WAC spring recap

Updated: May 16, 2006, 11:42 AM ET
By Brett Edgerton | Special to ESPN.com

Can Boise State and Jared Zabransky bounce back? Will Fresno State find a quarterback? Can Nevada make another run? Take a look at what WAC questions were answered and what problems linger heading into the fall.

Boise State Broncos
2006 Schedule
8/31 Sacramento State
9/7 Oregon State
9/16 at Wyoming
9/23 Hawaii
9/30 at Utah
10/7 Louisiana Tech
10/15 at New Mexico State
10/21 at Idaho
11/1 Fresno State
11/11 at San Jose State
11/18 Utah State
11/25 at Nevada

2005 overall record:
9-4
Conference record:
7-1

Returning starters
Offense: 9, Defense: 9, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Lee Marks (759 yds)
Passing: Jared Zabransky* (2,562 yds)
Receiving: Jerard Rabb* (572 yds)
Tackles: Korey Hall* (106)
Sacks: Colt Brooks* (6)
Interceptions: Marty Tadman* (5)

Spring Answers: No receiver on the team averaged more than 44 ypg last season? No worry, says new head coach Chris Peterson. After watching them closely this spring, the former offensive coordinator said this is the deepest position on the team. It's a senior-laden group with Jerard Rabb, Drisan James and Legedu Naanee leading the way, but there's also an impressive-looking freshman tandem in Jeremy Childs and Aiona Key. Then there's the wild card, sophomore Vinny Perretta. You probably noticed him in the bowl game against Boston College. If this spring is any indication, he'll be a vital cog in the offense, a factor in the rotation at both wide receiver and tailback. … Sure, losing LT Daryn Colledge is a blow to the line, but the other seven linemen who played in '05 all return. Freshman All-American Ryan Clady is already one of the best pro prospects in the WAC, and he'll move over to the left side to replace Colledge. Another sophomore, 331-pound Andrew Woodruff, was the team's best blocker this spring. He'll slide over to Clady's old spot after splitting time at right guard last season. … At linebacker, the Broncos knew they were set in the middle (Korey Hall) and on the strong side (Colt Brooks), but they weren't sure about the weak side. They are now. It's not clear who will start, but it's clear BSU will be fine with a new sophomore starter, either Kyle Gingg or David Shields. Gingg reminded some of Andy Avalos with the way he was always around the ball, while Shields made a smooth transition from the middle.

Fall Questions: Can QB Jared Zabransky bounce back in 2006? And if not, will he retain his starting job? After that disastrous performance in the opener at Georgia, he was never quite the same and undoubtedly regressed from his superb sophomore season. Despite ranking just sixth in the conference in passing, the Broncos had no choice but to stick with Zabransky. The trio of Taylor Tharp, Nick Lomax and Bush Hamdan was awful that spring, and the gap was just too wide for any of them to challenge when Zabransky faltered. That gap narrowed by the day this spring. Boise is hoping the incumbent received the message. … BSU lost three of its top four rushers, including starter Lee Marks. Speedy sophomore Ian Johnson is the presumed starter, but he has battled hernia problems and the backup situation if iffy at best. Having Jon Helmandollar back after taking a year off for personal reasons helps, but he's primarily a goal-line specialist. After that, is a receiver like Perretta the best option? Looks that way. … On the defensive line, who replaces all-WAC tackle Alex Guerrero? Senior Tim Volk doesn't have a whole lot of experience. A possibility is Dennis Ellis, who slides to the middle after he arrived from junior college last year and disappointed at the end. … What kind of impact will new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox have? It appears his schemes are similar to the ones the team has run in recent years, but there does appear to be more of an emphasis on zone coverage and zone blitzes. The defensive backs were rarely beaten on deep balls this spring, and that's one of the payoffs of the zone. But will the Broncos be able to tighten up in the red zone? They surrendered a conference-worst 31 TD passes last season. Boise is banking on Gerald Alexander, a two-year starter at corner, to make more of an impact at safety. … Who exactly is the kicker of this team? Incumbent Anthony Montgomery? Walk-on Kyle Brotzman? Former walk-on Chris Chalmers? No one took control of the race this spring.

