Half a national-championship loaf was better than none for Oklahoma last year, but this season the Sooners should have every crumb for themselves—to say nothing of all that postseason bread. Oklahoma is off probation and eligible for all the polls, bowls and honor rolls. Only a regular-season television proscription remains.
Oklahoma begins the season with a wagonload of talent and experience, plus a 29-game unbeaten streak. "People like to think we're fat and sassy," says Coach Barry Switzer, whose two-year record is a trim 21-0-1, "but we'll play as hard as ever. We could be even better than we were last season."
Improving on perfection is difficult. The Sooners were the nation's only unbeaten, untied team last year, ranking first in scoring, total offense and rushing, and they were in the Top Ten in the corresponding defensive categories. Graduation losses struck the offensive line, defensive secondary and linebacking corps, but experienced, capable reserves are on hand.
The Oklahoma wishbone will be as destructive as ever. Joe Washington, whose hand-painted silver shoes flashed to 14 touchdowns and 1,321 yards last year, is bidding for the Heisman Trophy and Steve Owens' Big Eight career rushing record. Switzer calls Slippery Joe the best back in the country, and there are days—such as last season's four-touchdown, 211-yard effort against Colorado—when he appears to be just that. Elvis Peacock, spectacular as a reserve last fall, should be the other halfback, with junior Horace Ivory and freshman Billy Sims providing superior support.
No less important in Oklahoma's snap-crackle-and-pop offense are Fullback Jim Littrell's power up the middle and the passing of Quarterback Steve Davis to Tinker Owens and Billy Brooks. Littrell gained 837 yards last year, and Davis, who has not quarterbacked a losing game, ran and passed for 1,260 yards and 20 touchdowns. They will be working behind a huge offensive line, led by 6'6", 290-pound Tackle Mike Vaughan and 6-foot, 250-pound Guard Terry Webb.
Despite the loss of Linebacker Rod Shoate and Safety Randy Hughes, the defense will remain formidable. Brothers LeRoy and Dewey Selmon are enough to guarantee that. In 1974 they stormed in from their tackle and nose-guard positions for more than 100 tackles apiece. Switzer worries about his outside pursuit and pass coverage, but says confidently, "We'll be physical and tough, and that's what defense is all about." Further help should come from an outstanding freshman class, which the Sooners' chief recruiter, Jerry Pettibone, calls "the most promising in at least six years."
You're doin' fine, Oklahoma.
Unlike most teams, Alabama makes no secret of its national-championship ambitions. "It's our goal every fall," says Charley Thornton, the assistant athletic director. "Nobody even talks about the Southeastern Conference title. In a way, we've created our own monster."
The Crimson Tide has lost only one regular-season game while winning the last four SEC championships, but bowl defeats have cost it three national titles. "We talk to the kids all the time about the national championship," says Bear Bryant, who has won three in 30 years of coaching. "I want to win it all. I don't like mediocrity. It's like climbing a totem pole. The higher you go, the fewer people there are crowding you."
Naturally, and with good reason, Alabama is talking national championship again. "If we don't get it with this bunch," says All-America Defensive End Leroy Cook, "we'll never get one." Whereupon Cook and five other players were placed on probation by Bryant for disciplinary reasons, and two others were suspended.
Even so, the Tide has a juggernaut: 14 starters back from last year's team, which survived youthful mistakes, injuries and offensive inconsistency to win all 11 games before its Orange Bowl loss to Notre Dame. "This is the finest-looking squad we've ever had," says Bryant. "By that I mean we've got more big, strong kids. But except for the offensive skill positions, it's also the slowest."
Bryant is particularly concerned with his plodding offensive line. He gave it personal attention during spring practice, but admitted afterward, "None of them could line up and beat a Notre Dame or an Auburn."
Overall, the pluses far outnumber the minuses. Even Bryant admits that his running backs are exceptional. Calvin Culliver and Willie Shelby return, and they should be helped by Johnny Davis, an inexperienced sophomore fullback with outstanding potential. Big, strong Richard Todd is the quarterback. Two years ago Bryant said Todd would make people forget Joe Namath. Unfortunately, he had neither the magic arm nor the leadership qualities, but he is improving. He has also overcome the nervous stutter that occasionally obliged his teammates to call plays in the huddle.
Alabama should be as strong defensively this year as last, when it allowed only eight points and 220 yards a game to rank third and fifth nationally. Wayne Rhodes and Alan Pizzitola return to the secondary; Greg Montgomery and Woodrow Lowe to linebacker; and Bob Baumhower, Charles Hannah and Cook to the line.
To win the national title, Alabama must overcome its eight-year bowl drought. "Bowls are supposed to be fun—a reward," growls Bear. For the Tide, they have been a death sentence.
So you want to make a bet? Jack Nicklaus in the Masters? Not bad. Oakland to win both the World Series and the Super Bowl? Could happen. But why take a chance when you can go for a sure thing. Try USC in the Rose Bowl. No, not necessarily to win, although the Trojans do that often enough, as Ohio State found out last January. The bet is that USC will again take the Pacific Eight title and represent the conference in the Rose Bowl. As it did last season and the season before that and the season before that—seven times in the last nine years. Money in the bank.
Coach John McKay's record against Pac-8 opponents is 68-14-3. Despite the loss of 14 players to the pros, despite having no Anthony Davis to run back kickoffs, no Pat Ha-den to throw last-minute touchdown passes and no Charles Phillips to come up with interceptions, and despite McKay's claiming to have "fewer pro prospects among the seniors than any year since 1962," USC figures to win the conference title yet again. Even another national championship is possible, for the schedule seems easier than last year's, although the Trojans play Notre Dame in South Bend, and surely you remember why the Irish want blood.
