This powerhouse conference was at its best last year, winning 78% of its non-league games and placing seven teams in bowls and five in the Top 20. Only one school, Mississippi, had a losing season, but despite wholesale shuffling of personnel and new offensive and defensive formations, the Rebels will not do much better than 3-8 again this year.
Another once-proud power fallen on hard times is LSU, whose 5-5-1 record was its worst in 17 years. The Tigers have veered from the veer, but the multiple I may not be much better without a capable quarterback or ball carrier to make it go. The defense is more dependable, especially with Steve Cassidy at tackle.
Mississippi State, Tennessee and Kentucky all seem to be a quarterback away from success. The Bulldogs blossomed to 9-3 last year and could do as well if Coach Bob Tyler adequately replaces league MVP Rockey Felker. Tailback Walter Packer led the SEC in rushing, and Guard Harvey Hull heads a veteran defense. At Tennessee, Quarterback Con-dredge Holloway is gone, but junior Randy Wallace will try to fill the void. Most of the other positions are set, with such top performers as Tailback Stanley Morgan, Split End Larry Seivers, Tackle Mickey Marvin and Linebacker Andy Spiva returning.
Improving Kentucky will also miss its quarterback, Mike Fanuzzi, but Halfback Sonny Collins runs behind an experienced line. Collins gained 970 yards last year despite missing the final 2½ games with a broken leg. If he stays healthy, he should become the league's top career ground-gainer and continue the Wildcats' steady climb under Coach Fran Curci.
Georgia and Vanderbilt are contrasting studies. The Bulldogs have a veteran offense that averaged 29 points and 280 yards a game in a 6-6 season. Quarterback Matt Robinson and Halfback Glynn Harrison will have to sparkle again because the defense is suspect. The opposite is true at Vanderbilt, where new Coach Fred Pancoast inherits 10 defensive starters, including Safety Jay Chesley, but has some gaping holes on offense. The quarterback problem should be solved by the return of Fred Fisher, who missed five games last season after starring as a sophomore. Even so, the Commodores enjoyed a 7-3-2 record, their best in 19 years. With Fisher full time, they could do as well.
Offense will again predominate in the Big Eight, especially at Colorado where Bill Mallory has the happy problem of trying to fit uniforms on a line that averages 6'5½" and 261 pounds. Of more serious concern is the Colorado defense, the Big Eight's worst a year ago, which Mallory has tried to treat with a liberal injection of Vitamin JC. On offense, the Buffaloes have an outstanding wide receiver in Dave Logan and a workmanlike quarterback in Dave Williams, who, with help from the Goliaths up front, should abet the running of Billy Waddy and Terry Kunz. An improvement on last year's 5-6 record seems likely.
Missouri's offense ripped off almost 3,170 yards last fall on the way to a 7-4 season, Tony Galbreath rushing for 870 yards and going 5 for 5 and three touchdowns with the halfback option pass. However, the Tigers will be relying more on the arm of Steve (Zark) Pisarkiewicz, who threw for 828 yards and six touchdowns. Defense should be the most acute headache for Al Onofrio.
Oklahoma State ended its season by winning the Fiesta Bowl, but Jim Stanley will have to rebuild his defense and improve the Cowboy passing attack for similar postseason joy. A good corps of receivers should make the job easier for Quarterback Charlie Weatherbie. A solid tackle tandem of James White and Phillip Dokes gives Stanley something to build on.
Iowa State should have no trouble filling its new 50,000-seat stadium despite last year's 4-7 record. Luther Blue, second in the nation at returning kickoffs last fall, will be zigzagging again. Watching him will elate Cyclone fans. Watching him catch Wayne Stanley's passes will depress Cyclone foes.
Bud Moore, a former Bear Bryant aide, is the new coach at Kansas, Don Fambrough having resigned after the Jayhawks won only one conference game. Moore, an offensive specialist, has installed the wishbone.
