When Bo Schembechler was still in the hospital several months ago recovering from the coronary bypass operation that he had undergone, the Michigan football coach received a get-well card from Purdue Coach Alex Agase. Agase, in what he said was an effort to determine "what a big shot you are," addressed the envelope by pasting a picture of Bo on it, adding only Ann Arbor, Mich. 48104. The letter was delivered to Schembechler in two days.
Such service from an organization not known for its dispatch or ingenuity is remarkable. And eminently fitting for the man who coaches the best college team in the nation. This year's glittering squad should end seven years of frustration for Schembechler who, despite a 66-9-3 record since coming to Ann Arbor in 1969, has seen each bright season marred at the end.
Twice in Bo's reign, Michigan has made it to the Rose Bowl but lost; in the past four years the Wolverines have been defeated by Ohio State three times and tied once. Last season was further besmirched when Michigan was stung by Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. Now, although it is on a two-game losing streak, is directed by a sophomore quarterback and is coached by a man who missed most of spring practice because of ill health, Michigan seems perfectly positioned to win the national championship. The Wolverines are overloaded.
Defensive Coordinator Gary Moeller tries to worry about the defensive line, which has lost four of five starters, including the gifted Tim Davis at middle guard. But Moeller has a superb new line anchored by Tackle Greg Morton, generally considered one of college football's best. The rest of the defense is also outstanding, most notably at linebacker, where Calvin O'Neal is back on the job. Last season he set a Michigan record with 151 tackles.
Rob Lytle, who gained 1,040 yards at fullback in 1975, will replace Gordon Bell at tailback. "If anybody beats us," says Lytle, "well, everyone will know they lucked out." And now that Fullback Russell Davis is relishing blocking, Lytle should be scooting for another 1,000 or so. The wingback is Jim Smith, who in two seasons averaged better than 14 yards each time he handled the ball. Back, too, is Bob Wood, whose 11 field goals last season set a Wolverine record.
All this plus a solid offensive line should make 1976 a memorable year for sophomore Quarterback Rick Leach, who played nearly full time as a freshman. After the losses to Ohio State and Oklahoma, Schembechler expressed disenchantment with Leach's passing. However, Rick, not the mopey type, says, "I've always had respect for my ability." But he adds that what he hopes to do this year is really establish Michigan's running game. Then what? "Then we'll really run." All the way to No. 1.
With 14 starters from last year's team gone, one would think the Crimson Tide would be hard pressed to win its sixth consecutive SEC title. The defense lost all its backs, linebackers and ends, including All-America Leroy Cook. The offense lost Quarterback Richard Todd, No. 1 draft pick of the New York Jets, both halfbacks, three linemen and backups at quarterback and tight end. These players accounted for 217 of the Tide's 361 points, nearly half of its rushing yardage and 61 of its 69 pass completions. With them, Alabama won 10 of 11 games and whipped Penn State in the Sugar Bowl. Without them the Tide could do even better.
For one thing, Alabama is always well-stocked with football players, and Bear Bryant substituted generously in 1975, anticipating his losses. As a result, he has 33 veterans on hand, among them Backs Andy Gothard, Mike Kramer and Mike Tucker, each of whom saw a lot of action on last year's defense, which limited foes to six points a game, fewest in the nation. Linebacker Dewey Mitchell will play alongside his roommate, 220-pound Rich Wingo, who was red-shirted a year ago because he was more interested in cracking heads than playing the position astutely. "He kills his own body," says Tackle Bob Baumhower. "Imagine how he feels about yours." Baumhower pumps iron or runs daily in an attempt to improve on his 11 sacks and team-leading 85 tackles. With Cook gone, 6'6" Tackle Charles Hannah and Middle Guard Gus White expect to better the 100 tackles they combined for last year.
