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Playing favorites: BYU, CSU top picks

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Brigham Young University is favored to edge the University of Utah for the Pacific Division title in Western Athletic Conference football action this season, but Colorado State University is expected to win the Mountain Division and successfully defend its WAC championship.

Or so is the consensus from the 40 media voters in the 1998 WAC football media poll, released Tuesday morning at the start of the conference's annual football meetings.BYU received half of the 40 first-place votes and 294 points overall in the recently realigned Pacific Division, while Utah grabbed 14 first-place votes and 272 points for second-place honors in the poll. New Mexico received four first-place votes in the division, with the other two votes going to San Diego State and Fresno State.

And in the Mountain Division, CSU garnered all but two of the 40 first-place votes for an overwhelming 318-point total. Wyoming is second with a first-place nod and 241 points, with fourth-ranked Rice receiving the other first-place vote but still trailing third-place Air Force.

Voters were also asked to pick a favorite to win the third annual WAC championship game, with three-quarters giving that honor to CSU. BYU received five votes, Utah two and New Mexico, Rice and Wyoming one each.

Both BYU and Colorado State are repeat favorites from last year. While Colorado State held up its share of the expectations by winning its division title (the Rams were in the Pacific Division last year), BYU took an eight-game tumble in the win column from 1996 to 1997. After winning the inaugural WAC championship game in 1996 and finishing the season ranked fifth nationally with a Cotton Bowl victory and 14-1 overall record, the Cougars concluded the 1997 season with a lackluster 6-5 mark.

Colorado State's selection as the WAC favorite should come as no surprise, since the Rams return 15 starters - including nine on defense - from last year's team. Last year, CSU claimed the Pacific Division crown, defeated New Mexico for the conference championship and beat Missouri in the 1997 Holiday Bowl.

Headlining the CSU attack are the one-two backfield combo of Damon Washington and Kevin McDougal, who both rushed from more than 1,110 yards last year and will be running behind the likes of All-American guard Anthony Cesario. Head coach Sonny Lubick boasts a signature Ram-tough defense, with the linebacking corps listed by Lindy's preseason football magazine as one of the top 10 LB units in the nation.

Speaking of preseason magazines and their rankings, CSU is the only WAC team considered as a consensus Top 25 team. The Rams are ranked as high as No. 8 in Street & Smith's, followed by a pair of No. 13 ranks in Athlon's and Bob Griese's, No. 17 in Lindy's and No. 19 in The Sporting News.

The latter is the only magazine that affords another WAC team a spot in a Top 25 listing, with the University of Utah receiving The Sporting News' No. 24 honor. The Utes break into another Top 50 ranking, at No. 49 in Lindy's.

BYU can be found in three Top 50 preseason magazine rankings, with the Cougars considered among the top 35 teams this season in all three. BYU's best place is 28th in Bob Griese's, 29th in The Sporting News and 34th in Lindy's.

Other WAC schools earning similar recognition include Wyoming (No. 42 in Lindy's) and Rice (No. 46 in The Sporting News).



Media poll: WAC football

Pacific Division

1. Brigham Young (20) 294

2. Utah (14) 272

3. New Mexico (4) 216

4. San Diego State (1) 212

5. Fresno State 185

6. Hawaii (1) 102

7. UTEP 90

8. San Jose State 69

Mountain Division

1. Colorado State (38) 318

2. Wyoming (1) 241

3. Air Force 228

4. Rice (1) 219

5. SMU 163

6. TCU 99

7. UNLV 94

8. Tulsa 78

1998 WAC champion: Colorado State (30), Brigham Young (5), Utah (2), New Mexico (1), Rice (1), Wyoming (1)