Breaking down the WAC

Who will replace Jared Zabransky at Boise State? Will Colt Brennan continue to shine? Can Fresno State rebound from a subpar season? Take a look at what WAC questions were answered this spring and what problems linger heading into the fall.

2006 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 5; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners
RB Ian Johnson; OT Ryan Clady; S Marty Tadman; DE Nick Schlekeway; G Tad Miller; WR Vinny Perretta; CB Orlando Scandrick; CB Kyle Wilson
Key losses

QB Jared Zabransky; S Gerald Alexander; WR Legedu Naanee; LB Korey Hall; TE Derek Schouman; WR Jerard Rabb; WR Drisan James; K Anthony Montgomery; DT Andrew Browning; DT Dennis Ellis
Top newcomer: OG Garrett PendergastInsider

2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Ian Johnson* (1,714 yds)
Passing: Jared Zabransky (2,587 yds)
Receiving: Drisan James (650 yds)
Tackles: Korey Hall (111)
Sacks: Andrew Browning (8.5)
Interceptions: Marty Tadman* and Korey Hall (6)

Spring answers: 1. Give Ian a rest: All-America tailback Ian Johnson, who last season was second in Division I-A with 142.8 rushing yards per game and set a school record with 1,713 rushing yards, was given the spring off. Boise State's coaches wanted Johnson to rest his body, while younger players such as freshmen Jeremy Avery and Jarvis Hodge got most of the work. Johnson hopes to add 10 pounds this summer.

2. Defensive stars replaced: The Broncos have seven starters back on defense, but All-WAC linebacker Korey Hall, safety Gerald Alexander and top defensive tackle Andrew Browning must be replaced. Walk-on Tim Brady was perhaps the most impressive linebacker during spring practice and might push either Kyle Gingg or David Shields to the middle this fall. If Brady doesn't start, redshirt freshman Derrell Acrey should replace Hall there. The battle to replace Alexander involves as many as four players: senior Austin Smith (who played cornerback in 2006), redshirt freshmen Jeron Johnson and Jason Robinson and JUCO transfer Garcia Day. Each is a physical player and will receive ample playing time this fall. Four players also are competing for the two defensive tackle spots: seniors Joe Bozikovich and Ian Smart appear to be the starters, with senior Sione Tavake and junior Phillip Edwards playing behind them.

3. It isn't about the past: Boise State coach Chris Peterson, who received a new five-year, $4.25 million contract after the Broncos finished undefeated and beat Big 12 Conference champ Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime in the Fiesta Bowl, doesn't want his players living in the past. He forbid them from wearing any Fiesta Bowl t-shirts or sweatshirts during offseason conditioning and spring practice.

Fall questions: 1. Starting quarterback: Departed starter Jared Zabransky had a 33-5 record as a starter and will be sorely missed. Four players were fighting for the job during the spring, but junior Bush Hamdan appears to be the leader going into fall practice. Hamdan, who threw 10 passes behind Zabransky the last two seasons combined, was 4-for-11 for 68 yards in the spring game. Senior Taylor Tharp, who threw 50 passes the last two season, was 8-for-16 for 57 yards in the spring game. Sophomore Nick Lomax, son of former NFL quarterback Neil Lomax, and redshirt freshman Mike Coughlin also are competing for the job.

2. Replacing the receivers: The Broncos lost leading receivers Legedu Naanee, Jerard Rabb and Drisan James, as well as record-setting tight end Derek Schouman. Last season, the quartet combined to catch 67 percent of Boise State's completions, 76 percent of its receiving yards and 72 percent of its touchdown receptions. Junior Vinny Perretta, who threw the game-tying touchdown to Schouman in overtime of the Fiesta Bowl, probably will play receiver and tailback this coming season, as the coaches try to take advantage of his versatility and athleticism. Sophomore Jeremy Childs, who had 14 catches last season, was the front-runner for a starting position, too. Senior Toshi Franklin, who didn't make a catch the last two seasons, was the most impressive receiver during the spring. Walk-on Tanyon Bissell also had a strong spring.