The Tide will roll with juniors Ozzie Newsome, who led Alabama with 21 catches, five of them for touchdowns, and Johnny Davis, who averaged 6.7 yards per carry, third best in the SEC. In two seasons at fullback, he has not lost a single yard. Halfback Willie Shelby has left, but his 3.9 yards a carry ranked only 13th among Tide backs, nine of whom return. Calvin Culliver, a starter in 1974, and Pete Cavan will open against Ole Miss, but John Crow, son of John David (page 72), and Tony Nathan won't sit forever. Soph Jeff Rutledge, whose brother quarterbacked Alabama in 1973, will call signals, with Jack O'Rear, a 1975 redshirt, at the ready. Against Mississippi last year Jeff became the second freshman in Crimson Tide history to quarterback the varsity. He hit one pass in two attempts and ran seven times for 58 yards. The first frosh quarterback? That was O'Rear in 1973.
With 253 victories, Bryant trails only Amos Alonzo Stagg (314) and Pop Warner (313) as the winningest college coach ever. Bryant received unaccustomed criticism after he ducked Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, choosing instead to play Penn State. A win over the Sooners might have earned Alabama the national title. "I ain't afraid of anybody," growls the Bear. "I'll play King Kong if it's for No. 1."
3 ARIZONA STATE
In Tempe, home of the Sun Devils, it is not known as "that fabulous catch John Jefferson made in the Arizona game" or even as "Jefferson's Catch." It is simply "The Catch." In 1975 ASU enjoyed a perfect (12-0) season, including a 17-14 victory over Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl, and the outstanding-play of an outstanding year was The Catch. The highlights film shows it twice—the sophomore flat-out in the air above the end zone, his body parallel to the ground, the ball miraculously stuck in his hands. All year projectionists throughout cactus-and-coyote country—except perhaps in Tucson—have been stopping the film, reversing and going ahead again, as fans relive the moment. "He is the best receiver I ever coached," says Frank Kush. "He goes to the ball like a heat-seeking missile." As a freshman, Jefferson went by his stepfather's surname, Washington, but then he decided to switch to his father's name last season. As far as Kush is concerned he can be Lincoln this year and Roosevelt as a senior.
ASU has been the highest-scoring team in college football the past 10 seasons, and with athletes like Jefferson/Washington, '76 should prove no exception. Wingback Larry Mucker gives Quarterback Dennis Sproul another good target, and Tight End Bruce Hardy, a converted quarterback who was on SI's cover (April 29, 1974) as a high school senior in Bingham City, Utah, could be a superstar, according to Kush. Hardy played his new position only part of last season, but still made WAC honorable mention. If Sproul or backup Quarterback Fred Mortensen chooses to hand off rather than fling, it probably will be to senior Fast Freddie Williams, who comes from St. Petersburg, plays either halfback or fullback and has gained 1,000 yards or more each of the last two seasons. The offensive line, whose cornerstone is 6'5", 256-pound Tackle Steve Chambers, appears formidable.
ASU has to fill the gaps in the defensive backfield, where All-America Mike Haynes played so well last year (and the year before, when he led the nation in interceptions). But the Sun Devils are not starting from scratch either with All-WAC Cornerback Mike Martinez returning, along with Free Safety John Harris. Up front the "Crunch Bunch" figures to keep grinding up the opposition with the return of Linebacker Tim Petersen, twin brother of Defensive End Rob, who may join Tim as a linebacker. End Willie Scroggins, a fine pass rusher who had 62 unassisted tackles last season, is being switched to tackle.
This will be Kush's 19th year as ASU's head coach and he is improving with age. The Sun Devils have won or shared the WAC title six of the last seven seasons. Still, they have never won a national championship. Could this be the year?
Year in and year out the powerful Nebraska Cornhuskers display one of the outstanding football teams in the country, and 1976 should not be an exception. Thirty-seven letter-men return and, despite the NCAA scholarship cutback, there were 158 impressive young players in uniform for spring practice. Nebraska is popping with talent, yet the fans are uneasy. Why? Because the Cornhuskers dropped their final two games last season, and a two-game losing streak hasn't occurred at Nebraska since 1968.
