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BOWL EYES TRAINED ON UTAH TODAY

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When the University of Utah meets Colorado State at high noon today in Rice Stadium, three bowl scouts - count 'em, three - will be in the press box to size up the Utes. That is, if they can find their way to Rice Stadium.

The Utes haven't exactly been a regular stop on the bowl scouts' annual tour, but here they are anyway. Certainly, introductions are in order. Today's guests will include Norm Hainlen of the Freedom Bowl, Bob Logan of the Copper Bowl, and Art Damschen of the Holiday Bowl.All of which is a curious development for a team that sports a modest 4-2 record, has had one winning season in the last five years and hasn't appeared in a bowl

game since Lyndon Johnson was in the White House. But the way the bowls see it, the Utes, should they win seven or eight games, have at least a few things working in their favor.

"We'd like to have a team where the fans are excited - like Colorado State last year," says Paul Mortenson, information director for the Freedom Bowl. "They (Colorado State) hadn't been to a bowl, I think, since the 1940s."

Utah's last bowl appearance was the 1964 Liberty Bowl. The Freedom Bowl gets ho-hum fan and team support from schools that are used to regular bowl appearances and who are appearing there only because they missed earning a berth in a bigger bowl. That's hardly the case with Utah, or CSU.

The Freedom Bowl, says Mortenson, would like to find a Western Athletic Conference team to play its so-called "anchor" Pac-10 team (such as Oregon-Colorado State last year, and BYU-UCLA in 1986). The bowl also will scout another WAC game today - Hawaii at BYU.

Meanwhile, Merle Miller, executive director of the Copper Bowl (which is played in Tucson, Ariz.), says, "We'd like to have Arizona State in our game once to see how they'd do (in drawing fans). On the other hand, we know, economically speaking, it's not going to mean as much to the community as people coming from out of state."

Miller says he wouldn't oppose a Utah-Arizona State rematch. ASU defeated Utah 21-15 in Tempe two weeks ago.

The Copper Bowl also likes Utah's Arizona connection. Ute head coach Ron McBride was an assistant coach at the University of Arizona for several years.

As for the Holiday Bowl, which gets the Western Athletic Conference champion, there isn't as much guesswork there.

With the bowl gang looking on, the Utes could advance their cause considerably today with a good showing againt Colorado State, last December's Freedom Bowl champ. Both CSU and Utah have one loss in WAC play, which means one of them will be eliminated from the title race today. Their lone losses came to the same team in virtually the same way. Air Force defeated Colorado State by intercepting a last-second pass in the end zone, then a week later beat Utah by blocking a last-second field goal attempt.

After losing three of their first four games, all to strong teams, the Rams have won their last two, against Hawaii and Texas-El Paso, to even their record at 3-3.

"They played really well the last three or four weeks," says McBride.

For their part, the Utes, 4-2, survived their poorest defensive outing of the year to defeat Wyoming 57-42 last week in Laramie. They emerged from that game with injuries to two key players: offensive tackle Brian Anderson and linebacker Kim Lambert. Both will be sidelined this week. The Utes have worked on two different combinations to compensate for the loss of Anderson. They can simply replace Anderson with Jesse Moore, or move Russ Dailey from guard to tackle with Roy Ma'afala or Rick Verbalitis starting at guard.

Lambert, who has been utilized as the team's inside run-stopper, replaced the injured Anthony Davis last week, but now Davis will likely return to the lineup, sore foot and all.

Today's game will match the leading defense in the WAC (Utah) against the leading passer in the WAC (CSU's Kevin Verdugo). Utah's safety/nickelback Reggie Alston leads the WAC in tackles, with 76, and defensive end Jimmy Bellamy leads the WAC in sacks, with 11.

"CSU has a big advantage coming off a bye week," says McBride. "They've had longer to prepare for us and get some injuries healed. CSU is a more physical team than Wyoming. They're coming off two wins, so they're on a roll . . . Our team needs to be emotionally ready to play."