Fresno State Bulldogs
2006 Schedule
9/1 Nevada
9/9 Oregon
9/16 at Washington
9/30 Colorado State
10/7 at Utah State
10/14 Hawaii
10/21 at LSU
11/1 at Boise State
11/11 New Mexico State
11/18 Idaho
11/24 at Louisiana Tech
12/2 at San Jose State

2005 overall record:
8-5
Conference record:
6-2

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Wendell Mathis (1,313 yds)
Passing: Paul Pinegar (3,335 yds)
Receiving: Paul Williams* (729 yds)
Tackles: Richard Marshall (78)
Sacks: Garrett McIntyre and Tyler Clutts* (7)
Interceptions: Richard Marshall (3)

Spring Answers: That loud buzz you hear out of Fresno is centered around WR Chastin West. The redshirt freshman was the talk of the spring and has playmaker written all over him. West is a trackster with speed, can dust off tackles, already has mastered the end-around and even threw a touchdown pass in the final scrimmage. Throw him in there with Paul Williams and Joe Fernandez, and the Bulldogs are looking at a stellar receiving corps. … After rushing for more than 1,000 yards in 2003, TB Dwayne Wright injured his knee in the second game of the '04 season and hasn't been heard from since. He'll be heard from this fall. Wright was finally 100 percent this spring and the 220-pounder earned back his starting job. Although Clifton Smith was out for the spring and most of last fall, he will certainly be in the mix this season. The team will miss Wendell Mathis and Bryson Sumlin, but the losses won't be fatal. … Two nice defensive additions who impressed this spring: LB Trevor Shamblee and DE Jason Roberts. Shamblee is a JC transfer who will provide reliable depth, and Roberts is a Washington State transfer who is returning home and will contribute immediately on the line. … Another defender has been around for years, but is just now looking legit. Vincent Mays was nicknamed "Playmaker" in high school and he came to campus with a swagger and a top-10 recruiting ranking at free safety. However, Mays was never able to beat out three-year starter Tyrone Culver, and he pouted about it and let it affect his play. It all added up to zero career starts -- until now. With a renewed attitude, the senior blanketed the team's star receivers this spring and was solid in run coverage. It might finally be time for Mays to live up to all the hype.

Fall Questions: When does the replacement for longtime QB Paul Pinegar emerge? It's probably not going to be Ryan Colburn -- that much we know. As for sophomores Tom Brandstater and Sean Norton, there simply wasn't much separation. Brandstater is the one with game experience, so he's got the edge. He didn't tear things up in the spring, though, and the door was left open for Norton. Only problem is, he didn't exactly kick down the door. Unless Norton is outstanding in August, the job might go to Brandstater by default. … The Bulldogs don't have many departures to deal with, but the ones that did leave will be severally missed. On offense, the other big loss was All-WAC left tackle Dartangon Shack. During the spring, three-year starting center Kyle Young dabbled at right tackle, while veteran RG Ryan Wendell tried out the middle. The juggling is fine, but why wasn't Shack's position addressed? None of the three leading candidates look like they would scare many defensive ends at the moment. … On the other side of the ball, is there a replacement for WAC Defensive Player of the Year Garrett McIntyre and his constant motor on the line? No one appears to be the kind of backfield disrupter McIntyre was throughout his career. And his leadership skills are nearly irreplaceable. … Marcus McCauley is fine at one corner, but what about the vacancy left by Richard Marshall when he left early for the NFL? Damon Jenkins hurt himself again this spring and Elgin Simmons didn't exactly distinguish himself as a starter. So is Marshall's replacement current prepping for final exams in high school? It's quite possible. At the very least, true freshmen Damion Owens and A.J. Jefferson will need to show they can be relied upon at a thin position in a pass-happy conference.