3USC will be difficult to score against. Three-time All-America Richard Wood is gone, but the linebackers will be strong, especially Kevin Bruce, who led the team in tackles in 1974, and experienced sophomore Mario Celotto. Of the 22 probable starters 17 are Californians, but the best defensive lineman is from Woody Hayes' turf, Cleveland. His name is Gary Jeter, and for a 237-pound tackle, he can fly. Sophomore Dennis Thurman replaces Marvin Cobb at safety, and he will have proved talent there with him in Cornerbacks Danny Reece, Ron Bush and Rover Doug Hogan.
Without Davis, Haden and Receiver Johnny McKay, it does not seem likely that USC could be as explosive as in 1974. The offense is formidable, nevertheless, with a potential baby-elephant backfield of Quarterback Vince Evans, who is 6'2", 205 pounds and a powerful runner; 209-pound Fullback Dave Farmer and 215-pound Tailback Ricky Bell. If two sophomores with big reputations, Dwight Ford and JC-transfer Lynn Cain, do well, McKay might let them share the tailback spot and return Bell to fullback, a position he would share with Farmer and Mosi Tatupu, a 225-pound Hawaiian. When Haden was resting last year, North Carolinian Evans showed himself to be a good passer and he will have some handy targets, notably Flanker Shelton Diggs, who caught the two-point conversion pass in the Rose Bowl, and Split End Ken Randle, who ran a 45.1 quarter last spring. The offensive line will be anchored by junior Marvin Powell, also from North Carolina.
"We're a year away from greatness," says McKay, "but the Trojans will survive in '75." On almost any other campus such survival would be called prosperity.
For the last three seasons Michigan's record has been a glittering 30-2-1. In that period it shared three Big Ten titles, didn't finish lower than sixth in the national rankings—and didn't go to a single Rose Bowl game. This year, however, the Wolverines will almost assuredly find themselves in a postseason game somewhere if only because a proposed revision in the Rose Bowl contract may allow the Big Ten runner-up to accept an invitation to another bowl, if offered. But Coach Bo Schembechler has his sights aimed higher even if, as is the case with most coaches, he has found something to worry about.
"This year our offense may be so weak we could field a pro defense and still be in trouble," Bo says. Well, chances are Michigan will indeed field a pro defense. Through his six seasons at Ann Arbor, Michigan ranks first among major schools in fewest points yielded. During that time the Wolverines have blanked opponents 18 times and given up no more than seven points another 24 times. With that kind of defense, you only need a Pop Warner offense.
Which is exactly what worries Bo—the offense may be puny. "In some areas," he says, "we may need immediate help from our freshmen." Bo's two best prospects are Running Back Harlan Huckleby (6' 1½", 195 pounds) from Detroit and Russell Davis (6'2", 215 pounds) from Wood-bridge, Va. Scoring 26 touchdowns his senior year, Davis won raves as "the best high school runner since O. J. Simpson." Schembechler is wary of such praise.
"Davis hasn't played fullback," he says. "I always worry about these kids with superstar labels. The guy I like is Huckleby. He can run."
Running is the tactic Schembechler prefers almost to the exclusion of the forward pass, and so the Wolverines again may be expected to plow along with a lot of quarterback options and tailbacks skirting end. Michigan rushed for an average of 307 yards a game last season as Gordon Bell and Rob Lytle, both returning, combined for 1,850 yards.
At quarterback, senior Mark Elzinga (6'3", 198 pounds) inherits the job Dennis Franklin performed so well for three seasons. Split End Jim Smith, one of the Big Ten's best, has been shifted to wingback.
The defense will be hurt by the loss of David Brown in the secondary—but not that much. The five-man defensive line will be headed by Jeff Perlinger (6'4", 240 pounds), an All-America prospect, and Middle Guard Tim Davis (5'10", 210 pounds), who made 16 unassisted tackles against Ohio State. Don Dufek, an outstanding rover, is the nucleus of the linebacker-secondary corps.
Michigan opens at Wisconsin, where a veteran Schembechler team almost got beaten last year. Other tests are against Michigan State and, of course, the Buckeyes, whom Michigan gets at home.
Midway through spring practice Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne, in search of a quarterback to replace David Humm, was puzzled over the bumbling performance of Randy Garcia, a 6'3" sophomore who was redshirted last season after a knee operation. On the depth chart, which at that stage was very tentative, Garcia was listed as No. 5 and playing not even that well. "Dang," said Osborne, firing off the strongest oath in his vocabulary.
The coach called the sophomore to his side. After some hesitation, Garcia admitted that Osborne's presence made him nervous. "If I make you nervous being around," said the coach, "how are you going to react in front of 76,000 people?"
In the next few days Garcia improved considerably and Osborne was taking credit for the transformation.
"No, Coach," said the sophomore. "It wasn't the talk. Now I just pretend you aren't here."
For the first time in seven seasons the Cornhuskers will open with a quarterback corps of questionable credentials. Humm is gone, and long gone are Jerry Tagge and Van Brownson. That's the trio that led Nebraska to two national championships and six straight bowl victories.
At the moment, the starting quarterback is Terry Luck, a senior who has spent more time under the knife—three knee operations—than on the playing field. Seeing action for the first time last season, he completed eight of 21 for 83 yards and a touchdown. It was Luck, in for a sputtering Humm, who engineered a late 99-yard drive to beat Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Just behind him are, yes, Garcia and Vince Ferragamo, a 6'3", 205-pound junior with promise. Despite their inexperience, Osborne felt he had enough good people to consider using Earl Everett, last year's No. 2 signal-caller, as a part-time wingback.
When you have three potential All-Americas at other positions and a defense that could have given Leonidas three additional days at Thermopylae, it takes the pressure off the offense, but in this case, the offense can take care of itself. For instance, it has Rik Bonness, the explosive center—the best in Nebraska history, according to Osborne—who has started every game but one the last two seasons; senior Tony Davis, perhaps the finest fullback in the land; and John O'Leary, a slashing tailback.
Plus—and what a defensive plus—Wonderful Monds Jr., the monster back with the magnificent moniker and, at 6'2" and 200 pounds, the fastest of the 22 starters. "With Monds and our overall experience," said Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin, "I think we're going to have a heck of a defense. And we're going to have a great defense if everyone works hard."
