HERMAN HICKMAN SAYS: Last season there was an unusual situation in the Southwest Conference: the preseason predictions stood up pretty well. Again this fall there seem to be the same two outstanding teams, Texas A&M and Baylor, with Arkansas not so dark a horse.
Texas A&M, freed from bowl bans by the NCAA, is my favorite to repeat and play in the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day. Despite the fact there were serious losses among middle linemen and linebackers, this may be a better squad than last year's champions, particularly offensively. The Aggies are well-stocked at the vital quarterback position, with seniors Roddy Osborne and Jimmy Wright reinforced by a brilliant sophomore, Charles Milstead. The two starting halfbacks, John Crow and Lloyd Taylor, are the best in the conference. Richard Gay will attempt to fill the fullback position of the departed All-America, Jack Pardee. The ends are sound and proved, and Charlie Krueger, one of the best tackles in the country, heads a group that bows to no team at this position.
Baylor impressed me against Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl last New Year's Day more than any team I had seen all season. Playing against the single wing for the first time, these boys handled their defensive chores with the greatest of ease and moved the ball consistently against the Vols. Two lines are returning—both as big, strong and experienced as the two lines of 1956. Outstanding in the forward wall are Guard Clyde Letbetter and Tackle Charles Bradshaw. Two experienced quarterbacks are the oft-injured Doyle Traylor and Louis Humphrey, while Larry Hickman is a fixture at fullback. Two sophomore speedsters may be heard from ere the season is over in the persons of Dobie Craig and Jim Millerman. Power running and the best line in the conference, offensively and defensively, will feature the Bears' play.
Arkansas has a brilliant backfield with speed to spare and an ordinary line. The running game should be paramount with all-SWC Fullback Gerald Nesbitt leading the attack. The return of Quarterback George Walker, who was out all the 1956 season with a knee injury, should also bolster the air attack. The Razorbacks should have little trouble scoring this season. Their major problem is in the line.
Rice, down in the depths for the past few falls, may be the surprise team of the conference. Its passing attack should be the best in the SWC, and its running game should be improved with more experience in the line. Both quarterbacks, Frank Ryan and King Hill, are returning. This combination completed 107 passes last season for a 55% average, and a sophomore, Larry Dueitt, is pushing these seniors for their jobs.
Texas lacks team speed, and new Coach Darrell Royal will have his troubles as he installs his split-T. Graduation losses were light, and 25 lettermen return from a team that dropped nine games. Many sophomores may take over veterans' positions. The most interesting switch is moving Walt Fondren, a truly great player, from halfback to quarterback.
Texas Christian, which has been 1-2 in the conference these past two years, has been wiped out by graduation and will have to depend largely on sophomores. However, the Horned Frogs still have Buddy Dike, their best fullback in years. Sophomores are promising, especially Halfback Jack Spikes. They will lean heavily on the running game.
Southern Methodist will have a rebuilding year under new Coach Bill Meek, fresh from Houston and the Missouri Valley championship. Five of the seven regulars are lost from the line, and star Quarterback Charlie Arnold missed spring practice with a ruptured kidney suffered in the Baylor game last fall; to add to the woes his understudy, Larry Click, has signed a professional baseball contract. Even though Arnold is medically ready, he is primarily a passer and might not fit into the split-T option play as a runner. Despite all this, Meek is pleased with the way the Mustangs have absorbed fundamentals, and he likes the spirit of the squad.
Texas Tech, with only ten lettermen returning and a tough schedule ahead, can look for a lean year. The Red Raiders, because of schedule difficulties, will not compete for the SWC title until 1960. Prospects for an improved season looked good after spring practice, but academic difficulties have deprived the squad of some of its better players. The worst loss was not academic: Floyd Hood, one of the outstanding guards in the Southwest, an ex-paratrooper and Golden Glover, damaged two vertebrae lifting his 20-pound baby.
