Heretofore, the best football in the region was inevitably played on the coastal slope, but with the newly formed Western Athletic Conference competing for players, those days are numbered. From the three Southwest schools, Arizona, Arizona State and New Mexico, come some of the speediest backs in the land and a wide-open passing game. Small, swift linemen complemented by big, hard-running backs will be the rage at Wyoming. Utah will unleash a huge line and varied offenses. Only Brigham Young will be weak.
The schools have recruited as many good players as any of the western colleges. They are situated in fast-growing cities where they do not have to compete for dollars with pro football. Last year Wyoming beat North Carolina State and tied Kansas. Utah beat Colorado and Oregon and barely lost to Wisconsin. But better than these may be Utah State, which, despite a three-year record of 23 wins, seven losses and two Skyline co-championships, was not invited to join the WAC. The reasons were two: money and policy. The member schools of the new conference are unconvinced that the Aggies, nestled in lonely Cache Valley, can draw large enough crowds to justify a big-time football program. And then, though nobody will say it openly, they also feel that Utah State's academic and recruiting standards are not, to put a precise point on it, impeccable.
To this Aggie Coach John Ralston, whose very success invites the suspicion of rival coaches, says flatly: "We want in and we're going to prove we deserve to get in." What Ralston wants, he often gets. Don't bet against him. The West's top five: 1) Washington, 2) Oregon, 3) Utah State, 4) USC, 5) Wyoming.
The Falcons, who earned their wings by throwing the ball relentlessly, are now, by necessity, out to prove that a good T team doesn't have to subsist on passing alone. Without a first-class thrower, Coach Ben Martin will shift the emphasis to the running game and hope to wear down a few teams with sheer power. For the new attack, Martin has shifted Halfback Terry Isaacson, a fiery runner and one of the nation's finest punters, to quarterback and moved Fullback Nick Arshinkoff to half, making room for sophomore Larry Tollstam, who has deceptive speed inside or out. Martin is satisfied with his seasoned first line, especially Ends Skinny Simpson and Dick Brown and Tackles Jim Lang and Gil Achter, but his reserve strength is in the unpredictable hands of sophomores. Until they mature, it will be up to Linebackers Dave Sicks and Joe Rodwell, who will wild-card on defense, to catch the backs sifting through guard.
CONCLUSION: Not even a new $3.5 million stadium can hide the Falcons' passing deficiencies, which will cost them dearly.
Coach Hal Mitchell spent a wretched year watching his Cougars get chewed up in the Skyline Conference. Despite some startling offensive machinations, they don't figure to do much better in the new and tougher Western Athletic Conference. After tinkering with his single wing, Mitchell has something that looks more like the short punt. With three tailbacks in the same backfield, the device could work. Eldon Fortie, last year's No. 1 ground-gainer, remains at tailback, while sophomore Kent Nance, a powerful 193-pound Californian sought after by almost everybody, goes to fullback and Doran Merkley, a nifty pass grabber, to wingback. However, the Cougars lack a passer who can get the ball to Merkley and the swift ends, Lloyd Smith and Dick Wood. The defense, battered for 289 points last year, will have to do battle in 1962 with even lighter forwards. The only safe spot is at center, where Mike Brady will hold his own.
CONCLUSION: For all of Mitchell's innovating, no bite will reinforce the Cougars' snarl. The defense is far too mild.