Running back Steve Slaton knows he'll be playing at least one more game for West Virginia. His decision about whether to return for his senior season won't come until after the Fiesta Bowl.

Slaton, a Conwell-Egan High graduate who finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting last season, said yesterday he would like to be a first-round NFL draft pick but doesn't know yet where he stands in the eyes of professional scouts.

"That's the biggest thing, is where I would be. After that, I haven't really sat down and thought about it," Slaton said. "I still have time after this game to think about it. I just want to focus on this game. I don't want to have any bad feelings that I spent too much time worrying about something else instead of worrying about this game."

Slaton's numbers have dropped off this season, in part because of the addition of freshman Noel Devine to the Mountaineers' already dynamic backfield. But anyone who has watched West Virginia this season can see Slaton hasn't been quite as elusive or explosive.

After setting West Virginia's school record with 1,733 yards rushing last season, Slaton has run for 1,053 yards this season to surpass 1,000 yards for the third straight time. He already has matched his career-high with 17 touchdowns this season, and would need two more to tie the school record set by Ira Errett Rodgers in 1919. He already holds the career mark with 50 TDs.

"I think it's been a good season for me," Slaton said. "I think I've shown more versatility this year. I think I've shown a lot of character for me to have the years I've had and then have this year, showing that I'm a winner. I like winning."

Slaton said he thought he had displayed strong character "by having less carries and not complaining about it." He would need 38 carries against No. 3 Oklahoma (11-2) to reach the same 13-game total (248) as last season.

It was most difficult for Slaton to accept the lighter load in West Virginia's 13-9 loss to Pittsburgh that knocked the Mountaineers (10-2) out of the national title picture. Slaton had only nine carries for 11 yards in that loss, when quarterback Pat White missed much of the game with a thumb injury.

"Having less carries and losing, you think there's something else you could have done," Slaton said.

Slaton said he's OK with getting less carries as long as the wins keep coming.

"That's what makes it better, if you're winning," Slaton said. "This is a team game. It can't be all about me, so I definitely have to be a team player."

White, who intends to return for his senior season, said he was going to leave Slaton's decision to his teammate. He said he had been impressed by Slaton's commitment to the team.

"He hasn't complained one time to me. I'm pretty sure he wants the ball more, but I haven't heard him complain," White said. "He's been a team player. He's even asking coach if he can block in practice. That says a lot about him as a player and as a person."


* Fresno State coach Pat Hill suspended eight players from today's Humanitarian Bowl against Georgia Tech.

* After failing to land its first two choices, Florida A & M plans to announce former Hampton coach Joe Taylor as its new football coach. Taylor will replace Rubin Carter, who was fired after three seasons, going 3-8 this season. A & M earlier offered its coaching job to Grambling's Rod Broadway and Georgia assistant John Eason.

In a bowl game last night:

* At the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., John Parker Wilson passed for 255 yards and three touchdowns as Alabama scored 20 first-quarter points and defeated Colorado, 30-24. *