COLORS: Cardinal and white
BASIC OFFENSE: Split-T
1956 RECORD: Won 6, lost 4
LETTERMEN RETURNING: 19 of 31
WATCH FOR: Exceptional speed from sophomore backs
THE DOPE: The Razorbacks should be considered the most likely dark horse in the upset-ridden, Southwest Conference. Coach Jack Mitchell, a disciple of Oklahoma-style quick-hitting football, has tremendous speed in his backfield, most of it encompassed in a quartet of small sophomore halfbacks. The return to health of Quarterback George Walker insures capable direction for the Arkansas team, and Mitchell has one of the sturdiest fullbacks in the conference in Gerald Nesbitt, a 200-pound senior who was all-conference last season. The most pressing problem Mitchell faces is a lack of defensive strength in the line, especially at tackle. Center Jay Donathan and Guard Stuart Perry are rated among the best in the Southwest, but the ends are only average, and the tackle situation indicates that the Razorbacks will have difficulty taking the ball away from strong running teams like Baylor and Texas A&M. Walker, who had his right knee operated on during the off season, is a better than adequate passer and probably the best operator of the split-T option play in the conference. He has a fine replacement in Don Christian, who ran the Porkers last year in Walker's absence.
1957 SCHEDULE (1956 score):
SEPT. 21 Okla. St. at Little Rock, N (19-7)
SEPT. 28 Tulsa (no game)
OCT. 5 TCU at Little Rock, N (6-41)
OCT. 12 at Baylor, N (7-14)
OCT. 19 Texas (32-14)
OCT. 26 Mississippi at Memphis (14-0)
NOV. 2 Texas A&M (0-27)
NOV. 9 at Rice (27-12)
NOV. 16 at Southern Methodist (27-13)
NOV. 23 Texas Tech at Little Rock (no game)
COLORS: Green and gold
BASIC OFFENSE: Multiple T
1956 RECORD: Won 8, lost 2
LETTERMEN RETURNING: 18 of 37
WATCH FOR: Tremendous attacking power, running and passing
THE DOPE: The Bears, by the end of the 1956 season, were the best team in the Southwest Conference. Sam Boyd in his first year as head coach spent the early part of the season creating two equally strong lines, and this year Baylor again has two big, strong and experienced lines. The loss of Del Shofner will cost a good deal in pass defense, and Bill Glass, the All-America guard, is gone, too. But Doyle Traylor, a brilliant quarterback who has been hurt in each of his first three seasons, should be well this year. Shofner and Glass were both No. 1 pro draft choices; Traylor and a 6-foot-2, 218-pound senior guard named Clyde Letbetter are potentially as good as the two graduates. With Traylor's passing to lend a deep threat, the Baylor running should be even better than it was last season. Boyd has the principal ingredient of strong running—two immensely powerful lines which can grind down the opposition until it becomes easy to open holes. He has a thumping runner in Fullback Larry Hickman and two big, fast sophomore halfbacks in Jim Millerman and Dobie Craig. Jerry Marcontell, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior end, provides Traylor with a big, easy target for his passes. All in all, Baylor should have possibly an even stronger attack than last year but, because of the loss of Shofner and Glass, a weaker defense.
SEPT. 21 Villanova, N (no game)
SEPT. 28 Houston, N (no game)
OCT. 5 at Miami, N (no game)
OCT. 12 Arkansas, N (14-7)
OCT. 19 at Texas Tech, N (27-0)
OCT. 26 Texas A&M (13-19)
NOV. 2 at Texas Christian (6-7)
NOV. 9 at Texas (10-7)
NOV. 23 Southern Methodist (26-0)
NOV. 30 at Rice (46-13)
COLORS: Blue and gray
BASIC OFFENSE: T
1956 RECORD: Won 4, lost 6
LETTERMEN RETURNING: 21 of 27
WATCH FOR: Strong passing attack built around Quarterback Frank Ryan
THE DOPE: The Owl eleven of 1956 was about the smallest and the youngest team Coach Jess Neely has had in his 18 years as head coach. He has most of that team back for 1957—a year older and a little larger but still not old enough or big enough to be a threat for the Southwest Conference championship. Neely, who has stuck to the ground on offense most of the time, has the equipment for a strong passing attack in Quarterback Frank Ryan, an accurate and accomplished thrower, and End Buddy Dial, a fast, rangy junior who is a great receiver. The Owl offense was good last year and should be again; the improvement which could make Rice a contender for the title must come in the defense where lack of size and experience hurt in 1956. The additional experience available this season should bring a normal improvement in defense, but a lack of capable reserves makes it unlikely that it will be enough. The line is especially thin at tackle, where only Larry Whitmire, a 1956 starter, is rated high. Neely, who has depended upon conservative football through the years, will have to capitalize on the possibilities inherent in his passing combination if he wins much this season.