Hawaii Warriors
2006 Schedule
9/2 at Alabama
9/16 UNLV
9/23 at Boise State
9/30 Eastern Illinois
10/7 Nevada
10/14 at Fresno State
10/21 at New Mexico State
10/28 Idaho
11/4 at Utah State
11/11 Louisiana Tech
11/18 San Jose State
11/25 Purdue
12/2 Oregon State


2005 overall record:
5-7
Conference record:
4-4

Returning starters
Offense: 9, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Nate Ilaoa* (643 yds)
Passing: Colt Brennan* (4,301 yds)
Receiving: Ryan Grice-Mullen* (1,228 yds)
Tackles: Solomon Elimimian* (83)
Sacks: Kila Kamakawiwo'ole (8)
Interceptions: Turmarian Moreland (4)

Spring Answers: Last spring, QB Colt Brennan was concerned with winning a starting job. This spring, with a starter's spot long since decided, Brennan was concerned with increasing his knowledge of the offense. By all accounts, he was successful in doing just that. So yes, the quarterback who led the nation in total offense (371 ypg) and broke 11 school records in his first year as a starter is apparently only getting better. Wonderful news for the rest of the WAC. … More pleasant news: The Warriors lose just two starters off the conference's top offense. The receiver position is particularly stacked. In fact, those close to the program say Hawaii has never been deeper at that spot. It's not just sophomores Ryan Grice-Mullen and Davone Bess, who combined for 26 TDs and nearly 2,400 yards in the nation's second-ranked passing offense. It's also seniors Ryan Dickerson and Chad Mock each averaged more than 60 ypg last season. It's also Jason Rivers, who returns to the team after taking a year off to deal with personal issues. It's also Ian Sample, who hopes to return to the team and is petitioning the NCAA for a sixth year. Even converted corner Kenny Patton is giving receiver a try. As if the Warriors needed any more help. … Two position moves worked out seamlessly for Hawaii. Samson Satele, who gave up just two sacks in 578 pass attempts at left guard last season, shifted over to center without a hitch. Meanwhile, former MLB Brad Kalilimoku, who was a tad undersized for his old position in the middle, moved to strong safety and will likely fill the starting vacancy there. He could be on the move again, though, as head coach June Jones left open the door for a move to outside linebacker.

Fall Questions: If there is a question about the offense, it's the same one that prevented the unit from scoring as many points as it could've last year. It's the guys blocking -- or quite often not blocking -- up front. Brennan was often forced to scramble around not long after the snap last season, and 38 times the defense was able to take him down. Are things going to be any better, especially with two fresh faces at the guard spots? … If this program wants to return to a bowl game, though, coordinator Jerry Glanville's defense simply has to get better. By WAC standards, it wasn't horrible in 2005. But by national standards, it was 110th in scoring D (36 ppg). That kind of effort isn't going to win you many games. … With a secondary hit hard by graduation, the Warriors have to at least get better at stopping the run. Giving up 188 ypg on the ground in a pass-happy conference isn't going to cut it. However, there are some big holes to fill at linebacker, especially if Kalilimoku remains at strong safety. Solomon Elimimian returns and Adam Leonard is healthy again, but the group still loses Tanuvasa Moe, Kila Kamakawiwo'ole and Ikaika Curnan. How many of the 15 newcomers on defense can help out at this spot? And how many in the secondary? The return of FS Leonard Peters, who suffered a season-ending injury in the opener last year, is a huge boost. However, every other starter was lost, and that's never a good thing in this conference. Glanville loves to blitz, but he doesn't really have the kind of reliable cornerbacks that make that a plausible option at this point. Can JC transfers Myron Newberry and Keenan Jones be part of the solution when they arrive in August?

Idaho Vandals
2006 Schedule
9/2 at Michigan State
9/9 at Washington State
9/16 Idaho State
9/23 at Oregon State
9/30 at Utah State
10/7 New Mexico State
10/14 at Louisiana Tech
10/21 Boise State
10/28 at Hawaii
11/4 Nevada
11/18 at Fresno State
11/25 San Jose State

2005 overall record:
2-9
Conference record:
2-6

Returning starters
Offense: 9, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Rolly Lumbala* (472 yds)
Passing: Steven Wichman* (2,746 yds)
Receiving: D.J. Smith (1,001 yds)
Tackles: Cole Snyder (139)
Sacks: Snyder and Josh Bousman* (5)
Interceptions: D.J. Dykes* (4)

