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UTES APPEAR READY TO CHALLENGE FOR TITLE - WITHOUT PLAYING YET

SHARE UTES APPEAR READY TO CHALLENGE FOR TITLE - WITHOUT PLAYING YET

The University of Utah could be in first place in the Western Athletic Conference following the games of Oct. 10.

That's not bad for a team that hasn't played a WAC game yet.But with its non-conference season behind it, the 2-1 Utes are ready to challenge for the WAC crown. They face wacky Colorado State Saturday in Fort Collins and should they get by the Rams they'll face Hawaii on Oct. 10 in Rice Stadium in a showdown for first place. Hawaii will still be unbeaten as the Rainbows have a bye this week.

If the Utes beat Colorado State and Hawaii, they'll be 2-0 in the WAC and no other team will have a better record. San Diego State will also be 2-0, assuming it beats New Mexico this week (though the game's in Albuquerque and is therefore not a given for the Aztecs. San Diego State has a bye Oct. 10). And Fresno State will be 2-0 if it beats a team in Provo on Oct. 10. Both the Utah-Hawaii and BYU-Fresno State games start at noon. There will be cheers at Rice Stadium for an announcement like this: "At halftime in Provo it's BYU 21, Fresno State 7."

The prediction here is that after Oct. 10 Utah and San Diego State will be the only teams without a conference loss.

WACKY EVEN FOR WACKY WAC - Even for the Western Athletic Conference this is a strange year.

Utah hasn't played a WAC game yet and co-favorite BYU has already been eliminated from title contention.

Colorado State loses to Big Sky team Idaho at home and beats LSU of the Southeastern Conference at Baton Rouge.

Hawaii is gaining less than 300 yards a game to rank last in the conference by a wide margin in total offense while giving up almost 400 yards a game, and yet is the lone unbeaten, untied team in the WAC at 3-0.

TELLING STATISTICS - BYU is first in total defense and third in total offense and scoring, yet is only 1-2 in conference play. Why? Well, as former BYU QB Blaine Fowler said while doing the BYU-Hawaii game for Channel 5, "Special teams are killing BYU." The Cougars rank last in the conference in net punting, averaging just 29.2 yards per punt. They also rank last in turnover margin, losing the ball five times on fumbles and seven times on interceptions.

The punchless Rainbows, meanwhile, rank third in net punting at 39.2 and lead the conference in turnover margin.

SAN DIEGO STATE SHAKY? - The Aztecs, with the inside track to the WAC title after beating BYU and not having to play Utah, suddenly look pretty vulnerable. They have Marshall Faulk, but not much else offensively. Quarterback David Lowery, who has had some back problems, is struggling, completing only 43 percent of his passes. Their three games have been against solid teams - BYU, USC and UCLA - but they haven't shown the ability to stop anybody. They rank next to last (106 out of 107) in the nation defensively, giving up 491 yards per game.

WAC FORECASTS:

Utah at Colorado State - The Utes are playing like a team that's going to a bowl for the first time since 1964. Colorado State will be tough at home but Utah has the talent offensively and defensively to put the Rams away. Quarterback Frank Dolce is on a roll. The Utes keep rolling . . . UTAH 31, CSU 20.

Utah State at BYU - The shell-shocked Cougars regroup after the nightmare in Hawaii. Ryan Hancock is a good QB to regroup with. Despite improved play by coach Charlie Weatherbie's Aggies, Cougs have too much talent to let this one get away . . . BYU 37, UTAH STATE 17.

Other games: San Diego State 31, New Mexico 21 . . . Aztecs improve to 2-0; Air Force 31, UTEP 21 . . . Falcons get third WAC win against single loss; Wyoming 24, San Jose State 21 . . . Cowpokes win non-league encounter at home; Fresno State 34, Louisiana Tech 24 . . . Up and down Bulldogs are up at home.