3. Offensive line shuffling: The Broncos expected to return four starters on the line, including left tackle Ryan Clady, an All-America candidate. But then starting center Paul Lucariello tore the ACL in his knee during the team's first spring scrimmage. Senior Jeff Cavender, who started at right tackle as a freshman, center as a sophomore and right guard as a junior, moved back to center to replace Lucariello. Cavender's twin brother Pete, who missed last season with an Achilles tendon injury, might return to right guard. If not, Andrew Woodruff starts there, and senior Dan Gore starts at right tackle. Senior Tad Miller, a three-year starter, returns at left guard.

2006 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 7; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
LB Ahijah Lane, CB Damon Jenkins, FS Marvin Haynes, DT Charles Tolbert, NT Jason Shirley, DE Tyler Clutts, QB Tom Brandstater, WR Chastin West, WR Marlon Moore, C Ryan Wendell, G Cole Popovich, OT Kenny Avon

Key losses

WR Joe Fernandez, DT Louis Leonard, FB Roshon Vercher, CB Marcus McCauley, RB Dwayne Wright, WR Paul Williams, OT Chris Denman, LB Dwayne Andrews, SS Josh Sherley, LB Alan Goodwin, DE Marlon Brisco

Top newcomer: OT Devan CunninghamInsider

2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Dwayne Wright (1,462 yds)
Passing: Tom Brandstater* (1,490 yds)
Receiving: Chastin West* (365 yds)
Tackles: Dwayne Andrews (88)
Sacks: Jon Monga* and Marlon Brisco (4)
Interceptions: Damon Jenkins* (3)

Spring answers: 1. Speedy wide receivers: The Bulldogs lost receivers Joe Fernandez and Paul Williams, who combined for 45 catches and five touchdowns last season. But there is still good depth returning, including sophomore Chastin West, the team's leading receiver with 33 catches for 365 yards and three touchdowns in 2006. Sophomore Marlon Moore is the fastest player on the team and averaged 26.2 yards per catch as a freshman. Jason Crawley and Seyi Ajirotutu also looked much improved. Tight end Bear Pascoe had 22 catches and two touchdowns last season.

2. Experienced offensive line returns: Fresno State's offensive line allowed only 12 sacks in 12 games last season, the fewest in school history. Four starters return from that unit, including senior Ryan Wendell, who moves from left guard to center. Juniors Kenny Avon, Cole Popovich and Adam McDowell are back at tackle, left guard and right guard, respectively. Departed senior Chris Denman, who started 46 consecutive games at right tackle, is a big loss. Sophomore Bobby Lepori probably will start at left tackle, with Avon moving to the right side to replace Denman.

3. Athletic linebackers: The Bulldogs lost leading tackler Dwayne Andrews, who had 88 tackles from the middle, and outside linebacker Alan Goodwin. But coach Pat Hill believes his new linebackers might be more athletic. Senior Ahijah Lane moves from the weak side to middle linebacker. Senior Marcus Riley, who was bothered by a knee injury last season, and Quaadir Brown will probably start at outside linebackers. Brown missed all of last season with an injury.

Fall questions: 1. Can Brandstater be more consistent: Quarterback Tom Brandstater struggled mightily in 2006, averaging fewer than 150 yards per game with 14 interceptions and 13 touchdowns. But Hill stuck with the much-maligned junior a year ago, which might pay dividends this coming fall. Bradstater is 6 feet, 6 inches tall and has a very strong arm, but consistency and decision making have been his flaws. Top backup Sean Norton transferred to Division I-AA Northern Arizona during the offseason. Redshirt freshman Ryan Colburn continued to push Bradstater during spring practice, but it appears to be the junior's job to lose during preseason camp.

2. Who replaces Wright: Leading rusher Dwayne Wright, who ran for 1,462 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, bolted for the NFL draft after his junior season. The top candidate to replace him is senior Clifton Smith, who still is battling back from a devastating knee injury suffered during the 2005 season. Smith was a very explosive runner and punt returner before getting hurt. Sophomore Lonyae Miller was perhaps the most impressive runner during spring practice, after Anthony Harding injured his hamstring. Fullback Roshon Vercher also must be replaced, and Isaac Kinter and Nate Adams, each possibilities to replace him, were banged up during the spring.

