The streaks were at work again last week. Nick Eddy went 56 for Notre Dame, Lenny Snow went 40 for Georgia Tech, Harry Wilson went 37 for Nebraska and marvelous Mel Farr, the best of the best—according to the pros—must have gone those distances in height alone as he soared above the waning exhaust fumes of Los Angeles to help UCLA win another game. For the third straight Saturday the streaks helped college football move another racy stride away from the old sport, where everybody went crunch, wham, whoof, and then the bodies were removed so you could get a look at what happened. College games have taken on the appearance of track and field meets, featuring such stylish events as the 58-yard hurdles, the 37-yard steeplechase and the 13-yard hop, step and jump.
In football's changing vernacular, a streak is primarily a halfback, a fast halfback who can, hopefully, become a semi-Bob Hayes and, by his mere presence, preoccupy whole townships full of defensive players. So far in 1966 there is evidence of raw speed such as the college game has never had before. Not only speed, but size and toughness as well, and don't forget goal-line instinct. All of these things seem to be embodied in a group of halfbacks that had the pros delighted even before they started acting like old 77s or old 98s.
"It's true that speed's the name of the game now," says one pro scout. "Everybody wants a Hayes, because now it's who can run under the ball first. We used to look first for hands and moves. These days it's just speed. But the thing about a lot of this year's backs is that so many of them have it all—speed, size and toughness, too."
When the college game first entered its present era of high-geared offenses, a trend brought about by the I formation and then platooning, the throwers were showered with most of the glory and attention—the Joe Namaths, Don Trulls and John Huartes. First-rate quarterbacks are still very much in vogue, of course, as the headlines about UCLA's Gary Beban, Florida's Steve Spurrier and Notre Dame's Terry Hanratty certainly indicate. But the runners are catching up. Not only are defenses spread by the constant threat of the pass, often yielding holes in the line roughly the size of the mouth to the Carlsbad Caverns, but there are now the streaks to take advantage of them.
See last week's perfect examples. There was poor Northwestern all keyed up to watch the Terry Hanratty-to-Jim Seymour passing combination that a week earlier had destroyed Purdue. So what happened on the Irish's fourth play from scrimmage? Nick Eddy took a hand-off from Hanratty and streaked 56 yards to a touchdown that started a 35-7 landslide. In two games now Eddy has the 56-yard sprint against Northwestern and a 96-yard runback of a kickoff against Purdue.
Then there was poor Clemson. All day long at Atlanta the Tigers did a superb job of spoiling Georgia Tech's feared passing attack, but then, in the fourth quarter, with Tech trailing 12-7 and Clemson absolutely sure that Quarterback Kim King would have to throw if he expected to win, there went Lenny Snow, 40 yards in all, for the winning touchdown in a 13-12 comeback. That was Snow's second touchdown of the game and his seventh in three games.
"Of all the good runners," says another pro scout, "Snow is the one whose speed is the most doubtful. But he's got that something you can't coach in a kid—that smell for the end zone."
Nebraska's Harry Wilson had it last week, too, and just when Nebraska needed it. With less than four minutes left, Nebraska faced the utter humiliation of a 6-6 tie with Iowa State. A situation fraught with desperate passing possibilities, yes? But split went the defense, and scat went Wilson for 37 yards and the game-winning touchdown.
UCLA's Mel Farr had no such dramatic plays to make in order to keep his team unbeaten and among the strongest in the land, but he did have to be very good throughout the afternoon or tough Missouri would not have gone down 24-15. If Farr, a 6-foot-2, 208-pound senior, had done anything less than gain 87 yards from scrimmage, or catch three of Gary Beban's passes for 85 yards, or dive for two touchdowns, the Bruins would not have, won, and UCLA Chancellor Franklin Murphy would not have had such a grand time hopping around on the Bruins' sideline.
This was last week's big game for a lot of reasons. Both teams were 2-0, for one thing. Then there was that business of matching the Rose Bowl champion against the Sugar Bowl champion. And there was national TV. Most important, however, it matched one of the nation's best offenses against one of the nation's most respected defenses. UCLA might have Beban and Farr, or, as the L.A. writers most often referred to them, "The bomb and the home run in the dream backfield." But Missouri had its best secondary in years, plus its mammoth end, Russell Washington, who is 6 feet 6, weighs 270 and despises runners and passers.
Missouri's defense was spicy and hard-hitting, though it yielded 407 yards. The secondary, patrolled by Jim Whitaker and Gary Grossnickle, intercepted three Beban passes, and rather miraculously kept Flanker Harold Busby, an authentic 9.4 sprinter, from getting deep. Russ Washington blocked a punt, picked it up and raced for a touchdown that narrowed the gap to 17-15 in the final quarter. But before, during and after all of this, Farr was displaying the talents that make the pros rate him so highly—yes, even several long steps ahead of Syracuse's more publicized Floyd Little, who Saturday passed Ernie Davis in career scoring. Farr is not just big, fast and quick. He is tough, he has sure hands, he is a superblocker and superfaker and he has the kind of attitude that last week encouraged his coach, Tommy Prothro, to say, "He's the greatest halfback I've ever seen. He's not All-America, he's All-Universe."
