When the Western Athletic Conference football coaches and administrators gather over the next few days at the Salt Lake Airport Hilton, it will be a surprise if anyone other than Boise State is predicted to win the conference championship.

The Broncos, after all, are returning most of the key ingredients to their successful 10-3 season of 2007.

BCS-bowl playing Hawaii, though, has lost its coach, its quarterback and likely a lot of the flair it has enjoyed over the past few years. The

Warriors, however, should still warrant a decent spot in the preseason polls, with Fresno State also getting its share of preseason accolades.

Utah State, on the other hand, isn't expecting to see much of the upper echelons on the polls when they are released Wednesday. The Aggies, despite being winners of two games in a row, have been predicted by most national publications to slug it out with New Mexico State and Idaho at the bottom of the conference.

The Aggies are hoping they can improve on their starts and finishes this year. Being outscored by a combined 112-31 in the first quarter put USU in a bad spot in nearly every game. Holding a fourth-quarter lead in six games, but winning only two of them, showed the team was able to regroup, but maybe not quite capable of finishing everything it had started.

Gone this year is All-American receiver and return man Kevin Robinson as well as quarterback Leon Jackson III. The Aggies do return nine defensive starters, including most of their secondary players. Only six offensive starters return, though, and fourth-year coach Brent Guy — with a career record of 6-29 — must find playmakers if he hopes to improve on USU's 2-10 record.

Last year's offense was worst in the WAC and 115th in the NCAA at 277.9 yards per game. Defensively, USU also struggled, allowing 450.3 yards per game (9th WAC, 106th overall) while getting shelled in a 52-37 loss to Hawaii, a 52-0 loss to Boise State and a 54-3 drubbing at Oklahoma.

This year's schedule is a little more kind, with only a road trip to Oregon looking like a so-called bodybag game. BYU and Utah will both pay visits to Romney Stadium this year.


E-mail: eborn@desnews.com