"I believe we'll work hard," said Osborne.
"Where's that voice coming from?" said Garcia.
Although the defense is a frightening shade of green and the schedule is fraught with hazards, Auburn seems capable of giving Coach Shug Jordan something more than a gold watch after his 25th and final season. At least the old War Eagle, who turns 65 this month, hopes so. "I want to make this last year a good one," he says. "I think the players want their old coach to go out a winner too, but it's going to take a particular breed of Auburn player for us to survive."
Anything resembling last year's 10-2 team would suffice. The 1974 Tigers were among Jordan's best, and they capped the season by swamping Texas 27-3 in the Gator Bowl. Unfortunately, eight defensive starters are no longer on hand. "We have some good players," says Defensive Coordinator Paul Davis, "but I hope we don't get killed while we're learning."
Jordan is worried, too, but he is quick to point out that, "It's been a long, long time since we had a bad defense." There is nothing wrong with the nucleus of Tackle Rick Telhiard, End Liston Eddins and Linebacker Carl Hubbard, who will miss a few games because of a knee injury. Telhiard is a bit small (5' 10", 229 pounds), but he led the team in tackles last year. Among the more promising youngsters are Linebacker Kim Sellers, the only freshman to letter in 1974, and sophomore Safety Rick Freeman.
The three leading ground-gainers return from a backfield that veered to a school-record 281 yards per game. Most prominent is junior Fullback Secdrick McIntyre, only 192 pounds but the fastest running back Jordan has ever coached. Quarterback Phil Gargis is also a fine runner and an adequate passer. Even though he was a substitute, Tailback Mitzi Jackson was the third-leading rusher last year and should do even better playing full time.
The Tigers will throw more than nine passes a game—their 1974 average—if a capable receiver can be found. One candidate is Chris Vacarella, who has moved to wingback from reserve quarterback. "We need to get people off our running game," says Offensive Coordinator Doug Barfield, Jordan's 39-year-old designated successor.
The big offensive line, which should be a comfort to Gargis, is led by 260-pound senior Tackle Chuck Fletcher, Auburn's best blocker the past two years. To fill a vacancy at center, Jordan had to look no farther than his own street where senior Ben Strickland grew up.
An eighth-straight bowl appearance is possible if the Tigers can overcome a rugged schedule that has them on the road seven of 11 weekends and includes six 1974 bowl teams. "We have not always been a good road team," Jordan says. "This year we have to be."
This year, more than any other, they will probably want to be.
7 OHIO STATE
Woody Hayes undoubtedly would prefer something more traditional for his silver-anniversary year at Ohio State, but there it is—the prospect of an honest-to-goodness tough schedule starting with the opening kickoff. The last time an OSU schedule was rugged enough to worry Woody, Archie Griffin was learning to walk.
It has never been Hayes' practice to test his team early in the season, or at all, if he could avoid it. While Oklahoma may challenge a USC, or Nebraska a UCLA, Hayes has played it safe, clobbering nonconference cripples or Big Ten also-rans right up to the annual season-ending vendetta with Michigan.
This year, however, the Buckeyes open against Michigan State in East Lansing, which soon may replace Ann Arbor as the town Woody hates most in the state Woody hates most. The Bucks have lost two straight in Spartan Stadium, including last season's 16-13 stunner that cost them their No. 1 ranking. Revenge, which might be a powerful force in other years, may not be enough this time because the Spartans suspect it was Hayes who called attention to MSU's alleged recruiting violations, now the subject of an NCAA inquiry.
After MSU, Ohio State plays Penn State, North Carolina and UCLA in Los Angeles before returning to the Big Ten, where downtrodden Northwestern has been replaced by Purdue. As usual, the Michigan game will be the season finale, this year in Ann Arbor where the Buckeyes have not won since 1967.
The squad has lost 13 starters, eight of them defensive players, so the first few games should be especially revealing. As in other recent seasons, Hayes will make liberal use of freshmen, hoping that they mature rapidly, as did Nick Buonamici, a 6'3", 236-pound junior defensive tackle who was the terror of spring practice. Another proven performer is Safety Tim Fox.
While Ohio State will be extremely young, Columbus fans will have little trouble recognizing the offensive backfield. Headed by Heisman Trophy winner Griffin, who has rushed for 4,139 yards and 22 touchdowns, it includes fellow seniors Cornelius Greene at quarterback and Brian Baschnagel on the wing, with junior Pete Johnson ensconced at fullback. Figure Archie for a lot of carries. Woody does.
Griffin's brother Ray, a sophomore who is faster than Archie and too valuable to play behind him, has been moved to safety. Secondary Coach Dick Walker, who tutored Jack Tatum, says Ray "has the potential to be the best hitter I've ever had."
If the uncustomary ruggedness of the early going doesn't overwhelm Ohio State's young players, the Buckeyes could spend a fourth straight New Year's Day Rose Bowling in Pasadena.
8 PENN STATE
Time was when Penn State was the big bully on a little block, taking on Army, Navy and assorted other Eastern pussycats. As a result, two things happened: the schedule helped Joe Paterno compile the best coaching record in the game—in nine years as head coach he is 85-15-1—and the Nittany Lions were never chosen No. 1, not even two years ago when they won 12 straight, including an Orange Bowl defeat of LSU. The pollsters would look at the weak schedule and vote for some other team, often one with a lot of bigger-name patsies on its schedule.
This season no one can accuse Penn State of dodging the heavyweights. For one thing, some of those pussycats have grown sharp teeth; Pitt, Maryland and North Carolina State were all in the Top 20 last year. And two weeks from now Penn State takes on a superheavyweight, Ohio State—and in Columbus. It should be a bruising afternoon.
Paterno spent the summer huddled in a darkroom, watching films and trying to come up with a workable offense. He emerged sounding somewhat the worse for wear. "I really don't know what system we'll run," he says. "Who knows, we might line up in a single wing."
