With the 1998 season less than a week away for the state's five college football teams, here are 10 questions facing the quintet collectively known as "The Big Five":

- Which is the best team in the state?That may be hard to determine if you only figure in head-to-head competition. Only one team - the University of Utah - is involved in the two games pairing two local teams. And those games are at the opposite ends of the schedule, as the Utes open at Utah State Saturday and conclude the regular season by hosting BYU. Meanwhile, BYU and USU are taking a year off from their in-state battle, while Weber State and Southern Utah aren't meeting as they did last year.

- Why should one make travel plans for Sept. 26?

If you're looking for top-quality football matchups that day, they may be hard to find in the Beehive State. The only Division I-A pairing of the day has Utah hosting Boise State (please stifle that yawn). BYU and Utah State - both of which could have tweaked their schedules to play each other that day - go the Division I-AA route by hosting Murray State and Sam Houston State, respectively (more yawns). The best game in Utah that day may be a small-school battle in Ogden, as Weber State squares off against perennial I-AA powerhouse Montana.

- Who is Division I-AA independent Southern Utah gunning for?

Believe it or not, coach Ray Gregory is calling out BYU and Utah State. SUU sees Murray State and Sam Houston State on their schedules and wonder why the Cougars and Aggies could stay in-state when scheduling I-AA schools. Gregory figures those two games cost the Thunderbirds a half-million dollars this year, considering the guaranteed gate receipts they could have made in Provo and Logan and not having to pay extensive travel costs to play out-of-state contests.

- Should Utah and BYU be concerned about their final football season as part of the soon-to-be-split Western Athletic Conference?

If you're a Ute worrywart, you see that the U. has to travel to two of the top teams in the WAC Mountain Division - at San Diego State and at New Mexico - as well as a difficult crossover game against Wyoming in Laramie (luckily in early October instead of early November). And if you're a Cougar pessimist, you see that BYU has to visit the unfriendly confines of the three tenured WAC members - Fresno State, Hawaii and Texas El Paso - most hurt by BYU and Utah's defection to the new eight-team league. And then the Cougars end the season at Utah.

- Who's new in the state?

As far as coaching staffs go, it's the status quo at BYU, where LaVell Edwards' full-time staff totals 159 years of experience within the Cougar program. At Utah, the Utes shuffled their offensive staff a bit and welcomed back former defensive coach Fred Whit-ting-ham as a linebacker coach who now has to report to his son, defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham.

Dave Arslanian is a first-year coach at Utah State, but the Aggie brass surely brought in the former Weber State for his Utah ties - ties to recruiting as well as ties to the state which hopefully will stop the quick, turnstyle-type treks through Cache County taken by his looking-elsewhere Aggie predecessors.

That leaves Weber State coach Jerry Graybeal, fresh from being a defensive coordinator at Big Sky rival Eastern Washington, as the newest commodity in the local coaching scene. Something else new in Ogden - the Wildcats will be sporting redesigned helmet logos and jerseys. Look for the latter to appear similar to Northwestern's threads.

Why does the shadow of departed Utah State coach John L. Smith still loom large locally?

First, Arslanian takes over the Aggie helm from his former Weber State teammate/roommate in a transition that is not only smooth but heightens expectations in Logan. Also, Smith takes over at Louisville, which comes to Utah on Sept. 12 to help inaugurate the Utes' recently refurbished Rice-Eccles Stadium. It's the third Smith-coached team to face McBride and Co., with Smith having beaten the U. twice while at Utah State and once previously when coaching at Idaho.

Who's going to replace Utah's potent but departed backfield of Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala (selected as an early entry pick by the Pittsburgh Steeler in the fifth round of the NFL Draft) and Juan Johnson?

There's the sportscasters' dream tandem of Omar Bacon and Thomas Fortune - "Omar brings home the Bacon for the Utes with that scoring run" and "Fortune pays off with a touchdown dive." But the best of the lot may be JC transfer Mike Anderson, who earned a U. scholarship after McBride watched just three of his plays on game film.

Why might Utah or BYU freshmen not be overly anxious to earn first-year WAC honors?

Consider the challenges of the WAC freshmen of the year for the past two seasons. BYU backs have won the Mountain Division award the past two years - 1996 winner Ronney Jenkins had to sit out last year (which he took as a redshirt season) because of an Honor Code violation, while 1997 honoree Jaron Dabney left school as an academic casualty (and not because of an off-season shoplifting incident). And UNLV quarterback Jon Denton, who won the 1996 Pacific Division award, left for Eastern Kentucky this summer after late-fall and spring suspensions from the Rebel program.

