PARK CITY — Unlike last year, Weber State head football coach Ron McBride made it through the annual Big Sky Kickoff without any health complications.

He's rested and looking forward to a season in which the Wildcats are equipped to do some damage in the Big Sky.

But will the 2008 season mark the end of the line for Coach Mac?

He is entering the final year of a four-year contract with the Wildcats. He is 68 years old and has had some heart problems in the past. He survived a major heart attack while serving as an assistant coach at Kentucky and suffered a minor heart attack while attending the Big Sky Kickoff last summer.

McBride said he isn't sure if this will be his final season at Weber State.

"I never think about anything but one season at a time," McBride said. "What I'm worried about is this season, and then we'll go from there. I don't worry about contracts. I just worry about what's in front of me."

In front of McBride is another draining camp of two-a-day practices, then some tune-up, nonleague games. There are two money games against Division I teams, the first of which is a trip to Hawaii. The second might interest a few local fans, as McBride — who was the University of Utah's head coach from 1990-2002 — will take his Wildcats to Rice-Eccles Stadium to play the Utes on Sept. 27.

Weber State, which was picked to take fifth place in the Big Sky coaches and media preseason polls released Tuesday, will then aim for a conference championship. With 15 returning starters, including two-time Big Sky rushing champion Trevyn Smith, quarterback Cameron Higgins and playmaker Bryant Eteuati, the Wildcats believe they will contend for the league title.

"We're at a point here where Weber has to prove themselves, and the point is coming up here pretty quick," McBride said. "I'm in my fourth year, so most of these players are now my players. Now we'll see what we've done."

No one is considering this a make-or-break year for McBride, who has compiled a 15-18 record in his first three seasons at Weber State. It's probably up to him if he signs another contract with the school. But there is pressure this season because the feeling around the Wildcats is that this is their best chance in a long time to win the Big Sky title.

"The expectations are higher," McBride said. "I expect more."

McBride is expecting more while delivering what people have come to count on from him. He joked around with reporters and other coaches at the Big Sky Kickoff on Tuesday. He watched what he ate, choosing fruit and a muffin rather than the eggs and bacon being served.

Another thing about McBride that hasn't changed is that he's still a players' coach.

"Coach Mac talked to my mom the first day, and it was a done deal — that's where I was going," Eteuati said. "He's just a great coach. The thing about Coach Mac is he loves his players. I enjoy playing for him a lot."

Before Weber State begins its quest for the Big Sky championship, it will wrap up its nonleague schedule at Utah. It will be just the second time McBride has stepped inside Rice-Eccles since he was fired by the school in 2002. The only other time he was at Utah since then was when he attended a Utah-BYU game there "a couple of years ago."

"I'm looking forward to it," McBride said. "It will be good to be back in the stadium. But I'm more worried about the opening game than I am about Utah at this point. Utah is a long way down the line. I'll worry about it the week we play. It's good for Weber. I don't know if it's good for Utah, but it's good for Weber to be able to play in a game like that."

Big Sky preseason polls

Coaches poll

Team (First-place votes) Points

1. Montana (7) 63

2. E. Washington (1) 52

3. Northern Arizona (1) 50

4. Montana State 40

5. Weber State 38

6. Portland State 30

7. Sacramento State 27

8. Idaho State 15

9. Northern Colorado 9

Media poll

1. Montana (23) 361

2. E. Washington (19) 350

3. Montana State 254

4. Northern Arizona (1) 248

5. Weber State 229

6. Portland State 194

7. Idaho State 124

8. Sacramento State 113

9. Northern Colorado 65


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