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The media has already cast the 1995 BYU football team as the likely WAC champions. Sports Illustrated has the Cougars ranked 24th in the nation.

Today, under the hot August sun, the Cougars will begin final preparations for the upcoming campaign. Media/picture day gets under way at 10 a.m. at Cougar Stadium with the first practice with the full squad this afternoon."I can't wait to get started again," said Cougar linebacker Stan Raass. "This summer went by fast, but I'm ready for football season. I'm always ready for football."

While the Cougars are expected to be at or near the top of the WAC standings again, they enter practices with some question marks and inexperience at key positions - quarterback, offensive line and cornerback.

Junior college All-American Steve Sarkisian performed well during spring practices and will take over the starting spot from fellow Torrance, Calif. resident John Walsh.

Protection for Sarkisian is a major concern. The Cougars lost four starters off last year's offensive line, including three to the NFL draft - Tim Hanshaw, Evan Pilgrim and Eli Herring. Another blow was dealt when senior William Knight, who was projected as starter at left guard, came down with a leg infection recently and is now expected to miss the season.

The Cougars are thin at cornerback, a position that was hit hard when three projected contributors were expelled from BYU for honors code violations this summer. New cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell will have one returning starter, however, in Dermmell Reed.

Top offensive returnees include running back Hema Heimuli, tight ends Chad Lewis and Itula Mili and tackle James Johnson. Defensively, Shay Muirbrook and Raass anchor the linebacking corps while John Raass and Mike Ulufale give the Cougars a pair of fine defensive linemen.

The Cougars will open the season with a key WAC game at Air Force Sept. 2. The home opener will be the following Saturday against nationally ranked UCLA.