Kansas State, as has been said so often in recent years, is rebuilding.
If the rigid pecking order here is altered, Wisconsin may be the team to move up. The Badgers, who suffered three of their four 1974 losses by a total of 14 points, rushed for 3,162 yards, beat Nebraska and had their first winning season in a decade. However, Coach John Jardine must come up with a quarterback to feed the ball to Tailback Billy Marek (5'8", 188 pounds), who ran for 1,215 yards, 304 of them against Minnesota. Dan Kopina, who threw but four passes, is the likely starter. Wisconsin needs bolstering at receiver and defensive end and all kinds of luck to get by Michigan in the opening game.
Purdue has a lulu of a schedule. Following their opener, the Boilermakers take on Notre Dame, which they've nailed 13 times in their last 25 games, USC and Miami of Ohio. Down the stretch on successive weekends come Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan. Despite the loss of Larry Burton, Purdue's offense should roll with Mark Vitali at quarterback and the rushing of Scott Dierking and Mike Pruitt. Tackle Ken Novak (6'7", 275 pounds) returns to head the defense.
Cal Stoll has come up with something called the "Minnesota Multiple Pro-Style Offense" to help his Gophers improve on a 4-7 season. He could use a pro-style passer as well, since Tony Dungy, who is being challenged by sophomore Marc Trestman for the starting job, completed only 39 of 94.
Throwing, tackling and remaining healthy will be the primary concerns for Illinois. Bob Blackmail lost nearly his entire defense after the team's first winning season since 1965, but Jim Kopatz will be at quarterback again. Indiana has nine starters returning on offense, which would be fine if they were returning from something better than a 1-10 record. Lee Corso should get good mileage from Terry Jones, who led the league in passing, and from Courtney Snyder, an All-Big Ten halfback. The Hoosier defense, however, allowed 27 points and 417 yards per game.
Iowa fans will groove over Jim Jensen (6'4", 222 pounds), who could finish the year as the Hawkeyes' alltime best ballcarrier. Bob Commings also has another good secondary but too brutal a schedule. Northwestern, despite the best efforts of Running Back Jim Pooler, is unlikely to rise.
Two years ago Baylor lost every conference game. Last year Baylor went to the Cotton Bowl on an 8-3 record, having knocked off Texas, Arkansas and Texas Tech along the way. And so, the '75 season is an encore to a miracle and, no matter what happens, it will be a bit of a letdown. Graduation took the flower of the offensive backfield and five regulars on defense, including All-America Linebacker Derrel Luce and All-Conference Cornerback Tommy Turnipseede. Mark Jackson, who was an outstanding replacement for Neal Jeffrey against Arkansas and Texas Tech, will quarterback, but he will have to cut his teeth on Ole Miss, Auburn and Michigan. If Jackson, a good runner, works out as a passer, and if Coach Grant Teaff can find a couple of linebackers, and if the rest of the defense can recover from its losses, the Bears could be bullish. A long shot perhaps, but Baylor is used to being that.
SMU, 6-4-1 last year, has the offense guided by junior Quarterback Ricky Wesson, a 165-pound scrambler who passed for nine TDs and ran for 10 in 1974. But graduation scattered the defense; for the Mustangs to record their fourth straight winning season requires shoring it up.
Rice, with a student body of only 2,400, not only fields a football team but has the temerity to take on Notre Dame and LSU. Last year the team was young and green and wound up 2-8-1. This year, with 16 regulars returning, the Owls will be wiser, and their running game, which failed them last year, will be reinforced by some talented freshmen.
TCU has the two best passers in the conference in Lee Cook (106 of 237 for 1,191 yards) and backup Jimmy Dan Elzner (28 of 89 for 427), but not much else. The Horned Frogs might improve on their miserable 1-10 last year, but playing Nebraska, Alabama and Arizona State isn't going to help.