Spring Answers: Dennis Erickson, Dennis Erickson and Dennis Erickson. The name alone brings more legitimacy to this program than it has ever been able to acquire as a I-A member. Two national championships at Miami. Two head coaching stints in the NFL. Already two successful tenures in his native Northwest (at Washington State and Oregon State). And now Erickson returns to the site of his first head coaching job, a place where he became the school's all-time winningest coach in just four short years (1982-86). For a program that hasn't had a heartbeat in years, this hire has created a real-life buzz. Season-ticket sales have skyrocketed, Erickson packs 'em in at speeches all over the state and an unheard-of 6,000 fans came out for the spring game at the Kibbie Dome, where there's already talk of expanding. The enthusiasm is real, folks. As for on-the-field matters, expect vintage Erickson. He knows the Vandals have to run the ball better, but only because it'll help in play action and at least give the defenses something to think about. Make no mistake: Idaho will, more often than not, line up in the shotgun and spread things out, with the tailback count at either one or none. … It almost seems as if Erickson has been around as many UI games as poor Luke Smith-Anderson the last few years. After playing as a true freshman in 2001, the talented tight end tore an ACL just before the first game of the next year. Then, a year after that, he tore the other ACL during the first game of the year. After contributing in 2004, Smith-Anderson suffered a ruptured spleen prior to last year's opener and it cost him the season. Hold your breath for this August, but it was at least nice seeing the tough-luck tight end out there this spring.

Fall Questions: We're not saying the '05 Idaho offense was the worst thing we've ever seen, but it did get shut out by the Hawaii defense -- and that can never, ever be a good sign. So Erickson's new pass-happy scheme should be a godsend, right? In theory, yes. But if the quarterback and his receivers aren't performing, the only people happy about that scheme are opposing defensive coordinators. QB Steve Wichman struggled to adjust to a new offense last year, and he didn't take well to this one during spring drills. Of course, receivers dropping anything and everything thrown their way doesn't help matters. The absence of D.J. Smith, a 1,000-yard receiver who bolted early for the NFL, reared its ugly head during scrimmages. The receivers' inability to hang on to the ball, combined with too much pressure given up by the O-line, led to a 4-for-20 performance by Wichman in the spring game. Not a single receiver secured himself a starting spot despite plenty being available in this spread offense. That's a problem. … The pass protection is another potential issue, especially after three-year starting tackle Hank Therien abruptly left the team during the offseason. Most everyone else returns on the line, but we're talking about a group that gave up 34 sacks last fall. Keep an eye on one of the guard spots, where redshirt freshman Adam Juratovac is giving starter Marcis Fennell a serious run. … Contrary to published reports, a team does indeed have to show a pulse on defense to win in the WAC. The defense doesn't have to be great, but it can't be as bad as Idaho's was last season, when it ranked ahead of only four teams in the country in scoring defense (38 ppg). During one five-game stretch, the Vandals gave up a whopping 50 per game. It's no wonder the program has won just 11 games in the last five years. If UI is going to turn it around on defense, it has to find adequate replacements at linebacker, where Cole Snyder was among three starters lost. At Snyder's old spot in the middle, will it be Robert Davis or fellow senior Jaron Williams? Another key battle in August will be at cornerback, where two spots are up for grabs among three contenders: senior Jason Martin, junior Reggie Jones and JC transfer Stanley Franks.

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
2006 Schedule
9/2 at Nebraska
9/16 Nicholls State
9/23 at Texas A&M
9/30 at Clemson
10/7 at Boise State
10/14 Idaho
10/21 Utah State
10/28 at San Jose State
11/4 at North Texas
11/11 at Hawaii
11/18 Nevada
11/24 Fresno State
12/2 at New Mexico State

2005 overall record:
7-4
Conference record:
6-2

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 2, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Mark Dillard* (672 yds)
Passing: Matt Kubik (2,202 yds)
Receiving: Eric Newman* (566 yds)
Tackles: Barry Robertson (103)
Sacks: Robertson, Jeremy Hamilton and Moqut Ruffins (3)
Interceptions: Alton Bryant and Tramon Williams (3)