3. Another offensive coordinator: For the third season in a row, Hill was forced to hire an offensive coordinator, after Steve Hagan left for Butch Davis' staff at North Carolina. Hill hired Jim McElwain, who was the offensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders and also worked at Texas Tech. McElwain added several four- and five-receiver sets during spring practice, which indicated he'll use a more wide-open offense in 2007.

2006 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 6; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
QB Colt Brennan, WR Davone Bess, WR Jason Rivers, WR Ryan Grice-Mullen, DT Michael Lafaele, LB Solomon Elimimian, LB Adam Leonard, S Jacob Patek, G John Estes, G Hercules Satele

Key losses

DE Ikaika Alama-Francis, C Samson Satele, RB Reagan Mauia, DE Melila Purcell, RB Nate Ilaoa, FS Leonard Peters, OT Dane Uperesa, OT Tala Esera

Top newcomer: OT Drew UperusaInsider

2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Nate Ilaoa (990 yds)
Passing: Colt Brennan* (5,549 yds)
Receiving: Davone Bess* (1,220 yds)
Tackles: Adam Leonard* (114)
Sacks: Melila Purcell (9½)
Interceptions: Leonard Peters and Gerard Lewis* (3)

Spring answers: 1. Plenty of targets for Colt: Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan might not have soap for the showers in the team's locker room, but he has plenty of targets in the pass-happy offense. Leading receivers Davone Bess, Jason Rivers and Ryan Grice-Mullen each return, after the trio combined for more than 200 receptions, 3,100 yards and 36 touchdowns in 2006. Cornerback C.J. Hawthorne, the fastest player on the team, moved to receiver in the spring, and youngsters Aaron Bain, Antwan Mahaley, Greg Salas and Michael Washington look promising. Converted tackle Cameron Allen-Jones is now a big target at tight end.

2. Colt under center: Brennan, who broke 16 NCAA, 10 WAC and 25 Hawaii records last season, spent some of the spring taking direct snaps from the centers. In the past, Brennan worked almost exclusively out of the shotgun in coach June Jones' spread offense. Brennan, who led the country with 58 touchdown passes and a 186.0 passer rating in 2006, hopes to add 10 pounds during the offseason to make him a little more durable.

3. Getting defensive: With former defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville bolting the island to become coach at Portland State, Jones re-hired Greg McMackin, who was the Warriors' coordinator in 1999. McMackin, who worked at Texas Tech for three seasons and with the San Francisco 49ers the past two, switched from a 3-4 to 4-3 alignment this spring. The last time McMackin worked at Hawaii, the Warriors improved from 109th to 35th in total defense in Division I-A.

Fall questions: 1. Defensive line holes: McMackin has eight starters back on defense, but there are a couple of big holes up front. Defensive ends Ikaika Alama-Francis and Melila Purcell were each selected in the NFL draft. The ends combined last season for 99 tackles, 25½ tackles for loss and 13½ sacks. Karl Noa and Amani Purcell, a converted outside linebacker, seemed to be the leading candidates to start at end after spring practice. Victor Clore and John Fonoti also had strong springs. Tackle Michael Lafaele missed much of spring practice with a hand injury.

2. Trio missing on offensive line: The Warriors have back each of their starting guards, but both tackles and the starting center must be replaced. Guards John Estes and Hercules Satele are each dominating blockers. Sophomore Aaron Kia was in line to replace left tackle Tala Esera, and junior Keoni Steinhoff was the leader at right tackle. Junior Lafu Tuioti-Mariner was getting the first chance at replacing center Samson Satele.

3. New faces in backfield: Both leading rusher Nate Ilaoa and short-yardage specialist Reagan Mauia were selected in the NFL draft. Ilaoa ran for 990 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 67 passes for 837 yards and five scores. His production won't be easily replaced. Freshman Kealoha Pilares and sophomore Marlo Cox, who redshirted last season while concentrating on academics, led a long line of candidates trying to win the job during the spring.

