Of the many facets of college football by far the most satisfying is its blithe unpredictability. Some Invincible U. invariably gets itself tied up in knots that a Houdini could not unravel, and many are the Threadbare Techs which cannot possibly excel, but do. The game has never been guilty of a suffocating adherence to form; suspense and mystery are seldom absent.
This season was no exception. It did not lack, of course, its share of nonmysterious successes and failures. Eyebrows were not raised over the triumphs which ushered Louisiana State and Mississippi into the Sugar Bowl, which won laurels for Texas and Texas Christian, which assured Wisconsin a ticket to the Rose Bowl. Syracuse, the No. 1 team in the land, had considerably more class than many expected, but it had just been to the Orange Bowl and was earmarked a winner from the outset.
The stunning surprises—the Arthur S. Flemmings that popped up in the cranberry bogs of college football, 1959—were those which gladdened hearts at Athens, Georgia; Fayetteville, Arkansas; and Seattle, Washington, and saddened them at West Point; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas, Texas; and Norman, Oklahoma.
These seven were not, to be sure, the only major shockers of the season. Every week had its upsets. Tennessee twice rose above mediocrity to end the long victory strings of Auburn and LSU. Notre Dame's spirited finish caught Iowa and Southern California with their confidences up and their moleskins down. Were the season two weeks longer, Illinois or Michigan State might be representing the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl. And were it two months longer, highly ballyhooed North Carolina, ending with an unexpected rout of Duke, 50-0, might have lived up to its press notices. But on balance, the most astonishing reversals of September's promised form were those analyzed below after a national survey of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S football correspondents.
December 7, 1959
PEACE, IT'S WONDERFUL. With Georgia's Bulldogs, it was the little things, beginning last spring, that counted most. Abashed at the team's corpulence, Captain Don Soberdash vowed there would be head knocking if anyone returned overweight in the fall. Nobody did. Back from Alabama was Line Coach J. B. (Ears) Whitworth to serve as a perfect counterbalance for the tough, tongue-lashing Coach Wally Butts. Whitworth bent his understanding ears to players' problems and helped cement the team's exceptional unity. In the aura of peace and good feeling, the sharp Bulldog quarterbacks, Charley Britt and Francis Tarkenton, got over their resentment of one another. They evoked marvels of effort from the thin back-field, while Guard Pat Dye anchored a deep and dependable line. When Georgia, 10th in the Southeastern Conference last year, trimmed the terrible Auburn Tigers, the country finally took notice of a team that had only to lose a little weight and gain a little fellowship to win the SEC title.
END OF AN ERA. The recruiting game in college football has gotten so rough that even Bud Wilkinson is feeling the pinch. It is obvious from a glance at the roster that the shrewd Oklahoma coach is still charming a raft of Texas prospects as well as plucking home-state plums. But where are the Leon Heaths and Tommy McDonalds and Eddie Crowders of yesteryear? The hard truth is that enough big ones have gotten away to cut the Sooners down to dimensions average opponents can cope with. Wilkinson saw it all coming, but he had cried "Wolf" so often before that it took the defeats by Northwestern, Texas and Nebraska and the narrow escape from Kansas to convince anyone of the truth. The Sooners had a variety of ills besides an unaccustomed lack of depth: too much slipshod tackling, not enough sure ball handling, a tendency to bungle elementary matters of judgment. But make no mistake about it. The days of riding roughshod every weekend are gone forever.
THE WALKING WOUNDED. At West Point, football is regarded as the closest academic approximation of war. If casualties are the criterion, the academy was never more successful in simulating actual battle conditions. Coach Dale Hall inherited the nucleus of a marvelous team (undefeated in 1958) from the retired Red Blaik. Before the first shot was fired, the wounded poured in. Preseason injuries all but eliminated the No. 1 fullback, John Eielson, and the starting tackles, Bill Yost and Jerry Clements. Bob Anderson, the All-America left halfback, was hurt in the second game; Steve Waldrop, the right half, in the third. Lonely End Bill Carpenter suffered a shoulder separation in the seventh game. Down to the end, Army displayed boundless courage, but it was a thoroughly hobbled mule that made its way wearily home from its worst defeat by Navy.
