There is a lot of rough terrain between Pike's Peak and the Pacific, and it has bred a lot of tough football teams. The Pacific Coast Conference plays some of the fanciest football in the country; and though the Rose Bowl contest has been a California monopoly for so long that people tend to forget its northern sector, teams from Oregon and Washington can never be ruled out of the excitement.
The Skyline Conference, in a vast and sparsely settled area, has problems of logistics and players to contend with; but the brand of football played there is steadily improving. The independents and the lesser conferences of the Far West include a number of fine small schools which play a game of big conference caliber. Although it has only one team that compelled inclusion in my eleven top elevens, the West may well provide some of the best and flashiest play of 1954.
THE PACIFIC COAST
Since the rules do not permit a Rose Bowl team to succeed itself, the U.C.L.A. squad will not be making the cross-town bus trip to the Bowl this New Year's Day. However, this ruling does not prevent them from winning the championship, and there are many reasons to believe that they will. The team has probably the finest line in college football, with Tackle Jack Ellena and Guard Jim Salsbury outstanding. An unsung great at fullback, Bob Davenport, and little Primo Villanueva in the tailback slot will be more dangerous than the rugged Paul Cameron, now departed. U.C.L.A. has one of the finest and best-organized coaching staffs in the country, headed by Red Sanders—and they will need all of this to contend with mighty Maryland the night of October 1st. U.C.L.A. indicated its potential power by crushing San Diego Navy 67-0 last Saturday night.
Southern Cal rose to the heights last year when it beat California 32-20 and sank to the depths in the Notre Dame debacle, 14-48. But this year there is a quiet confidence around the practice field. The material is there—Tailbacks Aramis Dandoy and Sophomore Jon Arnett are both excellent ball carriers, speedy and elusive. Quarterback Jim Contratto also figures largely in Coach Jess Hill's plans—he will shift from the blocking back position in the single wing to become the quarterback on the winged T and split T. Southern Cal served notice on the competition when it beat Washington State last Friday night, 39-0.
A majority opinion on the coast feels that Cal will represent the P.C.C. in the Rose Bowl. Some feel that the Golden Bears also will win the title. Coach Lynn Waldorf has this to say to both opinions: "We will probably have the most inexperienced team that we have had since I've been at California. However, we do have better size in the line than we had a year ago, and we should have good balance between running and passing." Pappy is not kidding about the increase in size. There are six tackles to pick from who weigh above 220. Matt Hazeltine at center was selected on many All-American teams last year, and Paul Larson at quarterback is one of the most gifted performers ever to wear the Blue and Gold. But Rose Bowl hopefuls got a jolt last Saturday when Cal went down before Oklahoma, 13-27, in the week's big intersectional game (see pages 70-71).
This team may well be the sleeping giant of the conference. Eight regulars have returned, headed by the sensational George Shaw at quarterback and Captain Ron Pheister at center, another All-P.C.C. selection. Shaw has won top backfield honors ever since his freshman year in 1951. He and Oregon got off to a running start by wrecking Idaho last Saturday, 41-0.
Coach Chuck Taylor's squad is stripped this year—fifteen lettermen lost, including the greatest aerial combination on the coast: Quarterback Bobby Garrett and Sam Morley at end. But Chuck has a happy faculty of developing dangerous teams and has some outstanding men returning in Halfback Ernie Dorn, John Stewart, end, and Tackle Matt Armitage. "We have our problems," Chuck told me, "but I'm sure we will come up with a good team."
Sandy Lederman, a sophomore last year, was the Coast's second-ranked passer, but he is being pushed this season by Bob Cox, just up from the frosh. Fullback Mike Monroe will probably make the Huskies' running game 50 percent more effective than last year. But the line is green—gone are the starters from end to end. The Huskies' season rests on the performance of Earl Monlux at guard and such sophomore stalwarts as 225-pound George Strugar and 200-pound Bill Till, both tackles.
The Cougars' line is composed of seasoned men, two deep at most positions. Chuck Beckel is a competent fullback. Arnie Pelleur and Rush Quakenbush are established ends. Bob Miller, 205-pound sophomore halfback, looks like a comer. Last year's team scored fine victories over other conference teams, including Washington and Oregon. Improvement is indicated, despite the loss to powerful Southern Cal last Friday, 0-39.
The Beavers finished strong last year after a dismal start. Bill Johnson at guard seems to be the best O.S.C. bet for sectional honors. Outstanding also are Jack Peterson, left halfback, and Tackle Howard Buettgenbach. Sophomore Leon Hittner looks like an excellent pass-receiving end. Coach Kip Taylor says: "Oregon State should be much stronger than last season. We have a bit more depth, and the will to win is certainly there."
Idaho plays only three conference opponents and so does not qualify for conference rating. Twenty lettermen are returning from a squad that only won one game. Skip Stahley has stepped in as the new coach. Flipp Kleffner, a senior halfback, is the best of the returnees. The team lacks speed and depth but should improve its 1953 record with nonconference opponents. Their defeat by Oregon last Saturday, 0-41, was to be expected.