It must be pointed out, however, that those were Nebraska's only losses of the season and that they came at the hands of national champion Oklahoma and second-ranked Arizona State (in the Fiesta Bowl). So there is not too much reason for concern. In fact, this could be the best Nebraska team since 1971's undefeated national champions, the last Cornhusker squad to beat Oklahoma.
Quarterback Vince Ferragamo, a transfer from the University of California, started the last six games of the season after Terry Luck got hurt. He completed nearly 59% of his throws and ended up leading the Big Eight in touchdown passes with 12. But against Arizona State, Ferragamo threw an interception on the first series of downs and was benched by Coach Tom Osborne. He stayed on the sideline the rest of the afternoon while Nebraska lost 17-14. Neither Osborne nor Ferragamo has had much to say about the incident. Ferragamo went through spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback and will probably start against LSU in the season opener.
Nebraska's offensive line, with four returning starters, figures to be redoubtable. The man who makes the unit work is mountainous Bob Lingenfelter, a tackle who stands 6'7" and weighs 282 pounds. The principle beneficiary will be I-back Monte Anthony, a 207-pound junior who is starting for the third year. The only new face in the starting back-field will be Fullback Lafayette Donnell. If there is a weakness on offense, it would seem to be a lack of speed. Nebraska hasn't had a fast, shifty running back since Johnny Rodgers four years ago.
The defensive line is imposing. Tackle Mike Fultz, 6'5" and 275, was All-Big Eight last year. Ron Pruitt, a 251-pound senior, missed the season with a broken leg, but is now hale and hearty as well as eager and willing. The linebackers are returning starters. Only in the secondary are the Cornhuskers short on experience, but that does not mean they are short on talent.
Osborne, now in his fourth year as head coach, has a 28-7-1 record and says nine of his current Cornhuskers are among the best players he has ever had. That's good enough to assure that Memorial Stadium, the biggest thing in downtown Lincoln, will once again be the noisiest.
For the first time in 17 lively football seasons somebody other than John McKay is head coach of the Trojans. That somebody is John Robinson, 41, who was a McKay assistant for three years before shifting to the Oakland Raider staff last season. Will the school's 17th head man be a winner in the tradition of McKay (127-40-8) or Howard Jones (121-36-13)? Judging from an excellent spring practice and a fieldful of players wearing cardinal and gold, Robinson could be 12-0 this year or close to it, which wouldn't be a bad start in the right direction. It doesn't hurt that the four toughest-looking games on the schedule—against Missouri, Cal, UCLA and Notre Dame—will be played in L.A.
Actually, quarterback is the question-mark position, not head coach. Trojan fans remember the second half of last year's UCLA game when big Vince Evans couldn't have thrown a football into the Grand Canyon while standing at the rim. Robinson, who must have sprocket holes in his eyes from studying and restudying 1975 films, has decided that Evans must run more instead of standing back there for 10 minutes waiting to find an open man. Robinson has also hired one of the best quarterback coaches in the West, Paul Hackett, who helped develop Steve Bartkowski and Joe Roth at Cal. If Evans doesn't improve from a 31% passer to something near the desired 50%, USC will go with JC transfer Walt Ransom or Rob Hertel, also a fine baseball player. The receivers are first rate, especially Randy Simmrin, leading catcher as a soph, world-class quartermiler Ken Randle and Shelton Diggs. Noting that senior Tailback Ricky Bell caught a short pass in the Liberty Bowl and raced 76 yards to a score, Robinson plans to throw more to his backs.
Bell, a linebacker as a freshman and a fullback as a soph, led the nation in rushing from tailback in '75, amassing the second-highest yardage total in NCAA history, 1,875, which was 49.7% of USC's total offense. He could emulate Trojan Halfbacks Mike Garrett and O. J. Simpson as a Heisman Trophy winner. Bell and Fullbacks Dave Farmer and Mosi Tatupu will be running behind a good offensive line led by 265-pound Tackle Marvin Powell, a prelaw major, and Guard Donnie Hickman.
