If you were to tour the one million or so square miles of
America bounded by the schools of the Big West football
conference, you might wonder if the league's moniker shouldn't
be the Very Big West. Or maybe a better fit would be the Foster
Conference: the home for unwanted teams.
A California-only league as late as 1977, the Big West now
includes virtually every outcast team west of the Mississippi,
as well as one--Northern Illinois--east of it. Teams come and go
in these parts more often than the Grateful Dead concert tour.
At the end of this season, the Big West will say goodbye to six
members and welcome four new ones, including three currently in
Division I-AA. The '95 version of the Big West, however, will
Although Nevada was a I-AA school as recently as 1991, the Wolf
Pack has won part of the Big West championship in two of its
first three years of member-ship. Last year senior quarterback
Mike Maxwell led the nation in total yardage, with 318 per game,
and only Penn State outdistanced Nevada's total offensive output
of 507 yards per game. With senior running back Ken Minor and
senior wideout Alex Van Dyke also returning, Nevada will lead
the pack again.
Southwestern Louisiana is looking for a share of the Big West
title for the third year in a row. The Ragin' Cajuns have 10
offensive starters returning from last year's 6-5 team,
including junior quarterback Jake Delhomme, who already ranks
third on the Cajuns' career passing list with 3,554 yards.
By transforming a dismal program that went from a 3-8 record in
'93 to a share of the conference championship in '94,
second-year UNLV coach Jeff Horton has become a cult hero in Las
Vegas. "When I first got here, it was like a morgue," Horton
says. "No one would look each other in the eye." Now Rebel fans
happily peer at each other--and at stars like senior linebacker
Rossie Johnson--through Horton look-alike masks.
Utah State was the conference co-champion two years ago but
slipped to 3-8 in '94. With new coach John L. Smith coming in
and All-Big West kick returner Kevin Alexander coming back, the
Aggies should improve on last year's seventh-place finish.
Anchored by All-America candidate Mike Sutherland at center,
the offensive line at Northern Illinois averages 6'3" and 300
pounds a man. "This is the best offensive line in the Big West,"
says coach Charlie Sadler. But coming off last year's 4-7
record, the Huskies have only an outside shot at finishing as
the best team in the Big West.
The top player at Pacific is senior tailback Joe Abdullah, who
led the Tigers to their first winning season in 17 years by
rushing for 1,075 yards last year. This season Abdullah will
have to claw for yardage in nonconference games against
Nebraska, Oregon and Arizona.
The San Jose State football team will celebrate its 100th
anniversary with a better record than the 2-9 and 3-8 seasons
that coach John Ralston has logged so far. Even so, the Spartans
might be making their exit for the WAC through the Big West
cellar door if not for the presence of New Mexico State,
Louisiana Tech and Arkansas State, programs that will be
fighting for last place in the conference and, quite possibly,
last place in the nation.
COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO With Minor (3) avoiding major obstacles, the Wolf Pack can win the West. [Ken Minor in game]
2. Southwestern Louisiana
4. Utah State
5. Northern Illinois
7. San Jose State
8. New Mexico State
9. Louisiana Tech
10. Arkansas State