Brown used to be the butt of all sorts of old Ivy jokes, but no one has been laughing at the Bruins lately. In fact, isn't it about time to break them up? They had the third-best rushing defense in the country last year (108 yards per game), and John Anderson has already done what no other Brown coach has been able to do since the middle '50s: put two winning seasons back to back.
With 18 starters returning, all Brown lacked, it seemed, was a quarterback. To fill that void it can thank Vermont for folding its team and delivering 6'6" Bob Bateman, who passed for more than 1,800 yards last year. Linebacker Paul Serrano and Tackle Phil Bartlett lead the defense. And for close games, Anderson has Jose Vilante, best Ivy placekicker since the Gogolaks (two 49-yarders in 1974).
Folks around The Hub bemoan the loss of Split End Pat McInally, Harvard's first All-America since 1941. But then, the Crimson doesn't have anyone who could have thrown to him, anyway. Coach Joe Restic will count on his running game, so all he needs is someone to give the ball to last year's leading rusher, Tommy Winn, or Fullback Neal Miller. Princeton dropped four of its last five games, but Coach Bob Casciola has veteran Quarterback Ron Beible, who could establish new Tiger passing records, and Fullback Bob Reid. With 15 starters on hand, Princeton has its best title chance since 1969.
Carmen Cozza of Yale doesn't get bothered when fans mourn the loss of a good senior class. They were depressed in 1969 after the Calvin Hill-Brian Dow-ling group departed, but Cozza won another co-championship. Just three offensive regulars are back from last year's co-champs and—guess what?—no quarterback. But only Michigan yielded fewer points per game and most of the Eli defenders return.
Dartmouth's superb linebackers, Reggie Williams and Skip Cummins, provide an excellent defensive nucleus, but offensive inconsistency cost the Big Green its sixth straight title last season. Mike Brait moves in at quarterback. Penn's got problems now that Adolph (Beep Beep) Bellizeare is gone but the Quakers still have the league's best returning runner, Jack Wixted. George Seifert, Cornell's new coach, neglected to bring a quarterback with him from Stanford, so All-Ivy Split End Bruce Starks is bound to be lonely. Columbia should improve on its 1-8 record, although attendance may dwindle even more now that New York City's subway fare has gone up.
While USC was winning the Rose Bowl and a share of the national championship last year, the rest of the Pacific Eight was suffering one embarrassment after another. The seven other schools won only 10 of 28 nonconference games, and the 10 victories came against opponents whose combined winning percentage was .410.
After opening 0-3-1 outside the league, Stanford came on to finish second in the Pacific Eight with a 5-1-1 record. This season the Cardinals are in deep water again, with opening road games against Penn State and Michigan. The quarterback will be either Mike Cordova, who started all but two games last year, or Guy Benjamin, who came off the bench to help the Indians finish strong. Tony Hill is one of several fine receivers, and the Cardinal coaches believe Ron Inge can put some sock in a punchless running attack. The young defense will try to rally 'round End Duncan McColl, Linebacker Gez Church and Back Paul Skrabo.
California improved to 7-3-1 last year, its third straight gain under Coach Mike White. The offense has a couple of all-conference performers in Wide Receiver Steve Rivera and Halfback Chuck Munsie and a gaping hole at quarterback where Steve Bartkowski starred. The All-America's likely successor is either Fred Besana or Joe Roth. Middle Guard Paul Von der Mehden and Tackle Chuck Hextrum are standouts on defense.
Don James, formerly of Kent State, inherits a veteran Washington team that finished 5-6 last season. There seems to be more experience than talent on defense, however, and the new I formation needs a capable tailback. The strengths include 6'5", 245-pound Fullback Robin Earl, who switched from tight end after four games last year, and Center Ray Pinney. The weaknesses will be exposed by Arizona State, Texas and Alabama.