Jenkins returns to BYU and WAC action this year, as does 1997 Pacific Division winner Charles Tharp, the Hawaii running back.

Why's the heat on Utah this season?

McBride has cited complacency and inconsistency as two woes having plagued the Utes last year. This year, the U. has a favorable schedule, a remodeled and expanded stadium, two experienced quarterbacks in Darnell Arceneaux and Jonathan Crosswhite, and high expectations. Utah is picked by most observers to finish either first or second in the WAC Pacific Division this season and return to a bowl game after a year's absence.

How important are BYU's first three games?

The three foes - Alabama, Arizona State and Washington - are the highest-profile opponents nationally that the Cougars will face in the regular season. BYU must emerge with at least one and preferably two victories to earn any time of presence in the national polls. More importantly, the Cougars cannot afford to suffer many major injuries in the first three weeks - a problem that hindered the Y. last season.

Edwards points to 1991 (Ty Detmer's senior season), when his Cougars lost to Florida State, UCLA and Penn State to open the season but didn't lose a game the rest of the way.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

'98 BYU schedule

Date Opponent Time

Sept. 5 at Alabama 5 p.m.

Sept. 12 Arizona St. 7 p.m.

Sept. 19 at Wash. 1:30 p.m.

Sept. 26 Murray State noon

Oct. 3 at Fresno St. 8 p.m.

Oct. 10 UNLV noon

Oct. 17 at Hawaii 10 p.m.

Oct. 24 S. Jose St. noon

Oct. 29 SDSU 6 p.m.

Nov. 7 New Mexico noon

Nov. 14 at El Paso 3 p.m.

Nov. 21 at Utah 1 p.m.

Radio: KSL AM-1160

Tickets: 378-BYU1 or 1-800-322-2981

'98 Utah schedule

Date Opponent Time

Sept. 5 at Utah St. 7 p.m.

Sept. 12 Louisville 7 p.m.

Sept. 19 Hawaii 7 p.m.

Sept. 26 Boise St. 7 p.m.

Oct. 3 at Wyoming 2 p.m.

Oct. 10 bye

Oct. 17 Fresno St. 1 p.m.

Oct. 24 at SDSU 7 p.m.

Oct. 31 at S. Jose St. 2 p.m.

Nov. 7 UTEP 1 p.m.

Nov. 14 at N. Mexico 1 p.m.

Nov. 21 BYU 1 p.m.

Radio: KALL AM-910

Tickets: 581-6641

'98 USU schedule

Date Opponent Time

Sept. 5 Utah 7 p.m.

Sept. 12 at N. Mexico 6 p.m.

Sept. 19 at Colorado 1 p.m.

Sept. 26 Sam Hous. 7 p.m.

Oct. 3 Oregon St. 8 p.m.

Oct. 10 at Wash. 1:30 p.m.

Oct. 17 Idaho 1 p.m.

Oct. 24 at Boise St. 7 p.m.

Oct. 31 at N. Mex. St. 2:05 p.m.

Nov. 7 Nevada 1 p.m.

Nov. 14 North Texas 1 p.m.

Radio: KISN AM-570

Tickets: 797-0305

'98 WSU schedule

Date Opponent Time

Sept. 3 Mont. Tech 6 p.m.

Sept. 12 Humboldt St. 6 p.m.

Sept. 19 at Idaho St. 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 26 Montana 6 p.m.

Oct. 3 at Sac. St. 7 p.m.

Oct. 10 Montana St. 6 p.m.

Oct. 17 at Boise St. 7 p.m.

Oct. 24 at Port. St. 7 p.m.

Oct. 31 Northridge 1 p.m.

Nov. 7 at N. Arizona 4 p.m.

Nov. 14 E. Wash. 1 p.m.

Radio: KSOS 800 AM, KOLA 1660 AM

Tickets: 626-8500

'98 SUU schedule

Date Opponent Time

Sept. 12 at Montana 1 p.m.

Sept. 19 McNeese St. 7 p.m.

Sept. 26 at W. Illinois noon

Oct. 3 at Northridge 4 p.m.

Oct. 10 St. Mary's 1 p.m.

Oct. 17 Fort Lewis 1 p.m.

Oct. 24 at Idaho St. 6:30 p.m.

Oct. 31 at Illinois St. 12:30

Nov. 7 Cal Poly 1 p.m.

Nov. 14 at UC Davis 2:30 p.m.

Nov. 21 E. Wash. 1 p.m.

Radio: KBRE FM-94.9

Tickets: 586-7872