Spring Answers: For the better part of a decade, quarterbacks like Tim Rattay and Luke McCown ruled the air in pass-happy Ruston. The dominance of tailback Ryan Moats started to balance things out, though, and the trio of Freddie Franklin, Mark Dillard and Patrick Jackson continued Tech's return to the ground game with a combined 1,487 yards and 18 TDs last season. Dillard missed the spring because of personal reasons and will probably move to safety if he returns, but Franklin tore it up in offseason scrimmages and stud recruit William Griffin will make his highly anticipated debut in August. … Coming out of high school, WR Josh Wheeler had a chance to play football and run track at Arkansas. He chose Louisiana Tech instead and Bulldogs fans will soon be thankful for it. Wheeler has blazing speed and can go up and make plays in the air. He's a keeper. … So is LB Quin Harris, who started on the outside in the season-ending game at Fresno State. In that impressive win -- one that Tech fans felt should've warranted a bowl trip -- Harris picked off two passes and was seemingly all over the field. If the defense is going to force anywhere near the 31 turnovers it caused last season, young players like Harris have to produce.

Fall Questions: Who wins the three-way race at quarterback? That's anyone's guess at this point, considering there are just eight combined pass attempts between the candidates. Junior Joe Danna is improving and Zac Champion might have a slight lead because he just finished his fourth spring. But redshirt freshman Michael Mosley has a strong arm, a quick release and the biggest upside of the trio. This one doesn't look like it'll be decided anytime soon. … Only two starters return on defense. Can the unit possibly survive a schedule that includes a stretch of 12 straight weeks and offers up trips to Clemson, Nebraska and Texas A&M? Not likely. In fact, this could get ugly. Tech lost five of its top six linemen and three of its four starters in both the linebacking corps and the secondary. In addition, at least seven starting spots will still be up for grabs in August. Yes, seven. The linebacker situation looks survivable, but there's major concern on the line and at the corner spots.

Nevada Wolf Pack
2006 Schedule
9/1 at Fresno State
9/9 at Arizona State
9/16 Colorado State
9/22 Northwestern
9/30 at UNLV
10/7 at Hawaii
10/21 San Jose State
10/28 New Mexico State
11/4 at Idaho
11/11 Utah State
11/18 at Louisiana Tech
11/25 Boise State

2005 overall record:
9-3
Conference record:
7-1

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: B.J. Mitchell (1,399 yds)
Passing: Jeff Rowe* (2,925 yds)
Receiving: Caleb Spencer* (889 yds)
Tackles: Roosevelt Cooks (98)
Sacks: Cooks and Ezra Butler* (5.5)
Interceptions: Joe Garcia* (4)

Spring Answers: With the backups either out (Travis Moore) or limited (Nick Graziano), starting QB Jeff Rowe saw extra reps in practice all spring long. The senior used them wisely. In the spring game, Rowe connected with eight different receivers in completing 10 of 12 passes for 170 yards -- all in one half. Several people around the program noted how much confidence a successful 2005 gave Rowe, who also took on a more noticeable leadership role this offseason. … Despite the loss of Nichiren Flowers, the Wolf Pack will be just fine at receiver. Did you catch the part about Rowe finding eight of them in one half? That number doesn't even include two highly anticipated newcomers expected to arrive in August: JC transfer Marko Mitchell and prep standout Chris Wellington. Among the returnees, Caleb Spencer is already proven and Mike McCoy turned a lot of heads this spring, while walk-on Andy McIntosh is looking like a contributor. And don't forget All-WAC tight end Anthony Pudewell. … By now, the coaching staff has realized Dominic Green can play any position on the offensive line, and that makes him a valuable asset. As a redshirt freshman last season, Green started the first four games at guard and then the last eight at center after injuries knocked out both Fred White and Jimmy Wadhams. This spring, he moved to tackle and did so without a hitch. Green is not only versatile, but is also a heck of a talent. … Another switch that worked seamlessly was that of Joshua Mauga and Jeremy Engstrom at linebacker. Mauga moved inside, while Engstrom went to the outside. Combine those two with Ezra Butler, a 255-pound linebacker with a 4.46 40-time, and the Pack look loaded at that position.

