCS.

      During the past five seasons, the Mountain West has the best win percentage in bowl games among the 11 conferences with a 14-7 mark (.667), beating out the SEC and the Pac-10.

      During the past two seasons, the MWC has posted the third-best win percentage against automatic-qualifying BCS opponents trailing only the Pac-10 and the SEC.

      The Mountain West posted a 6-2 record over teams from the Pac-10 last year.

      Utah is one of 12 teams that have made multiple appearances in the BCS bowl games since 2005, and of those teams, Utah is one of six to win two BCS bowl games, joining Florida, LSU, Texas, USC and West Virginia.

      With all that said, it would be hard to keep the Mountain West out of the BCS if it realigned and picked six new automatic-qualifying conferences.

      The Mountain West is the first non-AQ conference to have three teams ranked in the preseason coaches' poll. It has more teams than the Big East and as many teams as the Big Ten. The Mountain West's top three schools -- Utah, BYU and TCU -- all finished last season ranked and Utah and TCU were in the top 10. Utah finished the year undefeated and ranked second in the country, the highest ranking of a non-AQ team since BYU was ranked No. 1 in 1984.

      The WAC has an argument, too; especially having sent two teams to BCS games, as many as the Mountain West. However, the WAC is dominated by Boise State and the rest of the teams are struggling to catch up. Since joining the WAC, the Broncos have gone undefeated in conference play five of the past six seasons. In three of the past four seasons, the Broncos have completed undefeated regular seasons, in two of those seasons they lost in their bowl games.

      While Boise State clearly belongs in the upper echelon of teams, the rest of the WAC has been inconsistent. Teams such as Fresno State and Hawaii have risen up at times, but haven't been able to maintain a high-level of play over time. This year, many expect Nevada to be a top team in the conference, but prior to this season it's lost almost all of its recent big games.

      If I were ranking the top eight conferences, here's the order I would choose:

      1. SEC
      2. Big 12
      3. Pac-10
      4. Big Ten
      5. ACC
      6. Mountain West
      7. Big East
      8. WAC

      Posted by's Graham Watson

      Don't forget, today my colleagues Pat Forde, Ivan Maisel and Mark Schlabach will be cutting the FBS to 40 teams in a live draft at 1 p.m. ET.

      I'm not hopeful that a lot of teams from the five nonautomatic qualifying conferences and independents will survive, but I've seen calls for Utah, BYU, TCU, Boise State and East Carolina to get in.

      Remember, this is based on each drafter's preference, but money, stadium and facilities become a big deal. That makes this a tough call. It will be interesting to see what the drafters decide to do with the group of 54.

      You can still go on SportsNation and pick your 40 teams and I still welcome nominations from the five-conference coalition.

      I'll be back to discuss the picks later this afternoon.

      Posted by's Graham Watson

      The champions of the Mountain West and WAC could be squaring off in the postseason as early as 2010.

      WAC commissioner Karl Benson said during a phone interview last week that he'd like to see the Las Vegas Bowl pit the first-place teams in the WAC and Mountain West against each other should neither team be in a BCS bowl.

      "We've made it very clear to the Las Vegas Bowl that we would be interested in some type of a action that over the course of the next term that if they could match the WAC champion vs. the Mountain West champion based on some type of criteria that we would be very interested in that type of arrangement," Benson said.

      The Las Vegas Bowl pairs up the Mountain West with the Pac-10, but that, like all bowl contracts, ends after the 2009 season. New Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott has said several times that there won't be any major changes to the conference's bowl lineup.

      The Las Vegas Bowl also said it's not ready to change its agreement with the Pac-10 either.

      "There's been no negotiations with the WAC,” said Mark Wallington, a spokesperson for the Las Vegas Bowl. "We're currently focusing only on extending a relationship with the Pac-10.”

      Like all commissioners around the FBS, Benson and the Mountain West's Craig Thompson are trying to negotiate deals to improve their bowl lineups. Both commissioners said they would add one more bowl to their current bowls to provide more opportunity for their teams.

