Adv17

Updated: August 15, 2003, 2:28 PM ET

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Portland State's junior tailback Ryan Fuqua has a rather lofty goal for this season: He's aiming for 2,000 yards rushing.

Only four players in the history of the Big Sky Conference have reached the mark, led by Sacramento State's Charles Roberts, who ran for 2,260 yards in 1998.

Fuqua himself ranks 10th on the Big Sky's single season rushing list, with 1,586 yards as a freshman two years ago.

"I feel 2,000 yards -- I can aim for that," Fuqua said. "I can achieve that."

Despite recurring ankle problems, Fuqua rushed for 1,283 yards last season to lead the Big Sky. He had a seemingly symbiotic relationship with former PSU quarterback Juston Wood, who is currently trying to make a roster spot with the NFL's Minnesota Vikings.

Fuqua is one of just nine returning starters for Portland State, which went 6-5 last season despite his efforts. A Big Sky coaches' preseason poll picked the Vikings to finish in a fifth-place tie with Sacramento State. Montana, which has won or shared the last five conference titles, was picked to finish first.

The Vikings open their season Sept. 4 against Texas A&M-Kingsville at PGE Park, the first of three straight home games.

This season presents a special challenge for coach Tim Walsh, who begins his 11th season in charge of Portland State.

Walsh, who has a 66-48 record at PSU, said it's time for the Vikings to assert themselves. Portland State made the leap from Division II to Division I-AA in 1996, and the school's best finish in the conference was in 1999 when it was 6-2, behind the 7-1 Grizzlies.

"I think we've reached a point where we're extremely competitive," Walsh said. "But we have to find a way to take the next step."

The returning talent includes only four returning starters on offense, and five on defense.

Junior Joe Wiser takes over at quarterback for Wood, who started for the past two years. Wiser has thrown just three passes in games, and made only one completion.

"The only thing he lacks is experience," Walsh said. "You look at him and he walks in the room and you say, `that looks like a pretty good quarterback."

Wiser said his job was easy, especially with Fuqua around.

"We have some great guys to hand the ball to," he said.

Fuqua will have competition at tailback from teammate Joe Rubin, a sophomore who is gunning for a starting job. While Fuqua is crafty, Rubin is more of a bulldozer.

Walsh would prefer to name a starter, for consistency's sake, rather than use a two-tailback situation. He said it would be the hardest call he and his staff would have to make.

Fuqua probably has the edge because of experience.

In his freshman year, he rushed for a school record 393 yards on 45 carries against Eastern Washington. That was good enough for second on the Big Sky's single game rushing list, behind Roberts' 409-yard game against Idaho State in 1999.

Fuqua followed the game with 270 yards rushing against Cal State Northridge, and 243 yards against Sacramento State, to give him a Division I-AA record of 909 yards over three games.

He's looking to better those numbers this season, and he welcomed the challenge of competing against Rubin.

"It's making me look deeper into myself," Fuqua said. "I think it will make me the best player I can be."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index