Pepper Rodgers, twice Coach of the Year in both the Big Eight and the Pacific Eight, returned to Georgia Tech last season where, as a player in 1951-53, he helped lead the Yellow Jackets to a 32-2-2 record and victory in two Sugar Bowls and an Orange Bowl. As the bumper stickers in Atlanta proclaimed: PEPPER HAS PUT THE STING BACK IN.
Giving his players and staff a crash course he called "pure vanilla wishbone," Rodgers moved Danny Myers, a sophomore defensive back, to quarterback and shifted Dave Sims (6'3", 225 pounds) from tight end to running back. Tech then rushed for a school-record 288 yards a game and won five of its last seven, including the 34-14 finale over Georgia, to finish 6-5. Sims gained 881 yards, another school record, and Myers added 489. This season they rejoin 13 other starters, among them Lucius Stonewall Sanford, who accounted for 124 tackles as a freshman linebacker, and Tight End Steve Raible, a 9.5 sprinter. After seven 1974 games and two dozen opposition TDs, the young 4-3-4 defense also caught on, yielding just four touchdowns in the last four games. The pure vanilla experience, plus eight home games (out of 11) will now make anything under 7-4 a disappointment.
At Memphis State, Richard Williamson enjoys a luxury uncommon among new head coaches. He has little rebuilding to do. The defense, which held foes to an average of 13 points a game last year, has nine starters returning, including Cornerback Eric Harris and standout Tackles Eary Jones (6'4", 265 pounds) and Ken Niemaseck (6'1", 247 pounds). A veer has been installed in the hope that freshman Elgin Stewart, a prep phenom from Louisiana, or sophomore Kippy Brown can direct it.
Miami fans again will witness the nation's best football, but, as usual, most of it will be played by Hurricane opponents. Oklahoma, Colorado, Houston, Notre Dame and Florida are on the home schedule, and Nebraska, Boston College and Georgia Tech will be played away—a nightmare for new Coach Carl Selmer, who inherits just nine starters. Defensive Tackle Gary Dunn, grandson of the school's founder, is being touted as All-America. The Hurricanes have a couple of speedy running backs. Here's hoping they get some holes.
Tulane won five in a row last year, then skidded into a six-game losing streak. Gone are All-America Tackle Charlie Hall and all but one starter in the secondary, the seventh best in the nation against the pass. But back are Mark Olivari, who made 119 tackles and had 12 sacks; seven of Tulane's top eight runners; and Receiver Jaime Garza, the Green Wave's alltime touchdown-pass leader. Tulane presumably benefits by playing seven games in its new home, the Superdome. Bobby Collins becomes coach of Southern Mississippi, which at first glance appeared to have been a remarkable road team in 1974, winning six away games. But a closer look reveals the Golden Eagles also dropped five games on the road and must play another full season away; the school's stadium will not be completed until 1976.
The good news: Florida State has 16 starters back. The bad news: the Seminoles are 1-21 the past two years. Greg Johnson (6'4", 240 pounds) again leads the defense, which prevented Alabama from scoring a touchdown, and Running Backs Larry Key and Leon Bright are back after good freshman years.
New coaches often have different ways of looking at things. After noting that South Carolina yielded a whopping 4,607 yards last year, Jim Carlen, who replaced Paul Dietzel. said. "Uh, we don't expect an overnight success here." At Marshall, Coach Frank Ellwood promised an immediate winner. The Thundering Herd dropped 10 of 11 last year.
Optimistic, too, is Temple Coach Wayne Hardin, who says his Owls are better than last season when they won eight games and made the Top 20 for the first time. Hardin still has 262-pound Middle Guard Joe Klecko, heart of the Owl defense, and Receivers Pete Righi and Jeff Stempel. But Maxwell Trophy winner Steve Joachim, heart of the offense, is gone. Villanova (3-8) has Quarterback Brian Sikorski, who picked up 1,299 yards passing last season, and John Mastronardo, who caught 46 passes for 739 yards. The ground game needs a boost, but the Wildcats should have a strong defense.
West Virginia (4-7) will count on Artie Owens, a breakaway back who gained 1,130 yards and made runs of 85, 75, 73, 46 and 44 yards in 1974. Owens needs 589 yards for the Mountaineer career record. "We'll be able to look people in the eye," says Coach Bobby Bowden, thinking of Center Al Gluchoski and Tackle Dave Van Halanger.
Syracuse (2-9) features Linebacker Ray Preston, and Holy Cross has Dave Quehl, the nation's No. 1 returning receiver. Neither is enough.
Dynamic Tony Mason coached Cincinnati from 4-7 in 1973 to 7-4 last year, and the Bearcats might improve even more, especially since Linebacker Clarence Sanders, Safety Tom Marvaso and eight other starters return to a defense that permitted only 139 yards a game on the ground last season.
The return of Sweet Louie Giammona, the nation's leading rusher (153 yards a game) and all-purpose runner (199 yards), has Utah State (8-3) dreaming bowl bid. Every time Louie gains 100 yards, his wife Kathy cooks spaghetti for the offensive line. The boys got eight dinners last year, and since Coach Phil Krueger has installed an I formation and added pass plays to keep opponents from hounding Giammona, chances are they will be eating at Louie's often.
"We're not big or fast enough to play just average football," says Army Coach Homer Smith. He was referring to the Cadet defense, but he might as well have been evaluating the Army, Navy and Air Force football teams. They finished 1-1 against each other last season while losing a combined 21 of 27 games vs. everybody else. Until schedule makers begin considering reality, or recruiters get very lucky, .500 for any academy would be a surprise. Its defense bulwarked, Navy appears best of the lot.