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Texas-El Paso has 14 starters returning, but the Miners sank to 1-11 last year. Yes, there is a new coach in El Paso, also: Bill Michael. New Mexico plays three conference champions ( Texas Tech, Colorado and BYU) in a row on the road after opening against Hawaii. Adios, Lobos. Colorado State could be the spoilers. The Rams had the best defense in the WAC last season and all but two starters are back, while on offense the entire backfield returns.
Considering the attention devoted to the Heisman Trophy in recent years, it is surprising to note that not since 1964, when Notre Dame's John Huarte won the statuette, have the preseason candidates been so obscure. By December, however, Oklahoma State's Terry Miller should be a household word.
A six-foot, 196-pound halfback from Colorado Springs, Miller attracted enough national attention last year when he rushed for 1,541 yards to finish fourth in the Heisman balloting. He topped the 100-yard mark eight times, including a pair of 200-yard efforts, led the Cowboys to a share of the Big Eight title (their first) and added 173 yards and four TDs in State's 49-21 rout of BYU in the Tangerine Bowl. Miller scored 23 touchdowns in all, but will have to work harder this fall, with every one of his offensive linemen gone. The defensive unit has also been hurt by graduation, and there is a possibility that the NCAA will slap Oklahoma State with some sort of probation for recruiting violations.
Last year Missouri showed 'em everywhere but at home. Among the Tigers' victims were USC (46-25), Ohio State (22-21) and Nebraska (34-24), a remarkable toll. But Missouri finished 6-5, being upset at home by the likes of Illinois and Kansas, which nearly cost Coach Al Onofrio his job. Returning Quarterback Pete Woods is a superb runner who also completed a 98-yard pass to overcome Nebraska. Slotback Joe Stewart, who caught that pass, flagged down 44 others for a total of 834 yards. But the interior line has only one returning starter, and the defensive backfield has been stripped of first-stringers.
Iowa State was 8-3 last year and finished second to Michigan in nationwide total offense—and still did not get a bowl bid. Halfback Dexter Green (1,074 yards) will make the Cyclones a factor in the league race, although this year's big game will be a non-conference bash against intrastate rival Iowa on Sept. 17. The two haven't played each other in 43 years, and a Des Moines Register poll indicated that half a million Iowans would attend the game if they could get tickets.
Kansas (6-5) saved a winning season with that 41-14 victory at Missouri and Coach Bud Moore hopes that the architect of the win, Quarterback Mark Vicendese, has similar surprises in store. Kansas State (1-10), which hasn't won a Conference game in two years, should win at least once with the entire offensive starting lineup returning, including Quarterback Wendell Henrikson. A walk-on last year, Henrikson threw for 1,066 yards in seven games.
Pacific Coast A.A.
Since San Diego State quit the Pacific Coast Athletic Association three years ago, this has been a much weaker conference. To illustrate, defending champ San Jose State's 1976 record was 4-0 in league play but 7-4 overall. This year, the second under Coach Lynn Stiles, San Jose should repeat, even though Stiles claims 1977 will be a "building year," with only two starters returning on offense. But he has a potentially powerful passing combination in Quarterback Ed Luther and Tight End Vic Rakhshani, who was All-PCAA as a freshman. Fresno State's Jim Sweeney is also in his second year as head coach and he claims to have "the most exciting veer option quarterback in the country" in Dean Jones, who rolled up 1,342 yards of total offense last season. Junior Placekicker Vince Petrucci's 28 consecutive extra-point conversions is already a school record. Three of the four Bulldogs in the defensive backfield made first or second team All-Conference in '76.
At Cal State Long Beach, new Coach Dave Currey, a former Stanford assistant, will emphasize passing. The quarterback will be redshirt Paul McGaffigan or JC transfer Jim Freitas, younger brother of ex- San Diego Charger Quarterback Jesse Freitas. Cal State Fullerton has 15 starters returning from a 3-7 team, including Tight End Bruce Abraham and Wide Receiver Marcus Williams, who between them accounted for more than half of the team's total yardage last season. Pacific is changing from the veer to the I to accommodate Running Back Bruce Gibson, but it won't help much unless some blockers are found.