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Despite having some of the nation's top offensive players - Marshall Faulk and Trent Dilfer for instance - 1993 was a down year for the WAC.

How bad was it?It was so bad the tri-league champion and representative in the Holiday Bowl (BYU) finished with a .500 record.

It was so bad the WAC's motto should have been "at least we're better than the Big West." WAC teams were a combined 1-9 against the Pac-10 and not much better against other major conferences. The only Division I-A league the WAC had a winning record against was the Big West.

Somehow four teams from the WAC got bowl bids, but, not surprisingly, all four lost.

Defense has never been a strong suit in the WAC, but it was particularly porous in '93. The WAC's top defensive team (Colorado State) was in the bottom half of the Division I-A statistics. Seven WAC defenses were in the nation's bottom 20.

The WAC claims lack of television sets in member cities as the reason it was excluded from the bowl alliance that begins in 1996. Indeed, playing in small media markets probably hurts the league on a national scale, but not as much as its poor record against non-conference foes.

Even BYU, the undisputed leader of the WAC, has taken its lumps the past few years. The Cougars beat Miami in 1990 and Penn State two years later, but have been less fortunate against the likes of UCLA and Notre Dame. BYU hasn't won a bowl game since 1988.

Until WAC teams prove they can play with the big boys by winning a few non-conference games against major opponents, they won't get, and don't deserve, much respect.

But who cares? The WAC may not be an elite college football conference, but it's hard to beat 58-56 game for entertainment on a Saturday afternoon.

FOR ALL THE MARBLES: The University of Utah should win its first WAC title since the Beatles led the British Invasion (1964) - if it can beat BYU.

My crystal ball sees the WAC race coming down to the Nov. 19 regular season finale in Rice Stadium. Both teams will be 6-1 in the league. The winner will go to the Holiday Bowl, the loser will head to either the Freedom (if BYU loses) or Copper (if Utah loses).

This is where the crystal ball gets a bit fuzzy, although I thought I saw David Lauder kicking a 55-yard game-winning field goal, celebrating Cougar fans trying to tear down the goal posts and Luther Elliss asking BYU players if they'll pump the gas into his Mercedes when he's making the big bucks in the NFL.

Or was it Brian Alba kicking the field goal, Ute fans doing the vandalism and Mike Ulufale trying to find a full-service station in the era of self serve?

Either way, the surprising New Mexico Lobos (6-2) will tie the Utah/BYU loser for second place and go to, most likely, the Freedom Bowl. Colorado State (5-3) will be alone in fourth, but will stay home for the holidays. Fresno State will finish fifth (4-4) with San Diego State, Hawaii and Wyoming (3-5) tied for sixth and Air Force (2-6) and UTEP (1-7) bringing up the rear.

ON TAP SATURDAY: Three league games highlight the opening weekend in the WAC. BYU hopes to find a win somewhere over the Rainbows, UTEP travels to scenic Laramie for a date with Wyoming and Colorado State will bus down the freeway a couple of hours in hopes of grounding the Air Force.

At about 2:30 a.m. MDT Sunday the Cougars will win in Hawaii for the first time since '88. The inexperienced Rainbow Warrior defense will be baffled by Walsh and Co . . . BYU 41, Hawaii 27.

The Rams have 18 starters back from last year's solid team. Air Force just moved last year's quarterback (Demond Cash) to running back . . . CSU 17, Air Force 8.

The Cowboys are rebuilding after sharing the WAC title last year, but the Miners are terrible . . . Wyoming 28, UTEP 13.

In other games involving WAC teams it'll be Utah 35, Utah State 17; New Mexico 31, Texas Tech 27; San Diego State 34, Navy 24 and Fresno State 38, San Jose State 21.



Projected WAC standings*

BYU 7-1

Utah 6-2

New Mexico 6-2

Colorado St. 5-3

Fresno St. 4-4

Hawaii 3-5

San Diego St. 3-5

Wyoming 3-5

Air Force 2-6

UTEP 1-7

*-league games only.