Fall Questions: No one in Reno is panicking over the running back situation, but there's at least some reason for concern. It's not just losing a 1,400-yard rusher like B.J. Mitchell that causes worry. It's the fact that projected starter Robert Hubbard, a proven talent when healthy, is still recovering from offseason hernia surgery and was hampered with an assortment of injuries all of last season. With that in mind, it would seem Nevada needs at least three capable backs on its roster. Well, the only one who showed much of anything this spring was senior Kyle Eklund. And guess what? He's a small back (5-foot-8, 185 pounds) who's battled injury problems his entire career. Three true freshmen arrive in August, and at least one or two might be needed right away. … Some help on the O-line would be nice, too. If Charles Manu can adequately make the transition to tackle, head coach Chris Ault said he feels comfortable with the starting five. What's behind that group, Ault conceded, is a "major, major question." … Can J.J. Milan catch a break? He led the team in sacks two years ago, but had to use his redshirt last season and has had three surgeries on his foot. Then, just as he was starting spring drills this year, Milan broke his toe and was unable to participate. If he can ever stay healthy, the senior could play an important role in replacing leading tackler Roosevelt Cooks at outside linebacker. … Of course, the improvement of the defense revolves around the secondary. CB Joe Garcia is outstanding, but he needs some help. The Wolf Pack gave up 269 ypg through the air, which ranked them eighth in the nine-team WAC -- behind even hapless New Mexico State. Why is it so important the pass defense tightens up quickly? Take a look at the first six games of the schedule. The two conference opponents are Fresno State and Hawaii, both on the road. There are also dates with Colorado State and rival UNLV, both with much-hyped new quarterbacks. Oh, and don't forget meetings with Arizona State and Northwestern. Both teams were ranked among the nation's best in passing offense last season. Have fun with that.

New Mexico State Aggies
2006 Schedule
8/31 Southeastern Louisiana
9/9 New Mexico
9/16 Texas Southern
9/30 at UTEP
10/7 at Idaho
10/15 Boise State
10/21 Hawaii
10/28 at Nevada
11/4 San Jose State
11/11 at Fresno State
11/25 at Utah State
12/2 Louisiana Tech

2005 overall record:
0-12
Conference record:
0-8

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 0

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Justine Buries* (779 yds)
Passing: Royal Gill (1,930 yds)
Receiving: Paul Dombrowski (798 yds)
Tackles: Jimmy Cottrell (179)
Sacks: Cottrell (3)
Interceptions: Courtney Bryan* (3)

Spring Answers: A quarterback who can run the offense, for starters. After 21 interceptions, the disaster that was the Royal Gill-Joey Vincent duo is history. Chase Holbrook, who followed coach Hal Mumme from SE Louisiana, brings a thorough understanding of the system and a commanding presence that includes more than just his imposing size (6-6, 245). When the offense struggled in the first quarter of the spring game, Holbrook stalked the sideline and deemed the effort unacceptable. His teammates immediately responded. Will the redshirt sophomore be as effective this fall? He gets his first chance against none other than SE Louisiana on Aug. 31. … Holbrook's favorite target will almost certainly be another new face. After Hurricane Katrina, the mother of New Orleans native Aikeem Jolla was displaced and ended up in New Mexico. After a few disappointing seasons at Miami, the one-time high school phenom transferred to get closer to his family and received a waiver from the NCAA to play this season. Jolla went out there this spring and caught everything in sight, looking as good as once advertised. They're already calling him the Cajun Comet. … Overall, Woody Widenhofer's defense looked noticeably more athletic and quick this spring, especially a linebacking corps that lost three starters. A few individual bright spots emerged on a unit that can use all the help it can muster. Chief among them was LB Shauna Leaupepe, who grey-shirted last season. Widenhofer was also pleased with sophomore Gerald Gurrier and the overall depth at safety, as well as the play of cornerbacks Courtney Bryan and Alex Bernard. The former defensive coordinator of the famed "Steel Curtain" in Pittsburgh thinks Bryan is a legit NFL prospect. It's that kind of confidence in the secondary that will allow Widenhofer to utilize man-to-man coverage more often and be generally more aggressive out of his 3-4 formation.