      The Mountain West is looking to strike a deal with the Humanitarian Bowl, the Texas Bowl or the EagleBank Bowl to give itself a fifth bowl partner. The conference already has an agreement to play in the Humanitarian Bowl this season if a fifth team is eligible. However, the Humanitarian Bowl is looking to possibly add the Pac-10 during the next bowl cycle. The Pac-10 might have an open slot during the next bowl rotation if the conference doesn't renew with the Poinsettia Bowl. The Humanitarian is already a WAC bowl.

      The WAC, which has a backup deal with the Poinsettia Bowl, is looking to make the Poinsettia a fixture in the WAC rotation. Benson said the Emerald Bowl also might be an option because of its proximity to the WAC schools.

      Almost all of the new bowl contracts will last for four years.

      Posted by's Graham Watson

      If you think the members of the nonautomatic qualifying schools get no respect under the current BCS system, my colleagues at ESPN have a solution -- do away with them altogether.

      That's right, in a live draft at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Pat Forde, Ivan Maisel and Mark Schlabach will turn the FBS into a 40-team affair and eliminate the haves from the have-nots.

      That means goodbye Sun Belt, Mid-American Conference and probably most of the WAC, Conference USA and Mountain West. And independents, you're probably out the door, too. My guess is that three, maybe four schools from the five conferences and independents survive this purge.

      According to Forde:

      We'll be drafting the most successful programs in the nation, based on whatever criteria each of us chooses to bring to the situation room. There is no set formula for this. Wins and losses matter most -- and what you've done in the 21st century is more important than what happened in the 1930s -- but fan following and overall prestige count, too.

      It won't be pretty for the non-AQs. Heck, it will be downright ugly, but it will give us all something to talk about during the next week. And, of course, we're not going to deny you your say. SportsNation wants to hear your 40 teams, and I want to know which members of the five-conference coalition you'd keep in the mix?

      We'll see who makes the cut tomorrow.

      Posted by's Graham Watson

      The Western Athletic Conference issued a statement Monday reprimanding Hawaii coach Greg McMackin, but issuing no penalty for the use of a gay slur during last week's WAC media preview.

      McMackin also has been warned that any further violations of the WAC Sportsmanship Code will result in an automatic one-game suspension, at the minimum.

      Honestly, this isn't a surprise. I thought a reprimand would be the action both Hawaii and the WAC took after this incident. Hawaii said Friday that it had "suspended" McMackin for 30 days without pay (though he's still coaching for free) and will reduce his salary 7 percent (something he said before the incident he wouldn't mind doing for the good of the athletic program). He's also going to be heavily involved with the LGBT groups on campus.

      Hawaii's trying to make an example of McMackin because it faced such national and local scrutiny, but I think the WAC made the right move not to suspend him. I think anyone watching McMackin's news conference on Friday realized he was incredibly remorseful for what he said.

      Posted by's Graham Watson

      Just over a minute into Greg McMackin's press conference on Friday, which was streamed live by the Honolulu Advertiser, he started to cry.

      It was yet another thing for which he had to apologize for.

      McMackin has spent the past 24 hours apologizing for an homosexual slur he made toward Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis during Thursday's Western Athletic Conference football preview. On Friday, at the behest of Hawaii's athletic director and chancellor, McMackin apologized yet again to a group of reporters and interested parties on the Hawaii campus.

      Because of his gaffe, McMackin was suspended 30 days without pay and must take a salary deduction on par with that of athletic director Jim Donovan. Part of McMackin's salary reduction will go toward paying for a student intern at the LGBT center on campus and for campuswide workshops and awareness training.

      Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw also announced that McMackin will, "participate in activities directed at improving the environment of our community, to working with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community on our campus." That includes McMackin participating in a public service announcement that details the power of offensive language toward the LGBT community.

