OFFENSIVE STAR: It's not very often that a lineman is considered the star of a team's offense, but the Judd brothers — Rick and Russ — are just that for the Wildcats. The twin siblings from Delta High, both of whom earned all-conference honors last season, have started more games than any other Weber State player — a combined 65 out of 66 possible games. That experience is the biggest factor the Wildcats have in improving an offense that was second-to-last statistically in the Big Sky. With Rick playing right guard, and Russ at left guard, the senior duo will play a key role in keeping Weber's offense on the field.
PLAYER ON THE SPOT — OFFENSE: The importance of quarterback Cole Cooper became even greater just before practice opened in early August, when last year's backup, Dusty Harris, quit the team. That left Cooper as the only signal caller with any playing experience, as the backups are a sophomore and a freshman. The senior started 10 games last season, passing for more than 1,800 yards and 13 TDs. As Cooper goes, so will the Wildcats.
DEFENSIVE ANCHOR: Head coach Jerry Graybeal has proclaimed this year's class of linebackers as the best he's been around, and Jason Allen is the leader of the bunch. Playing the weak side, the senior from Los Angeles led the Wildcats with 112 tackles, which earned him second-team, all-Big-Sky honors last season. Allen tied for team-high honors with four interceptions and also blocked a pair of kicks.
PLAYER ON THE SPOT — DEFENSE: Nickie Feigner may not have known what he was getting into, but then again, maybe he did. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound junior transferred to the defensively challenged Wildcats after playing two years at the University of Washington. Graybeal expects the addition of Feigner to greatly ignite the strength of a defensive line that managed just 15 quarterback sacks in 1999.
SPECIAL TEAMS STAR: Kicker Mike Minnoch eased the fears of those who wondered about the position after the departure of all-American Scott Shields. Minnoch was perfect on 23 PATs last season. His .765 field-goal percentage (13-of-17) ranked him as the best field-goal kicker in the Big Sky, and among the best in Division 1-AA.
SCHEDULING QUIRK: Are you ready for some Thursday night football? In addition to BYU's plethora of Thursday-evening games, the Wildcats have a pair of their own. Weber opens the season at home on a Thursday, hosting Western State (Colo.). The Wildcats also host Cal State Northridge on Thursday, Oct. 5.
KEY STRETCH: The middle three games of Weber's schedule will be crucial for the Wildcats' success. Weber plays at Sacramento State on Sept. 30, a game the Wildcats won last year in a wild 52-49 affair. Weber then has just four days to prepare for a Thursday meeting at home with Cal State Northridge. That early game, though, allows the Wildcats eight days to prepare for their toughest conference road game at Northern Arizona on Oct. 14.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Big Sky Conference championship game, at home, vs. Montana on Nov. 11.
THEN AGAIN . . . After its 18 starters, the Wildcats have 49 players that have yet to play a game in the purple and white. A rash of injuries or suspensions, which hurt the team last year, could prove costly yet again.
"MUST WIN" TO KEEP ALUMNI HAPPY: With Southern Utah not on the schedule this year, a conference win over a close rival would be needed to keep smiles on alumni faces. That win would have to come at lowly Idaho State.
CRYSTAL BALL SAYS: With its large group of returning starters, Weber should do much better than last year's dismal 3-8 season. The defense is improved and won't give up 36 points an outing again. At least, not until Montana shows up.
Graybeal and his staff spent time with Oregon State coach Dennis Erickson in the off-season, hoping to revitalize the Wildcats' passing attack.
WSU BY THE NUMBERS
(10 high — 1 low)
Home schedule strength 6
Road schedule strength 5
Offensive talent 5
Defensive talent 6
Special teams talent 7
Prospect of winning conference title 2
Chances of going to playoffs 2
AUG. 31 WESTERN STATE (CO) OGDEN, UTAH 7:05 MDT
Sept. 9 University of Toledo Toledo, Ohio 7:00 EDT
Sept. 16 *Montana State Bozeman, Montana 1:35 MDT
SEPT. 23 *E. WASHINGTON OGDEN, UTAH 6:05 MDT
Sept. 30 *Sacramento State Sacramento, California 6:05 PDT
OCT. 5 *CAL ST. NORTHRIDGE OGDEN, UTAH 8:35 MDT
Oct. 14 *Northern Arizona Flagstaff, Arizona 3:35 PDT
OCT. 21 *PORTLAND STATE OGDEN, UTAH 1:05 MDT
Oct. 28 *Idaho State Pocatello, Idaho 6:35 MDT
NOV. 4 W. NEW MEXICO OGDEN, UTAH 1:05 MST
NOV. 11 *MONTANA OGDEN, UTAH 1:05 MST
Conference: Big Sky — 1999 Record: 4-7 — Conference Finish: 3-5 (T-5th)