Once again, the Missouri Valley Conference boasts a new face—improved teams and the third new headquarters in four years. Tulsa this time. Louisville ranks as the preseason favorite, counting among its stars All-Conference Quarterback John Madeya and Running Back Howard Stevens. Stevens, one of the very few 5'5" backs ever to be considered a pro prospect, last season ran for 1,429 yards to rank fourth in the nation and become the conference MVP. Memphis State, last year's champion, may have more talent but faces a tough schedule. The Tigers must meet Mississippi, Tennessee and South Carolina before their matchup with Louisville on Nov. 18—at Louisville. On the plus side is a new coaching staff headed by Fred Pancoast, two pass receivers named Stan Davis and James Thompson and a sophomore quarterback, David Fowler, who may be the best the Tigers have ever had. At Tulsa, there is so much talent that Todd Starks, who engineered last season's win over Arkansas, is challenged for a starter's job. New Mexico State Quarterback Joe Pisarcik may give Madeya competition for the best in the conference. Solano Joe ( Las Cruces version of Broadway Joe) completed 152 of 333 for 1,983 yards as a sophomore. North Texas State, West Texas State, Wichita State and Drake do not figure in the contest. North Texas State has cut back its football scholarships to a maximum of 80, not enough to remain competitive. West Texas State is making an effort to rebuild, but will not threaten anyone for years. Drake and Wichita State are also rebuilding. Drake returns to major-college football after an absence of 21 years, and Wichita State fields a team whose juniors were freshmen the year of the disastrous air crash.
San Diego State hopes to prove by this, its last season in the Pacific Coast Athletic Association, that it belongs in the Pacific Eight. Judging by its 1971 record (6-5 overall, 2-3 in the conference), State will be hard-pressed to prove it belongs in the PCAA. "We've got to change our attitude," says a school spokesman. "Every team in the league is pointing for us." The 1971 passing attack, among the best in the nation, is gone. The running attack is uncertain. An offensive line averaging some 280 pounds and featuring a 325-pounder in Tuffy Avii and a good defense are useful, but what happens when SDS gets the ball? The quarterback, returnee Bill Donckers or redshirt Jesse Freitas, who left Stanford, will throw to Isaac Curtis, a running back at Cal before he left after the 1.6 scandal, but he was only so-so in the spring. In fact, all the running backs are so-what. Conference favorite Long Beach State returns its starting backfield, led by Tailback Terry Metcalf, who gained 1,673 yards and scored an NCAA record 29 times last year. Center Steve Hammitt (6'5", 250) and Wide Receiver Ken Matthews, who has caught 54 passes in two seasons, are other strengths, but LBS needs another receiver and good transfers to bolster a defense that gave up 3,855 yards. San Jose State lost its offensive (Dave Ellis) and defensive (Dave Chancy) quarterbacks. Defensive Back Dwayne Crump, who engineered Fresno State's upset of San Diego State, will have to try harder against a stiff schedule. Pacific could be a factor if it is not overwhelmed by Sonny Sixkiller and two other top quarterbacks in its three preconference games. Everyone will overwhelm Los Angeles State.
People in the WAC talk of it as "The Kush of Death," those dreadful games against Frank Kush and his Arizona State Sun Devils who have won the title three straight years. And this season will be an instant replay of the others. For the also-rans there will be, as UTEP's Bobby Dobbs puts it, "a scrambling to see who finishes second." Arizona stands the best chance, what with all but two conference games at home and 34 returning veterans, including 15 starters. Among them is QB Bill Demory, who passed for 1,384 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, and a defensive backfield of all-conference Bob White and Jackie Wallace, who snared 18 interceptions between them.
The Cougars of Brigham Young have a den full of veterans (28 in all), but they have an untested coach in LaVell Edwards. Golden (Boy) Richards was expected to work more miracles in the Cougar backfield but couldn't in the classroom. Orrin Olson, the youngest of the Brothers Olson (Merlin and Phil), will start at linebacker.
Up the road at Utah, the Redskins, who had a disastrous 3-8 record last season, hope to recover. If Coach Bill Meek, serving his fifth season, can find a quarterback who can find Ends Lance Robbins and Leo Gibby open, Utah could do some damage.
New Mexico, the second-place finisher last year, is still to be reckoned with. The Lobos lost four all-conference stars including Quarterback Rocky Long, but 244-pound Tackle John Urban and Halfback Fred Henry (who rushed for 1,129 yards last year) should keep them close.
UTEP is somewhat of a mystery, except for Quarterback Gary Keithley and Linebacker Tony Perea. There are more than 30 junior-college transfers enrolling, among whom is JC All-America Wide Receiver Lonnie Crittenden from Hutchinson Junior College. If he can click with Keithley the Miners might make a show of it. Wyoming is rebuilding but could spoil a few dreams, namely those of Utah and BYU. And the posters at Colorado State University tell this tale of woe: "Help Wanted: Quarterbacks, running backs, defensive ends. If you are ready to play for a major collegiate team in the Western Athletic Conference please call Colorado State Head Coach Jerry Wampfler for an appointment today."
To borrow from Bob Dylan: you don't need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows. It will be a typical cold front that swoops down from Hanover, N.H. and chills the league. In short, Dartmouth may not have as much trouble as it did last year when Ed Marinaro and Cornell gained a share of the Ivy title.