Penn State's offense mostly consists of hefty juniors (Paterno could field a line averaging close to 250 pounds). There are two quarterback candidates, John Andress, who threw only eight passes last year, and 6'5½" John Carroll. Andress is the better all-round athlete, but Carroll, says Paterno, "has the potential to be a really outstanding passer. He's smart and learns quickly." The running game looks solid with last year's frosh flash Jimmy Cefalo, Woody Petchel, the best rusher in the spring game, and Fullback Larry Suhey, who grew up in State College, Pa. Gone are Ouarterback Tom Shuman, Tight End Dan Natale and Fullback Tom Donchez, but the offensive line should help the replacements. One behemoth, 270-pound Dave Shukri, should be recovered from an off-season injury by the time Stanford checks in for the home opener next week.
The defensive line had better be tough, since it will be trying to contain some of the nation's best runners—Ohio State's Archie Griffin, Kentucky's Sonny Collins, West Virginia's Artie Owens, Pitt's Tony Dorsett. To help make it so, Paterno moved Offensive Tackle Ron Coder, a walk-on who played schoolboy football in Japan, to defensive tackle. Returning is Linebacker Greg Buttle, who had 165 tackles and assists last fall, tops on the squad. Paterno has no Jack Hams or Dennis Onkotzes, but nonetheless the opposition had better try to pass.
"This will be a young team," Paterno says. "Basically sophomores and juniors. However, we have the potential for a fine team." And that rugged schedule? "Oh, that should be a lot of fun," says Paterno with a smile. Joe may want to reconsider that statement as the season goes on.
Arizona Stadium in Tucson will be enlarged by 18,000 seats for the 1976 season and, with a capacity of 58,000, will be the largest in the Western Athletic Conference. There is good reason for expansion. The university's football reputation has improved tremendously in Jim Young's two years as head coach. His Wildcats had an 8-3-1 record in 1973 and were co-champions of the WAC. Last year they beat Arizona State for the first time in a decade and their 9-2 record was the best since the school started intercollegiate football in 1899, 13 years before the territory became a state. This season, Arizona should be a crowd-pleasing stadium-filling team again.
The Wildcats are strong favorites to win the WAC title, and one of the principal reasons, other than Young's coaching, is Quarterback Bruce Hill, a senior who was seventh in the nation in total offense last year with 2,118 yards, and 13th in passing with 133 completions in 249 tries for 1,814 yards. Only two men who finished ahead of him in total offense, Gene Swick of Toledo and Mark Driscoll of Colorado State, are back this year. Hill and Driscoll will take turns showing their stuff on Nov. 15 when the Wildcats travel to Fort Collins, Colo.
Tucson is very big on statistics. The football-loving citizenry can give you chapter and verse on Hill and his teammates. Defensive Tackle Mike Dawson, a hometown hero, led the team in "big play" helmet decorations and is said to be coveted by NFL scouts. One NFL personnel director says, "if the draft were held tomorrow he would go in the first round." And Theopolis (T) Bell from Bakersfield, Calif. is, they say, the premier flanker in the nation, gaining 700 yards. Theopolis in Greek means city of God, which doesn't seem to fit either Bakersfield or Tucson, but Young, for whom Bell toils, thinks he is pretty good, if not godlike. "He is a great all-round competitor. Not only is he a great receiver but also he is our top returner on kickoffs and punts. He is very dependable and a fine competitor who is always on the field to win." Teaming with Bell will be senior Split End Scott Piper, who caught 46 passes last season, four of them for touchdowns.
Young has 13 returning starters, including Safety Dennis Anderson, who tied for fourth in the country in interceptions and led the team in fumble recoveries (he will also do the punting this season); Offensive Tackle Brian Murray, the team's best blocking lineman; and Center Bob Windisch, a tough two-year starter. Plus, according to Young, "the best depth ever at running back" and a good place-kicker, sophomore Lee Pistor.
Arizona State and its fine coach, Frank Kush, will not concede, of course, and the game between the two teams will be in Tempe, but even so it appears that Arizona will be in the Fiesta Bowl the day after Christmas.
Darrell Royal has an expression, "We're going to scratch where it itches." The big itch in Austin last season was passing, which accounted for only 12.4%, of the Longhorns' offense and most of the aggravation. Less than 45 yards a game is bad even by Texas wishbone standards. Last year the opportunities were there but the material was not, the Longhorns slipping to an 8-3 record, second place in the Southwest Conference and a 27-3 loss to Auburn in the Gator Bowl. Though the team had the league's best total-yardage figures, those rabid, two-fingered Texas fans are pleading for more throwing.
Even so, Royal remains skeptical. "I don't think the varied attack is the answer to everything," he says. In the last seven years of wishboning, the Longhorns have lost only four conference games, but two of those occurred last year. Nevertheless, with Earl Campbell returning at fullback after rushing for 928 yards as a freshman, Royal does not want to shake things up too much.
Still, to upgrade the air attack, he has hired pass-minded Don Breaux, formerly of Florida State, Arkansas and Florida. In another move, Royal has shifted Alfred Jackson from the defensive secondary to split end. Jackson is a 9.5 sprinter with good hands, and as Breaux says, "If you want to mount a passing attack you must have a split receiver who can get open to catch the ball and then do something about running with it."
Also in the name of more passing, Tight End Tommy Ingram, a starter for two years and an excellent blocker, might have to give way to either Joe Samford or Randy Gerdes, both juniors and better receivers.
To make all this work, senior Quarterback Marty Akins must improve on last year's 19 for 47 statistics. Royal excuses the mediocre average, admitting that Akins' protection and receivers could have been better, and suggests Akins is on the verge of his best season. As a sophomore, he was 35 for 70 and should be at least as prolific and proficient this year. Mike Presley, last year's backup, has eschewed football in favor of studies, so Royal is forced to look hopefully to freshmen Ted Constanzo and Charles Vaclavik for support.