2006 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 6; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
LB David Vobora, CB Stanley Franks, C Adam Korby, OT Kris Anderson, RB Jayson Bird, SS Shiloh Keo, FS Chris Smith, LB Brandon Ogletree, DE Ben Alexander, DT Siua Musuka

Key losses

TE Luke Smith-Anderson, TE Keith Greer, G Jade Tadvick, QB Steve Wichman, DT Marvin Jones

Top newcomer: DE Andre FergusonInsider

2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Brian Flowers (561 yds)
Passing: Steven Wichman (2,158 yds)
Receiving: Marlon Haynes (473 yds)
Tackles: David Vobora* (134)
Sacks: Jo Artis Ratti* (3)
Interceptions: Stanley Franks* (9)

Spring answers: 1. New offense: New coach Robb Akey, the Vandals' third in as many seasons, was the defensive coordinator at Washington State. But the biggest changes he installed at Idaho this spring came on offense, where the Vandals are using more one-back sets with four or five wide receivers. Former Montana quarterbacks coach Steve Axman, the new offensive coordinator, still wants a strong running game. But the Idaho coaches know their offense will have to score in bunches to maintain pace with WAC opponents Boise State, Hawaii and Nevada, as well as out-of-conference foes Southern Cal and Washington State.

2. Strong linebackers: The Idaho defense allowed 394 yards and 35 points per game last season. It allowed 56 points to Washington State, 38 to Oregon State, 42 to Boise State, 68 to Hawaii, 45 to Nevada and 34 to Fresno State. Clearly, the Vandals have to get better on defense, which is a big reason why Akey was hired. Linebacker David Vobora, a 240-pound senior, is more than solid with 134 tackles in 2006. But the Vandals also feel like Jo Artis Ratti can be a big-time player when he's healthy, after he missed parts of last season with foot and shoulder injuries. Josh Bousman and Brandon Ogletree also have a lot of experience.

3. Experienced secondary: If the Vandals can produce more pass rush, their defensive backs are good enough to stay with receivers. Cornerback Stanley Franks led Division I-A with nine interceptions in 2006. Strong safety Shiloh Keo is a big hitter, with 72 tackles and six pass breakups last season. Free safety Chris Smith had 42 tackles and three interceptions as a part-time starter. Redshirt freshman General Parnell was leading at the vacant cornerback spot, but JUCO transfer T.J. Taylor and Breyon Williams will join the battle during preseason camp.

Fall questions: 1. Starting quarterback: In a bit of a surprise, redshirt freshman Nathan Enderle moved ahead of senior Brian Nooy and transfer Luke Tracy in the race to replace two-year starting quarterback Steve Wichman. Enderle, a highly regarded signee from Nebraska, threw two touchdowns in the first scrimmage, then completed seven of 15 passes for 87 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions during the spring game. Tracey completed was 4-for-6 with 109 yards in the spring game.

2. Starting running back: There was a very good race in the backfield during the spring, with as many as four players jockeying for position. Junior Jayson Bird, a former sprint champion, will look to rebound after a mediocre season in 2006. After breaking his collarbone in 2005, Bird struggled to gain 506 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Bird and former JUCO transfer Brian Flowers missed the spring to concentrate on academics. Flowers was the leading rusher last season with 561 yards and four touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Deonte Jackson, an invited walk-on from Arkansas, was the best runner during the spring. He had 36 rushing yards in the spring game.

3. Pass rush: The defensive line remained the biggest area of concern, especially after rising star Marvin Jones was dismissed from the team following his arrest on drug charges. Ends George Fa'avae and Ben Alexander both showed the ability to rush the passer, but tackles Siua Musuka and Alex Toailoa have to be more productive. Toailoa missed the spring to concentrate on his studies.

2006 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 7; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
RB Patrick Johnson, TE Dennis Morris, LB Quin Harris, LB Brannon Jackson, SS Mark Dillard, FS Antonio Baker, DT D'Anthony Smith, WR Brian Jackson, WR Josh Wheeler, QB Zac Champion, OT Tyler Miller, G David Accardo

Key losses

WR Johnathan Holland, WR Eric Newman, C Jacob Peeler, S Dez Abrams, TE Anthony James

Top newcomer: S Tarence CalaisInsider

2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Patrick Jackson* (854 yds)
Passing: Zac Champion* (2,466 yds)
Receiving: Eric Newman (565 yds)
Tackles: Quin Harris* (95)
Sacks: Chris Pugh* (3½)
Interceptions: Shalamar Walker* (3)

Spring answers: 1. Experienced offensive line: Four starters return from an offensive line that excelled in run blocking, but struggled in pass protection last season. Senior left tackle Tyler Miller and junior left guard David Accardo will continue to anchor the line. Right guard Ryan Considine and right tackle Bill Jones also return. Sophomore Lon Roberts replaces Jacob Peeler at center. Jones missed spring practice with an injury, but should be ready to go by the start of preseason camp.

