The Pacific Coast Athletic Association has changed its name to the BIG WEST CONFERENCE and is likely to celebrate the new name with a new champ—Utah State, a team that hasn't had a winning season since 1980. But the Aggies won five of their last six games last fall to finish tied for second in the conference, thanks to the Brent Snyder-to-Kendal Smith passing combination; both players return. Conversely, San Jose State, 19-3 over the last two years, is another in the growing list of old powers suddenly facing upstarts. Last year's star quarterback, Mike Perez, was drafted by the New York Giants, but with 33 junior college transfers, the Spartans won't come up empty. In an offense-minded conference, Fresno State has the league's best defense, led by Tracy Rogers, a potential All-America at linebacker. Cal State-Fullerton and Pacific have big offensive woes, while Long Beach State fears for its defense, which gave up an average of 211.5 yards rushing per game. And nobody is smiling much around New Mexico State and UNLV
In the MID-AMERICAN CONFERENCE, all signs point to a title for Kent State under new coach Dick Crum, fired at North Carolina for averaging a measly 7.2 wins per season over 10 years. Should Kent State, behind senior tailback Eric Wilkerson, win, it will be the Golden Flashes' first crown in 16 years. And speaking of old powers on the fritz—Miami of Ohio used to thrash everyone—Kent State would be the eighth school to win the title over the last 11 years.
Eastern Michigan has improved in each of the last five years, up to 9-2, but won't do as well this fall. The defense is experienced, but while last year's starting receivers are back, quarterback Tom Sullivan threw all of four passes. Bowling Green will be plagued by a shortage of defensive linemen, but first-rate coach Moe Ankney should avoid a thoroughly disastrous year. Western Michigan has some grounds for optimism with the return of wide receiver Jamie Hence, who led the MAC in '87 with 50 receptions for 858 yards. Ball State, Toledo and Central Michigan harbor modest hopes while Ohio and—improbably—Miami dream only of avoiding humiliation.