The defense doesn't have the glamour names, but it is anything but tissue paper. All-Coast Tackle Gary Jeter starts for the fourth season, and aiding him will be the team's leading tackier. Linebacker David Lewis, a 230-pounder who runs the 40 in a nifty 4.65, and Linebacker Mario Celotto, "one of the best defensive players in America," according to Robinson. Safety Clint Strozier led the secondary in both tackles and interceptions.
"This is a great school," says Robinson. "The football tradition is the greatest. We don't aspire to be average."
6 OHIO STATE
"Sure, we have some problems this year," says Woody Hayes, "but we try not to advertise them. We're like any good poker player, which means we won't turn over our cards until we have to." And when it comes time to show his hand, Hayes will slap down at least a full house and, not inconceivably, yet another royal flush. This will be a great disappointment to (a) Woody haters and (b) the opposition, which looked at the decimated OSU offense (eight of last year's 11 starters are gone, including two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin, Quarterback Cornelius Greene, Wingback Brian Baschnagel and Center Rick Applegate, who quit the team this spring) and mentally shifted what would normally be an automatic loss to the Buckeyes over to the "maybe win" column.
Rumors of OSU's weaknesses have been enormously exaggerated. "There's nothing wrong with this team that can't be fixed," says Rod Gerald, the sophomore quarterback who played only 21½ minutes last year. The sole returning back is Pete Johnson, who led the nation in touchdowns with 25. The other runners are Tailback Jeff Logan and Wingback Jim Harrell, who have played little, and Ron Springs, for whom the Bucks have high hopes. When a decision had to be made as to whether Ray Griffin should shift to tailback and take over brother Archie's old job or remain over there in the defensive secondary, Hayes felt secure enough about his offense to leave Ray where he was. So while it will be a case of untested backs performing behind an inexperienced line (with the notable exceptions of Bill Lukens and Chris Ward, who Hayes says "is the best tackle we've ever had"), OSU is not panicky.
The defense, led by Griffin, has eight of its regulars coming back from a team that allowed fewer than nine points a game. The tackles, Nick Buonamici and Eddie Beamon, are superior. Defensive End Bob Brudzinski is likely the best athlete on the team, and Linebacker Ed Thompson led the Buckeyes in tackles last year. Tom Skladany, the nation's leading punter, will kick field goals and PATs as well.
Oh, yes, this year's freshmen are considered Woody's best bunch. "We have several who might help us," says Hayes cautiously.
Woody remains very much in command in his 31st year as a head coach. He is at one moment irascible and the next mellow, although he fumes, "I'm not either mellow." He is expansive—or brusque. "Applegate just quit," he bridles. "Period. That's all I'll say. Period."
Hayes, who is second to Bear Bryant as the active coach with the most wins, says, "No matter how long you've been at something, you have to keep listening to others. But you have to be careful who you listen to. Besides, all the guys I listened to are either senile or dead."
"For the last four seasons the cry on our sideline was 'Go get 'em, defense!' " says Larry Lacewell, who directs the Oklahoma defense that has been largely responsible for the Sooners' 43-2-1 record since 1972. "This year we'll yell 'Go get 'em, offense!' "
Only four starters are missing from the defense that helped OU to the national championship last season, but among them are Leroy Selmon, said to be the best defensive tackle ever to play at Oklahoma, and All-America End Jimbo Elrod. "We have some good linemen coming in as replacements," says Lacewell, "but I'm talking about trying to replace great players, not just good ones."
The secondary, on the other hand, promises to be even better than in the past. Cornerbacks Jerry Anderson and Sidney Brown and Safeties Scott Hill and Zac Henderson all return, along with several subs who would star on most teams. Texas Coach Darrell Royal says the OU secondary is the finest he's ever seen. Lacewell won't argue with that. "They have size and speed, and they'll knock your hat off," he says. "They stay totally busy. I just hope they don't get worn out this fall chasing folks who should be stopped at the line. What our defense needs most this year is a lot of points from our offense."
