With a little luck—good here, bad there—this could be the closest Ivy League race in years. As always, Dartmouth seems to have lost the most by graduation and, as always, seems to have the most coming back anyway. Coach Bob Blackman, the Hanover magician, has a way of just shuffling a few players around and winning championships. This time the shuffle is a crucial one, as Halfback Gene Ryzewicz goes to quarterback and Defensive Back Steve Luxford moves to left half. Ryzewicz has limited ability as a passer, so Blackman will retool his multiple offense to make use of Gene's excellent running. With Linebacker Norm Davis and Tackle Giff Foley to steady the defense and not a sophomore in the lineup, Dartmouth must be favored to win its fifth title in six years. But not easily. Yale has 35 lettermen, including 240-pound Tackle Glenn Green-berg, who hits as hard as his father Hank, the old baseball player, used to. However, Quarterback Brian Dowling, who had a knee operation last year, and Halfback Calvin Hill, who was out for part of the season, must stay healthy for the Elis to have a good chance for the championship.
Harvard and Princeton will be in the thick of the race, too. Harvard lacks quantity but it has quality, especially in the backfield with Ric Zimmerman, the first Crimson quarterback in years who can pass, and a characteristically uncompromising line. Princeton's losses have been severe, but Coach Dick Colman has his usual wealth of good single-wing tailbacks plus Ellis Moore, a quick sophomore fullback.
The rest of the Ivies have problems. Cornell may have trouble holding off improved Columbia for fifth place. At Penn the Quaker linemen are too peaceful. Brown has a new coach, Len Jardine, but the same old team.
For the past five years the Southern Conference has been divided into two camps: West Virginia and the others. In that period the Mountaineers have lost only one conference game—in 1963—and they do not seem about to lose another. Garrett Ford, who gained more than half of West Virginia's 1966 rushing total with a weak line in front of him, is back again. There are two quarterbacks to take some of the load off Ford, and the defense, which did such things as give up 38 points to Penn State, has been shored up by Linebacker Carl Crennel, a sophomore who is the best at WVA since Sam Huff first created his violent world at Morgantown. Coach Jim Carlen has a softer schedule than last year and could finish 8-2.
William and Mary is the lone SC team with even a dream of beating out the Mountaineers. The league's Coach of the Year two of the last three seasons, Marv Levy, would like more speed and depth to go along with W&M's experience. Coach Clarence Stasavich of East Carolina is fifth among active coaches in winning percentage—which says something for the single-wing system he doggedly retains. ECC won all four of its league games last year but failed to win any others. VMI Coach Vito Ragazzo thinks his Keydets are "still a year or two away." At The Citadel 28 lettermen return, including Quarterback Jay Goolsby, who appears to have conquered his sophomore jitters. Richmond has only 18 returning lettermen, and half the squad will be sophomores.
"The Dirty Thirty" at Davidson, so-called because the school had only 30 able-bodied players last season, is a thing of the past. Coach Homer Smith figures on 47 this time around. At Furman, where no one had a full athletic scholarship, the "Football-for-Fun Bunch" lost gracefully. They will again.
The ACC, caught in the throes of a long and rather surprising football drought, has not had a really big team since Jim Tatum's national champions at Maryland in 1953. In 13 years only nine teams have gone to bowls, and in the last three years none have been invited. This season Clemson may restore some ACC prestige by pulling off a major upset or two. The Tigers face a southern Murderers' Row—Georgia, Georgia Tech, Auburn and Alabama—outside the conference, but with 46 lettermen back, Coach Frank Howard may rattle the South and go undefeated in the ACC as well. Quarterback Jimmy Addison set school records in 1966 and will break them this season. Leading the offensive line will be All-America Tackle Wayne Mass.
North Carolina State, which beat Clemson 23-14, is sound on defense with Dennis Byrd at tackle, but the paramount problem is finding a line that can block. Nine sophomores will start at Wake Forest, where for the first time there is enough depth to platoon. The Deacons are considered the conference sleeper, and someone was dozing when the Wake Forest-Duke game was arranged; each had the other scheduled at home. They compromised and will play at Raleigh. Duke Coach Tom Harp's prime worry is keeping two injury-prone quarterbacks well.
Maryland Quarterback Alan Pastrana injured his knee in spring practice and has not recovered from surgery so the Terps will have a sophomore quarterback and offense troubles. South Carolina's Paul Dietzel says, "I wouldn't trade our backfield for any in the conference or possibly anywhere," which suggests the Gamecocks may better their 1-9 record. Virginia expects too much of Tailback Frank Quayle, and North Carolina is already looking toward next season.
