As tricky mid-November winds whistled through the country's football stadiums, the 1954 season began to sort itself out. Conference contenders were being put to their last and most punishing tests, but unbeaten Ohio State came through nobly in the Midwest, and so did Michigan. On the West Coast, Southern California took Washington in stride and got ready to meet mighty U.C.L.A. Unbeaten Oklahoma rolled along easily as did Notre Dame, Army and Navy. Traditional rivalries bounced up from coast to coast. Last week, as football's final examinations got under way, so did a wave of upsets, big and small. Princeton pulled one; so did Wichita, and so did little Dayton. But in many ways the biggest upset of them all took place in a town called Fayetteville, Ark., where defeat at last came to a wonder team of Arkansas Razorbacks. They had staggered through seven games, doing almost nothing right for most of the afternoon but always winning with a magic eleventh-hour touch. Last Saturday they ran into a Southern Methodist team that did everything right.
One-Third of the 75-man troop of Arkansas state police was dispatched to patrol the traffic around Fayetteville. Scalpers were hawking tickets for the Southern Methodist-Arkansas game for as much as $100. By kickoff time, 29,000 spectators had filled the stadium to see if Arkansas, riding a phenomenal and almost inexplicable seven-game victory streak, could wrap up win No. 8 and an almost certain invitation to the Cotton Bowl. The tension was as high as tension can get.
Then SMU spoiled the occasion by handling the Razorbacks of the Ozarks like plain old barnyard pigs. The Mustangs ran up a 21-0 lead after three quarters. Citizens of Fayetteville had seen Coach Bowden Wyatt's team behind before. But an incredible ability to bust out with a winning rally had salvaged more than one near-defeat. And once again, in the fourth quarter, Arkansas came back wild and strong. Only this time they went into their comeback specialty too late. SMU won, 21-14, knocking Arkansas off the undefeated list, out of fourth place in the national polls, and out of first place in the Southwest Conference—a spot the Mustangs took over for themselves.
November 22, 1954
SMU did it in part by turning Arkansas' ball hawking, always its greatest defensive strength, into a weakness, through the deft double faking of the "belly series." They also did it because Halfback Frank Eidom turned in the game of his life for Coach Woody Wood-ward. Eidom carried 22 times from scrimmage for 163 yards. When the day was done, Eidom had scored all three of his team's touchdowns—one after catching a pass on a 22-yard play, another over right tackle for 28 yards and the last the easy way: by leaping over the line for one yard.
The victors started out in the underdog role familiar to Arkansas, and played the hungry kind of ball that has become Arkansas' trade-mark. The Razorbacks, for the first time this season, looked flat. SMU was beating the enemy line to the charge, catching them out of position and in general the quarterbacking of Duane Nutt had the Razorbacks thoroughly bamboozled. When Arkansas got leery of tackling the front man on the belly play, Nutt would let him keep the ball. When they concentrated too hard on watching both line smashers, SMU would pass.
In the last quarter, after playing the sluggish kind of football predicted for them before the season began, the Razorbacks caught fire. Sophomore Tailback George Walker passed for a touchdown. SMU ruined the next Arkansas thrust by holding on the four. The Razorbacks managed one more score in the last minutes, and had just recovered a fumble when the gun went off.
The surprising Razorbacks still have a chance for the championship. SMU now must get by both Baylor and TCU to take the title. If they lose one of these games, the crown will go to Arkansas, which finishes out the season against nonconference teams.
RAZORBACK BOWDEN WYATT
At the beginning of the season, the football experts sadly asked one another: "Would he win a game?" Deciding he might—with a little luck—win a couple, they picked Bowden Wyatt's Arkansas Razorbacks to finish sixth in the seven-team Southwest Conference. Last week the confused experts, after seeing the Hogs win seven in a row, finally saw him lose one. Nonetheless, many of them were ready to concede that Wyatt, in his second year as coach of a team which had won but ten games in the three previous seasons, was a logical and obvious enough choice to be 1954's Coach of the Year.
Bowden Wyatt is an efficient 38-year-old man who can credit the Razorbacks surprising rise to power in the Texas-dominated conference on the ability of his players if he chooses to. But those who know the score will give credit where it rightfully belongs: to Wyatt himself, a hibernating, reclusive coach whose every ounce of energy is dedicated to football.
From Loudon (Tenn.) High School, Wyatt went to Tennessee where he became an All-America end under General Robert R. Neyland. After five years as assistant coach at Mississippi State, he took over at Wyoming, where the Cowboys soon won Skyline Conference titles and Bowl bids. Wyatt took over at Arkansas in January 1953, won three games that season before his system began paying off.
The key to the system: teamwork and harmony among players, his assistants and himself. "Bowden's philosophies on football," says his wife, "are his building blocks. They're his hobbies, his vacations and his Sunday nights. He gives his players everything he has and he keeps building."
HICKMAN'S HUNCHES for Gaines of Saturday, Nov. 20
•U.C.L.A. vs. Southern Cal. In September I said U.C.L.A. would win the P.C.C. championship, and Southern Cal. would go to the Rose Bowl. I repeat...U.C.L.A.
•Ohio State vs. Michigan. The Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl go with this TV game. Case history indicates the Wolverines will win, but...OHIO STATE.
•Harvard vs. Yale. This is the holy of holies. The Cantabs can be stubborn, but the Elis have speed and size. If they hold on to the ball...YALE.
•Iowa vs. Notre Dame. The Hawk-eyes want this one more than any other game. The fighting Irish are aware...NOTRE DAME.
•Southern Methodist vs. Baylor. The Mustangs mauled hitherto unbeaten Arkansas last week to remain in contention for the Cotton Bowl and the Southwest Conference championship. Baylor rested last Saturday. Hard to figure, but SOUTHERN METHODIST.
•Oklahoma vs. Nebraska. The Corn-huskers can still go to the Orange Bowl. The Sooners are superb. OKLAHOMA.
•Wisconsin vs. Minnesota. I picked the Golden Gophers as my surprise team of the Big Ten this year, but they have even surprised me. The Badgers are a fighting team with only two losses, however...MINNESOTA.
•Colorado vs. Kansas State. Colorado could prove the stumbling block for K-State's bowl bid...COLORADO.
Arkansas over L.S.U.
Duke over South Carolina
California over Stanford
Illinois over Northwestern
Maryland over George Washington
Oregon over Oregon State
Rice over T.C.U.
Purdue over Indiana
Columbia over Rutgers
Miami (Fla.) over Alabama (Friday)
North Carolina over Virginia
Washington State over Washington
West Virginia over N.C. State
Princeton over Dartmouth
Pittsburgh over Penn State
Auburn over Clemson
Missouri over Kansas
Thanksgiving Day Games:
Texas over Texas A. & M.
Brown over Colgate
Maryland over Missouri
Cornell over Pennsylvania
V.P.I. over V.M.I.
Cincinnati over Miami (Ohio)
Last week's hunches: 18 right, 6 wrong, 1 tie
Record to date: 144-55-5
OHIO STATE vs. MICHIGAN, UCLA vs. SOUTHERN CAL., YALE vs. HARVARD