Offense is where the Sooners have the special glow that drives their fans to such heights of fanaticism that one of them has had BIG RED marked on his front teeth in red enamel. A rich backlog of offensive talent offsets the loss of quarterback Steve Davis (who guided the wishbone attack for three straight years), superb All-America halfback Joe Washington, Fullback Jim Littrell and the Split Ends Tinker Owens and Billy Brooks, among a few others.
"The offense will be outstanding," says Head Coach Barry Switzer. Oklahoma has three sets of backs who run the 40 in 4.5 or less. Starting halfbacks are likely to be seniors Elvis Peacock and Horace Ivory. Billy Sims—after he recovers from a broken bone in his shoulder—should be right behind them, as will spring-practice standout Woody Shepard. Power-running Fullback Jim Culbreath has a slight edge over soph Kenny King, another Texan, but Switzer is fascinated with the idea of having a fullback with King's speed. "When that kid turns it on, he can make things happen," Switzer says.
The offensive line, featuring All-America tackle candidate Mike Vaughan (6'5", 275), is solid. That brings us to quarterback. The top candidate is junior Dean Blevins. "He's got everything going for him," says Switzer. "He only needs to prove he can put it together as the No. 1 man." If Blevins can't, chances are that soph Thomas Lott, another bluechipper from Texas, can. With either, the Oklahoma offense should gain ground in great gulps.
When Texas introduced the wishbone offense eight years ago, it also introduced the perfect quarterback for the wishbone, a player with fast feet, quick hands and a nimble mind. James Street was the first, followed by Eddie Phillips, Donnie Wigginton, Alan Lowry and Marty Akins. Each led Texas to eight victories or more a year, plus an annual bowl invitation and at least one Southwest Conference championship. It is an impressive heritage.
With the graduation of Akins, a three-year starter and the conference Player of the Year last season, the quarterback job now passes to an inexperienced sophomore. If Ted Constanzo measures up to the standards set by his predecessors, the Longhorns could be even better than in 1975, when they finished 10-2, won a one-third share of the conference title and beat Colorado in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl. If he is something less, Texas could have a disappointing season.
Every other position is loaded with proved talent: 10 veteran starters back on defense and eight on offense, including powerful Fullback Earl Campbell. Moreover Texas has two running backs named Johnny Jones, one of them the freshman who won a gold at Montreal in the 4 x 100 relay. The punting and placekicking are once again in the capable feet of Russell Erxleben. But despite this impressive supporting cast the eyes of Texas are on Constanzo. Coach Darrell Royal himself says, "Our only problem is at quarterback." Royal knows it will take a steady hand to restore Texas' dignity in the State Fair game against Oklahoma (won by the Sooners the last five years) and to survive the season-ending clashes at home with co-champions Texas A&M and Arkansas.
Unfortunately, last year Constanzo did not inspire much confidence in substitute appearances against TCU and A&M. "I was fairly awed," he admits. "But I had a pretty good spring and I think that helped everybody. I know I'm not like Marty, though. I won't be able to take the pressure off the way he did. It's something we'll all have to share."
Royal argues that it is unfair to compare the young Constanzo to the experienced Akins because "even Marty as a sophomore couldn't compare with Marty as a senior." Constanzo does not suffer in every comparison, though. Campbell, who has gained 2,046 yards in two seasons, says, "Since Ted's arms are longer, I'll be able to get outside quicker on his handoffs." That may not sound like much, but Campbell thinks it can help him gain even more yardage.
The biggest problem solver of all could be the defense, which promises to be one of Royal's best ever. "If we can't score as much as we did last year," says Tackle Brad Shearer, "we just can't let the other teams score as much either. But I guess that's obvious." And probably necessary.