Washington State is another veteran team, but it may be looking for new blood after a 2-9 season. Oregon State, 3-8 last year, is "much stronger," according to Coach Dee Andros, who welcomes back Tight End Dave Brown and Linebacker Bob Horn. Oregon Coach Don Read also expects improvement from a Duck team that finished 2-9 in 1974 and ranked at the bottom of the league in scoring and scoring defense. Transfer Quarterback Phil Brus or his rival, sophomore Jack Henderson, will lead the search for respectability, but it will have to start with Game Two. The opener: Oklahoma.
San Diego State is favored to win its fourth-straight Pacific Coast Athletic Association title this year, and Quarterback Craig Penrose seems destined to lead the nation in passing. In 1969, '71 and '73 the country's top throwers were Aztecs Dennis Shaw, Brian Sipe and Jesse Freitas, all transfer students. And the 6'3", 215-pound Penrose, a transfer from Colorado two years ago, has more than circumstance in his favor. He ranked seventh in the nation last season while leading the Aztecs to an 8-2-1 record. Other blue-chippers back from that team are Defensive End Greg Boyd and Nose Guard Mike Gilbert.
While his San Jose State rival, Craig Kimball, is gone, Penrose may be hard pressed by Neftali (Nef) Cortez of Fresno State, who threw for 1,916 yards and 15 touchdowns in '74. The Battlin' Bulldog secondary was the best in the league, and three men return: Al Alaman, Mike Jackson and Calvin Lane. San Jose's offense will miss Kimball, but the Spartan defense should be tough. It is anchored by 6'5", 275-pound Tackle Wilson Faumuina, whom Coach Darryl Rogers considers the best in the nation.
Pacific lacks overall experience but claims the league's outstanding offensive lineman, Tackle Morrison England. Cal State-Fullerton has a new coach, Jim Colletto, but modest prospects. Running Back Roe McClendon will help if he holds on to the ball—he fumbled 17 times last season. Long Beach State had an improved 6-5 record in 1974, and with new Quarterback Joe Paopao the 49ers should do even better.
A couple of years ago, if you asked an ACC student what he thought of football he'd probably have said, "I think they play it before basketball." Last season the ACC had its first winning record over nonconference opponents in 17 years and sent three teams to major bowl games. It shouldn't take long for the fans along Tobacco Road to forget David—uh—Thompson.
If North Carolina State follows Lou Holtz' grand plan for 1975, the Wolfpack should have its fourth straight 400-yard, 30-point-per-game offense. The plan is called "Keep Dave Buckey healthy," and it is the key to avenging 1974 losses to North Carolina and Maryland and the key to heaven if the Pack can beat Michigan State and Penn State. Buckey passed for 1,481 yards (64.8%) and knows all the moves of his favorite receiver, twin brother Don, whom he hit 26 times last year. There are no experienced ballcarriers, but Holtz has a 6'1" freshman jewel named Rickey Adams. Six starters return to the defense, notably Cornerback Ralph Stringer.
Clemson had its best record (7-4) since 1959, and 48 veterans are back, including All-America Tight End Bennie Cunningham. A happy addition for Coach Red Parker is 6'5" sophomore Wide Receiver Stan Rome, who shot the eyes out as a freshman basketball star in Clem-son's 83-82 upset over Maryland last winter. Only four starters are gone from the defensive unit, and season-ticket sales are better than ever.
Duke, with 35 returnees, may have its best team in 10 years, but also its worst schedule: six nonconference road games, beginning with USC and including Pitt, Florida and Georgia Tech. But that might only make life miserable for the four ACC foes who must visit Durham, especially since the Blue Devils did not lose a home game last year.
North Carolina has only six seniors, and none of them is All-ACC Quarterback Chris Kupec, who lost a court battle for an extra year of eligibility and took off for the WFL. It does have a pair of 1,000-yard tailbacks in James (Boom Boom) Betterson and Mike Voight. Beginning his second year at Virginia, Sonny Randle announced, "I only know one way. The players are going to have to accept me for what I am." So 18 of them quit. Still around are Quarterback Scott Gardner and Running Back Joe Sroba, but only three regulars return from a bad defense. And Wake Forest, which went five straight games without scoring a point last year, will not, on consecutive Saturdays, have to play Oklahoma, Penn State and Maryland. The combined score of that series last year was 165-0.
