By JONATHAN BAGLEY
BYU can recruit from Texas, Tulsa can play division one schools, and everyone can feed off the success of BYU. These are some of the reasons every WAC school seems to enjoy the new Western Athletic Conference.
Zero margin for error and extensive travel are two things coaches do not like about the new WAC.
Now that the 16 team WAC has had a season to show itself off, the coaches are coming forward with their opinions of the new alignment.
“I don’t believe you could’ve written a better script for the first year of the WAC,” said Rice head coach Ken Hatfield. “Three WAC teams beat Texas.” Texas is the defending Big 12 champion.
Hatfield said the WAC’s power as a conference can be seen in the success of BYU’s 1996 campaign. “To have a team like BYU ranked #5 and win the Cotton Bowl, and watch them beat A&M all the way to the end the way they did….”
WAC commissioner Karl Benson said the WAC proved a 16 team conference can work. “We can consider ourselves the elite of college football,” Benson said.
One of those 16 teams some people may overlook is San Jose State. Head coach Dave Baldwin said he is excited to be in the conference, but he wants to erase the mentality that SJSU is an automatic victory.
Tulsa has recruited athletes they would not have gotten if they were still an independent, said head coach Dave Rader. The football players he recruited would always ask him what league they were in and Rader would have to answer he wasn’t in one. He said Tulsa can now land the recruits that want to play for a bowl game and perform on TV, which is about all of them.
Being in a conference has helped Tulsa involve its student body and fans in the football program, said wide receiver Wes Caswell.
Every week players talked up their own teams so much on the field it seemed like a new rivalry for Texas Christian’s Scott Taft. “With all the talking that went on, our players want to get to next year,” he said.
New Mexico players Lennox Gordon and Billy Austin said they will miss not having BYU on the schedule. Under WAC scheduling schools only matchup two years out of every six.
LaVell Edwards feels the same way. He said he likes the scheduling situation but there are some things he’ll miss. “I’ll miss, and I think the fans will miss, playing Wyoming, Air Force, Hawai’i and Colorado State every year,” he said. “It will take them a while to get used to playing SMU, TCU, Tulsa and Rice.”
Sixteen teams means 15 schools will not have a conference champion, making the WAC more competitive than ever. “There is no margin for error. Wyoming found that out a year ago.”
San Diego State found that out too when they had a wide open path to the Pacific division championship only to yield to UNLV their one victory of the season.
SMU comes to the WAC from the Southwestern Conference and has to adjust to traveling 4,500 miles to Hawai’i opposed to a few hundred to Arkansas, said head coach Mike Cavan.