Oklahoma and its second-year coach Gary Gibbs can almost see the light at the end of the probation tunnel. The Sooners won't be allowed to play in a bowl game for the second straight year, but will be back on the air this fall after serving a one-year TV ban. It will be a new show in Norman, as Gibbs promises to throw the ball more. Quarterback Steve Collins and tight end Adrian Cooper should be able to put up some un-Sooner-like numbers while protected tackle to tackle by veterans.
No one but Nebraska, Colorado or Oklahoma has won the conference title since 1976, so the more intriguing battle in the Big Eight is the annual B Division championship, or the battle for fourth place. Iowa State is hoping that senior tailback Blaise Bryant (page 76), the nation's leading returning rusher (1,516 yards) can do for the Cyclones what Barry Sanders did for Oklahoma State in 1988: win the Heisman and carry his team into a bowl game. The Cyclones are the only team in the Big Eight's bottom five that finished with a winning record in 1989, and it was their first since 1986.
Oklahoma State, on the other hand, experienced its first losing season (4-7) in seven years. The Cowboys' NCAA probation sentence—no TV this year, no bowl games this year or next-may have had something to do with their down year, but the loss of Sanders and receiver Hart Lee Dykes to the NFL were the major reasons. This fall, coach Pat Jones's offense should be more in keeping with the Cowboys' tradition of run-oriented offenses. Tailback Gerald Hudson, who rushed for 910 yards in only 7½ games before being injured, will look for holes opened up by four returning offensive line starters. Mike Gundy, the Big Eight's alltime leading passer, is gone, and either Earl Wheeler or Chris Smith will try to replace him. If the defense, led by nose-guard Ruben Oliver and tackle Stacey Satterwhite, lives up to expectations, Oklahoma State could climb back closer to its customary position just behind the big boys.
A similar ascent does not seem possible for Missouri. The once-proud Tigers have not had a winning record or finished better than fifth in the conference since 1983. How far away is Mizzou? In games against the Big 3 in '89, the Tigers were out-scored 151-24. One cause for optimism in Columbia, however, is the return of quarterback Kent Kiefer, who led the conference in passing yardage in '89, and receiver Linzy Collins.
The reward that Kansas got for winning four games last year, its biggest victory total since 1985, was the removal of two of its W's from this fall's schedule. Replacing gentle Kent State and Montana State on the Jayhawks' slate are Miami (not of Ohio) and Virginia. Kansas does have a spark plug in Tony Sands, its 5'6", 180-pound tailback, who gained 1,109 yards last year. At Kansas State, the Wildcats are 4-50-1 over the past five years and haven't won a Big Eight game since 1986. Still, with nonleague games against Western Illinois, Northern Illinois, New Mexico and New Mexico State, the Wildcats might even win three for the first time since '84.
This fall, Fresno State should be the first team from the Big West, né Pacific Coast Athletic Association, to finish the season in the Top 20. Indeed, the Bulldogs might not lose a game, which says as much about the Big West as it does about Fresno. Four new coaches join the conference this fall, the most unlikely being 72-year-old George Allen at Long Beach State. "I took this job because I'm a teacher, and I want to save a struggling program," says Allen, who last coached in 1984 when he was the head man with the Arizona Wranglers of the USFL. It will take far more than Allen's inspirational speeches to revive the sagging 49ers, who surrendered 33.9 points a game in 1989.
Two of the coaching newcomers, both former offensive coordinators, should help their teams vie for second place behind Fresno State. Terry Shea takes over at San Jose State for Claude Gilbert, who was banished to a desk job in alumni relations after a report commissioned by the athletic department revealed substance abuse by some players. (Gilbert is appealing his demotion before the California State University system.) Shea should rise above the controversy with the help of 5'8", 193-pound tailback Sheldon Canley (1,201 yards rushing, 15 touchdowns in '89) and 13 other returning starters. At UNLV, rookie coach Jim Strong, an ex-Notre Dame assistant, will have only 60 players on scholarship, but the offensive line is back nearly intact, and Strong has two good quarterbacks in Derek Stott and Hernandez (Hunkie) Cooper, a transfer from national juco champ Navarro College.
Cal State-Fullerton lost 96% of its 1,793 rushing yards with the departure of running back Mike Pringle, but sophomore kicker Phil Nevin, a late cut from the U.S. national baseball team at third base, is back for scoring punch. Utah State, which won four of its last seven games in '89, welcomes back nine defensive starters and has a lofty aerial act in 6'5" quarterback Kirk Johnson and 6'7" tight end Ryan Duve. Kyron Johnson, arriving from Ventura College, will anchor Pacific's secondary, and Gari Calhoun, from Clemson via Orange Coast College, could emerge as the heaviest hitter in the Tigers' rugged linebacking corps. "We have a much improved class of recruits," says a cautious Pacific coach Walt Harris, whose team was 2-10 last season. "They look like football players."
Jim Hess received three sympathy cards when he left his job as athletic director at Stephen F. Austin to become coach at New Mexico State. "There are 106 schools in Division I-A and if this isn't No. 106, it's awfully close," Hess admits. The Aggies have had only one winning season since 1967 and have lost 17 straight. How desperate is Hess? He says he's considering passing on every play in one game. "At least that way we would get some recognition besides losing," Hess says.
Eight times in the past 11 years, Brigham Young has had the leading passer in the WAC, and in each of those years the Cougars won the conference title. This fall, with Heisman candidate Ty Detmer at the helm of a Top 20 team, BYU will again set the pace in the WAC. The Cougars' stiffest challenge could come from Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors are coming off their second straight nine-win season under coach Bob Wagner and their first NCAA-sanctioned postseason appearance, the Aloha Bowl—played at home—in which they lost 33-13 to Michigan State. Last season, Hawaii ranked fifth in the country in scoring, averaging 38.1 points per game, largely because of a strong running attack led by halfback Jamal Farmer, who set an NCAA record for most rushing touchdowns by a freshman, with 18.