A man can cover a lot of territory chasing down the crop of football teams maturing in the vast stretches between the Rocky Mountain slopes and the placid waters of the Pacific, but if he's looking for power he need go no farther than Los Angeles County. The USC Trojans and their cross-town brethren at UCLA are so loaded with talent and brawn it will be an upset of Merriwellian proportions if any of the Pacific Coast Conference members or independents successfully challenges them. The one question—how do the West's best rate nationally?—will be at least partially answered next week when UCLA meets mighty Maryland (opposite), definitely one of the best in the country, at College Park.
On the Pacific Coast the only real opposition either southern California school might encounter should come from Stanford. There are a few untested young braves up at Palo Alto who could just conceivably throw the high and mightys' camps into an uproar with a couple of reckless raiding parties. Two independents, College of the Pacific and San Jose State, are the other sturdy contenders.
But that is about it. The terrible Bear of California, whose mere growl from the lair of Berkeley used to send the boys scurrying, is an unstuffed hide of his oldtime self. Resistance from the northern half of the Pacific Coast Conference, with Washington in the lead, will be sporadic and not very effective. Utah looks to be the best of the Skyline Conference. However, neither the Skyline nor its weaker relation, the Rocky Mountain Conference, is in a class with the Coast schools. The material runs thinner in the high altitudes.
PACIFIC COAST CONFERENCE
UCLA. Eligible for the Rose Bowl this year, UCLA should win the PCC title and get there on its own merits. The UCLA backfield is the best on the Coast. The only weak spot, tailback, has four candidates, any one of whom could make a good team. Doug Bradley, the likely starter, began at tailback last season but was beaten out later by Primo Villanueva. Ronnie Knox, the cause cél√®bre, has been a disappointment on offense but surprisingly good on defense. He could catch fire. In returning All-America Bob Davenport, UCLA has the best fullback in the country and just behind him is substitute Doug Peters. Jim Decker is probably the best wingback Red Sanders ever had.
If real trouble develops for Sanders it will be in the line, grievously depleted by graduation. Sanders has paired ex-Guard Hardiman Cureton with Gil Moreno at tackle, insuring himself excellent protection there, and he has converted Don Shinnick, the No. 3 fullback, to guard, a move that might be his best. Sanders believes Shinnick will develop into the UCLAns' greatest guard. My guess is that the line situation will improve immensely with the season.
Southern California. This may be a Trojan year. There are 23 lettermen returning from last season's Rose Bowl squad. In Jon Arnett at left half, Southern Cal has the most unsung and underrated player in the country. Another good sign is that star quarterback southpaw Jim Contratto is being pushed by Ellsworth Kissinger and Frank Hall. Marvin Goux is probably out for the season with a back injury, but the line is bruising. No one could ask for a better pair of guards than Orlando Ferrante and George Galli. Leon Clarke, a tenacious 6-foot 4-inch, 215-pounder, heads an impressive corps of offensively minded ends.
Stanford. Word is out that Coach Chuck Taylor has the best sophomores on the Coast this fall, and with 22 lettermen returning the Indians might surprise. If UCLA's forward wall fails to jell, Stanford is the most likely Rose Bowl representative. Outstanding are Fullback Bill Tarr and End Bill Stewart who lead the nation in yards from pass receptions with 577.
California. A hard year, I fear, for Coach Pappy Waldorf. No team could lose such men as Paul Larson at quarterback, Jim Hanifan at end and Matt Hazeltine at center and not be weaker. To complicate matters the freshman squad was only mediocre. Oklahoma and Ohio State are missing from the schedule this year but Pittsburgh could be murder. Sleep well, Pappy.
Washington. The Huskies won only two and lost eight last year, but I figure they can't have as many bad breaks again. There are 25 lettermen returning. Sandy Lederman, an excellent passer, is back again. He is backed up by fictitious-sounding Credell (the Incredible) Green, a real runner who transferred from West Contra Costa Junior College. Other junior college transfers are supposed to help.
Washington State. This is the team generally rated highest in the North. Twenty-one lettermen, including 10 starters, are the basis for the enthusiasm. The veteran line is lead by 220-pound Tom Gunnari, an offensive guard and defensive tackle. The backfield, though spearheaded by 210-pound Fullback Bob Miller, is not of championship caliber.
Oregon State. Tommy Prothro strikes out for himself at Oregon State this year. He is installing the Tennessee-UCLA version of the balanced-line single wing, but with a squad which won only its opening game in 1954 it will be a mistake to expect very much.
Oregon. Coach Len Casanova suffered the heaviest losses of any squad on the Coast. I may have his team rated too low but with George Shaw, one of the really great T quarterbacks, gone and only three lettermen returning, the squad is certainly thin.
Idaho. The Vandals' unexpected 10-0 victory over Washington State last year, first since 1925, and the current squad's high morale belie the fair-to-middling material.
College of the Pacific. With only five lettermen lost, COP should field another excellent team. They will tell you there is not a better lineman in the country than Tackle John Nisby.
San Jose State. State beat Stanford last year and should be much stronger. The sensational fullback, Joe Ulm, out with injuries last year, is back. As a sophomore in 1953 he scored 11 touchdowns in the first four games before being declared ineligible.
Whitworth College. The school was undefeated in 1954 and has 20 lettermen returning and should lead the strong Evergreen Conference again.
Utah. The Redskins suffered their worst season since 1950 last year. I'm picking them to regain the perch usurped by Denver's speedy backs in 1954. Cactus Jack Curtice has a carload of brilliant sophomores up from a fine freshmen eleven.
Wyoming. Coach Phil Dicken's Cowboys were the only team to defeat champion Denver last fall. There are 21 lettermen returning from that squad, including all-conference Captain Ray Lutterman at tackle; 'Bugs' Carter, all-conference end; and Joe Matrogiovanni, the all-conference quarterback who homes in Brooklyn.
Denver. The departure of Coach Bob Blackman for Dartmouth and the graduation of the top six backs on last year's championship squad about do the mile-high boys in for this year.
Colorado A&M. After a weak season in 1954 the Aggies should be much improved. Chief threat is Quarterback Gary Glick, who last year led the nation in pass interceptions, placed fifth nationally in total offense.
New Mexico. A good backfield with the possibility of a fine passing attack may make the Lobos the giant killers in the loop.
Utah State. A new coaching staff and the loss of last year's line are too much of a load this year.
Montana and Brigham Young. It looks like a race for the security of the storm cellar again.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN CONFERENCE
Western State was awarded the championship in 1954 after conference officials discovered an ineligible player on Montana State. Again, it looks like the same top teams, with MSC, loser of only its final game last year, enjoying an edge. But it will be close. Western State has virtually the same team intact that finished last season with a fine 9-1 record.
If neither should fall, a not-unlikely thought since injuries can easily throw any of the conference's talent-thin teams out of balance, the probable candidates to fill in the breach are Idaho State and tough Colorado Mines. Colorado State has been building and most likely will oust Colorado College from fifth spot.
A RED-CLAD TEST FOR WEST COAST POWER
The sturdy and capable-looking young men on the opposite page have a special meaning for tough-talking Henry R. (Red) Sanders, coach of UCLA's highly ranked Bruins. They are the starting backfield of the University of Maryland, which on Sept. 24 meets UCLA in the first big inter-sectional clash of the year. On the outcome of the game might well hang the national reputations not only of the schools but of East and West football. Was the situation serious? Last week Sanders, whose own team is pictured on the following pages, addressed his squad. "I've just been told," he said, "that the AP voted you the top team in the country." He turned contemptuously for the showers. Not a man dared laugh.