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FOR LAVELL, FIRST GAME DOESN'T GET ANY EASIER

It's a night game, a road game, a conference game, and a season opener - categories that all rank high on LaVell Edwards' most-hated list.

"And I hear they're using that Sports Illustrated article as motivation," says the BYU coach as he braces for tonight's 1992 opener in the Sun Bowl against the University of Texas-El Paso. "Somebody said they're upset about the part where it says we play a patsyschedule and UTEP is listed as one of the patsies."

The coach sighs. Twenty openers under his belt and it doesn't get any easier. If BYU really is America's Most-Hated Team, as the Sports Illustrated article mentioned above suggested, a lot of people from Maine to Maui should be savoring the Cougars' predicament tonight. As openers go, this isn't exactly hosting St. Mary's of the Wasatch.

Besides all of the above, the new and improved UTEP Miners are also still perturbed about last year's game in Provo, when they got into position for a last-second 45-yard field goal that would have won the game - and then got it blocked.

"Every game has its challenges," says Edwards. "But openers, they're the toughest. You have no way of knowing how all the elements are going to come together. The opening game is nothing more than a crap shoot. Two of the best teams we've had (at BYU) lost the opener and then won all the rest."

He refers, specifically, to the 1980 and 1983 teams. Each finished 11-1 after starting the season with a loss.

He doesn't wish a similar start for his 1992 team, even if he wouldn't mind a similar finish. But the coach who has gone 183-66-3 the past two decades to rank, with his .744 winning percentage, as the third winningest active coach in the country admits to a certain feeling of clue-lessness when it comes to having a feel for openers. They remain something of a mystery to him.

He won his first opener, in 1972, with a 32-9 win over Kansas State - and he's still not sure exactly how he did it.

"I can't remember specifically what we did," he says, "all I can

remember is that we weren't supposed to be very good and I couldn't sleep the week before the game."

At least that much has changed. The coach says he no longer has problems sleeping before the season begins. "Now it's the night after the opening game that I toss and turn," he says. "I keep replaying it in my mind. I'm so worked up."

He says he has nothing new planned to blast his team into his 21st season tonight, only the same formula he has always stood by - the team that executes and avoids turnovers wins. Usually.

"We turn the ball over five times, we probably lose," he says.

It's UTEP's game plan that has him most concerned. The Miners have a new defensive coordinator, "and there's no way of knowing just what packages they're going to use," says Edwards. "Although I do think there's no question we're going to see a relentless pass rush because we're breaking in a quarterback who has never played.

"I think our (offensive) line will hold up fine against a rush, but it's the quarterback and the backs who really need to react on those blitz packages."

Edwards says his decision to keep the identity of tonight's starting quarterback - either Steve Clements or John Walsh - a secret isn't as much a well-thought-out strategy to keep UTEP off-guard as it is just something that's developed.

"Whether it's going to hurt or help UTEP, I don't know," he says. "It's just that, with all the excitement and the expectation level about who we were going to start at quarterback, I found myself getting caught up in it too. I don't know, I just thought if there's this much interest then maybe we should let it keep building."

But while he has allowed himself to get excited and interested in the preseason quarterback issue, Edwards has stayed out of the preseason Most-Hated issue. He has not mentioned it once to his team.

"In the first place, it wasn't all that bad," he says of the article. "If it wasn't for all the fuss after it came out I wouldn't have thought another thing about it."

He shakes his head. He says he's amazed sometimes at what people think, or write, or how they react. But he lets the thought drop fast enough. The opener is approaching in less than 24 hours. One mystery at a time.