SEPT. 21 at Louisiana State, N (23-14)
OCT. 5 Stanford, N (no game)
OCT. 12 Duke, N (no game)
OCT. 19 at Southern Methodist, N (13-14)
OCT. 26 at Texas, N (28-7)
NOV. 2 Clemson, N (no game)
NOV. 9 Arkansas (12-27)
NOV. 16 Texas A&M (7-21)
NOV. 23 at Texas Christian (17-20)
NOV. 30 Baylor (13-46)
COLORS: Blue and red
BASIC OFFENSE: Split-T
1956 RECORD: Won 4, lost 6
LETTERMEN RETURNING: 19 of 28
WATCH FOR: Running of Halfback Charlie Jackson
THE DOPE: The Mustangs, playing their initial season under Head Coach Bill Meek, have strong running backs, an inexperienced line and no quarterbacks. Charlie Arnold, who should be at quarterback on the basis of experience and ability, suffered a ruptured kidney against Baylor last year. Larry Click, who had been considered good enough to replace even a healthy Arnold, signed a professional baseball contract; the other quarterback candidates have played a total of only a little more than a game of varsity football among them. However, Meek is not wholly pessimistic about his team. Says he: "We are woefully inexperienced in the line, where we lost five of seven starters. The two who returned were handicapped with injuries and could take little part in spring practice. But the team showed good spirit and a desire to learn the fundamentals of the game. It should be an interesting season." The Mustangs should get strong running from Halfbacks Charlie Jackson and Lon Slaughter and Fullback Ray Masters, and Meek has able replacements for all three. But he has no tried centers, only one end with any experience, one guard and one tackle. And, of course, there is the quarterback.
1957 SCHEDULE (1956 score):
SEPT. 21 at California (no game)
SEPT. 28 at Georgia Tech (7-9)
OCT. 11 Missouri (33-27)
OCT. 19 Rice (14-13)
NOV. 2 Texas (20-19)
NOV. 9 at Texas A&M (7-33)
NOV. 16 Arkansas (13-27)
NOV. 23 at Baylor (0-26)
NOV. 23 at Texas Christian (6-21)
DEC. 7 Notre Dame (19-13)
COLORS: Orange and white
BASIC OFFENSE: Split-T
1956 RECORD: Won 1, lost 9
LETTERMEN RETURNING: 25 of 34
WATCH FOR: Running and passing of Quarterback Walter Fondren; sophomore talent
THE DOPE: The Longhorns were taken over by Coach Darrell Royal this spring, and he cast a more than usually baleful eye at his prospects. Said he, a bit sourly, "One does not take over a squad that has lost nine games and inherit a warm bed." The Longhorns should be better than they were last year, but Royal will need an electric blanket if he wants that warm bed this fall. In Walter Fondren he has a fine split-T quarterback. Fondren has the straightaway speed and the quickness a split-T operator needs, and he passes well enough; but no offense can be built upon one man. Although 25 lettermen have returned, the team will still be a young one since Royal plans a plentiful use of sophomore talent. He is changing the offense from the wide-open passing favored by Ed Price to a more conservative, conventional split-T. "People call the split-T the 'four-yards-and-cloud-of-dust' offense," Royal says, "and that's just what it is. But it still gets those yards for you and keeps the ball." With strength only at quarterback and center and a dearth of material at end, tackle and guard in the line, it seems likely that the Longhorns will have difficulty getting the four yards.
SEPT. 21 Georgia at Atlanta, N (no game)
SEPT. 28 Tulane, N (7-6)
OCT. 5 South Carolina, N (no game)
OCT. 12 Oklahoma at Dallas (0-45)
OCT. 19 at Arkansas (14-32)
OCT. 26 Rice, N (7-28)
NOV. 2 at Southern Methodist (19-20)
NOV. 9 Baylor (7-10)
NOV. 16 Texas Christian (0-46)
NOV. 28 at Texas A&M (21-34)
College Station, Texas
COLORS: Maroon and white
BASIC OFFENSE: Split-T
1956 RECORD: Won 9, lost 0, tied 1
LETTERMEN RETURNING: 19 of 30
WATCH FOR: Bruising runs of Halfback John Crow and Fullback Dick Gay
THE DOPE: The Aggies have a pressing problem in the middle of the line, where Coach Paul Bryant lost starters at both guard positions and at center. If Bryant can solve this, he has strength elsewhere to match the Southwest Conference championship team of 1956. One thing which may give this team incentive to produce—for the first time in two years A&M will be eligible for the Cotton Bowl. For the last two seasons, the Aggies, with fine teams, have not been available for a bowl bid because of NCAA probation incurred in recruiting the players who are seniors this season. In John Crow, Bryant has one of the best all-round backs in the country. He also has three good quarterbacks; a tough, husky fullback in Dick Gay; and an embarrassment of riches at halfback. Depth at tackle and end is better than it was last season, so only the possible weakness in the middle of the line prevents A&M from being a solid choice to win its second conference championship in a row. Says Bryant: "Over all, depth seems to be our big need. There just isn't much down on that second string.... I'm not satisfied with our team speed. There isn't a single man starting or playing a lot who has good speed. Gilbert [probable starting center] is O.K., I guess, but we aren't looking for straight ahead speed at center—we want it laterally."
