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FINALLY, TIME FOR LOCALS, OTHERS TO KICK OFF IS HERE

The college football season kicks off today with optimism abounding everywhere.

BYU is hoping to rebound from last year's mediocre 6-6 team with another double-digit win season. Utah looks to win its first WAC title since its 1964 Liberty Bowl season.Utah State is coming off its first bowl season in over three decades, while Southern Utah has made the jump to Division I-AA and looking for another conference title.

Weber State is excited just to be playing football after a shaky offseason when the football program was saved by the skin of its teeth.

So what's in store for '94?

The view from here is that BYU will bounce back and finish 9-3 with its annual defeat to Notre Dame along with a couple of WAC losses. Utah, with its easiest schedule in years, should go at least 8-3 unless quarterback Mike McCoy goes down, in which case the record could be reversed.

Utah State won't match last year's success, but still should be able to squeeze out a 6-5 record with its favorable schedule (i.e. no Nebraskas or Oklahomas). Weber State will put up a fight every week, but it won't be enough to bring another winning season to Ogden. And Southern Utah will play in relative anonymity against those California schools, while it hopes for inclusion in a revamped Big Sky during the next couple of years.

The winner of the Utah-BYU game will go to the Holiday Bowl (sorry, no predictions here) and the loser will go bowling elsewhere. The Aggies will lose the Big West title to a school from Louisiana and stay home in the postseason. Weber State will somehow keep its program alive despite not drawing an average of 10,000 fans. Southern Utah will finish 1-2 against the Big Sky.

By next week much of the optimism will undoubtedly be diminished, but whatever happens it's sure to be an interesting season.

THIS WEEK: A look at the local games and one national game of the week.

Utah at Utah State, 7 p.m. - The battle of the brothers has been lopsided in the win department lately for the Utes, who have won nine of the last 10. However, most of those games have been close, including last year's two-pointer. Utah has more experience, which is important in early-season games like this one . . . Utah 29-16.

BYU at Hawaii, 11 p.m. - Going by the last three games in Honolulu between the two teams, it's tempting to go with the hometown Rainbows, even if they are picked for eighth in the WAC. But BYU has had all preseaon to prepare for the Hawaii attack and should be extra motivated after last year's second-half finish. In a close one . . . BYU 31-27.

Western Montana at Weber State - Nobody knows much about the Wildcats, who lost a ton of players from last year. They do have a quarterback named Martin, though it's not Jamie, and a receiver who used to start for BYU. Otherwise there are a lot of question marks. But even less is known about Montana Tech . . . no wait, that's next week's opponent . . . Western Montana. The most important numbers this week may be the attendance . . . Weber State 34-17, att. 9,999.

Washington at USC - The Trojans haven't opened the season with a conference game since 1967 when some obscure runner named O.J. something-or-other played for them. They went on to win the game and the national championship. They may not win the national title this year, but the Trojans, behind quarterback Rob Johnson should prevail . . . USC 24-17.

COLLEGE NOTES: The Hula Bowl, which was once the nation's premiere postseason all-star football game, appeared to be dead until last Wednesday when the Jeep Eagle Aloha Bowl and the state of Hawaii agreed to manage the game . . . Northeast Louisiana, making the leap to Division I-A, has the toughest schedule in the country as judged by The Sporting News. The Indians play Colorado, Auburn and Georgia in their first three games. Later this year, they play two Utah teams, Weber State on Oct. 1 and at BYU on Nov. 5. Northeast Louisiana replaced Alabama, which had to drop the game because of the revamped Southeastern Conference, on the Cougars' schedule . . . Officials of the Cotton Bowl, left out of the "Tier I Bowl Alliance" said they might take the Big 12 championship game as a consolation prize. But now they're angling for a bowl game featuring the Big 12 runnerup. The WAC isn't being mentioned as much lately, although commisioner Karl Benson is due to meet with the bowl alliance committee chairman soon to discuss the Cotton Bowl.