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This may be as strong as the WAC has ever been.

The supposed doormat of the league, New Mexico, looked anything but last week, ripping TCU, 24-7. Another team picked to finish near the bottom, Hawaii, not only defeated a Pac-10 team, Oregon (24-21), but did it outside of Honolulu.In all, the WAC went an impressive 5-2-1 in intersectional matchups, the tie being the thrilling 31-31 standoff between Marshall Faulk University and traditional Pac-10 power USC.

The losses came to teams ranked in the Top 15. Utah was hammered by No. 11 Nebraska, 49-22, and Colorado State bowed to in-state rival and No. 12-ranked Colorado, 37-17.

TITLE DECIDER? - Whoever wins Thursday's Cougar Stadium Shootout - BYU or San Diego State - is favored by many in the media to go on to become the WAC champion. After that game, the schedule favors the Aztecs. Not only do they not play Utah, but they play all the other championship contenders - Air Force, Fresno State and UTEP - at Jack Murphy Stadium. They also play the team that gives everybody trouble in paradise - Hawaii - at Jack Murphy Stadium.

The Cougars, meanwhile, finish the WAC season at Air Force and at Utah. Plus, they must travel to the place Ty Detmer hated most - Honolulu - to play what turns out for them (just ask Ty) to be a bunch of crazed Rainbow Warriors.

WHAT ABOUT UTAH? - While it has been suggested that the drubbing by Nebraska and the serious injury to team leader Bryan Rowley may lead to a repeat of the 1986 season, when the Utes, with high expectations, went 2-9, that's not the feeling here.

The Cornhuskers surely woke the Utes up, though. They'll stay awake, and have the talent to be in the WAC title hunt even without Rowley, when they begin their make-or-break stretch late in the season with road games at Air Force (Oct. 31) and Fresno State (Nov. 7) before concluding the regular season against BYU in Rice Stadium on Nov. 21.


San Diego State at BYU - Because of Heisman Trophy candidate Marshall Faulk, the Aztecs have the edge. Because the game's being played in Cougar Stadium, the Cougars have the edge. The defenses have to be better than last year, when both quarterbacks passed for over 500 yards, but the offenses are too talented for the game to stay in the 20s. It should be another wild, wacky WAC shootout - the kind ESPN loves to show its viewers.

Faulk brings to mind the way Tony Dorsett used to dominate games when he was with Pittsburgh. Dorsett had a strong supporting cast and so does Faulk, particularly in quarterback Dave Lowery and a swift group of receivers. After the tie with USC, this game, in a sense is the season for San Diego State (see scheduling item above). All other things being equal, Faulk isn't, and should be the difference . . . San Diego State 45, BYU 38.

Utah at Utah State - This is not a good time to play the Utes. They're embarrassed and angry. They'll have no sympathy for the Aggies, even though Utah State was blitzed, 49-3, by Arizona last week. Look for Frank Dolce and the offense - particularly running backs Keith Williams and Pierre Jones - to put up some big numbers. And look for the Ute defense to hound Aggie QB Greg Angelovic. Unlike BYU-San Diego State, this one won't be close . . . Utah 37, Utah State 17.

Rest of the WAC: Air Force 31, Hawaii 21 . . . The Falcons are too tough at home for the Rainbows; Fresno State 35, Oregon State 24 . . . the WAC continues its winning ways against Pac-10 teams, even though the game's at Corvallis; UTEP 52, UNLV 17 . . . visiting Miners showed they had a lot of weapons last week against BYU, they'll use them effectively against UNLV; Texas Tech 31, Wyoming 24 . . . Home field sees the Red Raiders past the Cowpokes.