FRESNO State, UTEP, Hawaii top WAC football picks; Nevada last

Thursday, July 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

RENO, Nev. (AP) _ Fresno State is favored to win the Western Athletic Conference football title and the Bulldogs' two-time all-WAC defensive tackle Alan Harper should be the league's best defensive player, a media poll said Wednesday.

Defending WAC champion Texas-El Paso was picked second, followed by league newcomer Boise State, Hawaii and San Jose State in the preseason poll of media outlets covering the conference.

San Jose State running back Deonce Whitaker, who ranked fourth in the nation averaging 157.7 yards per game last year, is the pick to win Offensive Player of the Year honors in the poll the conference released Wednesday at the annual coaches media day.

Fresno State, which was 7-5 overall last year and 6-2 in the league, captured 18 of the 24 first-place votes and 223 total points in the preseason poll. In addition to Harper, the Bulldogs return 14 other starters, including quarterback David Carr, second-team all-WAC last year, and all-WAC defensive back Vernon Fox.

Fresno State opens the season at Colorado Aug. 26, then puts a 15-game home winning streak on the line _ third-longest in the country _ when it hosts Oregon State Sept. 2 before traveling to Wisconsin Sept. 8.

``I'm not going to say we're better than anybody else, but over the past two or three years, we've earned some respect,'' said Harper, who had 16 tackles for losses last year.

``It's going to be great competition because we're going to get the `A-game' from everybody,'' he said Wednesday.

UTEP, led by senior wide receiver Lee Mays, garnered four first-place votes and 190 total points to finish second in the poll. Boise State, which is transferring from the Big West Conference, was third with 151 points and one top vote.

Hawaii had 128 points, San Jose State 125 points and Tulsa 117 points, including one first-place vote.

Tulsa wide receiver Donald Shoals, who led the WAC with 80 receptions last year, said his team is deserving of consideration for the league title.

``There's a lot of teams that are equal this year. I think it is wide open for anybody,'' he said.

Rounding out the poll were Rice, 81; Southern Methodist, 80; Louisiana Tech, another WAC newcomer, 72, and Nevada, 43.

``From what we did last year, you can't vote us any better than last,'' Nevada quarterback David Neill said about last year's 2-10 record. ``But we're a different ballclub. What counts is the end of the season when you add up the wins and losses.''