Pity the poor we-try-too teams who have to play in the SEC, the only conference with four schools—Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi—ranked in the Top 20. Playing in this league means the other six SEC teams are halfway to a losing season before their equipment is even issued. But it also means they have their chances to attack the mighty. Auburn is the most likely spoiler. Shug Jordan has switched Defensive End Al Giffin, a junior, to fullback with gratifying results, but this is offset by the fact that Auburn has three quarterbacks, none of whom Jordan is eager to rush into action. Florida's Ray Graves has the easiest schedule in the conference (of the contenders, only Georgia appears), and Steve Spurrier's replacement, Jackie Eckdahl, will have a chance to ease his way into the position. He will be comforted, too, by the presence of Running Back Larry Smith, who was voted the Most Valuable Player in the SEC in a preseason poll.
LSU finds itself with the toughest schedule in the league, if not the country. As well as Tennessee, Ole Miss and Alabama on successive weeks, the Tigers also meet Texas A&M and Miami. If Quarterback Nelson Stokley has recovered from his knee operation and can last the season, Coach Charlie McClendon will have the best losing team around. Some 75 players, the most ever under Charlie Bradshaw, came out for football at Kentucky this spring, but that may not be enough to fill the Wildcats' losses.
Both Mississippi State and Vanderbilt have new coaches. Charlie Shira, who has a mechanical engineering degree from Mississippi State, says, "Football is a lot like engineering. If you work long and hard enough, you can come up with the answer to the problem." His problem is too few football players. Bill Pace at Vanderbilt has even fewer.
Ask Coach Bo Schembechler of Miami of Ohio which team is the one to beat in the Mid-American and he comes back quickly, "Miami!" This is fair enough, since the Redskins were 9-1 last season and shared the championship with Western Michigan. But Schembechler can get an argument from the followers of almost every team in the conference. With the possible exception of Marshall, they all have a chance. Kent State has the best personnel, and for the past three years Coach Leo Strang has been brashly predicting a title in September and winding up in the ruck in November. This year he is silent, and his Golden Flashes may break through, for they are loaded with experienced players. The best of them are Don Fitzgerald, the nation's second-leading rusher with 1,245 yards in 1966, and Safety Lou Harris.
Miami is still strong in spite of the loss of Quarterback Bruce Matte. Defensive Halfback Kent Thompson has been moved into the quarterback spot and looks good. Western Michigan, even with 28 lettermen returning and two quarterbacks, Jim Boreland and Ron Seifert, will need some of last year's luck, when it won four games by a total of eight points. To take the conference championship it must fill a number of holes on the defensive team—too many, perhaps. Ohio U. is on the way up again. It has its best group of sophomores ever, and one of them, Cleve Bryant, figures to beat out holdover Ron DeLucca at quarterback. Bowling Green, usually a grind-'em-to-death team, will go in for more passing this year, with P. J. Nyitray throwing and Eddie Jones catching. Toledo, in the third year of Coach Frank Lauterbur's rebuilding campaign, is a suspicious team; one that may startle any complacent opponent. One reason is Quarterback John Schneider, the MAC's best passer.
The stimulating thing about the Big Ten is that it can have three teams ranked among the nation's best—Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State—and still present two or three that would be no great surprise as conference champions by the time the annual bloodletting is over. This year's duo that will not leave the opposition laughing is Minnesota and Illinois, in that order. Minnesota has the traditional Gopher defense, including a line that averages a bulging 236 pounds per man, but there now may be an offense to go with it. Two quarterbacks, Ray Stephens and Phil Hagen, will handle the attack. A 285-pound tackle, John Williams, and Tight End Charlie Sanders have moved over from the defense to strengthen the offensive blocking. Illinois, its image badly bruised by the slush-fund scandal that cost Pete Elliott his job, has presented new Coach Jim Valek with the kind of talent that hard recruiting often turns up. The defensive line is strong. Quarterback Bob Naponic returns, and he still has Split End John Wright to throw to. "The potential is here to beat any club in the Big Ten," says Valek.
It has been 22 years since Indiana has won a conference title and the Hoosiers won't this year, but for a change they may have a lot to say about who does. "I'm a positive thinker," says Coach John Pont, and he has a team of confident sophomores and solid defensemen, such as Tackle Doug Crusan, that will make a positive impact. He will start 10 rookies, including Quarterback Harry Gonso, who is a good passer, and Ed Harrison, an aggressive defensive tackle who weighs in at 258. Michigan has been hurt by backfield losses—only Quarterback Dick Vidmer returns—but the Wolverines will be sharp by midseason. Iowa, Wisconsin and Northwestern must wait for better years.
