For a team banking everything on an unproved JC-transfer quarterback to lead it back from a disastrous 3-7 season, UCLA has been making surprisingly optimistic noises. Perhaps that old bridge master, Tommy Prothro, figures he's going to sneak up on some overconfident opponents. His key man is Dennis Dummit, who threw for 30 touchdowns in two JC seasons and will operate the Bruins' new triple-option offense. UCLA major assets are Linebacker Mike Ballou, a good group of runners headed by Tailback Greg Jones and a delightful first-half schedule: once by this week's opener against Oregon State the Bruins meet four teams that won a total of five games in '68.
Oregon State might do some sneaking up, too, because Dee Andros has a pumpkin patch full of redshirts, plus Defensive Tackle Jess Lewis, who skipped last season to wrestle in the Olympics. The only returning starter from the offensive backfield is Billy Main, a top-notch kickoff returner.
California had its first real winner in 10 years in '68 and will be tough again, especially with a strong defense led by End Irby Augustine, one of seven Texans on the squad, and Safety Ken Wiedemann. The question mark is at quarterback, where handsome Randy Humphries had a bad spring. Up in Seattle, Washington's Jim Owens has discarded his athletic director's hat and will concentrate on bringing the Huskies back, aided by a stout defense and Scatback Harvey Blanks. Oregon's Ducks have some nice schedule advantages—no USC, for one—but they need everything they can get. So does Washington State.
The interesting thing about the Western Athletic Conference is that its teams play football while much of the country is asleep. When Arizona takes on Arizona State on a Saturday night in Tempe, it isn't until Monday afternoon that the East finds out who won. Night games are popular in the conference—there are 25 of them—and so is offense. Hold an opponent to 30 points and you're a cinch to win.
Wyoming's Cowboys will be gunning for their fourth straight title, but they must play their main challenger, Arizona State, away. Many members of last year's 7-3 team are back. Utah just might have something to say about the conference race. The Redskins have the league's top quarterback in Ray Groth, who accumulated more than half the team's offensive yardage last year. Utah has good speed in both its offensive and defensive backfields.
Arizona has lost 12 starters from its Sun Bowl team, but Ron Gardin is back (having switched from flanker to halfback) and so is Tackle Rex Macklin. But, with a new coach, Bob Weber, and a dismal defense, Wildcat fans who want to see another bowl game will have to watch last year's films. Colorado State lost nine defensive starters, but the two who remain—Backs Earlie Thomas and Jerry Shearer—are good ones. A flood of junior college transfers will try to fill the gap. Brigham Young is groaning over the loss of its quarterback, split end and placekicker, all injured. UTEP is rebuilding, while New Mexico will try to recover from a season in which it gave up 40 points a game.
After Texas, Arkansas and SMU, what's left in the Southwest Conference? Well, there's Texas A&M, but not much is left of the Aggie team that was picked to do so well last year and failed so miserably. Coach Gene Stallings has versatile Dave Elmendorf, who played five positions in 1968 and who is being tempted by offers to play pro baseball, and Larry Stegent, who has made some glittering runs during the last two years.