To shore up the secondary, which allowed 14 touchdowns last year, Running Back Raymond Clayborn has been moved to defensive half. Clayborn averaged five yards a carry in 1974, so the switch highlights how bad things were in the secondary. There will be other adjustments, but it may be up to a promising freshman, Stan Singleton, and transfer Afford Lee to pull things together.
"We're thin, very thin," says Royal. "We're not an outstanding team, but we have a chance."
All it may take is a little bit of luck and a whole lot of scratching.
11 MICHIGAN ST.
It was regarded as a major upset at the time, but Michigan State was not all that surprised. In a marvelously exciting game with a fiery controversy over whether a last-second Ohio State touchdown should be allowed, the Spartans beat the Buckeyes 16-13 at East Lansing last November. What was generally overlooked in the postgame furor was that the Spartans were a very good young team, one that was to finish 7-3-1 and be ranked 12th in the country at season's end.
This year Coach Denny Stolz' young men could well contend for the Big Ten title, providing the first half of the schedule does not leave them shattered. In order, Michigan State must face Ohio State—and you can imagine how Woody Hayes regards that game—Miami of Ohio, unbeaten in 23 straight games, North Carolina State, Notre Dame and Michigan. The 1974 composite record of that formidable group was 49-7-2.
In Stolz' first two seasons as head coach at Michigan State, his big worry was a weak offense. Now, despite a dearth of wide receivers, the Spartans should be able to move the ball. Quarterback Charlie Baggett, whom Stolz rates "one of the best in the country," passed for 965 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and, as testimony to his versatility, picked up 748 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing. The regular MSU running backs, Levi Jackson and Rich Baes, are fast, experienced juniors. Jackson, whose 88-yard scoring run was the big play of the Ohio State upset, rushed for 942 yards, while Baes had 754.
"We don't know if we've got great runners or just a lot of good ones," Stolz says, "but we might move a running back to receiver or to defensive back."
The Spartans play respectable defense, and with eight starters back, the nucleus is there.
"We had so many young players last year," Stolz says, "we didn't really teach them very much. There wasn't time. We had to get right into the season. Now we're back to teaching them."
During the summer the NCAA took a close look at MSU recruiting policies and for a time it seemed as if the school might be placed on probation. No action has yet been taken, but the feeling around East Lansing is that it was Woody Hayes who blew the whistle. All of which adds fuel to the Ohio State rematch.
"We are well aware of whom we open with," Stolz says. "At every staff meeting there is some reference to Ohio State. The constant pressure in the back of our minds and in the back of our kids' minds is that we face Ohio State in the opener."
That sort of pressure could produce an abject collapse, but if the Spartans pass their opening psychological test, the Big Ten has a new contender.
12 TEXAS A&M
It has taken three years, but the Aggies feel they are ready. The players are talking about winning the Southwest Conference title, conceivably the national championship. Even Coach Emory Bellard, a man not given to overstatement, says, "We'll be a better team this year."
The Aggies were pretty good in 1974. They finished 8-3, averaging 20 points a game and ranking second in the nation on defense. But they lost a chance to play in the Cotton Bowl when they were bombed by Texas in the season finale, which put them in a tie with the Longhorns for second in the conference. This year the Aggies have both Texas and Baylor at home.
The 32-3 Texas massacre is not likely to happen again, according to All-America Cornerback Pat Thomas. "We weren't consistent last season," Thomas says. "We'll play harder in '75."
The Aggie defense, which led the conference in every department, should remain strong despite the loss of five starters. The replacements, says Bellard, are "fully as capable," and they will join Thomas, All-Conference Linebacker Ed Simonini and two SWC second-team choices, Linebacker Garth Ten Napel and Safety Jackie Williams.
Given an option, or even a triple option, the Aggies will usually stay on the ground. As Bellard says, "Our philosophy is to run." A&M is abandoning the T-bone for the wishbone, today's popular offense which Bellard helped create in 1968 while he was an assistant to Darrell Royal at Texas. The Aggies also plan on using the I formation and a pro set to facilitate more passing. Quarterback David Walker returns, but he must compete with junior David Ship-man, who was out with injuries last season, and senior Mike Jay. The three are considered about equal as passers, but Shipman is the biggest and strongest.
Center Henry Tracy is the only new starter on offense. He did well enough in spring practice to send his competition, Dennis Swilley, right back to tackle. In Richard Osborne, the Aggies have what Bellard considers one of the best tight ends in the country. Running Backs Bubba Bean, Skip Walker, Bucky Sams and Ronnie Hubby are all three-year lettermen who are survivors of Bellard's first team in 1972 that finished 3-8. Bean, All-SWC at halfback and the team's leading rusher last year with 938 yards, had "an outstanding spring." And if there are injuries in the backfield, Bellard has eight freshman runners he can turn to.
Last year Bellard predicted that his team would be 80% to 100% improved over the previous year, and it was—roughly 80%. This year he says, "The defense should be as good as last year, and offensively we'll be stronger."
That may not be enough for a national championship, but it could take the Aggies to the Cotton Bowl.
Judged by the players missing from last year's team, one might think the Florida Gators are in for a skinning. Lee McGriff was the best wide receiver in the Southeastern Conference. Linebackers Glenn Cameron and Ralph Ortega were first- and second-round draft choices. The offensive line lost four regulars. With these players, the Gators won eight of 11 games and played tough against Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl. Without them, surprisingly, they could do as well or better.
Not that Florida is about to win its first conference title in more than 40 years. Alabama should take care of that. But Coach Doug Dickey very wisely used as many youngsters as he could last season, preparing for the kind of losses that sent seven players into the pros. No one responded better than Tony Green, then a freshman, who broke the school's rushing record with 856 yards. A 5'9", 183-pound speedster, he averaged 6.4 yards per carry. If he is Florida's Mr. Outside, then Fullback Jimmy DuBose is Mr. Inside. DuBose plowed up the middle for a five-yard average and never lost so much as a foot. Larry Brinson and James Richards shared time at the other halfback spot, compiling 794 yards and a 5.9 average between them.