He who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount. That proverb pretty much sums up Arizona in its role as favorite in the WAC. The tiger, of course, is Arizona State, which leads the nation in scoring over the past five years and has grown accustomed to winning a) at least 10 games a year, b) the WAC title and c) the Fiesta Bowl. State Coach Frank Kush, who believes it is better to die an infant than miss a block, is shouldering part of the blame for the Sun Devils' skid to 7-5 last season. Kush says he went overboard, letting players choose their own hair length and decide whether they wanted to live off-campus. "I hedged my beliefs," he warns. "But no more."
Cracked down upon or not, Fast Freddie Williams, the WAC's top rusher, and End John Jefferson will continue to light up the scoreboard. All-America Linebacker Bob Breunig is gone, but with eight returnees, the tightest defense against scoring in the WAC last year is not about to crumble. Top veteran is Mike Haynes, who led the nation in interceptions (11). Notably, Kush's Kids of 1974 are one year older, and only 11 of them are seniors.
The good news for defending champion Brigham Young is that Jay Miller has recovered from his knee injury. His 100 catches in 1973 led the country. The bad news is that more than half of last year's starters have split, among them Gary Sheide, who lost the national passing title to Steve Bartkowski by one completion. With Sheide gone, the most feared passer from Juarez to Saskatchewan will be Colorado State's Mark Driscoll, who threw for 19 TDs last year. Stardom also awaits CSU Linebacker Kevin McLain and Ron Harris, the nation's leading freshman running back. In fact, the Rams (4-6-1) might start winning despite having lost four-fifths of their offensive interior.
Rising, too, is Texas-El Paso (4-7), where Coach Gil Bartosh and Quarterback Bobby McKinley had promising rookie years. New Mexico (4-6-1) brings back Steve Myer, the country's pass-completion leader until he was injured in the sixth game, and the second-most accurate placekicker around, Bob (Ice) Berg. Fred Akers is the new coach at Wyoming (2-9), a neighbor of Utah (1-10) in more ways than one.
VMI could mean Very Much Improved. Opening last season with a grim 20-84 10-year record, no proven quarterback and a coach who last had a winning team at Hampden-Sydney back in the '50s, the Keydets surprised even themselves by winning seven games and the SC title, VMI's first since 1962. Middle Guard Phil Upton and nine other starters return to a defense that limited six conference opponents to just 56 points. Back, too, is Ronnie Moore, already the owner of every VMI pass-catching record and a premier punt returner who averages 14.9 yards whenever he handles the football. Departed is Ronnie Norman, VMI's first 1,000-yard rusher; although Tailback Kim Glidewell returns, it is Andre Gibson who may electrify Keydetfans. Quarterback could be a problem.
Appalachian (6-5) also was surprising, finishing half a game behind VMI in its major-college debut. The Mountaineers, young and deep, have 17 starters back, not counting Joe Parker, the nation's top punter. The list does include Devon Ford, whose 568-yard punt return mark was the ninth best ever.
Furman (5-6) and The Citadel (4-7) expect better things. Plagued by injury last year, the Paladins dropped three games by less than a touchdown. To surpass .500 they need only be luckier. Coach Bobby Ross says current receivers "may be the best The Citadel's ever had." Perhaps, but remember that Ross only arrived there last year. He does have Andrew Johnson, the nation's sixth-leading runner, and a comforting schedule that lists four conference games at home and no more Navys or Tulanes.
East Carolina lost 18 seniors for the second year in a row—too many, since it has added games with North Carolina and Virginia, both of them on the road. Its defense rebuilt, Richmond now needs an offense, and William & Mary must make do without Quarterback Bill Deery, who produced half of the Indian yardage in 1974, his senior year. Davidson is ineligible for the title since it plays only three conference games.