THE SKYLINE CONFERENCE
Most people are picking Wyoming to win the Skyline title, but my vote goes to Utah. Coach Jack Curtice's team has won it for three years running with a wide-open style of football. Despite heavy losses in both the backfield and line, he has good replacements and will be up to par by midseason. Outstanding are Halfback Herb Naaken and End Orv Nellestein.
The Cowboys are the "people's choice." The colorful Joe Mastrogiovanni, a 5 ft. 6 in., 195-pound Yogi Berra-type junior from Boys High, Brooklyn, U.S.A., is an outstanding candidate for sectional and possibly national honors along with Fullback George Galuska, of Arcadia, Wis. "Mastro" has been switched to the blocking back or quarterback spot, which means that Coach Phil Dickens has either increased the scope of his Tennessee single-wing to enable him to run and pass from this position, or that the much-heralded ineligible transfers on last year's squad—the "Red Shirts '53"—are furnishing sufficient material for the vital tailback position. Wyoming's opener with Oklahoma A. & M. was not a conference session but, as a test of strength, it was significant. As predicted, it was close, but the Cowboys lost it, 6-14.
Coach Bob Titchenal's Lobos have ten starters returning, including the sensational Center and Captain Larry White, twice all-conference and All-American candidate. There is also Porky Leyva, a 23-year-old sophomore just back from a hitch in the Marines, who caused Titchenal to junk his single-wing attack in favor of the unbalanced T from which Porky operates at quarterback. The line is coordinated and fast. The Lobos will be much improved. They opened their title bid last Saturday night by defeating Brigham Young 21-12.
Fourteen lettermen and a fine freshman crop greeted Coach John Roning after a five-win two-loss conference record last year. Outstanding returnees are Tackle Dave Kragthorpe and Kent Harris, quarterback. The personnel is the best since the Aggies tied for the crown in 1946.
Coach Bob Blackman's Pioneers looked good last Friday night, whipping Colorado College 72-0. Main reason for the upsurge is the influx of last season's fine freshmen, including Charles Bernard, halfback; Ernie Pitts, end, and Richard Mucha, center. Outstanding holdovers are: Jim Bowen, quarterback; Halfbacks Fred Mahaffey and Fred Tesone; Charles DeLuca, tackle; and Don Griebel, end.
Colorado A. & M.
Seven starters are gone from the 1953 edition which won three and lost four in conference play. Gary Glick, a renovated fullback, is supposed to make the split T go from his new quarterback position. Dick Braun is a halfback of note, and the line led by Center Bill Tavener should be stronger than last season.
The Grizzlies have been rather disappointing since they joined the Skyline Conference in 1951. This season they should show much improvement as only six lettermen have been lost. Eight backs have returned, led by all-conference Halfback Dick Imer and a slick T-quarterback in Dick Heath. Paul Weskamp, tackle, and Joe DeLuca, guard, bolster a young forward wall.
Few will forget the memorable game last fall between Brigham Young and Utah. The Utes took it 33-32, but it earned the admiration and respect of millions of TV viewers for football in the Rocky Mountain section. Eighteen lettermen return, led by Marion Probert, end, who made many Skyline all-conference selections. Halfback Dick Felt was the conference's best punt returner, averaging 20 yards a return. Don James, a second-string fullback last year, averaged 10 yards per try. Leading sophomore is Jay Weenig, guard, who was the most promising freshman lineman in Utah last year.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN CONFERENCE
Idaho State leads this "small college" group together with Montana State, and both compare favorably with many Skyline Conference schools. Outstanding among the Bengals are Halfback Bus Connors and Tackle Howard Green, who head an upsurging team.
Twenty lettermen return to Montana State, which suffered only three losses by graduation. Vic Berra at end and Ray Schoessler, guard, are the best men on the squad and were both chosen all-conference last year.
The surprise package of 1953, Western State still looked good last Saturday, beating Adams State 40-14. The squad lost only three letter-men this year. Bill Rhodes and Jim Roser, halfbacks both, are the best of a promising team.
College of the Pacific.
Once again, C.O.P. has a strong team. The little school that produced Eddie LeBaron has a candidate for similar honors in Bill Jacobs, at quarterback. There may be real excitement here—last Saturday C.O.P. held Stanford to a one-point victory, 12-13.
San Jose State.
Like C.O.P., San Jose is really on a par with the second division of the Pacific Coast Conference. Joe Ulm would be a credit to any backfield. Before he was declared ineligible last year Joe scored eleven touchdowns in four games, and he and a strong supporting squad should give San Jose the edge among the western independents this season, which they opened strongly by beating Utah State last Saturday night 20-0.
For Herman Hickman's hunches on next week's games, turn to page 71.