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COLLEGE FOOTBALL ’85 : Western Athletic Conference Preview : Conference Finally Attracts Some Attention, Thanks to Brigham Young

Times Staff Writer

When Western Athletic Conference Commissioner Joe Kearney sees his first conference football game of the season, it’s usually in a quaint college town such as Colorado Springs or Provo. They’re great places to enjoy a game and very scenic spots in the fall, but they’re not places where the commissioner is likely to be greeted by network sports executives and reporters from around the country.

No wonder Kearny got such a kick out of watching defending national champion Brigham Young play Boston College last Thursday night at the Meadowlands. The Cougars extended the longest collegiate winning streak in the nation to 25 games with a 28-14 win over the Eagles.

BYU, the only WAC football team to ever win the national championship, was in the spotlight. And that meant the WAC, the youngest of the seven major conferences, was getting national recognition.

“This is outstanding and certainly a plus for the conference,” Kearney said. “Because of all the attention surrounding BYU being named No. 1, the conference is getting considerable exposure. Now, people are realizing that there is also an Air Force, a San Diego State . . . “

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Those people include the networks and ESPN executives, who Kearny said have “shown more interest in televising some of our games this year.” It also includes schools that are more eager to play WAC teams in nonconference games. In 1985, WAC teams will face eight teams that finished in the top 20 last year and 11 bowl teams.

Kearny said the conference would earn approximately $550,000 from BYU’s television appearance against Boston College. BYU will get slightly more than half and the remainder will be divided among the eight other conference schools and the WAC office.

“When I took the job as commissioner of the WAC (in August, 1980), I said the ‘80s would be the most important decade for this conference,” Kearny said. “We had a lot of growing up to do and maturing to do.”

Thanks to the strong-armed quarterbacks at BYU, the WAC is quickly growing up.

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“We still have a lot to do so that we can go into the 1990’s more firmly established,” Kearny said.

One of those things is to gain parity among the football teams. The Cougars have won nine straight WAC titles and have appeared in all seven Holiday Bowls.

BYU definitely won’t be playing in the 1985 Holiday Bowl, but that has nothing to do with how the team does on the field. The game was switched from the traditional Friday night before Christmas to Sunday, Dec. 22 at 5 p.m. BYU cannot play on Sunday because of the school’s Mormon religious convictions. The WAC champion will also not be obligated to play in the Holiday Bowl in 1985 and 1988.

Their bowl destination will be different, but the Cougars are favored to make it 10 straight titles. However, at the preseason WAC football conference held in El Paso, there were whispers that a few teams might be closing the gap.

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“This could be one of our best seasons yet because at least two-thirds of our teams have the possibility to be better than they were last year,” Kearney said.

Those teams include Air Force (8-4 and Independence Bowl winner last season), Hawaii, Utah and San Diego State. Both the coaches and media polls pick BYU first, Air Force second, Hawaii third and San Diego State fifth. The coaches pick Utah fourth, while the media picks the Utes sixth and Wyoming fourth. Colorado State, New Mexico and UTEP are picked to finish in the bottom third.

If there is a contest for the conference crown, Kearney will be as happy as he was during the last week of August in New Jersey.

A closer look at the WAC:

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BRIGHAM YOUNG 1984 records: 8-0, 13-0

Finish: First

Coach: LaVell Edwards (13 years, 118-37-1)

Offense: Pro Set

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Defense: 3-4

Top returnees: Robbie Bosco (6-3, 188, Sr., QB), Glen Kozlowski (6-1, 195, Sr., WR), Kelly Smith (6-0, 185, Sr., HB), Lakei Heimuli (5-11, 207, Jr., FB), Leon White (6-2, 220, Sr., LB) and Kurt Gouveia, 6-1, 213, Sr. LB)

Top newcomers: John Hunter (6-7, 272, Fr. OT, North Bend, Ore.), Warren Handley (6-4, 225, Fr. TE, Sandy, Utah), Mark Ornsby (6-0, 215, Sr., K, Tauranga, New Zealand) and Troy Long (6-2, 185, Fr., DB, Sandy, Utah)

Outlook: First, the good news for the other WAC teams. The Cougars have only one returning starter in the offensive line, 6-4, 267-pound tackle Dave Wright. BYU’s entire defensive line of a year ago is gone, and senior Jeff Sprowls is the only returnee in the secondary. Last season, the Cougars allowed only 12.8 points a game. Bosco’s leading receiver, David Mills (conference leading 60 catches for 1.023 yards) is gone. So is punter-kicker Lee Johnson. Now, back to reality. Last season, Bosco completed 61.8% of his passes for 33 touchdowns and led the nation in total offense with an average of 327.7 yards per game. He completed 35 of 53 passes for 508 yards and 3 touchdowns in the season opener against Boston College. Wide receiver Glen Kozlowski had 10 catches for 241 yards against the Eagles.

