Leaders of the Pac
At Pac-10 media day in Los Angeles last August, each school was represented by its coach and one player. It became a veritable BYOQB party. Cal, Oregon, Southern Cal and Stanford all brought a quarterback—Dave Barr, Danny O'Neil, Rob Johnson and Steve Stenstrom, respectively—and each was touted as a Heisman candidate. Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA and Washington also came with players from their offenses. Only two schools, Arizona and Washington State, brought defensive players. So after four weeks of the season, guess which two Pac-10 schools are undefeated? The Wildcats and the Cougars are a combined 6-0, while the schools with those hotshot quarterbacks are 6-6-1.
The traditionally offensive Pac-10 is being ruled by defense. Arizona was expected to be strong on that side of the ball, and it has been. Last Saturday the Wildcats defeated Stanford 34-10, and the Desert Swarm was abuzz, sacking Stenstrom seven times and allowing only six yards on the ground. Arizona is second in the country in rushing defense, giving up an average of just 36.3 yards per game. The team that leads the country in that category (36.0 yards per game) is Washington State. Through three games, including Saturday's 21-0 pasting of UCLA at the Rose Bowl, the Cougars have yet to surrender a touchdown, and they are holding their opponents to 4.0 points per game.
Washington State is second only to Stanford in the Pac-10 when it comes to developing quarterbacks. Future NFL players Jack Thompson, Mark Rypien, Timm Rosenbach and Drew Bledsoe all called signals in Pullman. But it is on defense where the future pros reside this year. The Cougars' ends may be the best pair in the conference. On the strong side is Dwayne Sanders, who was widely considered the best defensive line prospect in the West when he graduated from Dorsey High in Los Angeles in 1992. After two years at Snow Junior College in Ephraim, Utah, he is living up to that promise.
On the other side is senior DeWayne Patterson, who had 17 sacks last fall and was named all-conference. On the morning of the Pac-10 media day, he and Cougar coach Mike Price went out to breakfast in L.A. Patterson asked Price, "Hey, Coach, should we tell the reporters we're going to the Rose Bowl, or should we let them figure it out for themselves?"
In a preseason poll the media picked Washington State to finish last in the Pac-10. It will come as a surprise, then, to those same reporters that the battle for the Rose Bowl may be decided in Pullman on Oct. 15, when Arizona visits the Cougars. Says Washington State offensive coordinator John McDonell, "Some people might have underestimated us."
Hand him the Heisman? Gingerly, please. Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair, who was presented on SI's cover last week as the nation's most deserving Heisman Trophy candidate, suffered a slightly separated right shoulder in the Braves' 48-23 loss to Sam Houston State on Saturday. McNair may not miss any starts, but if he does, he'll join Michigan tailback Tyrone Wheatley and UCLA wideout J.J. Stokes as former front-runners for the Heisman whose stock dropped after missing some playing time due to injuries.
The injury to McNair, who is still tossing for 441 yards and four touchdowns per game, could move three players to the fore: Washington tailback Napoleon Kaufman (147.6 yards per game) and quarterbacks Terry Dean of Florida (13 touchdown passes) and Eric Zeier of Georgia (334.2 yards per game in total offense). All are seniors, and all, especially Kaufman and Zeier, who have never missed a game, have proved to be resilient. If McNair's injury sidelines him for a while, this year's Heisman may come to resemble a perfect attendance award.
Fight, Team, Fight
Weber State coach Dave Arslanian has a problem. The state of Utah's board of regents and legislature have ordered university president Paul H. Thompson to cut $500,000 or more from the athletic department's budget, and the Wildcat football program is losing an average of $850,000 a year—as much as six times more than any other sport on campus. Under those conditions, how long can football last in Ogden?
In late May a strategic planning task force decided that unless the team develops "overwhelming" support—i.e., it averages 14,000 fans at home and $350,000 in ticket revenue this fall—the football program would be reduced from 65 scholarships to about 25, and the coaching staff would be cut from eight to four. Moreover, if the team averaged less than 10,000 fans and $220,000 in ticket revenue (what the task force termed "substantial" support), football would be eliminated.
Considering that the Wildcats, who have won 14 of their last 21 games, averaged only 4,800 fans in '93, the task force seems to have set some unreachable goals. Thompson, for one, is already talking as if football were dead and buried. "I love football; I just don't love it at $850,000 a year," he says. "I've had people tell me you can't be a university without a football team. That's contestable."
Not to Arslanian. He has refused to punt. He delivers his formula for saving the team with the gusto of a Rockne half-time speech: "You gotta market and promote. You gotta sell. You gotta get out and sell and market and promote. And you gotta do it yourself!"
Last Christmas players peddled season tickets at malls in Ogden and nearby Layton Hills. Assistant coaches gave up their July vacations to brainstorm about promotional ideas. In June two young admen were hired to promote the team. Says one of them, Michael Hogan, "When my parents call on Sunday, they don't ask the score of the game; they simply ask, 'You guys get 14,000 last night?' "
Hanging on Arslanian's office wall is a quote from Bruce Handley, chairman of Weber State's department of business administration and head of the task force subcommittee responsible for reviewing athletics. In April, Handley was asked if the Wildcats would draw 14,000 a game this season. He replied, "We don't think there is a snowball's chance in hell that this is going to happen."
After three home games the Wildcats are averaging 13,156, and conference showdowns against Montana and Idaho State, both at home, are ahead. The team also happens to be 3-1. Through it all, Arslanian's faith has never wavered. "Every faculty in the country has people who despise sports programs," he says. "But my deep, honest belief is that football is an important part of this university."
One person who sympathizes with Arslanian is, of all people, Handley. A two-time all-conference offensive lineman for Weber State in the mid-'60s, Handley played under Arslanian's father, Sark. "If I were a football player today, I'd want to take me outside and duke it out," says Handley. "But these guys have to understand, I fight for Weber athletics; I don't fight for football."
Pennies from Heaven
Call it divine intervention, call it dumb luck, but Washington has found an unlikely benefactor: the Seattle Seahawks.
One of the sanctions the Pac-10 imposed on the Huskies in August 1993 for a variety of NCAA infractions was the loss of television revenue from the '93 season, approximately $937,000.
Then the roof caved in.... When tiles began raining down from the ceiling of the Kingdome in July, the Seahawks needed a temporary home and chose Husky Stadium. By the time the King-dome repairs are completed on Nov. 1, the Seahawks will have played five games on the Washington campus. How much money will the school make from each game? About $200,000, before expenses. That pretty much balances the budget.
Arizona's Chuck Osborne (71) and Tedy Bruschi have swarmed all over quarterbacks like Stenstrom.
Zeier's ability to stay out of harm's way has left him standing tall in the Heisman race.
Players of the Week
USC sophomore Shawn Walters had 207 yards and three TDs on 31 carries in a 37-27 defeat of Baylor. The last Trojan to gain that many yards in a game was Marcus Allen in 1981.
Defensive back Aaron Fix, a junior at Canisius, broke the Division I record for touchdowns on punt returns in a game by running back three for scores in a 28-7 win over Siena.
James Franklin, a senior at Division II East Stroudsburg (Pa.), threw for 362 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 150 yards and a TD in a 44-17 victory over Southern Connecticut.