Northwestern and Minnesota were tied 22-22 with four minutes left to play when Tom Myers drifted back into the pocket for another pass. But he was in trouble. The heavy Minnesota rush was collapsing Myers' protection. Worse, Northwestern's two primary receivers—one long, one intermediate—were well covered. "Although we call 75% of the plays," says Northwestern Coach Ara Parseghian, "Tom has certain options as to what to do, and, of course, as a play unfolds, he can improvise." Tom Myers improvised under the storm of Minnesota tacklers and suddenly created the play that made the Wildcats' season. Spotting Halfback Willie Stinson just beyond the line of scrimmage, he lobbed the ball. Stinson caught it and raced 65 yards for the touchdown that put his team ahead. Northwestern won 34-22. Expected to fold at least a month before the season's end, Northwestern survived with a 7-2 Big Ten season.
The play was Tom Myers. It was the sort of thing he did all season long in 1962 when, as a sophomore, he became the best drop-back passer in college football. In nine games the 6-foot, 183-pound Myers accomplished 116 completions out of 195 passes for 1,537 yards and 13 touchdowns. He placed No. 4 in the nation in passing and third in completion percentage (.595). In his first varsity game against South Carolina Myers hit 20 of 24 passes for 275 yards, connecting on 15 of them in a row for a national record.
"We knew he would be good," says Parseghian, "but we didn't know how good." This is the persiflage one expects from most present-day coaches who extend and withdraw encomiums with the speed of computer machines. But Myers threw 73 touchdown passes in high school and was good enough as a freshman to make Parseghian switch from a split T attack to a pro T, with potential pass receivers flooding all over the field. This year Parseghian will make even wider use of split ends and flankers to accommodate the far-throwing Myers.
"His accuracy is something you can't teach," Parseghian says. "It's a knack one has to have, namely that of throwing to the spot where the receivers will be. I'd say that anyone who watched Otto Graham would get the idea of how Myers can lead a receiver."
Ara Parseghian does not try to pretend that Myers is a complete football player. "He's a fine ball handler, but only an adequate runner. Of course, we don't want to run him much and risk injury. He's also one of the best tacklers on our team, but we don't use him on defense for the same obvious reason. He carries out orders to the letter, and he has a sort of magnetism about him in the huddle."
Tom Myers is surprised that he has achieved such fame as a college star. "My family and I always went to see the high school games in Troy, Ohio, but my older brother Mike was the football fan. I preferred watching the band and eating hot dogs," Myers says. "In fact, my mother made my brother a football outfit to wear to the games, and she made me a little band uniform."
Tommy gave up the band uniform in his freshman year of high school and has been passing ever since. But now that everything has fallen neatly into place for Myers, including the college scholarship he wanted so badly, he pauses to wonder about it. "Sometimes the pressure is so intense I don't know if it'll let up. But I look back and say to myself, 'This is what you wanted, and this is what you've got.' "
What two other teams in the sprawling Midwest have got are quarterbacks almost as good as Myers. Nebraska's Dennis Claridge, in fact, is more than the best passer in the Big Eight Conference. He is one of college football's authentic triple threats. Drafted after last fall by Green Bay, Claridge led Coach Bob Devaney's team to an 8-2 record in 1962, running for 370 yards, passing for 829 and averaging 36.9 on his punts. "Claridge," Nebraska Center Ron Michka says, "takes things in hand."
The 10 next-best quarterbacks should come from Purdue, Illinois, Ohio State and teams of similar repute. In most years they would, but before them in 1963 must come a junior at Miami of Ohio, Ernie Kellerman, New Coach Glenn (Bo) Schembechler thinks Keller-man is the best quarterback in the country. "He's a baby-faced kid, really looks like a sissy," says Schembechler. "But that's where an opponent will make his first mistake. Kellerman is real tough. He could make good in any league."
There are, as the season begins, large sections of the nation where the mere mention of NORTHWESTERN does not produce quite the same involuntary trembling that a bludgeoning Southern Cal or Alabama attack would. Perhaps it is Northwestern's poison-pin-prick method of dispatching victims that throws people off. It is swift, it is sudden and it is merciful. But it is also fatal.
