Two of the Western Athletic Conference's premiere teams - Boise State and Hawai'i - will be in the national spotlight Saturday.
Boise State, ranked 18th in the Associated Press poll, travels to Athens, Ga., to meet No. 13 Georgia (2:30 p.m.) and Hawai'i hosts defending national champion USC (4 p.m.).
Two WAC coaches were asked what they thought of the intersectional matchups.
"I think people saw them (Boise State) make a big jump when they played Louisville last year," San Jose State's Dick Tomey said. "I think Boise State is as well coached as any team in the country. They compete hard and I wouldn't expect anything different (Saturday)."
"Georgia is going to have great size and speed (on defense)," Nevada's Chris Ault said. "Boise State will counter that by running different sets not so much to stop Georgia's speed, but to confuse it. Boise State is an experienced team."
Dan Hawkins, who has guided the Broncos to three consecutive WAC titles, is excited about the opener. He knows a hostile crowd awaits.
"It will be a great beginning," Hawkins said. "Obviously we have a great opponent in Georgia, a program steeped in tradition. They will be great as everyone expects them to be.
"We went to South Carolina and there were 90.000 and they got after us pretty good. At Arkansas, there wasn't quite the crowd, but they got after us."
Even with hard workouts in the sizzling Boise heat, it wasn't uncommon to see an occasional water balloon fight or an ice cream truck at a BSU practice. Hawkins believes in balancing things, and he believes that if you work hard it's OK to have a little fun, too. That's a pretty good way to keep the troops happy.
Hawkins also is excited about the return of tight end Derek Schouman, who missed the last five games of last season with an injury. Schouman caught three scoring passes in the Broncos' last scrimmage, including a 97-yarder.
"It's nice to have him up and running," Hawkins said. "He's a wide receiver (6-2, 211) playing tight end. He can run and has excellent hands."
Hawai'i, despite playing at home, will be a decided underdog to the top-ranked Trojans.
"We're excited to play on national TV," Hawai'i coach June Jones said. "We have a lot of question marks about this team. We have a lot of young players at skill positions. We'll hold on to our rear ends and play hard."
The biggest question mark is at quarterback where Colt Brennan and Tyler Graunke are battling to replace Timmy Chang, who did such a superb job running the Rainbows' four-receiver offense.
"They both play pretty good at times and other times they are young and inexperienced," Jones said. "Hopefully, they will not make big mistakes. Both will play the first couple of games."
Jones said he's simplified the offense somewhat, not wanting to overload either of the players with too much information.
When asked what bothered him about the Trojans, Jones was quick with a response.
"We watched film and they had over 50 scoring drives that took less than a minute," he said. "They have a great running back (Reggie Bush), tremendous receivers and Matt Leinart."
SMITH-ANDERSON HURT AGAIN
Idaho enters the season without the services of talented tight end Luke Smith-Anderson for the second time in three years.
Smith-Anderson, who caught 16 passes for 207 yards and four scores last year, suffered a ruptured spleen in practice on Aug. 15.
Smith-Anderson had two season-ending knee surgeries prior to the latest injury. Idaho coach Nick Holt said there is a chance Smith-Anderson could return by November.
"I feel bad for him," Holt said. "If anybody can get back (early) it would be Luke.
"We'll miss his leadership. He practiced well and set the tone for everybody. He had a good camp."
Smith-Anderson (6-5, 270) was a key factor in Idaho's running game, and had turned into a pass receiving threat.
SPARTANS LEND A HAND
With Hurricane Katrina pounding the New Orleans area, the New Orleans Saints will use San Jose State's practice facility through Wednesday to prepare for their upcoming game Thursday night against the Oakland Raiders.
"They will use it (daily) and be gone before we need it," Tomey said. "I'm not interested in inconveniencing ourselves for them."
And, speaking of the Spartans, Tomey said he offered four players scholarships for the coming season: Ulisese Liua, Waylon Prather, Justin Paysinger and Chester Coleman for doing such a great job since Tomey and his staff came aboard eight months ago.
GILL WINS QB JOB AT NMSU
New Mexico State junior Royal Gill has won the starting quarterback job over fellow junior Joey Vincent for first-year coach Hal Mumme.
Gill (6-5, 220) transferred from Pima Junior College where he passed for 1,963 yards and 17 scores in leading his team to a 9-3 record.
"Royal had a good camp," Mumme said. "It was a close race. Vincent will be our bullpen guy if Royal has a bad outing. It was the things Royal did in the end. He threw a lot of touchdown passes in the game situations we put him in.
"It was a pretty minute difference, but Royal is the guy we're going with. He's won games before and certainly had a great season at junior college. He sees this as the next progression in his career."
Gill will get tested immediately against UTEP.
"It's a great game for the Southwestern part of the United States," Mumme said. "Mike Price has done a great job at UTEP. They have (almost) everyone back from last year. It will be a tough chore for us."
UNIQUE PREPARATION FOR USU
Utah State opens with Nicholls State, and the Aggies hope to win their first home opener in five years.
Nicholls State runs the option, and that alone causes defensive coordinators problems because of the lack of preparation time.
Brent Guy, USU head coach, said his team has had eight shots at getting ready for the option. Whether that's enough is anybody's guess. Indeed sometimes there is too much tendency to try and help a teammate instead of handling the given assignment
"We start without a ball," Guy said when asked how he approached this week. "Guys have to learn to do their job and not guess where the football is."
CROWDED BACKFIELD AT TECH
Jack Bicknell has a problem most coaches like to have - a lot of good players at the same position.
Bicknell has four players competing for the tailback spot left vacant when Ryan Moats, the WAC's Offensive Player of the Year, left school early for the NFL draft.
Returnees Freddie Franklin and Mark Dillard plus true freshmen Weldon Brown and Patrick Jackson are vying for one spot, and Bicknell doesn't plan to redshirt any of them.
"Mark (Dillard) banged up his shoulder; nothing serious," Bicknell said. "The other three have gotten most of the reps. I may look at one at wide receiver. Freddie could play inside slot. Brown is out there now."
Bicknell stressed that the key is getting the ball into their hands as often as possible.
SCHOOL STARTS AT NEVADA
Ault gave the Wolf Pack Monday off, and preparations will start today for the Friday night, Sept. 9, home opener against Washington State.
"We had a good camp," Ault said. "Obviously we'd like to develop depth, something we didn't have last year. We are going to be a better football team this year. We couldn't be much worse (than last year)."
Ault said that 60 percent of his team is freshmen and sophomores. He said he sees at least six freshmen (redshirts and true freshmen) seeing playing time this year.
On defense, Fallon's Josh Mauga has impressed the coaching staff, and safety Uche Anyanwu, who redshirted last year, was impressive in the last scrimmage.
Offensively, wide receiver Jack Darlington and running back Tim Ham are getting good reps in practice and are challenging for playing time. Ham is battling for the third running back spot with redshirt freshman Tommy Haug. Dominic Green, a redshirt freshman, is starting at weakside guard, and redshirt freshman Mike McCoy is battling Kyle Sammons for a starting receiver spot. True freshman Nick Graziano appears to be the No. 3 quarterback, and most likely will travel this season.
n Darrell Moody can be reached at email@example.com, or by calling 881-1281
THIS WEEK IN THE WAC
Idaho at Washington State
Nicholls State at Utah State
Eastern Washington at San Jose State
Boise State at Georgia
USC at Hawai'i
UTEP at New Mexico State