Fall Questions: The feeling around Las Cruces this spring was one of great improvement. But after an 0-12 nightmare, how exactly could this team have been any worse? Let's face it: The Aggies were downright wretched in 2005. The much-ballyhooed Mumme offense ranked last in the conference after scoring just 16.5 points per game, while the supposedly improved Widenhofer defense ranked second-to-last in the country by giving up 480.3 yards per game. … So there's still plenty of things that need answers. On offense, we know Mumme likes to fling it around, but surely the Aggies can manage more than 78.4 yards per game on the ground, right? Not if the O-line doesn't show any improvement. A little pass blocking would also be appreciated. How can Gill and Vincent garner all the criticism when the line gives up a national-worst 46 sacks? The depth up front is so shaky the staff actually pondered for a while whether a spring game was even possible. Will the addition of Polo Gutierrez from the defense and four or five newcomers from junior college and high school be enough to at least gain some respectability? … On defense, the line is still a concern and the linebackers are promising, but still unproven. This is a front seven that gave up 216.3 yards per game on the ground last season. If that continues, will an improved secondary even matter? … And will any of this matter if the Aggies don't correct their embarrassing turnover problem? It's almost hard to fathom a team giving up 23 more turnovers than it produces, but New Mexico State accomplished just that in 2005 (38 surrendered, 15 generated). Can the offense take better care of the ball? When the defense is on the field 75 percent of the time -- as it was last year -- it can't exactly be blamed for giving up plenty of points. With that said, it wouldn't hurt if the newly aggressive D forced a few more miscues from the opponent.

San Jose State Spartans
2006 Schedule
9/2 at Washington
9/9 Stanford
9/23 Cal Poly
9/30 San Diego State
10/14 Utah State
10/21 at Nevada
10/28 Louisiana Tech
11/4 at New Mexico State
11/11 Boise State
11/18 at Hawaii
11/25 at Idaho
12/2 Fresno State

2005 overall record:
3-8
Conference record:
2-6

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 2, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Yonus Davis* (638 yds)
Passing: Adam Tafralis* (1,810 yds)
Receiving: Rufus Skillern (561 yds)
Tackles: Ezekial Staples (115)
Sacks: Justin James (8)
Interceptions: Josh Powell (4)

Spring Answers: Around midseason, Matt Cantu moved from center to left tackle. No big deal, right? Well, except for the fact that it directly coincided with the emergence of a legitimate Spartans running game, one that continued to shine this spring. Over the last five games, San Jose State averaged 200 yards a game on the ground as TB Yonus Davis led the way and finally gave the team a No. 1 back. Davis ended up averaging 6.7 yards per carry. Against Fresno State and New Mexico State, he gained nearly 300 yards on just 32 carries. The Spartans weren't sure if they had a running back last spring. They had no such doubts this time around. … At home, DT Freddy McCutcheon is as tender as one would expect a new father of twins to be. On the field, he's anything but tender. McCutcheon, who was a freshman starter at San Diego State before taking the JC route, earned a starting spot in the middle this spring. He should be a force. … If you asked a WAC fan to guess the conference's leading returning tackler, the name Matt Castelo probably wouldn't be one of the first out of his mouth. It would be the right answer, however. The junior moved from outside to middle linebacker this spring, but looked just as effective. He'll help a run defense that was already pretty good in the first place.

Fall Questions: Unlike last offseason, there's no debating the starting quarterback. Adam Tafralis is the guy. The problem this year is finding some players he can throw to. The Spartans not only lost their top receiver in Rufus Skillern, but also their top tight end in Bryan Watje, the squad's only first-team All-WAC selection. Anybody willing to step into the go-to role at receiver? James Jones? John Broussard? What about tight end? Six candidates had the chance this spring, but none of them stood out. … The Spartans defense wasn't great last year, but it was certainly getting better -- giving up 112 fewer points than it had in 2004. But does that steady progression slip right back down the slope with just two starters returning on that side of the ball? The aforementioned Castelo and McCutcheon are literally the only sure starters at the moment. Everything else is up for grabs, and it looks like there might be at least six sophomores and redshirt freshmen playing prominent roles. Can the youngsters help at all in the secondary? The team ranked 114th in pass defense, giving up 296 yards per game last season. Even in the WAC, that number is horrendous. Something has to change for the better back there. … Can coach Dick Tomey continue the baby steps this program took during his first season? The Spartans won their final two games for the first time in nearly a decade and lost three more earlier in the season by seven points or less. It's not much, but this is San Jose State were talking about here. Tomey has a history of turning around programs (see: Hawaii and Arizona). Does he have one more left in him?