Coach Ara Parseghian, with 27 lettermen of more than ordinary ability back, claims his optimism is well guarded. So is his quarterback, Myers. Fast, 230-pound Jack Cvercko, Larry Zeno, Ed and Fred Tuerk and Rich Lawton constitute the best guard staff in Northwestern history. Joe Szczecko and Mike Schwager, backed by three lettermen, are fine tackles, and Joe Cerne has strengthened center. Returning at end are Gary Crum and Chuck Logan to help compensate for the important loss of Flanker Back Paul Flatley. The other two key receivers on whom Parseghian is counting are the nation's best pair of fullbacks, versatile Bill Swingle and Steve Murphy. And if those are not good enough reasons for making Northwestern the No. 1 favorite of the Midwest, Parseghian has one more—sophomore Dave Milam, whom some feel may prove good enough eventually to displace Myers.
In a region as large as the Midwest—it stretches from Ohio to Colorado—this may be predicting too much for Northwestern. There is, for one strong instance, the UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA. In most un-Wilkinsonian prose, Coach Bud Wilkinson told this year's team, "You can be the best college football team in the country."
From last year's sophomore-laden 8-2 Sooners (who outscored opponents by an average of 27-4) Wilkinson has lost a handful of good defensemen. That's all. Returning to the backfield is Fullback Jim Grisham, who bucked 107 yards against Alabama in the Orange Bowl, which is nearly twice the yardage averaged by teams playing 'Bama in 1962. Grisham may be the best bucking back in the country. That he was not even the best running Sooner last year should be a measure of the tribulations in store for 1963 foes. A 207-pound sprinter halfback, Joe Don Looney, skittered 852 yards, scored 62 points and—as a part-time hobby—led the nation in punting. He is back too. Right now, Wilkinson's quarterback is an untried junior, Bobby Page, a circumstance which causes no rejoicing among the enemy. He is good and he is barely beating out three sophomores for the position.
Actually, the Sooners do not need a backfield this good. The 1963 line is one of Wilkinson's biggest, epitomized by Ralph Neely, 6 feet 5 and 246 pounds of terrible-tempered tackle. Ed McQuarters and Newt Burton are a nicely complementary pair at guard, and John Flynn, John Porterfield, Rick McCurdy and Al Bumgardner make up an end corps fit to give an enemy backfield fits.
Far from Oklahoma prairies, high above the sky-blue waters of Lakes Mendota, Monona, Wingra, Waubesa, et al., broods a worried North Woods man. His name is Milt Bruhn. He has been told that his WISCONSIN Badgers should be chief contenders for the Big Ten intertribal football championship, despite the loss of braves like Ron Vander Kelen and Pat Richter. Now all Chief Bruhn has to do is fulfill expectations.
How well he does depends in large measure on how well Quarterback Harold Brandt fills the position. Brandt, who has flashed promise, is a smart general and an adequate passer, but his running is hardly spectacular, leaving a potential opening for good sophomore Dave Fronek. There is also an opening for one or two talented pass-catching ends, but the only holes related to the Wisconsin interior line are those it will leave when it tears through the enemy. Biggest, baddest Badger is 245-pound Roger Pillath, supplemented at tackle by Andy Wojdula and Roger Jacobazzi. Returning at halfback to take advantage of all that open space is the Big Ten's leading scorer, Lou Holland, who clutched and speed-shifted for 11 touchdowns last year. Bruhn, who may install the I formation to take advantage of the running, also has Ralph Kurek, his leading rusher last season, whom he calls the best fullback since Alan Ameche.
Behind Oklahoma in the Big Eight but ahead of some good Big Ten schools is KANSAS. Coach Jack Mitchell has a line that is inexperienced but capable and a backfield that could be superb. Says Mitchell of sophomore Steve Renko, a converted fullback: "After three days at quarterback, he looked as if he had been playing it all his life." Of sophomore Mike Johnson, slotback in Kansas' sliding-slot offense, he says, "He does everything well." You may remember that Kansas also had a pretty fair sophomore halfback last year, Gale Sayers, who rushed 1,125 yards. And Fullback Ken Coleman, who gained 347 yards and never lost one, also returns. Kansas will be fast and exciting. It will be good, too.
So will NEBRASKA, which is composed entirely of two-year lettermen, except at slotback. Naturally, this anguishes Coach Bob Devaney no end. You can see the man's problem—or can you? If not, you may be looking at Quarterback Dennis Claridge. Even Devaney admits that Claridge is "a fine passer," "fast, rugged runner," "a good punter" and "our best defensive back." Of course, you might be staring at powerful breakaway runner Willie Ross. Or, quite plausibly, your vision might be blocked by 6-foot-5 259-pound Guard Bob Brown, the pro scouts' favorite scenery, or by 6-foot-4 247-pound Tackle Lloyd Voss. Does Devaney have a problem? He does, but like Kansas', it is on the schedule. Oklahoma.
