There's been a disturbing trend among BYU opponents this year. San Diego State accused BYU of racial slurs. Texas players were quoted as calling BYU the dirtiest team it played all season. Miami players and head coach Jimmy Johnson ripped BYU for what they deemed late hits and foul mouths. A couple of weeks ago at least one Colorado player, who will face BYU in Thursday's Freedom Bowl, has been speaking out against BYU.

What's going on?That's what BYU coaches and officials want to know. They're convinced, after discussions with their players and making their own observations, that the Cougars are clean. What's more they believe that all or part of the above might be the result of some malacious behind-the-scenes work.

According to BYU officials, officials at the University of Texas-El Paso mailed them copies of material that their black players received in the mail earlier this season. The material, post-marked from Hawaii, consists of a "comic strip" that contains highly inflammatory remarks about blacks and is identified as Mormon church doctrine.

"I'm going to talk to (UTEP athletic director) Brad Houvious when I get to San Francisco (for the NCAA winter meetings next month)," says BYU athletic director Glen Tuckett, who tentatively broached the subject at Western Athletic Confrence meetings earlier this month in Denver. "I'm going to check it out and run it down. We want to find out if other teams have received any communication like this, too."

According to some BYU coaches and players, there are indications that other teams did receive the same mail.

Several BYU players have told their coaches that they've been puzzled by the behavior and attitude of some opponents. Against Hawaii, they said, black players taunted them - specifically cornerbacks Brian Mitchell and Eric Berguson - with words that, in retrospect, sounded similar to the mailed material. Curiously, the comments of CU linebacker Michael Jones reflect precisely the message of the mailings. (See story on D4.)

According to defensive coordinator Dick Felt, San Diego State "was inflamed about something," from the outset of the game. BYU players - actually, just three of them - eventually responded to the taunting with racial slurs.

"We were guilty against San Diego State," says Felt, who added his players were taunted with equally provocative talk.

When Felt saw the quotes in the Miami newspapers following their game against the Hurricanes Dec. 3, he was indignant. "They said we were bad, that we used foul language, that we were dirty and late-hitting and taunting. I couldn't believe it. It was just garbage. I watched the film and I didn't see one thing. I'm still upset.

"We didn't say anything about their late hit on (cornerback) Rodney Rice out of bounds that broke his arm in two places. My players were astounded (by Miami's accusations). You never know for sure what's going on on the field, so I asked them. They said, `Coach, since San Diego State I have not heard one thing. Swearing, yes, but that's all. You ought to hear what we're being called.' One player told me, "We're being set up, coach."'

Another BYU assistant coach says, "The coaches down on the sidelines say they can't see any of the things they're talking about."

All BYU head coach LaVell Edwards will say about the matter is, "Apparently some anti-Mormon group sent out letters to UTEP's black players. I'd prefer not to say anything more about the situation right now, but I guarantee you that we're a lot better (behaved) than the people we're playing." Edwards also said he plans to talk with Johnson, who made several scathing remarks about BYU following their game.

"I'm mad at Jimmy Johnson," he said.

In the meantime, BYU is concerned with the overall trend. "We've had meetings about this, within the athletic department and the administration," says Chow. "The people in Salt Lake (church leaders) are not happy about this. The funny thing is, this is one of the best bunch of kids we've had, as far as representing themselves well."