Western Football Conference Preview : Will a New Look Mean New Life in 1985?
The Western Football Conference wants your attention.
It wants you to remember its name and attend its games. And the three-year-old NCAA Division II conference is letting you know it isn’t the same.
“We want recognition,” WFC Commissioner Vic Buccola said. “Our goal is to be the strongest Division II conference in the nation. We want the media coverage, the attendance, the whole works.”
What does the WFC offer for your entertainment dollar?
More teams than last year, for starters. Cal Lutheran and Sacramento State have joined existing members Cal State Northridge, Portland State, the University of Santa Clara and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Southern Utah State will be added in 1986.
The addition of Cal Lutheran intensifies a natural rivalry with CSUN. The Kingsmen, who lost to the Matadors, 17-15, last season, have defeated CSUN three times in eight tries.
Cal Lutheran had an impressive 166-54-6 record as an NAIA independent for 23 years under Coach Bob Shoup. Sacramento State, 6-5 last season, has belonged to the nonscholarship Northern California Athletic Conference since 1954.
“Expanding to eight teams is our immediate goal,” Buccola said. “And we hope to have 10 teams within five years.”
Cal Poly Pomona was a WFC member for one year before dropping its football program in 1983, reducing the conference to four teams. It was a cozy little conference, to be sure. But sharing the title with a record of 2-1, as CSUN and Santa Clara did in 1983, stretched the meaning of the word “champion.”
Said Portland State Coach Don Read: “It was wrong--there weren’t enough teams. Six teams make a legitimate conference.”
And if the coaches are to be believed, the new, improved WFC will offer balance, a variety of styles and impressive individual talent.
The parity that NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle has been searching for can be found in the WFC. The conference title has been handed around like a sugar bowl at the breakfast table. San Luis Obispo won in 1982, CSUN and Santa Clara were co-champs in ’83, and Portland State took the title last season.
“It’s a crazy conference,” Read said. “Rarely are there blowouts; balance has been the primary appeal.”
This season, WFC quarterbacks may be just as appealing. Terry Summerfield of Portland State and Greg Knapp of Sacramento State, both seniors, are professional prospects, according to their coaches.
“Summerfield will pass about 40 times a game out of a BYU-style offense,” Read predicted. A 6-4, 210-pound, classic drop-back passer, Summerfield last season completed 190 of 349 passes for 2,426 yards.
Knapp (6-4, 203) passed for 2,083 yards last season, including 351 in a 38-21 loss to Division II power UC Davis. He completed 142 of 274 passes on the season and had 15 interceptions and 16 touchdowns.
“We expect big things from Greg,” Sacramento State Coach Bob Mattos said. “Our offense is a lot like Portland State’s. Knapp will drop back and throw the ball all day.”
For the third straight year, Sacramento State finished second in its conference behind UC Davis. The Hornets were 5-1 in the NCAC and lost nonconference games to the WFC’s San Luis Obispo, Portland State, CSUN and Santa Clara.
Santa Clara, 1-2 in the WFC and 7-4 overall last season, is undergoing both a coaching and quarterback change. Terry Malley, 31, has taken over the Broncos’ coaching reins from his father, Pat, who passed away this year. Pat Malley coached Santa Clara for 26 years, compiling a record of 141-100-3.
Two of the quarterbacks Malley coached in the 1960s were brothers Ron and Ray Calcagna. Ron’s son, Greg Calcagna, is a 6-3 sophomore quarterback who has been handed the starting job by Terry Malley. Calcagna grew up in Santa Clara and led the local high school, St. Francis, to a Central Coast Section title as a senior.
“I believe Greg will follow in the tradition of fine Santa Clara quarterbacks,” Malley said. Steve Billa, who was recently cut by the San Francisco 49ers, and Dan Pastorini are former Bronco quarterbacks.
Cal Lutheran’s Tom Bonds, a sophomore quarterback from Hart High, typifies the Kingsmen--he’s small, quick and eager. Splitting time last season, Bonds (5-10, 180) completed 65 of 144 passes for 954 yards and five touchdowns. He also threw 12 interceptions and often was exhausted late in games because of his incessant scrambling.
