It was last year in November that the WAC produced the most electrifying game of the college season, when Nevada shocked Boise State 34-31 in overtime and not only knocked the Broncos from the Rose Bowl, but lifted the Wolfpack and Hawaii into a three-way tie for the conference championship. Saturday’s game between Nevada and Louisiana Tech won’t have the same national implications, but the stakes in the conference race are no less significant.
Nevada is 4-0 in league play and their only losses overall are to Oregon, Boise and a one-pointer to Texas Tech. Quarterback Cody Fajardo is a dual threat who is the complete focal point of the offense, as he ably walks in the shoes of Colin Kapernick, last year’s QB, who’s now backing up Alex Smith in San Francisco. Louisiana Tech is 4-1 and relies on running the ball the more conventional way behind Lennon Creer. The Bulldogs had to make a quarterback change midway through when highly regarded freshman Nick Isham suffered a shoulder injury, but Colby Cameron has stepped in and thrown seven touchdowns against only one interception in his three starts.
Both teams do it with defense though, and that’s what separates them from their WAC brethren. Nevada and Louisiana Tech are the top two when it comes to points allowed in conference games, and it’s a big drop-off down to #3.
The game is being played at Nevada and homefield, combined with the Wolfpack’s experience in big games give them the edge. But Tech is a comer at the midmajor level and should still be in position to grab one of the league’s three automatic bowl slots. The conference champ gets a shot in the Poinsettia Bowl against what will likely be TCU, but could also be Boise. The second-place team goes to the Idaho Potato Bowl for a game against MAC #3 (right now Ohio is a logical fit, though a lot has to be shaken out there) and the third bid is the Hawaii Bowl, reserved for the hometown Rainbows if they are bowl-eligible.
Hawaii leads up the rest of the discussion of the rest of the WAC. They were supposed to be a serious contender this year, but are instead struggling at 5-5 because they aren’t getting consistent support in the running game for quarterback Bryant Moniz. The Rainbows are 5-5 and need to win two of their final three. One is a gimme against Tulane, but the finale is a road trip to BYU. Which makes this week’s game at Fresno State all the more important.
Utah State and New Mexico State also have shots at bowl eligibility, although New Mexico would have to sweep its final three games against a schedule that includes Louisiana Tech and BYU. Utah State has been competitive all year, going back to a near-miss at Auburn in the opener, but they haven’t been able to seal the deal and are sitting at 4-5. Odds are that the only three eligible teams in the WAC will be Nevada, Louisiana Tech and Hawaii. And the inside track to the top bid goes on the line in Reno on Saturday.