SEPT. 21 at Maryland (no game)
SEPT. 28 at Texas Tech (40-7)
OCT. 5 at Missouri (no game)
OCT. 12 Houston (14-14)
OCT. 19 at Texas Christian (7-6)
OCT. 26 Baylor (19-13)
NOV. 2 at Arkansas (27-0)
NOV. 9 Southern Methodist (33-7)
NOV. 16 at Rice (21-7)
NOV. 28 Texas (34-21)
COLORS: Purple and white
BASIC OFFENSE: T
1956 RECORD: Won 7, lost 3
LETTERMEN RETURNING: 16 of 31
WATCH FOR: Running attack off the belly series
THE DOPE: The Horned Frogs will be rebuilt this year by Coach Abe Martin. Of the 15 lettermen who ended their college careers, eight were starters, including three of the team's top six rushers, the best passer and punter, the three leading pass receivers and six of the seven leading scorers. In spite of these losses, the Horned Frogs should mount strong running, built around Fullback Buddy Dike, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior who gained 658 yards rushing last year. Martin has strong halfbacks with enough speed to create the threat to the outside upon which the belly series depends. The loss of Chuck Curtis at quarterback leaves the team with no really good passer. The losses in the line were especially heavy. Only at end, with veterans John Nikkei and Chico Mendoza, are the Horned Frogs very strong. The tackle positions are weak, and Martin has not enough seasoned guards. He has three good centers in Jim Ozee, Dale Walker and Arvie Martin. All in all, with good running backs available and adequate quarterbacking, the Horned Frogs will probably move the ball well but, with a lack of experience in the line, the TCU defense may break down too often.
SEPT. 21 Kansas, N (32-0)
SEPT. 28 at Ohio State (no game)
OCT. 5 Arkansas at Little Rock, N (41-6)
OCT. 12 Alabama, N (23-6)
OCT. 19 Texas A&M (6-7)
OCT. 26 at Marquette (no game)
NOV. 2 at Baylor (7-6)
NOV. 16 at Texas (46-0)
NOV. 23 Rice (20-17)
NOV. 30 Southern Methodist (21-6)
COLORS: Scarlet and black
BASIC OFFENSE: Split-T
1956 RECORD: Won 2, lost 7, tied 1
LETTERMEN RETURNING: 10 of 27
WATCH FOR: Breakaway running from Floyd Dellinger, Charlie Dixon
THE DOPE: The Red Raiders, who were accepted by the Southwest Conference last year after a long wooing, will not participate as a football member with a full schedule until 1959, which is fortunate. Coach DeWitt Weaver, with a weak team last year, lost most of his starters to graduation, bad grades and injury. Only three starters return from the 1956 team, and there are four positions which not only have no starters returning but no lettermen either. With only seven seniors on the team, the defense could suffer tremendously, since it is on defense where lack of experience tells most heavily. The team is especially weak at end and center (one letterman back at each position) and at halfback, where Weaver must depend upon completely untried players with no lettermen at all returning. Floyd Dellinger, a junior college transfer, is a better than adequate quarterback who gives the Red Raiders a strong running threat as well as good passing. One senior—205-pound Pat Hartsfield—returns at end but, with only him to concentrate on, the Tech opponents may stop him without too much trouble. Luckily, the Tech schedule falls short of Southwest Conference strength.
SEPT. 21 West Texas State, N (14-34)
SEPT. 28 Texas A&M, N (7-40)
OCT. 5 Louisiana State, N (no game)
OCT. 12 at Texas Western, N (13-17)
OCT. 19 Baylor, N (0-27)
OCT. 26 at Arizona, N (21-7)
NOV. 2 at Oklahoma A&M (13-13)
NOV. 9 Tulsa (7-10)
NOV. 16 Hardin-Simmons (14-41)
NOV. 23 Arkansas at Little Rock (no game)