      Donovan said McMackin would stay on with the Hawaii football program on a voluntary basis so that the suspension doesn't hurt his team's chances to start the season properly. Because of the timing of the suspension, McMackin will miss no games.

      "I just want to say that I made a big mistake," McMackin said. "I want to apologize to everyone and anyone that I offended with my remarks. I'm committed to do whatever I can to use this as a life lesson to learn from my mistake.

      "When we make mistakes, we have to learn from it and make better people of ourselves. I talked to Charlie at Notre Dame. I wanted to apologize to him and his outstanding football team. I should have never brought Notre Dame's program up in my interview. I'm sorry that I said something so hurtful and I'm very remorseful."

      McMackin stressed regret over his words and was clearly emotionally drained. Although he tried to compose himself, he cried throughout the last half of his press conference and abruptly left after he was finished reading his prepared statement.

      The audience gave him an ovation as he exited.

      (Read full post)

      Posted by's Graham Watson

      University of Hawaii chancellor Virginia S. Hinshaw and athletic director Jim Donovan both issued statements Thursday evening expressing disappointment over comments made by head football coach Greg McMackin during the WAC football preview in Salt Lake City.

      "Obviously we don't condone his remarks, particularly since we take such great pride in the diversity of our state and university," Donovan said. "I've conveyed my disappointment to him and he has expressed deep regret for showing such poor judgment."

      On Thursday, in front of about a dozen media members, McMackin used a homosexual slur to describe a dance Notre Dame did during a banquet prior to last year's Hawaii Bowl. McMackin asked media not to print the derogatory word and later went on to apologize several times.

      Stories about the incident first appeared in the Idaho Statesman and Reno Gazette Journal. The Idaho Statesman also posted audio of the new conference. The story has since spread nationally drawing outrage from media members and activists.

      According to the Honolulu Advertiser, the O'ahu chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays issued a statement voicing its disapproval.

      "PFLAG O'ahu is appalled that the head coach at UH-M would be so unprofessional, so homophobic and so prejudicial that he would voice a gay slur even in jest. Behind closed doors is bad, but to voice the 'F' at a press conference at the Western Athletic Conference Football Preview is unacceptable."

      Both Hinshaw and Donovan said the use of the slur was out of character for McMackin.

      "I know that Coach McMackin deeply regrets his comments because they do not represent his personal beliefs nor those of the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, which supports an inclusive campus environment for all students," Hinshaw said.

      Donovan said he has already spoken with and apologized to Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. Notre Dame declined to comment on the ordeal. Donovan also said he would meet with McMackin when he returned to Hawaii today.

      WAC commissioner Karl Benson said he would wait for Hawaii to deal with the situation before deciding if any action needed to be taken at a league level.

      Posted by's Graham Watson

      Hawaii and coach Greg McMackin have issued the following statement:

      SALT LAKE CITY -- University of Hawai'i head football coach Greg McMackin apologized for comments he made during his formal press conference with the print media at today's Western Athletic Conference Football Preview.

      "I sincerely apologize for the inappropriate words that I used," McMackin said. "My comments were out of character and I have no prejudices against anyone. I'm really upset with myself and I'm truly sorry for my remarks."

      "I'd also like to add that I have nothing but respect for the University of Notre Dame. It's a fine institution with a proud football tradition."

      Posted by's Graham Watson

      While speaking to a group of about a dozen reporters during the WAC media preview, Hawaii coach Greg McMackin used a homosexual slur to describe a dance Notre Dame performed at a banquet the night before last year's Hawaii Bowl.

      "They get up and they do this little cheer, like this," McMackin said Thursday, while clapping. "You know, this little f----- dance."

      After he begged and pleaded with the media at the WAC media preview in Salt Lake City to "cover" for him and not print the slur, and then later making a futile attempt at an apology, the media in attendance banded together and decided to run the story.

      It was the right thing to do.

      This wasn't the first time McMackin has made a gaffe at the WAC media preview. Last year, he spoke about a player he was recruiting, realized mentioning the player's name was against NCAA rules, and asked the media to cover. We refrained from writing about the incident mostly because McMackin was a new head coach and using the name of the recruit was inadvertent and insignificant.