Perhaps it is Maryland's proximity to the nation's capital that makes Terrapin Coach Jerry Claiborne sound a bit more like a politician than most coaches. Going into last season with only seven of the previous year's 22 starters on hand, Claiborne declared 1975 a "rebuilding year" as he appraised a schedule that included Tennessee, Penn State and a bevy of strengthened rivals from the Atlantic Coast Conference. But although it lost to the former pair, the Terrapins defeated all five ACC foes, won their second straight conference title and flattened favored Florida in the Gator Bowl, finishing 11th in a post-bowl poll, the school's highest ranking since 1955.
O.K., Jerry, then 1976 ought to be a sleigh ride. With two superior quarterbacks, a dazzling runner, a freight train offensive line, one of the country's best defensive linemen and no rival (Syracuse? West Virginia?) bearing the remotest resemblance to last year's spoilers, it doesn't take George Gallup to predict 11-0 for the Terps and a New Year's date with—Alabama? Nebraska?
Either Mark Manges or Larry Dick (both 6'3") will be running Maryland's versatile offense behind a veteran line that averages 237 pounds a man. Manges opened last season by throwing four TD passes against Villanova, but he separated a shoulder in the Tennessee game, whereupon Dick came off the bench to hit 15 of 24. Manges returned to nearly beat Penn State, and the two took turns bailing each other out the rest of the way. Completing 57% of 205 passes with only five interceptions is not bad for a two-headed quarterback.
Fullback Tim Wilson (6'3", 215) will be leading the way for Tailback Steve Atkins (6'1", 225), who gained 127 yards in the Gator Bowl as a freshman. Claiborne isn't hard to please. All he wants from his offense is 30 points and 400 yards a game. "Not just do that a few times," he says, "but average it."
That of course would put less burden on the defense. Although Maryland lost four ends, two linebackers and three backs, Linebacker Brad Carr, Back Ken Roy and Tackles Ralph Fisher and 6'6", 255-pound Joe Campbell, the Terrapins' best lineman since Randy White, are still wearing the red and white.
Claiborne converted two defensive backs, JC transfer John Douglas and sophomore Joe Muffler, to end, where he also will have redshirt Keith Calta. He moved a wing-back, John Stanford, to safety, where the Coach is also trying his son Jonathan.
By the third or fourth game, the Terps should be clicking. But Claiborne isn't going out on a limb. "No way I'm going to say our team will go undefeated," he says. But it sure must be tempting.
Tony Dorsett performs miracles against Notre Dame, he outdoes Heisman Trophy winners and he will almost certainly break Archie Griffin's career rushing record. This Tony Dorsett is some kind of runner.
In three meetings with the Irish, Pitt's superstar has averaged 191 yards per game, including a 303-yard romp in last year's 34-20 Panther victory. What's more, Dorsett carried the football farther in 1973 and again in 1975 than the players judged to be the finest in the land those seasons, out-rushing 1973 Heisman recipient John Cappelletti 1,586 yards to 1,522 as a freshman and last year, as a junior, surpassing Heisman winner Griffin 1,544 yards to 1,357. Now a senior, with 4,134 yards in the bank, Dorsett could slack off some and still overtake Archie, whose career rushing total is 5,177.
Additional alarming news for opponents is that Dorsett is but one of 18 returning starters from last year's 8-4 team. Their presence should make Coach Johnny Majors' fourth season at Pitt his most successful. Clearly, what Majors has in mind for the Panthers is more than just winning Eastern football's Lambert Trophy. He wants them to be kings of the whole jungle.
The Pitt offense, which proved explosive on consecutive weekends against Temple (55-6) and Army (52-20), remains virtually intact. Majors hopes the additional year of experience will help avoid such letdowns as the 17-0 defeat by Navy that followed the 107-point fortnight.
Alongside Dorsett in the backfield is Elliott Walker, a 903-yard man who might easily have run for 903 more if his principal job in life were not to block for Dorsett. Running the veer offense again will be Quarterback Bob Haygood, who matched the 100-yard efforts of Dorsett and Walker in the Panthers' 33-19 Sun Bowl triumph over Kansas. Haygood may throw more often to take advantage of a pair of superb receivers—sophomore speedster Gordon Jones, who ranked sixth nationally in punt returns, and Tight End Jim Corbett, who helps clear the way for Dorsett.
