LAS VEGAS — In Gary Crowton's first year as BYU coach, his Cougars have been selected, by the media at least, to finish third in the Mountain West Conference and received one first-place vote in the league's preseason poll released Tuesday morning.
BYU was 6-6 last season, 4-2 in the conference. It received 91 votes to 130 for defending-champion Colorado State and 118 for UNLV.
Utah was 4-7 in what was expected to be a very promising 2000. The Utes were given the cold shoulder by the league's media in 2001, voted to finish sixth in the eight-team league with only 55 votes and no first-place ballots.
"I'm not really worried about the preseason poll," said Crowton, noting that it was "nice" to be voted in the top three in his debut.
Utah coach Ron McBride, asked what he thought of the Utes' low prediction, pretty much echoed Crowton's feelings. He said he didn't think about it much at all. "It doesn't affect me one way or the other. It doesn't count where you start, it's how you finish."
BYU placed three players on the MWC media's preseason all-conference team, all seniors — offensive lineman Jason Scukeanec, linebacker Justin Ena and punter Aaron Edmonds. "It's nice to have a couple of guys named on there, but it's more important how it ends," Crowton said. "Hopefully, we'll play good, and a lot of guys will get a lot more honors (at season's end)."
Utah placed two players on the team, which consisted of only first-team offense, defense and specialists. Ute senior offensive lineman Doug Kaufusi and junior defensive lineman Garrett Smith were honored.
McBride said, "That doesn't matter to me either. You've got to play."
BIG EARLY GAME: Crowton doesn't regret the snap decision he made a while back when he had less than a half hour to accept the bid to play Tulane in the Black Coaches' Association Classic in Provo on Aug. 25.
"I just thought it would be fun," Crowton said of one of his first reactions to the offer to start his BYU career off a week earlier than he had planned.
"I thought it would be good because we could have an extra home game," said Crowton Monday afternoon at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas, where the Mountain West Conference is holding its football meetings and media days. "We only had five home games, and we had 12 games scheduled, and the 13th gave us an extra game to try and get that seventh game (a seventh win to become bowl-eligible, should the season go that well)."
Crowton says it's never hit him that taking an extra game and moving up the season a week, in his first year on the job trying to replace LaVell Edwards, would be a whirlwind of craziness trying to reschedule player arrivals and freshman orientation days. "No, and I hope it doesn't ever," he said.
"We're always scrambling anyway," Crowton said with a laugh. "It's almost like I can hardly wait to get the season started, so I might as well move it up a bit just to get going."
Cougar freshmen reported Monday night in Provo, were to have their academic day Tuesday and start practice Wednesday, when Crowton will be back from Vegas to watch over them.
IN THE CARDS: Former Ute running back Mike Anderson, the 2000 AFC offensive rookie of the year in the NFL as a Denver Bronco, and former New Mexico Lobo utility man Brian Urlacher, the 2000 NFC defensive rookie of the year with the Chicago Bears, will be featured on a new collectors' edition set of nine baseball-type trading cards that the MWC will soon send to 1,000 football writers around the country.
A conference that's looking for national respect hopes the trading cards will open some eyes to the fact there are some pretty good players in the MWC, such as current UNLV quarterback Jason Thomas, the Southern Cal transfer being touted, at least in Las Vegas, as a Heisman Trophy, All-America, Unitas and O'Brien candidate.
"I think out of 1,000 football writers, probably 882 of them don't even know Urlacher and Anderson played in the Mountain West Conference, so that's our job, and that's a great story," said MWC commissioner Craig Thompson.
Anderson and Urlacher, who will be shown in their collegiate uniforms on the cards, have been cooperative. Thompson says about 50 sets of the cards will help pay them for use of their images.
Also featured on cards will be former national coaches of the year John Robinson of UNLV and Fisher DeBerry of Air Force and two-time MWC coach of the year Sonny Lubick of Colorado State. There's also what Thompson calls "a tradition card" that talks about the Bronze Boot and the Air Force flyby, a card with all eight helmets that talks about the formation of the MWC, a card that talks about the bowls and a card that talks about the television package.