“Tommy has gotten stronger over the off-season and, hopefully, will play under control,” Shoup said. “He’s got a world of potential and sure is exciting to watch.”
The quarterback situations at CSUN and San Luis Obispo aren’t as stable.
Tim Rapp, who finished last season as CSUN’s No. 1 signal caller, did not report to camp this fall. Left to direct Coach Tom Keele’s new run-and-shoot offense are junior college transfers Chris Parker and Danny Fernandez.
“Parker has won the starting job,” Keele said of the 6-2, 180-pound transfer from San Bernardino Valley College. “He completed 42 of 52 last week in a scrimmage.”
Jeff Byars and Yale Keckin split time last year at quarterback for San Luis Obispo, which was 2-1 in the WFC and 6-4 overall. Both are back, but Coach Jim Sanderson claims there is no controversy--Byars gets the starting nod. Although the junior completed only 45.6% of his passes last season (52 of 114), Keckin was worse, completing 41.6% (57 of 137).
Sanderson compares his team’s style to that of the Los Angeles Raiders: commitment to punishment, and just dominate, baby.
“We want to be recognized as a physical team,” Sanderson said. “When you play Cal Poly, you’d better be braced for some contact.”
The Mustangs should be the most ground-oriented team in the WFC, and they have the horses up front to lead the wagon.
Sophomore tackle Eric Tautalo is 6-5, 330, and junior guard Kirk Anderson is 6-8, 265. But the best is three-time all-conference tackle Sal Cesario (6-5, 265). “He’s real special,” Sanderson said.
The offensive line at Portland State, equally as large, averages 270 pounds from tackle to tackle. Center Steve Sahlinger and guard Dave Morris are returning All-WFC performers.
Considered suspect are the offensive lines of CSUN, Cal Lutheran and Santa Clara.
“Frankly, our line scares the heck out of me,” Malley said. Keele and Shoup echoed similar sentiments about their lines.
As could be expected in the pass-happy WFC, there are several talented receivers and running backs. Two-time All-WFC tight end Brent Jones and wide receiver Kevin Collins, who averaged 27.9 yards per catch last season, give Santa Clara perhaps the strongest receiving corps.
Interestingly, the teams that may pass most frequently--CSUN, Portland State and Sacramento State--will rely primarily on new receivers.
Sacramento State Coach Mattos said the top rusher in the conference could be Hornet fullback Mark Schutz. A 203-pound senior, Schutz gained 1,064 yards and scored 10 touchdowns last season. Another top back is Portland State’s Steve Lyle, a returning All-WFC selection and the Vikings’ all-time, all-purpose yardage gainer.
Raiders replica San Luis Obispo led the nation in rushing and scoring defense last season, allowing 88.1 rushing yards and nine points a game. But Sanderson likes to talk about the secondary.
“Cornerbacks Greg Thompson and Keenan Stanley are like (Raiders) Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes,” Sanderson said. “They play man-to-man defense and pop you hard off the line.”
Sacramento State, Santa Clara and CSUN also believe their secondaries are the strength of their defenses.
Sacramento State’s Mark Albert and Angelo James rival San Luis Obispo’s cornerbacks in ability. Safety John Faylor led Santa Clara with 120 tackles last season, and CSUN returns All-WFC cornerback Steve Benjamin.
Linebackers are the strength of the Cal Lutheran and Portland State defenses. Earl Bentancourt, converted from defensive end to middle linebacker, and Chris Heintz, an outside linebacker, are perhaps CLC’s best defensive players. All-WFC linebacker Regan Hyde led Portland State with 98 tackles last season.
Talented personnel aside, who is going to win the expanded WFC? There is only one certainty: Three wins no longer a championship makes.
Portland State, which finished 3-0 in the WFC and 8-3 overall last season, was tabbed to finish first by a unanimous vote of WFC coaches. San Luis Obispo was picked to finish second, followed, respectively, by Sacramento State, Santa Clara, CSUN and Cal Lutheran.
Predictions by Street and Smith, the only national magazine picking Division II conferences, were identical to those of the WFC coaches, with one exception. Sacramento State was listed fifth, with Santa Clara and CSUN each moving up a notch.