Miami of Ohio was undefeated last year, clear through the Tangerine Bowl in which it marched over Georgia 21-10. This year a schedule that includes Michigan State and Purdue may bring an end to the Redskins' 23-game undefeated streak and Top 20 eminence, but it is not likely to end their domination of the MAC. The offensive backfield is back en masse. Quarterback Sherman Smith, a strong runner who could turn out to be a good passer, filled in late last season, and though he passed only 42 times, he completed 22. If any conference opponent can knock off Miami, it is Kent State, whose defense is as good as ever and whose fourth-year quarterback, Greg Kokal, threw for 1,265 yards and 10 touchdowns last season despite an injured shoulder.
Toledo has an even better passer in senior Gene Swick. He led the nation's quarterbacks with 2,441 total yards on a 62% completion average. But Swick's top five receivers have graduated. Coach Jack Murphy did a lot of shuffling in spring practice, and if the replacements, abetted by a veteran interior offensive line, can learn fast, the Rockets could soar once more.
Central Michigan, Northern Illinois and Ball State all make their debuts in the MAC this season, and Eastern Michigan will join up next year. Central Michigan was national champion in the College Division in 1974 and had a 12-1 record, but the competition will be tougher, and that should reduce the Chippewas' wins. Bowling Green would flourish around Halfback Dave Preston if the Falcons only had a defense. The line is fine, but the linebackers are gone and the secondary is weak again. Ohio U has lost Quarterback Rich Bevly, and the three possible replacements threw a total of only 14 passes last year. Western Michigan has installed the power I. Sollie Boone, a freshman, will probably quarterback, and if he is as apt a pupil as he is a runner, the Broncos will be bucking for advancement.
With North Texas State and Louisville going independent, the Incredible Shrinking MVC has slipped, since 1973, from eight members to seven to five. Ranking the remains according to their title chances, you have: 1) Tulsa.
The Golden Hurricane, coming off its first national ranking since 1967, again features the exciting air show of Jeb Blount (1,831 yards, 15 TDs, 55% completions) to Steve Largent (14 TDs, most in the land). Tulsa shook off the effects of a 60-0 drubbing by Arkansas and ran roughshod through the Valley last year, scoring 200 points in six MVC games and whipping all but one other foe by at least three touchdowns apiece. Opponents may as well watch last year's game films because 10 Hurricane offensive starters are back. Compact and sure-handed, Largent elicits memories of Howard Twilley, Tulsa's star of the '60s. Blount, a classic drop-back passer, suits the Hurricane pro set perfectly. Assisting in the air show are All-MVC Linemen Greg Fairchild and Wes Hamilton and Flanker Jessie Green who has more speed, spring and NFL suitors than Largent. The defense needs a few fill-ins, but Coach F.A. Dry hasn't the nerve to say so out loud.
Less successful, but more thrilling than Tulsa, is New Mexico State (5-6). Or at least it was last year, when the Aggies sweated out six games that were decided by three points or fewer, half in the last 30 seconds. NMS lost four of the six, but the experience may help. So should the lines, particularly the offensive front (Aggie backs gained 2,497 yards), which is deep enough to leave Coach Jim Bradley feeling secure about moving both starting tackles, Andre Anderson and Zack Carter, to defense. All-America Guard Carl Dean stays put, naturally.
West Texas State, a three-point victim at Tulsa, has a lot of monsters back in its trenches (seven on offense, five on defense), but the Buffaloes, who averaged just 4.5 completions, have lost Tracy Dickson and Merced Solis, their best receivers. Fullback Jim Herndon (six yards per carry) returns to Drake, which set a school rushing record of 2,124 yards. But its three top receivers also are gone. Wichita State (1-9-1) is flooded with JC transfers and last year's record number (22) of freshmen. For orientation, they will get to meet Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Colorado.