With six weeks left on the college football countdown, it's time again for the annual landslide of media hype, coachspeak and fortune telling. Saturday the WAC Media Football Kickoff began with five teams previewing their goods.
After six hours of meetings, this much is obvious: There are no nationally ranked monster powers and there are no Outland Trophy linemen. There are also no Heisman quarterbacks and precious few all-America candidates. Just the little old WAC, making life tough on itself. The league is taking on the look of third-world revolution - it's only a big deal if you live there.After having a different league champion each of the last three years, the buzzword in '88 is now "parity." San Diego State is scared of Hawaii, who is scared of Utah, who is scared of UTEP, who is scared of Colorado State, who is scared of BYU, who is scared of Wyoming, who is scared of Air Force.
The only team that doesn't scare anybody is New Mexico. The Lobos went 0-11 last year and then lost this year's best player in an academic quagmire.
"More than anything this year, it's a crap shoot," said Utah Coach Jim Fassel. "I'm perplexed at what everybody is about."
Coaches from BYU, Utah, Colorado State, Air Force and New Mexico gave their opinions on the upcoming season Saturday at the Jackson Hole Racquet Club. Here is a look at what they have to offer:
BYU - After a year or two of broken hands and broken hearts in Provo, the BYU Cougars are anticipating better times. It has been two seasons since the Cougars were in the business of terrorizing people.
For a sizeable number of Cougars, the glory years are only in the highlight films. Such players as Chuck Cutler and senior Rod Rice have yet to slip on a title ring.
Once upon a time rings were standard procedure at BYU. But San Diego State and then Wyoming got insubordinate and won the last two titles, leaving the Cougs filled with regret and self-doubt.
That could change. If the Cougars avoid injuries, their front line is strong enough to win the championship trophy back.
Cutler, who is returning from four hand operations, is the only experienced wide receiver in the bunch. But the Cougars feel they have finally stabilized their QB situation, going with junior Sean Covey.
Though Coach LaVell Edwards says he doesn't anticipate any controversy over who is the No. 1 quarterback this year, he says he will never say never. "I'd be surprised if we have to change quarterbacks," he said. "But you never know."
Edwards says the offense should be more productive than it has been the past two years, providing the line stays healthy. Covey is joined by dangerous halfback Matt Bellini and starting fullback Fred Whittingham.
The defense has a strong linebacking corp and a secondary led by all-WAC safety Troy Long and cornerback Rod Rice.
But unless Covey has a sensational season, there are no Jim McMahons passing or Jason Bucks tackling. BYU may win the WAC, but days of owning it could well be over.
Utah - The Utes went from being the 105th best (worst?) team in the nation in total defense to No. 101 last year. At that rate, Utah could stay miserable for a long time.
"People ask me if the the defenses in the WAC are that bad or the offenses that good," said Fassel. "I don't know. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"
If the offensive line stays healthy, Utah will at least be able to score points. Sophomore QB Scott Mitchell has done his internship and is now supposed to be ready to become one of the alltime greats at Utah.
He won't be alone in the backfield. Utah returns running back Clifton Smith and two-time 1,000-yard rusher Eddie Johnson, who is recovering from knee surgery.
Utah went to the junior colleges to help shore up the defensive line. In the secondary there are numerous experienced players, including all-WAC safety Eric Jacobsen.
If nothing else, the Utes should remain entertaining. Fassel predicted the return of the "Duck" offense, something he used when the offensive line was decimated by injuries a year ago. "We hope this year we can use it by choice and not out of necessity," he said.
Air Force - The Falcons have their entire offensive backfield and most of the key offensive linemen returning. But the defense is a ghost town. Only two starters are back there, and Outland Trophy winner Chad Hennings is only a pleasant memory.
Coach Fisher DeBerry spent the spring trying to develop a passing game that people don't laugh at. The Falcons' passing offense was 103rd out of 104 a year ago.
All-WAC second-team quarterback Dee Dowis returns to lead the Falcons. If he can learn to throw the ball he has a capable receiver in senior Greg Cochran.
But a rash of spring and summer injuries have slowed momentum and thinned the ranks. If the defense doesn't fill the gap left by Hennings, the Falcons could be setting themselves up for an emergency landing.
Colorado State - Despite a 1-11 season, the Rams aren't being counted on as a total wash this year. Coach Leon Fuller returns quarterback Scooter Molander, who threw for 3,168 yards last year - second most in school history. Joining Molander is the entire starting backfield and the backups.
The defense has a good linebacking corps, led by senior Dave Mundt and all-WAC safety Ron Cortell. But not even Fuller is predicting CSU will take the WAC by storm.
"Realistically, our goal is to get in the upper division," he said.
But realistically, it isn't going to happen.
New Mexico - After going 0-11 last year the Lobos received another blow this spring when they learned their best player, receiver/return man Terance Mathis, was academically ineligible.
Playing for the Lobos this year are 57 fresh faces. Thirty of them are new recruits and 27 redshirts. "We're not that much closer to parity with the rest of the WAC," said Coach Mike Sheppard.
There is at least one faint glimmers of hope for UNM. Some publications have said the Lobos had the best recruiting season in the WAC last winter.