At Utah, 5'9" Randy Gomez is the man being counted on to improve a 3-8 record. The Ute quarterback ranked 10th on the NCAA passing charts last year, when he threw for 2,126 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Wyoming will continue to get effective work from Myron Hardeman, a running back who set the school's single-season record of 1,165 yards as a junior in 1977. Coach Bill Lewis also has laced a squad of 34 returning lettermen with 23 redshirts and 12 transfers.
There are 44 lettermen back at New Mexico, including Running Back Mike Williams and Quarterback Noel Mazzone, who are both returning from surgery. Williams earned All-WAC honors when he rushed for 1,096 yards in 10 games before being sidelined by a knee injury, while Mazzone, who has 3,703 yards total offense in three seasons, underwent a shoulder operation.
Texas-El Paso, 3-31 over the past three seasons, may have to endure the cellar until the WAC's next westward move in 1979, when Hawaii is scheduled to join the conference.
If on-field performance matches what lately has passed for off-field ethics in the Big Eight, fans will be better off watching a mugging. For a while it looked as if the conference had redshirted morality. Oklahoma State was accused by one of its own alumni of having a slush fund; two of its players pleaded guilty to burglary charges; and it got two years' NCAA probation for recruiting violations. Kansas State has been put on indefinite probation by the conference for exceeding scholarship limitations by 20, among other sins. And at Oklahoma, strife was rife among the coaches.
In any case, the Big Eight season appears to be evenly split between title contenders ( Oklahoma, Nebraska, Iowa State and Colorado) and also-rans ( Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State).
Among the little four, only Missouri has spoiler potential, but Warren Powers, who paid Washington State $55,000 to break his contract so that he could succeed Al Onofrio as the Tigers' head coach, has little chance of getting a quick return on his investment. Missouri leads off with Notre Dame and Alabama before opening its conference schedule at Oklahoma. Flanker Leo Lewis and Tight End Kellen Winslow are two of the best receivers in the league, but Powers has no experienced quarterback to get the ball to them.
At Kansas, where Coach Bud Moore has scrapped the wishbone and added the former KU and pro quarterback John Hadl to his staff, more passing is more than likely even though the team is not particularly well stocked with receivers. Moore's big concern is defense, an area in which the Jayhawks ranked dead last in the Big Eight last season.
In the battle to avoid the cellar, Kansas State should end a streak by beating Oklahoma State in the "Probation Bowl" on Oct. 7. That would be the Wildcats' first conference victory since 1974.