Like Barry Goldwater, ILLINOIS has recently been regarded as a rising power and is just beginning to entertain highest national aspirations. Illinois tactics, however, are anything but conservative. Quarterback Mike Taliaferro, for whom Coach Pete Elliott has installed a wide-open offense, threw 212 passes and completed 80 last year. He will be challenged strongly by sophomore Ron Acks. Center Dick Butkus, a genuine front-runner for All-America honors who made 97 tackles in seven games, returns this year with lots more help from a line that is two deep in lettered reserves. In the backfield talented sophomores abound, and Halfback Sam Price, a 210-pounder with power and speed, is expected to be one of the school's finest ever. Senior Jim Warren has the quickness to hold the flanking halfback position, but sophomores Jim Grabowski and Don Hansen threaten to wrest fullback from seniors Dave Pike and Al Wheatland. The one question about Illinois is whether its greenish hue may become more noticeable in the harsh light of the Big Ten big time.
Purdue is tired of waiting. "We've been well up in the Big Ten for several years because of a great defense. This year we'll try to open up a little and not lose much defensively," says Coach Jack Mollenkopf. Last year Purdue lost four games by a grand total of 13 points. It was last defeated by as much as a touchdown in mid-1960. On the theory that consistently scoring more than one touchdown per game might help, Mollenkopf is installing the I formation. Despite loss of 28 lettermen, he may have the manpower to make it work. Quarterback Ron DiGravio has proven talent, and alternate Quarterback Gary Hogan completed 35 of 77 last year. Gene Donaldson and ironman Halfback Charles King are solid performers, and Purdue has a more than adequate line. It all adds up to sufficient equipment to harass the contenders, but not to surpass them.
Football, which has been heavenly at MISSOURI under Coach Dan Devine the past eight seasons, may be a little less so this year. Halfback Johnny Roland, fifth nationally in rushing and leading scorer in the Big Eight, is on probation for "malicious mischief," and most of the line, considered one of the country's best last year, is gone. "Our spring practice," says Devine, "showed us what we needed rather than what we have."
What Devine does have are fast sophomore runner Monroe Phelps, a 9.6 man; two talented quarterbacks; Ken Hinkley at halfback; and excellent fullbacking, led by Paul Underhill. If there is a breach in MU defenses, it will be in the secondary, where only one of the five men who constituted the nation's fourth best pass defense returns. Woe to Missouri. Its first opponent is Northwestern.
Michigan State's Coach Duffy Daugherty is as cheerful as ever. "We'll go into this season," he says, "with maybe six to eight men of demonstrated Big Ten quality. Almost all of our regular linemen will be gone. We'll have to settle on a quarterback, build passing and kicking games and find power runners to spell our little backs. Our defensive backfield is a big, nebulous uncertainty." If that does not sound encouraging, maybe the backfield does. While quarterback, with Dick Proebstle and Charlie Migyanka, is a bit shaky, the rest is solid with Ron Rubick and Sherm Lewis at halfback and Dewey Lincoln and Roger Lopes at fullback. Not quite the lineup Daugherty would like, but better than most in the giant Midwest.
Minnesota's Gophers are, so to speak, in a hole, and with some very little men. Among seven returnees who made any yardage at all last year (only 285 yards in sum), Halfbacks Bill Crockett, Bill McMillan and Jerry Pelletier weigh 152, 161 and 152 pounds. The quarterback will be John Hankinson, who played exactly 30 seconds last year. The Minnesota line, first nationally in rushing defense last season, now has only Carl Eller, the 6-foot-5 241-pound right tackle who is a preseason All-America. He will get awfully lonely with only Left Tackle Milt Sunde for company. There is little hope for Minnesota, which was probably due for a fall after several good years.
Each and every spring Woody Hayes tilts back his straw hat, consults the Farmer's Almanac about spring plowing and begins cultivation of still another football surplus for OHIO STATE. Perhaps this spring he should have checked the phase of the moon too, for the first cut of the plow turned up, not the usual cloud of dust, but rocks. In a spring game so dull it appalled even Woody, the regulars dragged through a fruitless 6-0 win over the reserves. Hayes's stoniest problem is at tackle, the cutting edge of the OSU attack. He does have Paul Warfield, the fine halfback, but Hayes prefers fullbacks to halfbacks. His preferences are going to cost him dearly this year.
At IOWA Coach Jerry Burns announced a new "winning edge" football program. He then excused all 1963 seniors from spring practice. Apparently Iowa's seniors are either too good to need much practice or too hopeless to waste coaching time on. Since the juniors are singularly unproven, sophomores like Quarterback Gary Snook, Halfback Gary Simpson and End Cliff Wilder must be brought along fast. If Iowa does not get the winning edge soon, Burns might get the ax edge sooner.