Utah State Aggies
2006 Schedule
9/2 at Wyoming
9/9 at Arkansas
9/16 Utah
9/23 at BYU
9/30 Idaho
10/7 Fresno State
10/14 at San Jose State
10/21 at Louisiana Tech
11/4 Hawaii
11/11 at Nevada
11/18 at Boise State
11/25 New Mexico State

2005 overall record:
3-8
Conference record:
2-6

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Ryan Bohm* (340 yds)
Passing: Leon Jackson III* (1,547 yds)
Receiving: Tony Pennyman* (741 yds)
Tackles: Jake Hutton* (87)
Sacks: John Chick (12.5)
Interceptions: Terrance Washington* and Jarrett Bush (2)

Spring Answers: So much for the lack of a No. 1 tailback, at least if spring is any indication. The team's lone junior college transfer, Marcus Cross, arrived on campus early and impressed throughout, enough so that leading rusher Ryan Bohm was moved to fullback. Cross scored a pair of touchdowns in the spring game and averaged more than 6 yards per carry. In 2005, the Aggies didn't have a single player average more than 38 yards per carry on the ground. Go ahead and place us in the shocked category if that happens again. … Perhaps the spring's biggest surprise came at tight end, a position that lost its starter when Jason Stephens decided to focus on graduate school. Sophomore Rob Myers, who played almost exclusively on special teams during his first season, made catches this spring that Stephens never made. The coaches were thrilled with his progress. They think he can stretch defenses vertically and will be extremely tough to cover, especially when matched up with a linebacker. … To no one's surprise, former walk-on Jake Hutton received a scholarship this spring. Gee, ya think? The linebacker wasn't offered a single I-A or I-AA scholarship despite being named Idaho Defensive Player of the Year his senior season of high school. So he walked on at USU and all he did was earn a starting spot at outside linebacker and then became the first freshman in program history to lead the team in tackles. The kid no one wanted became the third-leading freshman tackler in the entire country. Not only that, but this spring he moved to his natural spot in the middle and looked even better. Hutton has good instincts and good speed -- perfect attributes for his new position.

Fall Questions: Can QB Leon Jackson III stay healthy this season? When he was injured late in the year, no one in Logan panicked because Jerod Walker was a more-than-capable backup who saw time throughout the season. Walker didn't disappoint as a starter, completing 72 percent of his passes. Then the spring came and now he's off the team. Walker was not only caught with marijuana on campus, but he was also arrested and charged with aggravated sexual assault. Backup Bryan Black didn't play a down last season. … Jackson will obviously need to be protected and only two returning starters on the line are back to do the job. All five potential starters missed the spring due to injury. Not a good start. The line will be the key because the team's top six receivers and six of the top seven rushers return. So if the replacements up front are adequate, the Aggies will surely put more points on the scoreboard this year, right? Utah State didn't score more than 24 points in a single conference game last year, which is almost unfathomable in the WAC. … Over on defense, two large questions remain. First, is it even possible to replace DE John Chick, who always seemed to find himself right in the thick of things in the backfield? He contributed more than half of the team's sack total last year, finishing fifth in the country with 12.5. The Aggies also lose starter Jarom Fano on the other end. The potential replacements are all freshmen and sophomores with virtually no experience. Yikes. … The opposing quarterbacks are probably going to get more time to throw this season, so that leads us to our second question: Will the defensive backs actually make some plays this year? Utah State snared just seven interceptions in 2006, all the while giving up 262 yards per game through the air. If the Aggies are going to have a fighting chance against big brothers BYU and Utah this September, the secondary must get better -- and get better fast.

Brett Edgerton is a researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at Brett.M.Edgerton.-ND@espn.com.