There was a time this spring when joy was returning to the collective heart of Norman, Okla. after an absence much too long. Jim Mackenzie had the Sooners coming back, and the enthusiasms that waxed hot in Bud Wilkinson's all-conquering days were rising once again. Then, in the middle of spring practice, Mackenzie died of a heart attack. The team remains the same promising one, and new Coach Chuck Fairbanks is promising, too, but the setback was just enough to leave the Big Eight in the hands of Colorado and Nebraska. Fairbanks' main concern is the Oklahoma defense, which in 1966 set a 32-year mark for poor achievement by allowing opponents to outgain the Sooners in six of 10 games. But the pass defense was as good as the rushing defense was bad, permitting only one touchdown. The Sooners still have a distance to come, but not a long one.
At Missouri, Coach Dan Devine has a trying year ahead, primarily because all of his halfbacks are gone. But the offensive line, with Russ Washington at tackle, is experienced and two quarterbacks return, Danny Sharp and Gary Kombrink. Oklahoma State managed to score more than two touchdowns only once last season but still finished well, and Coach Phil Cutchin has 23 lettermen back. "I hope there isn't a favorite in the conference," he says, "but if there is, I hope it's us." It isn't, for State must play Colorado, Missouri and Nebraska in a row.
There is also new spirit at Kansas State, the league doormat for years, where Vince Gibson has installed a pro-type offense. Former Iowa State Athletic Director Slim Chalmers said last December that the Cyclones will never win the Big Eight title because they do not have enough money to compete with the big boys. Who could argue? Kansas seems to be in the same poorhouse.
Last season the SWC was a "young" conference. Juniors and sophomores abounded, as did the mistakes and exciting finishes that could be expected from them. But now everybody is a year wiser and stability is returning, at least at the top, where Texas, Arkansas and Texas A&M look reasonably secure. Closest to these three is Texas Tech. The Red Raiders registered the upset of 1966 when they knocked Arkansas out of a first-place tie, 21-16, in the final game. Only one offensive starter, a guard, has graduated from the best line Coach J. T. King has fielded in six years, and six of his top seven backs have returned. The defense, though, is thin, needing more experience and less beef from a line that averages 224. At TCU, Fred Taylor took over from Abe Martin and introduced the kind of training program that teams with 2-8 records sometimes need. A lot of players left. One noteworthy survivor is Quarterback P. D. Shabay, the butt of much criticism last season. "If I ever have a kid," he said then, "I would sure discourage him from playing quarterback." Now Taylor has installed a new I formation for Shabay's benefit, and a much happier Shabay might well advise a son differently.
Baylor is changing, too, shifting from its constant passing to a ground-oriented game. Quarterback Kenny Stockdale had the team moving on the ground this spring and there is hope that Halfback John Westbrook will recover sufficiently from a knee operation to be a breakaway threat. New Coach Bo Hagan at Rice inherits little, but he docs have Quarterback Robby Shelton, who was suicidal enough to call his own number 32 times against Texas. And in this topsy-turvy conference, enchanted SMU, last year's winner, appears headed back toward normality just like everybody else.
Some Saturday this fall a WAC center is going to get set to snap the ball and find nobody behind him. From Laramie to Tucson there is hardly a quarterback in sight. Wyoming, the conference favorite, has converted a defensive safety man to start its plays, and the four teams that have a chance to beat the Cowboys are little better off. Arizona State has 14 starters back, the offensive line is intact, and the defense boasts Curley Culp, the NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion. Culp, a 6'1", 265-pound middle guard, averaged 15 tackles a game last year. Brigham Young graduated Virgil Carter and John Ogden, the nation's total-offense leader and the WAC's leading rusher, but Phil Odle, a split end, still has a year to go, and he already holds all school pass-receiving records. Odle and Casey Boyett, a flanker, can "get the ball if we can get it in the air anywhere around them," says Coach Tom Hudspeth.
Utah has at least half a quarterback if Jack Gehrke, who had the Utes at 5-1 before he injured his shoulder last season, has recovered. Coach Mike Giddings surprised the league in his first year at Utah by tying for second after he was figured to finish last. And this spring he surprised his team by bringing in a Marine captain to teach hand-to-hand combat. Utah can block, but nine of the 11 defensive starters are gone, and there is some question whether the replacements can tackle. Arizona's new coach, Darrell Mudra, has the mystery team in the WAC—20 sophomores and 18 junior-college transfers. He also has one of the only healthy, proven quarterbacks in the league, Mark Reed, who was the nation's No. 2 passer in 1966. But Reed lost a big target and Arizona lost a lot of potential when Ron Gardin was injured in an auto accident. New Mexico has a tested quarterback in Rick Beitler but lacks depth.