2. Jackson is even stronger: Tailback Patrick Jackson came on strong late last season, running for 406 yards in the last four games. He finished the 2006 season with 854 yards and seven touchdowns on 170 carries. With Champion and new receivers adjusting to the changes on offense, Jackson might have to carry the load early in the season. Daniel Porter (464 yards in 2006) and William Griffin (174 yards) bring good depth and experience.

3. Linebackers will lead the defense: If Louisiana Tech is going to improve on defense -- and it can't get any worse after ranking 118th in run and pass efficiency defense and 119th in scoring defense -- its linebackers will have to continue to make big plays. Strong side linebacker Quin Harris had 95 tackles and six tackles for loss in 2006. Inside linebackers Brannon Jackson and Anthony Crosby had 67 and 70 tackles, respectively, and Marquis McBeath had 80 tackles and four pass breakups on the weak side. The quartet will be largely interchangeable, as new defensive coordinator Tommy Spangler uses 3-4 and 4-3 alignments to try and keep offenses off balance.

Fall questions: 1. New receivers: The Bulldogs lost leading receivers Johnathan Holland and Eric Newman, who combined to catch 78 passes for 1,068 yards and five touchdowns in 2006. Tight end Anthony James, who caught 25 passes and one touchdown last season, also is gone. Josh Wheeler is the top returning pass catcher with 25 receptions for 503 yards and four scores in 2006. But Brian Jackson emerged as the top target in spring practice with seven catches for 72 yards in one scrimmage. Juniors Shane Womack and Earl Griffin and senior Roderick Handy will have to provide depth. Tight end Dennis Morris is a potential NFL prospect.

2. Champion holds job, for now: Incumbent quarterback Zac Champion held off a big challenge from Michael Mosley during spring practice to keep the starting job -- for now, at least. Champion showed better discipline in the passing game, as new coach Derek Dooley and offensive coordinator Frank Scelfo try to open up the passing game to complement a pretty strong running attack. Champion completed 37 of 68 passes for 488 yards with three touchdowns during two spring scrimmages. He must cut down on interceptions, after throwing 18 with 14 touchdowns in 2006.

3. Better pass rush: The Bulldogs had eight sacks and 43 tackles for loss last season, both fewest among Division I-A teams. Dooley hopes ends Ben McGilton and Randy Grigsby can generate more pressure this fall. Tackle D'Anthony Smith and nose tackle Josh Muse also must improve. If not, the Bulldogs will be forced to blitz their outside linebackers early and often.

2006 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 9; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
QB Chase Holbrook, WR Chris Williams, WR A.J. Harris, TE Nick Cleaver, WR Derek Dubois, OT Mike Martinez, OT James Farrelly, LB Dante Floyd, CB Alex Bernard, FS Derrick Richardson

Key losses

LB Tim McManigal, CB Courtney Bryan, S Eric Carrie, LB Nathan Nuttall, QB Alex Gibson

Top newcomer: LB Jeff LucasInsider

2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Jeremiah Williams* (426 yds)
Passing: Chase Holbrook* (4,619 yds)
Receiving: Chris Williams* (1,425 yds)
Tackles: Tim McManigal (99)
Sacks: Nathan Nuttall (3)
Interceptions: Courtney Bryan (4)

Spring answers: 1. Offensive line returns: The Aggies shuffled their offensive line near the end of last season and the new unit gelled quickly. Senior tackles Mike Martinez and James Farrelly return, along with center Richie Bolin and guard Polo Gutierrez. Sophomores Joseph Palmer and John Saulietis were battling for the vacant left guard job. New Mexico State allowed 40 sacks in more than 600 pass attempts last season, and coach Hal Mumme would like to see the total reduced by at least 10 this coming fall.