COACH ON FIRE. Nobody quite realized just what Coach Frank Broyles' flaming spirit could do for the Arkansas Razorbacks. He took a small but fast line and a light but speedy backfield, juiced them up with his own competitive spark and sent them cutting hog-wild through the Southwest Conference. Under the spell of Broyles' silver tongue, the team hit harder than any other in the conference. Wayne Harris, at only 190 pounds, suddenly became the best linebacker in Arkansas' history; Jim Mooty shrugged off the effects of chronic off-season headaches and became Arkansas' best running back ever; Lance Alworth emerged as a triple-threat terror beyond all expectations. You'll hear a lot more about Broyles. Ex-aide to Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd, he is young (34), thorough and smart, above all else a quick-thinking tactician under the stress of battle.
FAILURE IN THE STAR SYSTEM. Southern Methodist's dismaying season taught a noteworthy lesson: a school which klieg-lights an exceptional player does so at its peril. The object of SMU's illumination was the superb passer Don Meredith. Largely because of him, but also because of other touted assets, SMU made everybody's preseason list of best teams. The point is not that Meredith failed. He was a phenomenal passer. Rather, the team failed Meredith. The Mustangs were listless and surprisingly sloppy. Jealousy of Meredith's SMU-primed publicity (but not of Meredith personally) was clearly one of the causes. "Aw, it can't help but make the boys feel bad," said one regular. A wider-awake Mustang could have meant a great difference in Dallas.
FLATTENED OPTIMIST. Behind the sudden fall of Ohio State is a sad discovery for Woody Hayes and other positive thinkers. There are no pushovers any more. By the standards of past years Ohio State beef would have been sufficient for the season. Nobody was surer of this than Hayes. "We'll win the title," he flatly predicted in September, before he learned that the patsies of earlier days had grown into uncooperative young giants, no longer submissive to the likes of Hayes and the Buckeyes.
Even had Hayes's best quarterbacks, Jerry Fields and Tom Matte, and his big All-America fullback, Bob White, not suffered limiting injuries, he would have been sweating, for the Big Ten had struck its best balance in years. An early-season flutter at wide-open football was as futile as Hayes's bedrock ground-it-out game; Ohio State collapsed to its worst record (3-5-1) since grim 1947.
IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. Above all, the Huskies are a team. But last year, when they lost no fewer than seven games, they were a team, too. There were no All-Americas at Seattle in 1958; there are none now. What most people failed to notice before was that Washington lost many of its games by close scores. What practically everybody was conscious of this year was that Washington was led by a one-eyed quarterback, Bob Schloredt, who got into the leading traces when First-stringer Bob Hivner was hurt. Schloredt, deprived of the sight of his left eye by a boyhood Fourth of July accident, provided just enough offensive punch to assure that teamwork and that elusive commodity, "heart," would finally bring a Rose Bowl trip to the earnest forces of Jim Owens. Owens never tried to teach showy tactics beyond the Huskies' fairly limited physical capabilities.
COLOR OF THE WEEK: A SWEET GEORGIA BROWN
Breaking into the clear on a 38-yard run to set up Georgia's first touchdown in its 21-14 victory Saturday over archrival Georgia Tech, Bulldog Halfback Fred Brown sprints away from Tech's Ed Nutting (75), another (partly obscured) defender and trailing teammates, including Phil Ashe (55). Brown, nephew of the former Alabama football and Hollywood wild West star, Johnny Mack Brown, raced to the Tech two before being cut down by a rolling tackle. Quarterbacks Francis Tarkenton and Charley Britt passed for touchdowns (the latter to Brown) as Georgia completed its scoring by half time and then survived a fierce counterattack. Thus unheralded Georgia (Orange Bowl bound) triumphantly ended perhaps the most startling of all the season's surprise stories.