Directing the attack is Quarterback Don Gaffney, who does not run well or pass well, but nevertheless manages to win. Since taking over in mid-1975 Gaffney has engineered 13 victories in 16 regular-season games and has taken the Gators to two bowls. Dickey wants better execution of the option, and Gaffney admits there were times last season when "it felt like going into a final exam and knowing I wasn't really ready for the multiple-choice questions." Senior Linemen Mike Williams and Gerald Loper will keep the opposing defenses busy while Gaffney tries to dope out the answers.
A big stumbling block for Gator opponents is Defensive Tackle Scott Hutchinson who, after only one season, is considered among the best ever to play in Gainesville. Assistant Coach Doug Knotts calls sophomore Charlie Williams, "the most reckless young linebacker I've ever coached," adding in wonderment, "My gosh, he has no concern for his own body, so you know how much he cares what happens to the ballcarrier." Also noteworthy is Defensive Back Alvin Cowans, who recovered five fumbles and intercepted two passes last year, and Wayne Fields, who has started 30 consecutive games for Florida.
Dickey is concerned about the schedule, but then, what coach isn't? Besides, last year's was just as tough and the Gators enjoyed their best season since Dickey's arrival in 1970. Eating so high on the hog has caused Assistant Coach Lambert Reed to observe, "People around here have found they like pork chops a whole lot better than pig's feet. So we're all working hard to keep eating pork chops."
14 NOTRE DAME
Even the Fighting Irish who, it seems, should be above such things, have found that there are times when the lure of lucre is irresistible. Offered a barrel of TV bucks, Notre Dame jiggered its schedule and, as a consequence, will wind up richer—and playing its first two games within a span of five days. And on the road as well.
The move was suggested by ABC, which said it would love to televise Notre Dame's opener at Boston College but on the Monday night following the scheduled Saturday date. That would mean the Irish would only have four days of rest before playing at Purdue, always a major headache for the Irish. O.K., said the South Bend brass, with new Head Coach Dan Devine concurring. "It's going to make it tough on us," says Devine, "but we need the money for some of our programs."
Even in one of Notre Dame's better years, playing two games in five days would be tough—and there is nothing to indicate that this will be one of the better years. For openers, in Devine's first season after returning from the NFL, everyone will need time to adjust to his system. Fortunately, or unfortunately, there are not too many offensive people left to make the adjustment, Guard Al Wujciak being the only returning starter.
Defensively, the Irish are better manned, having lost only five veterans while regaining Defensive Ends Willie Fry and Ross Browner and Safety Luther Bradley. That trio comes back after a year's suspension. As freshmen, Browner and Bradley both started for the 1973 national championship team. Fry would have been a starter last year.
The return of Fry and Browner has allowed Devine to shift defensive captain Jim Stock from end to linebacker, where Notre Dame has to replace two men. In addition, big Steve Niehaus will shift from end to tackle, another position left vacant by graduation.
While inexperienced offensively, the Irish expect to score a lot of points with a corps of their customary battering-ram backs. "In fact," says one of Devine's aides, "when you look back at the basic talent—the lack of quickness and speed, for example—you have to wonder just how Notre Dame was so consistently good. Ara Parseghian had a great system. He was a tough coach to play against."
"There is a tradition of winning here," says Devine. "That may not seem like an important factor, but I think it is. You don't go around doing a lot of hollering when you join a successful program. Nothing around here needed much of a change."
The Irish could use a quarterback, however. Frank Allocco is the most experienced, but he has played only 44 minutes. He is expected to share duties with Rick Slager, who is better known for his tennis. The first five days of the season could make the rest of it seem endless.
The quarterback is a stumpy junior, with an arm that scares no one. The defense gave up 185 points in 12 games last season, and even that not-so-sterling group has been decimated by graduation. Only five starting defenders return, and things looked even bleaker when the man expected to be the best of them missed all of spring practice with a bum knee. The talent at most positions is so thin the pregame prayer will be an appeal to St. Jude.
Still, Houston should do well. First, there is the schedule, which is softer than a one-minute egg. The Cougars play everybody but Union College, and they only passed up the Dutchmen because nobody in Texas could spell Schenectady. Next season the Cougars join the Southwest Conference, where they've wanted to be for years, and meanwhile they've had to take what they could get. It's not their fault that the biggies were always out to lunch when they called to ask for a shoot-out.
As if that splendid schedule were not enough, Houston has an army of marvelous running backs and stunning receivers. The Cougars may yield a bushel of points, but they will score even more. In John Housman, a 6'3", 200-pound junior, Houston may have the best fullback in its history. He's not speedy but he's strong, and he does not elude tacklers so much as he shucks them. A season ago he gained 988 yards and this year should do even better. The Cougars can also batter away with Dyral Thomas and Charles Lynch, and then storm the flanks with Donnie (Quick Draw) McGraw, Alois Blackwell and Emmett King, all of them pure runners. No wonder Houston ranked fourth in the nation last year in rushing. There is one problem: the Houston offensive line may lack the strength to provide Cougar runners with one basic necessity—daylight. Guard Val Belcher will be counted on heavily to provide running room.
The quarterback again will be Bubba McGallion, a junior who was almost redshirted last season. But when Houston's first two quarterbacks fizzled, in went McGallion, who may not be an artist, but has the rare ability to motivate. With him at the helm, the Cougars won six of their last seven games and tied North Carolina State 31-31 in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl.
A year ago the Cougars rated ninth in the country on defense, but melted like butter against the only good opponents they faced: Arizona State, Miami, Georgia, Tulsa and N.C. State. The defense will be strengthened if Lee Canalito, a fine 265-pound tackle who has been troubled by a knee injury since high school, is fit to play. Although seldom able to practice, he led the squad in tackles and assists last year. Also on hand is David Hodge, a linebacker-fullback who was voted the No. 1 high school player in Texas last season. For sure, Hodge won't be carrying the ball for Houston.