Farr seemed both on one 40-yard pass from Beban. He found himself darting at top speed just inside the sideline, a Missouri defender attached to his pale-blue jersey and the ball coming high over the wrong shoulder. He leaped, he looked straight up and back, he stretched out his hands and he made the catch.
As a runner, his 13-yard squirt for UCLA's final touchdown was enough proof for the most skeptical. Farr took a quick hand-off from Beban and shot through left guard, sped in his long-gaited style briefly into the clear, then broke one tackle, only to be hit at the knees on the five by another defender. In a combination hurdle, broad jump and hop, step and jump, he soared into the air and crashed head first into the Missouri end zone. Chancellor Murphy steeplechased up and down the sidelines.
Even before the game there was no doubt in the minds of UCLA's coaches that Farr was less than super alltime fantastic, to choose a modest Hollywood-style description.
"I think he could probably run a 9.6 or 9.7 in the hundred," said Track Coach Jim Bush. "That is, if he'd work, if he liked it as much as football."
"He's the perfect halfback," said Backfield Coach Pepper Rodgers. "He has speed and strength and he breaks tackles, which is what the pros like."
Although Farr still trails his teammate Beban as far as raves go, he received a clear decision as the best of the running backs in a poll taken by SPORTS ILLUSTRATED of a panel of the most successful professional scouts. The following is a list of the 10 favored backs, together with the paraphrased comments of the scouts and a summation of their season performances thus far.
1) Mel Farr, UCLA, senior: "Best in country. Big, fast, quick and super blocker. Great attitude, good hands, game breaker. Can get bigger without losing speed." Through three games Farr has gained 252 yards, averaging 6.4 per carry, has scored five touchdowns and, together with Gary Beban, is the foremost reason why UCLA is 3-0, is second in the nation in scoring and ranks fifth in total offense.
2) Harry Jones, Arkansas, senior: "Speed, enough size, great hands and apparently durable. Run or catch, can be another Alworth. Maybe fastest runner in the country from scrimmage." This year he has rushed for 106 yards. Last Saturday Jones caught two scoring passes of 72 and 48 yards and ran for another touchdown.
3) Clinton Jones, Michigan State, senior: "Tough, nifty moves, extremely durable, fine attitude. Rates third only because he gives up slight edge in height and speed to Farr and Harry Jones." This year he has rushed for 194 yards, caught two passes for five yards and two touchdowns. Last Saturday Jones, partly because of a bruised knee and partly because of a solid Illinois defense, had the worst day of his career, gaining only 16 yards.
4) Nick Eddy, Notre Dame, senior: "Tough and good moves, enough speed, will block and catch." This year he has rushed for 131 yards, caught two passes for 28 yards and scored two touchdowns.
5) Garrett Ford, West Virginia, junior: "Quick and strong and likes it. Most resembles Charley Taylor. Could make it on offense or defense." This year he has rushed for 270 yards and scored two touchdowns. Last Saturday Virginia Tech built a defense to stop Ford and did—holding him to only 24 yards rushing.
6) Warren McVea, Houston, junior: "Must be flanker because of size. Fast, best moves of all, good hands. Could be flop, but must take chance on him." After a long-awaited, well-promoted but disappointing start last year, McVea ended his sophomore year spectacularly. And he started superbly in 1966 by racing 80 and 99 yards for touchdowns with passes in Houston's opening two victories over Florida State and Washington State. This year his record includes 97 yards rushing, five passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns. Last Saturday Oklahoma State assigned three defenders to McVea and completely ignored the rest of the team. Final score: 35-9.
7) Lenny Snow, Georgia Tech, junior: "Great instinctive runner and has knack for doing right thing and going right place—like Frank Gifford. Lacks true speed, but has enough size and goes for the end zone." Tied for the nation's scoring leadership with seven touchdowns in only three games, he has rushed for 313 yards. Last Saturday Snow-scored both of Tech's touchdowns.
8) Floyd Little, Syracuse, senior: "Overrated, but good. Fine moves, but must be flanker. Too short and doesn't compensate with strength in legs as Mike Garrett of USC did. Doesn't catch clean, but gets open and scores touchdowns. Biggest drawback: will be 26 years old by rookie season." This year he has rushed 218 yards, caught seven passes for 26 yards and scored five touchdowns. Last Saturday Little ground out 110 yards against Maryland.
9) Harry Wilson, Nebraska, senior: "Just enough speed and moves to make it. Probably not a first-round choice, but can't be overlooked. Splendid instinctive runner and goes to the goal line." Overweight at the beginning of this season, he has still rushed for 187 yards, caught six passes for 80 yards and scored one touchdown. Last Saturday Wilson, who had been made a second-stringer because of lackadaisical play, came back to beat Iowa State.
10) Charlie Brown, Missouri, senior: "Fantastic broken-field ability with speed and change of pace. Must rank with Michigan's Carl Ward as one of the two most elusive runners in country. Like Ward, however, may be too small for pros to be extremely interested." After impressively ripping off 937 yards last season, Brown has been bothered by knee trouble in 1966. Starting slowly, he has gained only 73 yards in three games and scored once.
So go the streaks into the fourth week of a wonderfully streaky season. Last week, not mentioned by the pros but sure to be, are Don Moore of Washington, who gained 221 yards in the upset over Ohio State, and New Mexico State's Jim Bohl, the nation's leading rusher, who gained 73 yards in a 23-7 win over Utah State.