So you thought the WAC was down to a two- or three-team race between BYU (5-0), Wyoming (5-1) and Colorado State (5-1), did you? Most folks have figured for a long time that it's a two-team duel between the Cougars and Cowboys, with this week's game in Laramie the decider.
However, a team everyone dismissed way back in September is still alive in the WAC race, especially if Wyoming beats BYU this week.Remember Hawaii?
The Rainbows, who are only 2-2 in the WAC with losses at Air Force and UTEP, have won three straight, including a 43-16 blitzing of New Mexico last week.
With a combination of a BYU loss this week and four straight wins to close the season, the Rainbows will be Holiday Bowl bound. That's because Hawaii's last three games - all at home - are against contenders Wyoming, Colorado State and BYU, who would all end up with two WAC losses if the 'Bows beat them.
It's not out of the realm of possibility. The Rainbows rarely lose in the islands and they seem to finally be playing like they were predicted to at the start of the season.
However, that whole scenario could go down the drain Saturday night because the 'Bows have one of those dreaded mainland games in San Diego. And by that time, BYU may be heading home with another victory anyway.NO SELLOUTS: Despite all the fine teams Wyoming has produced over the years, the Cowboys have, amazingly, never had a sellout at 33,500-seat War Memorial Stadium.
The first sellout will be this week for the BYU-Wyoming game.
The largest crowd to date, 32,210, came two years ago against UTEP. Of course, you have to consider that the town of Laramie only has a population of 28,000 and the entire state of Wyoming has fewer people than the Salt Lake valley.
But you'd think with all the BYU fans in the country that enough of them would have gravitated to Laramie to create a sellout for a previous BYU game.
According to Steve Weakland of the Wyoming sports information office, it's not BYU fans who have made this game a sellout.
"It's mostly come from here," he said. "We sent 1,200 tickets to BYU and they sold them out, and we sold some tickets to fans over there on travel packages. We'll probably have no more than 2,500 to 3,000 BYU fans."
BYU, by the way, ranks second and fourth on the single-game attendance list. In 1986 31,742 saw Wyoming-BYU, and in 1983, 31,104 saw the two rivals play.MORE GAMES, NOT MORE RESPECT: Folks might figure the WAC is getting more respect because of the fact that three teams are already being prominently mentioned for bowl games with a fourth, Air Force, a probable for the Liberty Bowl if it wins its last two games.
Assuming BYU wins the WAC and gets the Holiday Bowl, Wyoming will likely get an invite to the Copper Bowl and Colorado State one to the Freedom Bowl, according to reports from the various bowls this week.
Usually a WAC team with three losses at this point, unless it was BYU, wouldn't get a sniff from a bowl, as Colorado State has.
But the biggest reason for the increased interest in the WAC is numbers - the proliferation of bowl games.
With the addition this year of the Blockbuster Bowl in Hollywood, Fla., on top of the Copper Bowl last year, there are now 19 bowl games. That means 38 teams, more than a third of the 106 Division I-A teams, are going bowling for the holidays. And with three schools on probation, that means the 41st best team in America will go to a bowl.
Just 15 years ago, there were only 11 postseason bowl games.SATURDAY PICKS: You never realize how many people read your column until you pick BYU to lose. Even before the 54-7 upset, they voiced their outrage. OK, Y. fans, watch out. We're picking your team this week.
BYU (7-1, 5-0) at Wyoming (9-1, 5-1), 2 p.m. - Although this will easily be the Cougars' toughest test since Oregon, they should prevail . . . BYU 31-20.
Utah (3-6, 1-5) at New Mexico (2-8, 1-4), Noon - The Lobos have been struggling. So have the Utes. Since it's in Albuquerque . . . New Mexico 33-23.
Hawaii (5-3, 2-2) at San Diego State (3-4, 2-2), 8 p.m. MST - The Rainbows are hitting their stride now, but they're 1-2 on the mainland and the Aztecs are improving . . . San Diego 37-31.
Tulsa (2-7) at Colorado State (6-3), noon - With a possible bowl berth to play for, the Rams should have few problems . . . CSU 35-15.
Air Force (4-5) at Army (4-4), 1 p.m. - The Falcons also have a bowl berth to play for, but they may still be shell-shocked from last week . . . Army 29-20.