Quarterback Jeff Carlson, who helped lead Weber State to its first 10-win season last year, could be among the top 10 in the nation at any level; pro scouts say so. Weber Coach Mike Price says Carlson may not accumulate the personal numbers to prove it in '88.

Weber running back Fine Unga, who made 1,032 yards last year, only the second Wildcat over 1,000 ever, and then gained another year of eligibility, is a Division I-AA Payton Award and All-America candidate. He too might not stack up on paper, Price says."I don't think, statistically, we're going to be that kind of team," says Price, who enters his eighth season as coach and first as athletic director.

"I don't think we're going to be a pass-50-times-a-game team, where a guy builds big statistics, orbe the type to hand the ball to Fine 30 times a game and just be a running team."

And that's good.

"We're much too balanced to do that," says Price. "We don't have to depend on one or the other."

The team, he said, might have a chance to lead nationally in some categories, such as total offense.

That's assuming the all-new offensive line can give Carlson time to choose from his corps of experienced, talented receivers - All-America candidate Wade Orton, Rick Justice, Todd Beightol and tight ends Gerald Wilcox and Peter Macon - and give Unga and Willie McDonald enough holes to pop through.

Price is betting it will. "It's inexperienced, but we're going to be just fine. I have enough confidence in the offensive line that I don't consider that a question mark," Price says.

Guard Brook Hatfield's the only returning starter. Other candidates include guard Kelvin Dexter, center Keith Chambers and tackles Ray Goerke, Wade Jewkes and Oscar Contreras.

Price does worry about his defense. "We have to get better at linebacker," he allowed. "We have to have patience." Troy Juergens, Charlie Stoll and JC transfers C.D. Beck and James McKeever are trying to fill in.

The defensive line has familiar names in Mike Robinson and Taani Tai; Shannon Nunnelley, from special teams, has moved from linebacker to defensive end.

Strong safety All-America hopeful Calvin Hampton leads a good crew of defensive backs. Last year, they were the question marks, now they are assets. Jody Marshall, Rich Willis, Ken Beazer and Berk King are the best known.

"We're strong at the skilled positions, both offensively and defensively," Price says.

Last year, with an experienced offensive line, Weber averaged 447.5 yards total offense. Carlson was seventh in the I-AA nation in total offense and eighth in pass efficiency rating, 136.10, second-best in Weber history. He threw for 3,044 yards.

In the meantime, "He's improved on everything," says Price. "He's got that type of work habits."

So do the rest of the starters. "They really did a nice job conditioning. They're sharp, crisp; they're executing," Price says.

He is, however, disappointed in the way his second-liners prepared, having seen them for the first time Aug. 22 when camp opened. "I wasn't real pleased with the overall condition of the team. Sometimes they read their press clippings. When you have a good year, you come back a little fat and sassy," Price said.

"It's the in-betweeners that sometimes make a difference between winning and losing - we need to get them in shape. We're doing more conditioning than we ever have."

Certainly that will be needed when Weber opens its season Sept. 10 at Texas-El Paso. UTEP will have already played Mankato State by then, and is given a shot at the Western Athletic race. It will use Weber as a BYU tuneup.

The Miners are no longer WAC doormats. "They're not the team they were when we scheduled them," Price laughs. He always finds something positive. "It will probably be the biggest crowd we've ever played in front of," he says, and a win or a loss makes no difference to the Big Sky race. "It will be a fun game; we're going to go down and have a blast," says Price.

Preseason Big Sky polls list Weber third (coaches) and fifth (media), and Price likes that. "I'm not predicting anything," he says coyly enough that he obviously has higher expectations.

Weber opens the BSC Oct. 1 at Boise State after home nonleague games with Nicholls State and Southern Utah. The Wildcats meet Big Sky favorite Idaho Oct. 8 in Ogden. They end the regular season at Northern Arizona Nov. 19.

From there, they'd like to take it into December, as they did last year in the I-AA quarterfinals after winning Weber's first-ever postseason game at Idaho. They finished 10-3. Another 10 wins would give Price the winningest career mark in 'Cat history.