It is a measure of Maryland's aspirations that after two straight 8-3 seasons the Terps felt a pressing need to juggle their schedule so that they now open against a relative midget at home before taking on three giants on the road. To the pollsters, too often a win is a win is a win. But then, when you have lost 26 seniors, 16 of them starters, plus the finest placekicker and fourth-best punter in the nation, there is no shame in choosing to play Villanova as a warmup for consecutive games against Tennessee, North Carolina and Kentucky—away.
"We weren't thinking of victory, just of having a home opener before October," says Coach Jerry Claiborne, who in three seasons has taken Maryland from the depths of the ACC to the heights of bowl games and Top 20 consideration. "As it was, by the time we opened at home people might have forgotten us."
To replace Quarterback Bob Avellini, Claiborne has sophomore Mark Manges and ex-redshirt Larry Dick, and neither has much experience. So Maryland persuaded Villanova to change its date at College Park from Oct. 25 to this weekend. With the talent at Claiborne's command, the scheduling ploy may be all that Maryland needs to get off winging.
"Sure, you can call it a rebuilding year," says Claiborne. "But if you have a good program and you're doing your job well, you'll be graduating good people every year."
After last season, 11 of Claiborne's people were good enough to be drafted by the NFL, two signed as free agents, two more went to the WFL and another is playing in Canada. But such is the strength of Maryland's program that, of the 87 players listed on the current depth chart, 31 are lettermen. Veterans are expected to start at every position, and only two will be sophomores. And the experience gained against Villanova won't hurt a bit.
Among the more notable Terps are Rick Jennings, a sprinter who joined the varsity midway through his freshman year and has averaged 4.6 yards on 202 carries, and John Schultz, a veteran wingback used mostly in short-yardage situations, who last season scored nine times, all but one from within the 10. They are but two of the 17 veterans returning to the offensive unit, although only three—Schultz, Guard John Nash and Tackle John Zernhelt—started in the Liberty Bowl.
Defensively, Maryland is in the same position: few returning starters but a ton of talent. Claiborne expects much from Jim Brechbriel, Maryland's leading pass interceptor, and LeRoy Hughes, a 5'8" end who rams into pass pockets like a bowling ball. Tackle Ralph Fisher has All-Conference capability, but the man he replaces, Randy White, was everybody's All-America. The Terps may lose a game (Penn State) or two (Tennessee), but probably no more.
UCLA has fielded some fine quarterbacks, notably Bill Kilmer, Bob Waterfield and 1967 Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban. Now the publicity drums are beating loudly for senior John Sciarra (pronounced sharah). Second-year Head Coach Dick Vermeil calls Sciarra "the premier quarterback in the nation," a "really good college passer" and other predictable things.
"He does it all," said Vermeil during spring practice. "He's throwing better today than he did before he got hurt last year. As a passer he's probably not a Pat Haden, but put everything he can do together and there isn't anyone around like him."
Everything he can do includes play baseball, rush for big yardage and run the veer offense. Against Tennessee last season he accumulated 390 yards total offense, and he was averaging 176 when he broke the fibula in his right leg in the seventh game. Sciarra seemed well recovered in the final scrimmage last spring, when he hit eight of 13 passes for 130 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 57 yards in five carries.
But for Sciarra to become UCLA's second Heisman quarterback, the Bruins must overcome defensive problems and finish high in the polls. The unproven defensive unit is a nagging worry for Vermeil because UCLA faces such powerhouses as Tennessee, Ohio State and, as always, USC. In finishing 6-3-2 last year, the Bruins gave up 15.8 points a game, second-best in the league behind USC. "We were not particularly pleased with our defense," says Vermeil. "In the long run we'll be better." It won't be easy. UCLA must replace 10 starters and get a full year's duty from big, quick Nose Guard Cliff Frazier. The 6'5½", 254-pound former tackle is a theater-arts major from Baldwin, Mo. who plays piano, drums, organ and guitar—and sings. But he hit a discordant note in the opener last season, hurting his left ankle and, later on, his right ankle and right knee. The only fulltime starter returning is Linebacker Dale Curry, the team's second-leading tackier last season. The secondary is callow if not shallow, although Free Safety Pat Schmidt looked good in the spring.
Sciarra has better troops on offense, especially Split End Norm Andersen, Running Back Wendell Tyler, Tight End Rick Walker and Right Guard Randy Cross. Andersen's 27 catches for 480 yards won him a place on the coaches' all-league team, and Tyler is the Bruins' leading returning rusher, with 544 yards despite missing the last two games. UCLA lost a fine prospect when a much-sought-after high school star, Running Back Myron White, signed a baseball contract with the Dodgers. However, Vermeil and his staff did a good job of mining the state's talent-rich high schools and junior colleges, and some of those people will no doubt be starting by midseason.
Johnny Majors lacks a quarterback, has an inexperienced offensive line and two new headaches on his schedule—Oklahoma and Georgia—but his main concern is his seniors. There aren't enough of them. Of the dozen starters returning this fall, only three are seniors. That worries Majors.
"A team must have those good seniors to provide leadership," he says. "The big question is whether anyone's going to step forward and do it."
While waiting for a leader to emerge, the Panthers are also going to be keeping an eye out for that quarterback. Bill Daniels, who led them to two winning seasons and a Fiesta Bowl appearance, has graduated, and the candidate of the moment is junior Robert Haygood, who has yet to throw a pass in a game. If you think that's bad, no other prospect has even taken a snap from center.
The two veterans left on the offensive line, which was none too strong last year, are 250-pound Tackle Joe Stone and sophomore Guard Tom Brzoza. Brzoza, starting as a freshman, held his own in the last two games against All-Americas Mike Fanning of Notre Dame and Mike Hartenstein of Penn State, but with three places to be filled, it is going to be an inexperienced line fronting for a green quarterback.
However, in running and receiving, the Panthers will be strong and deep. Tony Dorsett is a junior this fall, and he will be aiming for his third 1,000-yard season. In only the third game of his sophomore year he became Pitt's alltime leading rusher and by the end of the season he had a career total of 2,690 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Dorsett missed one game in 1974, a 35-24 win over Temple. His understudy was a freshman from Miami, Elliott Walker, who grabbed his opportunity and ran 169 yards and scored four touchdowns. Don't be surprised to see both operating in the same backfield this autumn.