      But McMackin's latest comments were hard to let go and newspapers such as the Idaho Statesman and the Reno Gazette Journal did the right thing. The Idaho Statesman has even published the audio of both the initial comments and McMackin's WAC-encouraged apology.

      So what now?

      Well, Hawaii is supposed to issue a statement about the events this afternoon and the school should decide what, if any, punishment will be levied against McMackin. Then WAC commissioner Karl Benson, who was in the room for the initial comments, will determine a response from the league.

      There might also be a backlash from gay rights activists as well as from Notre Dame.

      I have to admit the published comments from McMackin's initial news conference and then his string of apologies were like a snowball running out of control. You kind of just wanted someone to tell him to stop talking. Then, in his final apology, he sounded like a child who got caught doing something he shouldn't have.

      "I would sincerely like to apologize for the inappropriate verbage, words that I used," he said. "... I'm really ticked off at myself for saying that. I don't have any prejudices and it really makes me mad that I even said that and I'm disappointed in myself. ... What I was trying to do was be funny and it's not funny and even more it isn't funny to me. I was trying to make a joke and it was a bad choice of words and I really -- I really, really -- feel bad about it and I wanted to apologize. I'm going to apologize to my team. I'm going to apologize to the people in Hawaii."

      So now we wait for what will likely be at least a week of deliberation about what to do with McMackin and how to quell the situation.

      Posted by's Graham Watson

      The coaches and media selected Boise State to win the WAC this season. Nevada came in second and earned a first place vote by the coaches and three first place votes by the media. Fresno State and Louisiana Tech, which finished third last year, were selected third.

      Earlier today, I posted my WAC poll. And although I originally left off San Jose State (I did leave a spot for them, but didn't type them in), the top of my poll and the media and coaches' polls are similar. I value Idaho a little more than Utah State, but more or less the bottom of the conference is the same.

      2009 Coaches' Poll (first place votes in parentheses)

      1. Boise State (8) 64
      2. Nevada (1) 55
      T3. LA Tech 45
      T3. Fresno State 45
      4. Hawaii 36
      5. San Jose State 34
      6. Utah State 21
      7. New Mexico State 13
      8. Idaho 11

      2009 WAC Media Poll

      1. Boise State (55) 519
      2. Nevada (3) 444
      3. Fresno State 365
      4. Louisiana Tech 360
      5. Hawaii 275
      6. San Jose State 263
      7. Utah State 170
      8. Idaho 110
      9. New Mexico State 104


      Colin Kaepernick, Nevada


      Kyle Wilson, Boise State

      My WAC preseason poll

      July, 29, 2009
      AM ET
      Posted by's Graham Watson

      With the WAC media days underway in Salt Lake City today that means the WAC preseason poll is coming out today. So I'm going to offer my preseason poll first.

      I know this particular post is the favorite of the Boise State fan nation, but I hate to disappoint; I'm picking the Broncos first. Don't worry, you can still disagree with me in terms of the rest of my conference picks.

      *UPDATE* I forgot San Jose State in my previous post. I've updated it and placed them fifth (I did leave a spot for them though. Just didn;t type the name). Also, the WAC doesn't select a special teams POY, so I moved Kyle Wilson to Defensive Player of the Year and eliminated the special teams award. I originally had Wilson as my defensive POY, but I didn't see another player that topped him in special teams and I didn't want to vote him for both. 


      1. Boise State
      2. Nevada
      3. Louisiana Tech
      T-4. Fresno State
      T-4. Hawaii
      5. San Jose State
      6. Idaho
      7. Utah State
      8. New Mexico State


      Kellen Moore, Boise State
      Colin Kaepernick, Nevada


      Kyle Wilson, Boise State

      Posted by's Graham Watson

      WAC media days begin today. Although I'm not there, I'll have updates throughout August from some of the teams around the conference.