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HAWAII

1984 record: 5-2, 7-4

Finish: Second

Coach: Dick Tomey (8 years, 52-35-1)

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Offense: Multiple

Defense: 5-2

Top returnees: Walter Murray (6-4, 195, Sr., WR), Nuu Faaola (5-11, 210, Sr., HB), Quentin Flores (6-2, 246, Sr., C), Kyle Kafentzis (5-11, 184, Jr., CB), Colin Scotts (6-6, 260, Jr., DT) and Junior Lopati (6-0, 197, Soph., TB)

Top newcomers: Warren Jones (6-1, 179, Fr. redshirt, QB), Kurt Simon (6-0, 184, Fr. redshirt, QB), Greg Tipton (6-3, 173, Jr., QB, Santa Barbara CC), Matt Follner (6-2, 250, Jr., DT, College of San Mateo)

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Outlook: Replacing quarterback Raphel Cherry, who finished 11th in the nation in total offense last season, will be Tomey’s main concern. Tipton, a redshirt junior who completed 16 of 25 passes for a touchdown and 185 yards in the spring game, has won the starting job. Tipton is a dropback passer who set seven school records while winning honorable mention All-American honors at Santa Barbara City College. Tomey says redshirt freshmen quarterbacks Jones and Simon will also get playing time. Sophomore tailback Junior Lopati tore ligaments in his left knee against San Diego State last season, and is not expected back until the third game at the earliest. Lopati was Hawaii’s leading rusher with 405 yards in six games last season. The Rainbow Warriors return only two starters at skill positions from an offense that led the nation in fewest turnovers last season.

AIR FORCE

1984 record: 4-3, 8-4

Finish: Third

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Coach: Fisher DeBerry (1 year, 8-4)

Offense: Wishbone

Defense: 5-2

Top returnees: Bart Weiss (6-0, 167, Sr., QB), Pat Evans (5-11, 192, Jr., FB), Brian Knorr (5-11, 182, Sr., QB), Terry Maki (6-2, 227, Jr., LB), A.J. Scott (6-3, 195, Sr., S), Dwan Wilson (6-1, 190, Sr., CB) and Scott Thomas (6-0, 183, Jr., S)

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Top newcomers: Blake Gettys (6-2, 240, Soph., C, Berea, Ohio), Grant Morris (6-0, 198, Soph., FB, San Antonio) and Doug McKinney (6-4, 210, Fr., K, Fort Smith, Ark.)

Outlook: Fourteen starters and 52 lettermen return from a team that beat Virginia Tech, 23-7, in the Independence Bowl. The Falcons are coming off three straight bowl victories and three consecutive wins over Notre Dame. Air Force finished second in the nation in rushing last year, and Weiss will once again be at the helm of the wishbone offense. Fullback Pat Evans gained 1,015 yards, scored 5 touchdowns and averaged 6.4 yards per carry. Eight defensive starters return from a unit that led the WAC in total defense and rushing defense last season. The strength of the defense lies in the secondary, headed by Thomas, Scott, Wilson and Tom Rotello.

UTAH

1984 record: 4-3-1, 6-5-1

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Finish: Tied for Fourth

Coach: Jim Fassel (first year at Utah)

Offense: Multiple

Defense: Multiple

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Top returnees: Eddie Johnson (5-9, 170, Soph., TB), James Hardy (6-0, 165, Jr. WR), Andre Guardi (6-2, 182, Jr. K), Filipo Mokofisi (6-1, 232, Sr. DE), Reggie Richardson (6-0, 175, Sr., S) and Erroll Tucker (5-8, 163, Sr., CB)

Top newcomers: Larry Egger (6-1, 195, Jr., QB, El Camino JC), Loren Richey (6-0, 175, Soph., WR, El Camino JC), Jeff McMillan (6-3, 290, Jr., NG, Ricks JC) and Gamaliel Rivers (6-3, 245, Jr., DL, Hancock JC)