2. Holbrook under center again: Quarterback Chase Holbrook threw for 4,619 passing yards and had 4,514 yards of total offense last season, both NCAA records for a sophomore. Holbrook didn't see a lot of action during the spring, as Mumme tried to develop backups Alex Gibson and Matt Parsons. Both backups played well, as Gibson completed 24 of 31 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns during a scrimmage. But then he tore the ACL in his right knee during a scrimmage and will miss the entire 2007 season. Parsons and incoming freshman J.J. McDermott are expected to battle for the No. 2 job during preseason camp.

3. Plenty of wide receivers: The Aggies' high-powered offense, which averaged 399.3 passing yards per game in 2006, second-best in NCAA Division I-A, has nearly every key component back. Four receivers with 50 catches or more in 2006 return, including junior All-American Chris Williams, who led the country with 117.9 yards and 7.66 catches per game. Junior A.J. Harris caught 71 passes for 789 yards and seven touchdowns, and tight end Nick Cleaver caught 50 passes for 684 yards and four scores. Senior Derek Dubois had 53 catches for 800 yards last season.

Fall questions: 1. More pass rush: Mumme and defensive coordinator Woody Widenhofer were so concerned about generating more pass rush that the team's quarterbacks were open game during scrimmages. The Aggies lost Gibson for this coming season, but Mumme believes his ends and outside linebackers also improved at rushing the passers. Ends Maurice Murray and Brandon McKinney combined for only five tackles for loss and two sacks last season. Nose guard Ray Manumaleuna had nine tackles and two sacks in 2006.

2. Replacing the linebackers: Top linebackers Tim McManigal (99 tackles) and Nathan Nuttall (56 tackles, three sacks) are gone. Middle linebacker Dante Floyd had 67 tackles and six tackles for loss last season. Sam King, Jamar Cotton, Michael Brewer and La'Auli Fonoti were battling for the outside spots.

3. More turnovers in the secondary: The Aggies defense produced only 14 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries last season. Mumme would like to see more plays made in the secondary, which also will require more pressure from the defensive front. Cornerback Courtney Bryan and safety Eric Carrie must be replaced. Cornerback Alex Bernard had 51 tackles and nine pass breakups last season. Free safety Derrick Richardson (73 tackles, two interceptions) also was a mainstay. But strong safety Gerald Gurrier was moved to receiver, allowing redshirt freshman Kenny Evora to move up at strong safety. Marvin Betts and Cole Marton, out last season with an injury, are battling for the vacant cornerback spot.

2006 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 5; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
C Dominic Green, G Greg Hall, OT/G Charles Manu, WR Mike McCoy, WR Marko Mitchell, NG Matt Hines, LB Ezra Butler, LB Joshua Mauga, CB Paul Pratt

Key losses

QB Jeff Rowe, CB Joe Garcia, RB Robert Hubbard, DE J.J. Milan, TE Anthony Pudewell, WR Caleb Spencer, DB Nick Hawthrone

Top newcomer: DT Zack MadonickInsider

2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Robert Hubbard (996 yds)
Passing: Jeff Rowe (1,907 yds)
Receiving: Caleb Spencer (570 yds)
Tackles: Ezra Butler* (71)
Sacks: J.J. Milan (9)
Interceptions: Joe Garcia (6)

Spring answers: 1. Linebacker leaders: The Wolf Pack will undergo somewhat of a face lift on defense, after coordinator Tim DeRuyter left for Air Force and defensive line coach Marty Long departed for Washington State. Assistant head coach Ken Wilson was promoted to defensive coordinator, and the Wolf Pack will stick with its 3-4 scheme. Wilson has three returning linebackers: outside starters Ezra Butler and Jeremy Engstrom and inside linebacker Joshua Mauga. JUCO transfer Jerome Johnson was very impressive in the spring and had an interception in the spring game.

2. Secondary depth: Nevada lost playmaker Joe Garcia and Nick Hawthrone in the secondary, but cornerback Paul Pratt and free safety Jonathon Amaya, who went from walk-on to freshman starter in 2006, are back. Senior Shannon Sevor leads at the other cornerback spot, after De'Angelo Wilson was dismissed from the team. Junior Uche Anyanwu emerged at strong safety during the spring.