      While some consider media days the start of the season, the official start of the WAC season kicks off on Aug. 5 when Boise State, Fresno State and New Mexico State begin fall camp. The other teams in the conference will follow throughout the week.

      I've listed the WAC's fall camp start dates below and also added some tidbits from the 2008 season just in case you needed a primer for 2009.


      • Boise State won the conference championship and completed an undefeated conference campaign for the fifth time in the past six seasons.

      • Nevada had the No. 3 rushing offense in the country with 277.77 yards per game. Both running back Vai Taua and quarterback Colin Kaepernick rushed for more than 1,000 yards. It's the second consecutive season that a Nevada running back has rushed for more than 1,000 yards.

      • Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore was the WAC Freshman of the Year and a Freshman All-American.

      • Both Idaho and New Mexico State underwent coaching changes. Former Utah defensive coordinator Gary Andersen takes over at Utah State and former UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker takes over at New Mexico State.

      • Louisiana Tech finished with its first eight-win season since 1999.

      • Fresno State won fewer than eight games for only the third time this decade.

      • Hawaii finished its first single-digit win season since 2005.

      • For the first time since 2005, the WAC finished with just one team with double-digit wins. However, it also was the first time since 2004 that the conference didn't have a team with one or fewer wins.


      AUG. 5
      Boise State
      Fresno State
      New Mexico State

      AUG. 6
      Utah State

      AUG. 8
      San Jose State

      AUG. 9
      Louisiana Tech

      Posted by's Graham Watson

      For months there has been speculation that Boise State was entertaining ideas about leaving the Western Athletic Conference and moving to the Mountain West. While neither Boise State nor the Mountain West have explicitly said that the move was going to happen, there have been signs that the two parties are growing closer.

      Boise State helped the Mountain West by testifying and supporting the conference's playoff proposal while the WAC as a whole stayed out of the ordeal. During Mountain West media days last week, commissioner Craig Thompson said that his board of directors have been talking about the pros and cons of expansion, but didn't mention a specific team.

      Still, it has become all too obvious to WAC commissioner Karl Benson that something might be up.

      "It's distracting and disappointing at times, but I think that the interest shown by Boise State for the Mountain West has been done in a upfront manner and that is appreciated," Benson said. "It doesn't make it any less distracting or disappointing, but at least I think I know where some of my membership comes out when it comes to membership options."

      Benson knows this scenario all too well. In 1998, eight teams broke off from the 16-team WAC and formed the Mountain West Conference. The defection caught the remaining WAC teams and its commissioner, Benson, off-guard. But Benson said with the media coverage and general talk about Boise State and the Mountain West, he's ready if one of his team decides to leave.

      "I'm not losing sleep at night worrying or wondering if or when they'll do it," Benson said. "Just like the WAC analyzes whether a nine-team league is better than a 10-team league, I'm sure the Mountain West has done the same analysis. If and when they decide to add a 10th team, it doesn't necessarily mean that that team would come from the WAC.

      "We do have to face the speculation, but I do appreciate that I know where my membership stands. Unlike what happened in the spring of '98."

      The potential loss of Boise State isn't the only thing that Benson has found disappointing this offseason. Benson, like the commissioners from the other nonautomatic qualifying conferences, was uneasy about the Mountain West breaking off and challenging the BCS alone. Benson said that he thinks more could be accomplished if the conferences had stuck together. But Benson hopes that the WAC and Mountain West can work together during the next four years to instrument some sort of change that benefits the group, not just one conference.

      "Had the group of five been together in some type of reform recommendation, we may have been able to see a change in the access structure in this next four-year cycle," Benson said. "But it didn't occur. Our presidents have gone on record acknowledging the Mountain West's attempt to change the system. Again, they're disappointed that they elected to do it on their own, but acknowledging that reform was needed. And now that the Mountain West's proposal has been dismissed, I could see our presidents working with Mountain West presidents to put forward some change for the future."