the new name for the old Pacific Coast Athletic Association - dominated the scene at the annual football media day at the Airport Hyatt Hotel, the biggest words that came out of the Thursday meeting were "parity" and "balance." The way the Big West coaches were talking, the league should end in an eight-way tie with everyone at 4-4.
"It's the most balanced league I've seen in four years. I wouldn't discount anybody," said Long Beach State's Larry Reisbig."There's more parity in our league than I've ever seen," said New Mexico State's Mike Knoll.
"I believe our conference is balanced. We all feel we have an opportunity to win it," said UNLV's Wayne Nunnely.
"All this talk about the league being balanced - it will be this year, I guarantee it," said Fullerton's Gene Murphy.
The only coach to go out on a limb was league funny-man Bob Cope, who said, "The University of the Pacific will win the first Big West Conference football title. I told my wife I was going to say that and she said, `My mother was right 29 years ago when she said I shouldn't marry you because you're crazy as a goat."'
Although Cope went ahead and picked his team for first, most everyone else must have thought he was crazy because Pacific was picked for fifth by the coaches and sixth by the media.
The teams picked for the top of the conference were Fresno State and Utah State. Fresno was picked for first, barely ahead of the Aggies, who were just three points behind in both polls.
But Fresno Coach Jim Sweeney said "Utah State and Fullerton are the teams to beat."
USU Coach Chuck Shelton, meanwhile, was non-committal in his prediction, saying, "I don't know if any one team will be dominant."
Sounds like he means there'll be parity in the balanced conference.
The Big West non-league schedule features the usual big dose of games against the Pac-10 (eight) and WAC (eight) and big name schools like Nebraska, Arkansas, and Baylor. There must have been a good deal on games with Akron, because three Big West teams are playing there this year against Gerry Faust's team.
Here is a brief look at each team in order of their predicted finish by the media.
Fresno State - Last year was a big disappointment to Fresno fans who had become spoiled by seasons of 11-0-1 and 9-2 the previous two years. It was also a disappointment to Sweeney who is getting tougher with his team this year.
The Bulldogs should have an improved offense under quarterback David Telford, who passed for plenty of yards, but not enough touchdowns last year. "Last year was the worst year we ever had for scoring," said Sweeney. According to Sweeney, his team will go back to the run more with the experienced Kelly Skipper along with fullback Myron Long, a walk-on who runs a 4.37 40.
The defense is inexperienced with only four returning starters, defensive backs Ron Cox and Tony Harris, linebacker Tracy Rogers and noseguard Chuck McCutchen. The Bulldogs also lost record-setting kicker Barry Belli.
Utah State - The Aggies have been picked for seventh the past two years under Shelton and in turn surprised everyone by finishing fifth and in a tie for secnd last year. Now the Aggies don't have much leeway, but Shelton isn't concerned by the Aggies' lofty preseason postion.
"This gives us an accountability, something to work for," he said.
Like Fresno, the Aggies are loaded offensively and inexperienced on defense and in place-kicking. Brent Snyder is the No. 2 returning total offense leader in the nation. He has two of the best receivers anywhere in Kendal Smith and Pat Newman. Brent Payne and Timo Tagaloa lead an experienced group of runners who are back, while the Aggies interior three, center Syd Roberts, and guards Jerry Brown and David Walker are solid.
While the defense is questionable, Shelton insists by the end of September it will be in good shape. "We have the nucleus to be a much-improved defense, but we don't have the maturity."
The Hunsaker brothers, Brian and Jeff, anchor the defensive line, Kevin Bouwman and Tom Hansen return at linebacker and Travis Clark and Greg Haynes have experience in the backfield. Dene Garner will be hard to replace for kicking chores, but punter Louis Aguiar is one of the league's best.
Cal State-Fullerton - According to Murphy, defense wins conference titles and his team is "physically as good as any defense we've had." That doesn't neccessarily mean the Titans will win the Big West this year, but they may have the best defense. Leading the way is all-conference defensive end A.J. Jenkins and second-team all-conference linebacker Bill Bryan.
Offense is the big question mark, with a "dogfight" for the quarterback job and inexperience on the offensive line. The most depth is at wide receiver.
San Jose State - After going through two seasons undefeated, the Spartans are facing a rebuilding year. Or, as Coach Claude Gilbert puts it, a "transition" year.
"We truly are starting over," he said. "We graduated 32 seniors and 17 of 22 starters. We have many, many big question marks."
With two-time all-conference quarterback Mike Perez gone, the signal-calling duites will fall to Ken Lutz, a fifth-year senior, who has thrown four passes in his career at SJS.
Defensively, the Spartans are led by Jay Taylor, who Gilbert said could be "one of the premier cornerbacks in the country."
UNLV - With most of the Big West professing loyalty to the pass, the Rebels are going to be a running team after toying with the pass in recent years.
"We're going back to running the football, because that's what I believe in," said Nunnely.
The Rebels lost Ickey Woods, who led the nation last year, but have some good prospects in Tommy Jackson, Bernard Jackson and Kyle Toomer. Quarterback Scott Sims is just a sophomore and tight end Cedric Davis is the best UNLV has ever had, according to Nunnely.
The Rebel defense will be inexperienced and although it won't be big, it will be fast, says Nunnely.
Pacific - The Tigers have been a wishbone team the past few years under Cope, but now he'd like to find some more balance.
"To be competitive, we've got to have a balanced offense," said Cope.
The quarterback job is a toss-up between Ron Beverly and Jason Frost, who both started games last year. "If one of those two will surface, we'll be a good team," said Cope. Jon Grim is the Tigers' top returning rusher.
The defense is solid with lineman Richard Harris and safety Greg Koperek, and the kicking game should be excellent, says Cope.
Long Beach State - A year ago the 49ers were in disarray, having lost their football coach and very nearly the whole football program. Still the 49ers won four games and came close in a few others. With most of the offense returning, Reisbig is justified in saying, "I'm much more optimistic than last year."
Jeff Graham, a 55-percent, 2,427-yard passer a year ago, returns along with top receivers Derek Washington and Lafayette Shelton and top rusher Michael Roberts. Defensively, the 49ers have outstanding linebackers in Tom Caines and Philip Morrison and a top defensive back in Stacey Alexander.
New Mexico State - Although the Aggies are improving, they're still a long ways from contending for a league title. After winning one game in 1986 and two games last year, Knoll admits that he's setting a "realistic goal" - to win between four and six games this year.
Like Long Beach, NMSU has a lot of experience back with 14 starters returning. Phil Vinson was the quarterback last year before getting injured, but according to Knoll, he's talented enough to play one of several positions. Mike Reneau, who finished the year as QB, may get the job this year.
The Aggies have a solid linebacking corps led by Sam Dickey. Their biggest problem could be a lack of depth.