If any college football team should be out to overthrow the Government this year it is Penn State. After all, the President and the polls overlooked the Nittany Lions last year at trophy time, naming Texas the nation's champion although State finished with a 22-game winning streak and the longest unbeaten string—30 games—since Oklahoma's 48 in 1953-57.
Coach Joe Paterno did go so far as to denounce the polls (not the President) last year as irrelevant, but now he says he is tired of talking about that subject. And although he says he might enter politics someday—"My wife and I have talked about it lately; in four, maybe five years, I might do it"—he will not be running on the revolutionary ticket. "The trouble in the country now," he says, "is too many politicians making too many promises, especially to the people in the ghettos."
With regard to social change and its relation to football, Paterno speaks as a moderate, progressive activist: "I don't think an athlete will buy this business that they'll do something just because you have 'Coach' in front of your name. Football is a product of a culture and it's got to adapt to society; society isn't going to adapt to football." The Penn State campus experienced a considerable stir this past spring, with the state police finally being called in for riot-quelling duty. But the disturbances had nothing directly to do with athletic policies, and in fact the football team this fall will probably have something of a social advance going for it: a first-string, and first-rate, black quarterback who is a patient and orderly man.
The idea of being State's first black quarterback "doesn't faze me," says 6', 185-pound senior Mike Cooper. "I know I'm a good quarterback and a good athlete." Cooper wears his hair neatly trimmed and avoids wearing his bell-bottoms around Paterno, "who likes to kid me about my mod clothes."
Paterno says only that Cooper, who threw four touchdown passes in the spring blue-white game, has an edge as the likely starter over 6'5", 225-pound junior Bob Parsons, who threw three. But Paterno will pretty definitely go with Cooper as the more experienced.
Penn State, then, looks stronger at quarterback and better in general offensively since Running Backs Lydell Mitchell and Franco Harris will provide plenty of progress on the ground.
Defensively Penn State can hardly be expected to be so mightily deterrent, though, with seven of 11 starters departed, including Mike Reid, Dennis Onkotz and Neal Smith—All-America—and the consummately named Steve Smear. Jack Ham, who is not all that badly named himself, except that he is much quicker than his patronym implies, will be an All-America candidate at linebacker. He has already blocked four punts in two years. Another defender of notice is Charlie Zapiec, who passed up sure All-East and possible All-America recognition by volunteering to transfer from offensive guard, where he was All-East last year, to linebacker.
If Mike Cooper does start at quarterback, by the way, America will have black signal-callers from sea to shining sea, or at least one very good one on each seaboard. As a matter of fact, both Cooper and Southern Cal's Jimmy Jones grew up in the city of Harrisburg, Pa. So who knows, maybe the system won't be overthrown at all this year. And if they run a little faster than they did last year, neither will Penn State's receivers.