3. More speed at receiver: The Wolf Pack didn't stretch the field vertically in the passing game last season, so coach Chris Ault is looking for more speed in his "Pistol" offense. Marko Mitchell, a 6-foot-4 junior, is the top returning receiver and had four catches for 58 yards in the spring game. Senior Kyle Sammons, who missed all of the 2006 season with a shoulder injury, has good speed. Redshirt freshman Chris Wellington is also a speedy wideout.

Fall questions: 1. Running back: Leading rusher Robert Hubbard, who ran for 996 yards and six touchdowns in 2006, is no longer in the backfield. Junior Luke Lippincott ran for 456 yards and nine touchdowns and is the incumbent. Sophomore Brandon Fragger missed the spring with a shoulder injury and is expected to make a push for playing time this fall. Converted wide receiver Dwayne Sanders and Mike Kanellis also received reps in the spring.

2. Offensive line rotation: Three starters are back, but two of them might change positions and missed the spring with injuries. Junior Dominic Green played tackle last season, but will play center this fall. He started eight games there as a freshman. Senior Charles Manu, who also played tackle in 2006, is more suited for guard. He missed the spring after undergoing ankle surgery. Junior guard Greg Hall returns. A boatload of players will compete for the other two starting spots, including JUCO transfers Shawn Miller and Clayton Johnson.

3. Graziano's job to lose: Sophomore Nick Graziano moved ahead in the race to replace starting quarterback Jeff Rowe, who threw for 1,907 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2006. Graziano got off to a slow start during spring practice, but recovered to complete 10 of 16 passes for 150 yards and run for two touchdowns in the spring game. Colin Kaepernick, a 6-6 redshirt freshman, employs a side-arm delivery and showed more accuracy, but it's Graziano's job to lose during preseason camp.

2006 overall record:
2006 conference record:

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

Top returners
CB Dwight Lowery, CB Christopher Owens, QB Adam Tafralis, LB Matt Castelo, C Justin Paysinger, RB Yonus Davis, DE Jarron Gilbert, DE Justin Cole, K Jared Strubeck, P Waylon Prather, LB Demetrius Jones
Key losses

WR James Jones, WR John Broussard, WR Chester Coleman, LB Damaja Jones, S Christopher Vedder, S Rakine Toomes, G Marcel Burroughs, OT Matt Cantu

Top newcomer: RB Brandon RutleyInsider

2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Yonus Davis* (1,077 yds)
Passing: Adam Tafralis * (2,284 yds)
Receiving: James Jones (893 yds)
Tackles: Matt Castelo * (165)
Sacks: Jarron Gilbert* (5)
Interceptions: Dwight Lowery* (9)

Spring answers: 1. Solid cornerbacks: No cornerback duo in the country had more interceptions combined last season than San Jose State's Dwight Lowery and Christopher Owens. Lowery had nine interceptions, along with 48 tackles and seven pass breakups, and made a bunch of All-America teams. Opposing quarterbacks also were hesitant to throw to Owens' side of the field, after he intercepted four passes. Both starting safeties are gone, but JUCO transfer Andrew Ryan and Dominique Hunsucker, a converted running back and standout sprinter, showed in the spring that they're reliable replacements.

2. Big offensive line: Three starters are back on the offensive line, led by junior Justin Paysinger, one of the best centers in the country. Right guard John Booker is a three-year starter, and Arizona State transfer Bradis McGriff is back at right tackle. Ronnie Castillo replaces Marcel Burrough at left guard, and senior Jibiri Sharp takes over at left tackle. Sharp, a former JUCO transfer, played guard and lined up at tight end last season.

3. Castelo back for more: Senior linebacker Matt Castelo had 165 tackles last season, allowing the two outside linebackers to roam the field. Starter Demetrius Jones is back, but departed Damaja Jones must be replaced. Sophomore Ryno Gonzalez showed in the spring that he's up for the task.