In senior Split End Karl Farmer, Pitt has a sprinter (46.4 for the 440) who got free for four touchdowns in 1974. Tight End Jim Corbett, with 16 catches for 202 yards and one touchdown, was greatly improved. But the catch of the year is Split End Gordon Jones, a hot property out of East Allegheny High in New Versailles, Pa., who is expected to begin contributing immediately.
Majors has to fill the gaping hole left by All-America Middle Guard Gary Burley, but everything considered, the biggest stumbling block to the Panthers' improving on their 7-4 record is their schedule. Pitt opens against Georgia and Oklahoma and closes against Notre Dame and Penn State.
However, when Penn State beat Pitt in the final game last year and Joe Paterno was asked how long it would take the Panthers to reach Penn State's level, he replied, "They're there." And so they may be.
Razorback fans have had little to yell "pig sooey" about recently. The Hogs have not won a Southwest Conference title in six years and haven't been to a bowl game since 1971. Throughout the 1960s Coach Frank Broyles could take a Top 20 ranking for granted, but he has been 6-5, 5-5-1 and 6-4-1 the last three seasons.
Hopes rose briefly in 1973 and '74 when Broyles twice landed the brightest high school prospects in the state, but they sank when both players, Halfback Jerry Eckwood and Linebacker Dennis Winston, suffered disk injuries. Now things are looking up again. For one, Eckwood, who a little more than a year ago was bedridden with a partially paralyzed leg, underwent enzyme injections and seems to have recovered. Early in spring practice he blasted up the middle on a 70-yard scoring run. Broyles was jubilant. "He didn't miss a single down in the 20 days," he said. "I couldn't believe any of it. He can do it all—run, throw, kick and block, block, block."
Eckwood will team with Fullback Ike Forte, who gained 974 yards rushing last year in spite of a painful toe injury, and Rolland Fuchs, an improved fifth-year senior. Broyles calls the trio "the three best running backs in this part of the country," which presumably does not extend west into Oklahoma.
After an uncomfortable year with the wishbone, Broyles is returning to what he knows best—a run-pass offense, this time a veer T. He has strong running backs for the two-back offense and a multitalented, though relatively inexperienced, quarterback in senior Mike Kirkland. Kirkland's passing brings to mind Jon Brittenum and the good old days of 1965.
Broyles likes to tell his team, "We need depth in our dedication." He could also use some on defense. In fact, depth is a concern at every position. "My coaching staff tells me we're going to have a good defense," said Broyles last spring. "I hope they're right. Our down linemen are going to be the shortest and lightest of any team we see, for sure."
Half of the 1974 secondary is gone, but much is expected of Howard Sampson, a promising sophomore cornerback. Linebacker Winston, the other slipped-disk case, underwent the same treatment that cured Eckwood and, as the start of the season neared, seemed to be all right, too.
Defensive end is in the capable hands of two-time All-Conference Ivan Jordan and juniors Johnnie Meadors and William Watkins. "They are all great athletes," says Broyles, "the kind who are even more important than linebackers against option attacks."
A few great athletes with depth in their dedication—and their disks in the right places—and the fans can start calling the hogs again.
In the halcyon days at Boston College, those prewar years when Frank Leahy and Denny Myers coached and Mike Holovak carried the football, Boston went absolutely daft over the upstart Jesuit school in Chestnut Hill. From 1939 to 1942 tiny B.C. played in Cotton, Sugar and Orange Bowls, stirring a nationwide fervor that gave rise to a vast, rabid subway alumni. It was said that the Eagles ought to play the Chicago Bears, because only the Bears could beat them. But so long ago were those days that Boston College's subway alumni are now known as the Balding Eagles. And not since the war ended have they so anticipated the opening of an Eagles season.
"I'm excited myself," says Coach Joe Yukica, a hard-bitten Pennsylvanian from the anthracite fields of Midland. Yukica was hired in 1968, although he hadn't applied for a job. Athletic Director Bill Flynn discovered him coaching at New Hampshire and was impressed with his credentials: player under Rip Engle at Penn State, recruiter for Bob Blackman at Dartmouth, coach with experience and contacts in New England. At B.C., Yukica has been digging prospects out of the coal area of his birth and luring many of New England's top high school stars. He finds talent and signs it. The NFL drafted eight Eagles in 1974. Yukica's record is 47-25, the best at B.C. since Leahy left in 1940. Considering the current Eagle offense, it can only improve.
Just about everybody that matters is back from last season, when the Eagles (8-3) averaged 406 yards a game and scored 50 touchdowns. They closed with six victories in a row, outscoring opponents 270-27. At quarterback is Mike Kruczek, who completed 68.9% of his passes to break the old NCAA record. Back, too, are Fullback Keith Barnette (6'2", 195 pounds), the nation's highest scorer (134 points), and Dave Zumbach, who caught 43 passes for 557 yards. Zumbach needs five receptions to become B.C.'s alltime leader. Five others who started by season's end also return, most notably Linemen Don Macek and Steve Schindler and Halfback Earl Strong. All-America Tackle Al Krevis is gone, but replacement Tom Lynch, switching from defense, was impressive in spring practice. B.C.'s one worry is linebacking, all four 1974 starters having departed. Kevin Cunniff and Rick Scudellari have some game time, and Dave Almeida, formerly a cornerback, has moved in.
Sometimes destiny works in strange ways. Opening week, two longstanding prayers of Boston football fans are going to be answered: 1) B.C. will field a team talented enough to get a bowl bid, and 2) Notre Dame will appear in Boston for the first time in 31 years. Trouble is, Notre Dame arrives in town to play B.C. "Just 20 months ago," says Yukica, "they were national champions. Now we play them on national TV. It's just right for our program."
Lately, Joe, what hasn't been?