Notre Dame's interim appointee Hugh Devore is the kind of coach who says, when his quarterback has graduated, his leading ground-gainer is racked up in an automobile accident and the schedule opens with Wisconsin, Purdue and USC, "I think we will have a better team." Lest Devore be thought softheaded, he does have an able line and bull-size backs in Paul Costa and Jim Snowden. Still, sophomores must carry much of the burden. Devore is developing a nice team for his successor.
Last spring MICHIGAN tried playing football by innings. Said Fritz Crisler, after watching a 12-inning game in which the Michigan blues beat the Michigan whites 25-0, "It's a nice game, but it isn't football." At this date it is still uncertain whether he blamed the new rules or Michigan's players. After Guard Joe O'Donnell and Tackle John Houtman there is little in the line. It will be a hard year at Ann Arbor, just as it will be at Bloomington, where INDIANA does have Halfback Marv Woodson, Guards Don Croftcheck and Mel Branch, and Tackle Ralph Poehls. Good as they are, the talent will not spread far.
Oklahoma State has a new coach, Phil Cutchin, a graduate of the Bear Bryant school. It had 112 players at the beginning of spring practice, only 46 at the end, 31 of them sophomores. It also has an interesting schedule that includes five of the 1962 bowl teams. This is not the year for State.
Nor is it for IOWA STATE, which after three wonderful years will have to play without the service of Dave Hoppmann. There are good running backs on the team, but they will be operating behind a fairly green line. COLORADO has the usual new head coach—this one Eddie Crowder, former assistant at Oklahoma—and, of late, the usual young team. KANSAS STATE Coach Doug Weaver is encouraged. "We are stronger than in the past," he says. "This team can take the physical punishment of a day's practice."
None of these Big Eight teams is a peer with the increasingly strong leaders of the competitive Mid-America Conference, who continue to play on a par with the lower rung of the Big Ten.
The only riddle about BOWLING GREEN, which again will be at the top of the conference, is how Doyt Perry keeps coming up with his world-beater football teams. Take this year. Deprived of 16 of his first 22 men from 1962, Perry has produced Tackle Jerry Jones, Fullback Bob Pratt, 310-pound Tackle Tony Lawrence and hurdling Halfback Jim Goings—all sophomores, all definite first-string material. Add returning Center Ed Betteridge, Guard Bill Violet and Halfback Jay Cunningham, and you have a witch's brew the competition will find hard to swallow.
BG's competition is, as usual, MIAMI. Bo Schembechler, fresh from Ohio State, will not have All-America Tackle Tom Nomina and End Bob Jencks, who scored 84 points last year. Among 28 returning lettermen, however, are the entire starting backfield from an 8-1-1 team including Quarterback Ernie Kellermann, Halfbacks Scott Tyler and Bill Neumeier and Fullback Tom Longs-worth. A 245-pound tackle, Paul Watters, is considered as good as Nomina. Miami will be rough indeed.
Ohio is not as lucky. There is little question that passing Quarterback Bob Babbitt and Roger Merb, a good running quarterback, will be missed. Replacement candidates are an unlettered junior, a converted halfback and a sophomore. But there is compensation in the reappearance of outstanding Center Skip Hoovler, End Dave Hutter and Tackle John Frick and a big bonus at halfback. Jim Albert and Ron Curtis will have to work to stave off sophomore rabbits Glenn Hill and Bob Anderson.
In the Missouri Valley Conference, the most formidable array of fugitive quarterbacks in football history gathered at TULSA this spring. There were Stu McBirnie, previously of Southern Methodist and Trinity, who led Tulsa to the national passing offense championship in 1962; Jerry Rhome, who led the Southwest Conference in passing in 1961 before leaving SMU; and Bill Van Burkleo, a sophomore in 1961 at Oklahoma, who had been hailed as the finest back between Mississippi and the Rockies. Though McBirnie has since left school, Coach Glenn Dobbs has the other two and End John Simmons, the nation's second-ranked receiver. Unfair as it is to the rest of the Missouri Valley Conference, Tulsa also has a brawny line and fine running baoks in Fullback Dick Beattie and Tailback Ken Rader. They are, as one might guess, transfers.
Cincinnati looked good last year on the offensive statistics sheet and bad on the scoreboard. The offense is back, along with maybe a slightly better defense. The scoreboard should ring up a merrier tune.
Tom Myers is the best
But Oklahoma challenges Northwestern
Ohio State is only an also-ran
Bowling Green is it in the Mid-America