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BYU GETS NEW WAC OFF TO A FAIRY-TALE START

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WELCOME TO the new WAC.

And, maybe, welcome to the new BYU.It's too early, of course, to label the season a success for either. But that was some opening act Saturday in Cougar Stadium. It was like leading off a concert with the Beatles.

BYU's administration - Athletic Director Rondo Fehlberg, Advancement Vice President R.J. Snow, President Merrill J. Bateman - and WAC Commissioner Karl Benson had a lot riding on the outcome.

This was the kickoff to the 1996 college football season in addition to being the kickoff for the 16-team Western Athletic Conference. There aren't many opportunities to have a national television audience to yourself. There was only one collegiate football score reported on newscasts Saturday night and only one in newspapers across the country today.

Playing the role of adversary in the Pigskin Classic was highly-ranked Texas A&M - the school capable of knocking shoulders out of sockets en route to lopsided victories.

A repeat of the '90 Holiday Bowl - A&M 65, BYBlackandBlue 14 - would have been worse than disastrous.

"There were some risks . . . We couldn't afford to lay an egg," Benson said.

"We knew there was potential for this day to bring some real positives," he added. Like: BYU 41, Texas A&M 37.

Too much, probably, was riding on Saturday's game. Everything was magnified beyond what it probably should have been. Which is why the victory for the WAC and BYU was so huge. It has to rank with BYU's big wins in the past: 18-17 over No. 9 A&M in 1979; 46-45 over SMU in the 1980 Holiday Bowl; 20-14 over third-ranked Pittsburgh in the 1984 season opener; 24-17 over Michigan in the 1984 Holiday Bowl for the national championship; and 28-21 over No. 1-ranked Miami in 1990.

Conversely, A&M players may want to avoid Texas newspapers for awhile. Look for a lot of terms like "toasted" and "barbecued" - and they won't be coming from the food section.

BYU pushed the envelope on this one, offering ABC a number of guarantees to get the game in Provo at the earliest kickoff time in memory - both in terms of date and hour of the morning - while causing some grumbling in the season ticket-holder ranks with the creative way it marketed the game.

But as Marc Lyons noted on KSL's postgame show, "It was worth $30" and then some.

The quick strike, big-play offense that marked those McMahon-Young-Bosco-Detmer teams is back - at least it was Saturday.

The offensive line, as assistant sports editor Scott Taylor notes in his story on D1, was stellar. The O-line may have been the key to BYU's undefeated 1984 campaign.

The receivers received admirably well. Steve Sarkisian showed he's ready to join the legendary ranks at QB. The running game showed some promise if not a lot of yards.

And who's this Omarr Morgan guy on defense? He was making NFL-type plays in the secondary all game. He joins another pretty good player in the defensive backfield, Tim McTyer.

The defensive front seven stopped the run when it had to.

It's way too early to start thinking about another magical run like '84, but a huge hurdle has been cleared. If the troops are still standing tall after the trip to Seattle on Sept. 14, some semi-serious thinking can start taking place.

In the meantime, the Cougars will take Saturday's win and the national ranking that will come with it.