Fall questions: 1. Big holes at receiver: Gone are James Jones, John Broussard and Chester Coleman, who last season combined to make 141 of the 147 receptions by San Jose State receivers. Sophomore Jalal Beauchman and senior Michael Hooper are the top returning receivers, after catching five passes combined in 2006. Hooper was bothered by a strained quad and hyper-extended knee during the spring, but still caught two touchdowns in the spring game. Converted safety Kevin Jurovich and running back Jacob French were moved for depth, but incoming JUCO transfers David Richmond and Kyle Flynn and freshmen Mike Avila and Josh Harrison might have to help immediately this fall.

2. Pass rush: The Spartans were one of the country's most improved defenses last season under coach Dick Tomey, allowing 20.76 points per game (nearly an 11-point decline from 2005). The defense forced 30 turnovers, but only had 18 sacks. Much of last season's defensive line was untested and young. Ends Jarron Gilbert (7 1/2 tackles for loss, five sacks) and Carl Ihenacho emerged as possible pass rushers. Justin Cole, another end, tore a pectoral muscle during offseason weight lifting and missed spring practice. Tackles Jerome Pulu and Adonis Davis also must produce more penetration from the interior.

3. Davis' absence: Speedy senior running back Yonus Davis, who ran for 1,007 yards and six touchdowns in 2006, was held out of spring practice so he could concentrate on academics. Junior Patrick Perry was bothered during the spring by a strained hamstring, leaving Cameron Island and James T. Callier to do most of the running. Davis should be back for fall practice.

2006 overall record:
2006 conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 11, Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
WR Kevin Robinson, WR Otis Nelson, DE Ben Calderwood, LB Devon Hall, LB Paul Igboeli, FS Antonio Taylor, SS Caleb Taylor, OT Shawn Murphy, G Pace Jorgensen

Key losses

C Brent DeLadurantey, OT Malik Chin, TB Marcus Cross, QB Riley Nelson

Top newcomer: C David DismanInsider

2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Marcus Cross (650 yds)
Passing: Riley Nelson (925 yds)
Receiving: Kevin Robinson* (582 yds)
Tackles: Antonio Taylor* (74)
Sacks: Paul Igboeli* (3)
Interceptions: Caleb Taylor* (2)

Spring answers: 1. Trio of targets: The Aggies return three of their top pass catchers from 2006: receivers Kevin Robinson and Otis Nelson and tight end Rob Myers. Robinson caught 36 passes for 582 yards and five touchdowns last season. He showed even better routes and reliable hands during the spring. Nelson caught 27 passes for 238 yards in 2006, despite playing much of the season with a hand injury.

2. Defensive front returns: Each of the four starters on the defensive line returns, including All-WAC defensive end Ben Calderwood, who had 44 tackles and 6½ tackles for loss in 2006. The Aggies are looking for better production from end Dabry Golden and tackles Frank Maile and Ben Childs.

3. Hutton returns: Linebacker Jake Hutton was one of Utah State's top tacklers before he injured his foot during the fourth game and missed the rest of the season. Hutton is back, along with returning starters Devon Hall (68 tackles) and Paul Igboeli, the WAC Freshman of the Year with 69 tackles last season.

Fall questions: 1. Starting quarterback: Riley Nelson, who started the final seven games of 2007, is gone for two seasons while completing his LDS Church mission. He threw for 925 yards and ran for 290 last season. Leon Jackson II, who started each of the last two seasons as the starting quarterback before losing the job each time, was battling JUCO transfer Sean Setzer and sophomore Jase McCormick for the starting job during the spring. Last season, Jackson threw three touchdowns and seven interceptions, five of which were returned by opponents for touchdowns.

2. Who's the tailback: The Aggies haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2001, and Marcus Cross, who led the team in rushing in 2006, transferred during the offseason. Senior Aaron Lesue, a wide receiver last season, was moved to tailback and ran for 57 yards and two touchdowns in a spring scrimmage. Freshman Curtis Marsh, who enrolled early, was a pleasant surprise in the spring with 33 yards on 10 carries in a scrimmage.

3. Can the offense score: With Nelson leaving for his Mormon mission, and Cross transferring to another school, can the Utah State offense improve? The Aggies were atrocious last season, scoring 14 points or less in seven of 12 games and averaging only 10.8 points and 255.4 yards. Former North Texas coach Darrell Dickey was hired to generate some sort of attack.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.