Outlook: Under Fassel, the Utes will abandon the Power-I in favor of a more wide-open passing attack. Fassel came to Utah from the Portland Breakers of the United States Football League, where he served as offensive coordinator. From 1980 to 1983, he was the offensive coordinator at Stanford, where he recruited and coached John Elway. Bryan Bero and Egger are fighting for the starting quarterback spot. Bero threw only three passes as the backup to Mark Stevens last season. Egger was a first-team JC All-American at El Camino last season. He threw for 2,930 yards and 20 touchdowns and broke the national junior college completion record with 231. Tailback Eddie Johnson gained 1,021 yards last season, which was more than any freshmen running back in the country.

SAN DIEGO STATE

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1984 record: 4-7-1, 4-3-1

Finish: Tied for fourth

Coach: Doug Scovil (4 years, 19-26-2)

Offense: Pro-Set

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Defense: 3-4

Top returnees: Todd Santos (6-2, 200, Soph., QB), Casey Brown (6-1, 205, Sr., FB), Vince Warren (6-0, 180, Sr., WR), Webster Slaughter (5-11, 180, Sr., WR), Mike Stevens (6-3, 265, Sr., DT) and Levi Esene (5-11, 260, Sr., MG)

Top newcomers: Robert Awalt (6-5, 240, Jr., TE, Sacramento CC), David Price (6-2, 185, Jr., DB, Santa Monica JC), Colin Sumner (6-3, 180, Fr. WR, Orinda) and John Wesselman (6-2, 210, Fr., S, Torrance)

Outlook: The offense will be directed by Santos, who completed 56% of his passes for 2,063 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. He will be throwing primarily to Warren (29 receptions and a 21.2-yard average) and Slaughter (40 receptions and a 14.4 average). Defensively, the Aztecs return seven starters from a unit which held UCLA without a touchdown, recorded its first shutout in seven years (21-0 over Wyoming) and had a streak of 18 quarters during which it allowed only one touchdown. Junior Duane Pettitt, the probable starting right tackle, broke his leg during fall practice and will be out for the season. Sophomore Wayne Ross returns as the punter (42.8-yard average last season) and Chris O’Brien is back as the kicker. O’Brien made 11 of 13 field goals last season, including his last eight.

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WYOMING

1984 record: 4-4, 6-6

Finish: Sixth

Coach: Al Kincaid (4 years, 26-21)

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Offense: Wishbone

Defense: 5-2

Top returnees: Scott Runyan (5-9, 186, Soph., QB), Jeff Westphal (6-0, 201, Jr., HB), Allyn Griffin (6-3, 188, Sr., WR), Galand Thaxton (6-1, 222, Soph., LB) and Pete Bendetti (6-1, 205, Sr., S)

Top newcomers: Jon Cogdill (6-4, 255, Fr., DT, Kemmerer, Wyo.), Eric Coleman (5-11, 175, Fr., WR, Denver), Tom Kilpatrick (6-3, 195, Fr., P) and Duncan Burgermeister (6-4, 200, Fr., TE, Boulder)

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Outlook: Once again, the Cowboys are young. Kincaid’s club has only 12 seniors, but he does have a returning starting quarterback for the first time in four years. Runyan gained 1,760 yards in total offense, scored 4 touchdowns and threw for 10 more. Despite using the wishbone, the Cowboys threw nearly 18 passes a game last season. Gone are halfback Dave Evans (979 yards), fullback Kevin Lowe (857 yards) and tight end Jay Novacek (33 receptions). Westphal missed spring practice with a pulled chest muscle and aggravated it during fall practice. He is questionable for the start of the season. Kincaid is counting on senior running backs Terrance Lyons and Stan Waddell. The Cowboys hope to improve on a defense that last season gave up 42 points to Nebraska, 41 to BYU, 34 to Colorado State, 31 to Hawaii and 35 to UTEP. Six defensive starters return, including Rob Zalanka, who was moved from defensive end to linebacker. The Cowboys will face UTEP in the Australia Bowl on Dec. 7 in Melbourne.