"If you want to get to Pasadena," says California Coach Ray Willsey, wistfully, "you'd better beat those Los Angeles teams [USC and UCLA] on the way." Not that Willsey entertains any such hopes—Washington is the only other Pacific Eight team with a chance to get to the Rose Bowl—but he could ruin somebody's traveling plans. Lately California football has been overshadowed by the political activists and hippies at Berkeley, who gather daily at Sather Gate for fun and games. But Willsey, a no-nonsense football activist, is trying to attract his share of attention. He had an unbeaten 1966 freshman team and has imported 19 junior-college transfers. The best of the new players are Paul Williams, a halfback, John McGaffie, a powerful 215-pound fullback, and Defensive End Irby Augustine. But the most important man is Quarterback Barry Bronk, who had a shoulder operation last year. If he regains his passing touch, the Golden Bears will glisten on occasion.
Stanford, which plays all seven league rivals for the first time, has its usual array of impressive athletes and depressing problems. Coach John Ralston's defense, with 246-pound Blaine Nye at tackle, is big enough, but too many of the Indians are too slow. And there is Quarterback Gene Washington, who runs as well as a halfback but unfortunately also passes like a halfback.
The rest of the Far West is in the construction business. Oregon State won its last six games in 1966 but lost three-quarters of the backfield that did it. At Oregon the big hope is sophomore Quarterback Tom Blanchard. Washington State has a new offense, which Coach Bert Clark calls a "Veer T," and a new quarterback, JC transfer Johnny Davis, to run it, but the Cougars open with USC, Oklahoma and UCLA.
While conference teams have the incentive of fighting for championships, about the best an independent can hope for is an occasional chance to lay violent hands on some postseason bowl loot. Or the pleasure of intruding on somebody's Top 20. Or the excitement of leading it, as does Notre Dame this year. Or even just the joy of being included, as are Miami, Houston and Army. Not surprisingly, there are several independents who could give the chosen few a run for their rankings. The best of them could be the University of Texas at El Paso, formerly Texas Western. The Miners, dedicated to Coach Bobby Dobbs's gaudy passing game, are laden with potential first-round pro draft choices. On offense, they have Quarterback Billy Stevens, who has thrown for 5,120 yards and 40 touchdowns in two years, and Split End Bob Wallace, a superb receiver. The defense includes Tackle George Daney, Linebacker Fred Carr and Safety Charlie West, who had 11 interceptions last season.
Virginia Tech, 8-2-1 in 1966, lost its entire backfield, but there is so much talent available that Coach Jerry Claiborne says things like, "We'll be even better." Nor is that mere talk. Tech's defense, led by Safety Frank Loria, is tough, and red-shirt Quarterback Al Kincaid has excellent receivers in Ken Barefoot and Gene Fisher. Colorado State, a pleasant 7-3 surprise a year ago, also has bright prospects. Its losses were minimal, and daring Coach Mike Lude, who uses plays like bounced lateral passes, has Oscar (Golden Shoes) Reed, a 223-pound tailback who ran for 946 yards last year.
Penn State has experience and depth, for Coach Joe Paterno lost only six starters. Behind a thoroughly tested offensive line will be Quarterback Tom Sherman, who can both pass and run, Bob Campbell, a breakaway tailback, and Don Abbey, a wonderful sophomore fullback who is able to tear away when he can't break away. Unfortunately, except for Mike Reid, a good 235-pound linebacker, the defense has its limitations.
Publicly Syracuse's Ben Schwartzwalder broods about the loss of Floyd Little and about a questionable offensive line, but the offense won't be held exactly scoreless. Larry Csonka, the All-America fullback, is back, and Rich Pancyzszyn (pronounced Pansishun), a sophomore quarterback, throws passes that his coach says, "aren't pretty, but get there." Schwartzwalder is not brooding about his defense. Led by a top pro prospect, Safety Ed Mantie, it is a good one.
Among the other independents, Florida State, even with a good passer in Gary Pajcic and fine receivers in Ron Sellers and Thurston Taylor, would be happier if it did not have to play Houston and Alabama in its first two games. Tulane's ebullient Jim Pittman, who roused slumbering fans last year with a 5-4-1 record, faces a similar problem. Quarterback Bobby Duhon, who earned 1,325 yards in total offense, and Safety Jim Jancik are back, but the Green Wave will be in over its head against Miami and Tennessee. At Georgia Tech, winning will come hard for new Coach Bud Carson, who inherited Quarterback Kim King and Tailback Lenny Snow but not much else. Navy could furrow a few brows with its passing team of John Cartwright to Rob Taylor. Boston College, Memphis State, Dayton, New Mexico State, Colgate, Rutgers and Holy Cross will all be respectable. Pitt is beginning to sense signs of life, but the Panthers are stuck with their usual impossible schedule. "We'll be 100% better," predicts Coach Dave Hart, "but that may mean we'll only get beat 20-0 instead of 40-0."