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MULLINS IS THE STARTER FOR NOW FOR UTAH STATE BUT WELLS IS PUSHING HIM.

Patrick Mullins put on 15 pounds of muscle this summer, staying in Logan to work with Utah State football strength coach Milt White.

If the 6-foot-4 Mullins grows into being a Division I quarterback as fast as he grew into his uniform this summer, perhaps coach John L. Smith's first Aggie team can be a contender in the Big West Conference despite the skeptics.Smith says Mullins "has a chance to be outstanding," if the lanky youngster from Suwanee, Ga., matures quickly.

Mullins, a junior transfer from Georgia Military College, is Smith's designated starter since spring ball, when he completed 46 of 78 passes for nine touchdowns and one interception.

That and last year's 3-8 record relegated 1994's starter, junior Matt Wells, to second string.

Wells, however, put up some good numbers last year - a USU sophomore-record 1,812 yards passing (153-for-311)- but with an offensive line so jumbled from injuries that walk-ons became starters, he found interceptions (11) came as often as touchdowns (11). Even Charlie Weatherbie was looking for a juco quarterback to vie with Wells before Weatherbie went to Navy.

With Smith in January came Mullins.

Wells, who was 34-77 - 510 yards, three touchdowns, one interception in the spring - took the demotion with ferociously good grace, remaining affable, willing and still improving. In fall drills, he's been pushing Mullins, says Smith. "Matt's picked up his game a lot," says senior receiver Kevin Alexander.

Third-string is freshman Griffin Garske, a 6-4 Smith recruit from Spokane, Wash.

Mullins says his progress in the weight room was beyond his expectations, but he admits he never did much weight training till now. At Georgia Military, he was 102-196 - 1,460 with 19 TDs and seven interceptions as a sophomore. He led the club to a 10-1 mark and the No. 12 juco ranking.

He came West because of the coaching staff's proven ability (at University of Idaho) to develop big-time quarterbacks (John Friesz, Doug Nussmeier). "I liked the coaches," Mullins says. "The guys (Smith has) produced . . . he's coached some good ones. I think it's the system, mainly," says Mullins. "It's a real good system for quarterbacks.

He says offensive coordinator Bob Petrino - who joined Smith's staff from Nevada, where he was coaching national total-offense leader Mike Maxwell - is especially good at teaching technique, which Mullins thinks will improve his game.