COLORADO STATE

1984 record: 3-5, 3-8

Finish: Seventh

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Coach: Leon Fuller (3 years, 12-22)

Offense: Single back

Defense: 3-4

Top returnees: Steve Bartalo (5-9, 191, Jr. RB), Kelly Stouffer (6-3, 210, Jr., QB), Todd Tyrrell (6-0, 175, Soph., WR), Terry Unrein (6-5, 270, Sr., DT), Dan Hammerschmidt (6-0, 198, Sr. S) and Tim Zubradt (6-0, 193, Sr. S)

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Top newcomers: Tony Bevacqua (6-4, 225, Jr., HB, Cerritos JC), Gary Wehlage (5-10, 175, Jr., S, Grossmont JC) and Ron Cortell (5-9, 175, Fr., DB, Sweetwater High in National City)

Outlook: When you think of the Rams, Bartalo comes to mind. He walked on as a freshman, and despite missing five games, led the WAC in rushing the past two years. Bartalo, running out of a single-back set, gained 913 yards for an average of 114.1 yards in eight games last season. Occasionally, Fuller plans to use Bartalo and sophomore running back Scott Whitehouse in the same backfield. They will be running behind an experienced offensive line of tackles John Benton and Bill Chirico, guards Doug Wills and Edgar Mitchell and center Guy Goar. Stouffer will miss H-back Keli McGregor, who led the Rams with 47 receptions last season. The Rams will score. The question is whether they can improve a defense which allowed opponents 436 yards a game. Fuller plans to switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defensive formation.

NEW MEXICO

1984 record: 1-7, 4-8

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Finish: Tied for eighth

Coach: Joe Lee Dunn (2 years, 10-14)

Offense: Multiple

Defense: 5-2

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Top returnees: Willie Turral (5-11, 185, Sr., RB), Tim Lopez (6-4, 263, Sr., OT), Tom Bradford (6-2, 240, Jr., DT), Donnie DeYoung (6-2, 254, Sr., OG) and Billy Rucker (6-1, 197, Jr. QB)

Top newcomers: Terance Mathis (5-9, 160, Fr., HB, Atlanta), Bob Undenstock (6-1, 205, Jr., DE, Golden West JC) and John Royston (5-10, 162, Jr. walk-on, WR)

Outlook: The Lobos got off to a 4-0 start last season before they were beset by injuries. This season, their troubles have already begun. Junior wide receiver Kenneth Whitehead, who led New Mexico with 34 receptions last season, had family problems. Dunn told him he was going to be suspended from the team, and Whitehead opted to leave the university. Tom Cole, the team’s starting defensive end, will be sidelined for approximately five weeks with a knee injury. Offensive tackle Tim Lopez was injured last season, but he is expected to start. He left the team after the first fall practice. Rucker completed 23 of 52 passes as a backup last season. He is expected to lead the Lobos’ run and shoot offense, which features Turral (1,064 yards and 10 touchdowns) at fullback and Glenn Rogers and Mathis at halfback. In the run and shoot, there is no tight end and the halfbacks are flanked on both sides of the tackles. Mathis has also been working out at quarterback and is expected to return punts and kickoffs.

TEXAS EL PASO

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1984 record: 1-7, 2-9

Finish: Tied for eighth

Coach: Bill Yung (3 years, 6-29)

Offense: Power I

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Defense: 5-2

Top returnees: Sammy Garza (6-1, 185, Jr., QB), Eric Anderson (5-11, 166, Sr., RB), Larry Linne (6-1, 171, Sr., WR), Seth Joyner (6-2, 210, Sr., LB) and Robert Murray (5-9, 150, Jr. CB)

Top newcomers: Pat Baker (6-0, 170, Jr., DB, West Los Angeles JC), Eddie Dixon (5-9, 201, Fr., RB, Twin City, Ga.) and Robert Dickerson (5-11, 200, Fr., RB, Galena Park, Tex.)

Outlook: The highlight of the Miners’ season will probably be their trip to Melbourne, Australia, on Dec. 7 to play Wyoming. UTEP is coming off its third straight two-win season and its 14th consecutive losing season. Garza is expected to be the starting quarterback for the second year in a row. His primary competition is coming from 23-year-old freshman Jeff Remo, who has returned to football after spending three years playing baseball in the Chicago Cubs’ organization. Yung is counting on a strong offensive line to improve the Miners’ running game. The line is anchored by returning starters Tony Russo (6-5, 286), Don Sommer (6-3, 265), and Joe McEsker (6-7, 270) and reserve Floyd Fain (6-1, 253). Seven starters return from a defense which allowed a conference-high 313 points in eight games.

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