Pitt's defensive players are not as big as those on its offensive line, but they can motor and they love to gang-tackle. Linebacker Arnie Weatherington was the leader of the pack with 143 take-downs, and Majors says Middle Guard Al Romano is the best to play that position for him.
With all this in mind, ABC-TV and the NCAA rearranged Pitt's schedule so the Dorsett-Notre Dame rematch on Sept. 11 could be the first Saturday afternoon telecast. That means a lot is being expected of the gold and blue's No. 33. But should he again run roughshod over the Fighting Irish and go on to surpass Griffin's record, Tony might not have to worry about being upstaged by the 1976 Heisman Trophy winner. His name could be Dorsett.
11 PENN STATE
Joe Paterno ought to write a book and call it How to Finish 9-3 When the Other Guys Run More Plays and Make More First Downs Than You Do. That actually happened to Penn State last year when the Nittany Lions did things like taking a precautionary safety in the last few seconds to hold on to a 26-25 victory over Temple. And although they clobbered Stanford, Iowa, West Virginia and Army, they lived and died by the field goal against their other opponents. Paterno's big problem was that his No. 1 offensive player, all-purpose back Jimmy Cefalo, was hurt and never a factor.
In Cefalo's absence, the always ferocious Penn State defense shared most of the credit with Placekicker Chris Bahr, who booted three 55-yarders and scored more than twice as many points (73) as anyone else on the team. Unfortunately for Penn State, Bahr has graduated and left his brother, sophomore Matt, with some large-sized shoes to fill. Also missing are seven of those fine defensive starters and four offensive regulars.
Penn State's overall talent will not be much different this season, however, because Paterno has capable replacements. He doesn't like to play freshmen too much, even though he was obliged to last year because of injuries. There are no real superstars around; the fact that the team has five co-captains may attest to this. Without Bahr, Penn State's offense figures to be more wide open out of sheer necessity. Moreover, Paterno took a spring trip, which revised his thinking a little.
Where did Paterno visit? Places like USC and California—plus Oakland, for a look at the Raiders. He says he picked up some interesting tidbits, but what might change the team's offensive complexion more than any other factor is sophomore Quarterback Chuck Fusina. As a freshman, Fusina helped beat Pittsburgh 7-6 in a game marked by Panther Kicker Carson Long's three errant field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter. Fusina still has to beat out senior John Andress, but he throws the ball so beautifully Paterno won't deny the possibility.
Because the Nittany Lions' two best players—Linebacker Kurt Allerman and Offensive Tackle Brad Benson—can't score many points themselves, Penn State's fortunes will turn on Cefalo's renewed good health and on players who had intermittent success last year: Tailback Rich Mauti (100-yard kickoff return, 70-yard TD reception) and Flanker Tom Donovan (61-yard run, 5.5-yard season average).
By the way, a word of advice to that guy in the bar who likes to call Paterno at 2 a.m. and ask how the Lions are doing: wait until Sept. 18 when Ohio State pays its first visit to Beaver Stadium. The coach says he'll have the answer after that one.
12 TEXAS A&M
For Texas A&M the best thing about the start of the 1976 season is that maybe people will stop talking about the 1975 season, which for the Aggies was the best of times and the worst of times. They won 10 of 11 regular-season games, shared the Southwest Conference title and led the nation in total defense. But a stunning loss to Arkansas in their last game kept them out of the Cotton Bowl and ruined their chances of gaining the national championship. Instead, the Aggies went to the Liberty Bowl, where, uninspired, they lost to USC. "It's a shame to have a 10-2 season and be so disappointed," says Defensive Tackle Jimmy Dean. "All the fans feel that way, and I guess I do too."
If 1975 was a season to forget, 1976 could be one to remember. Although half the starters are gone, including both wishbone halfbacks and two All-America defenders, there is no shortage of optimism in Aggieland. "A program is sound when you are able to replace your good players," says Emory Bellard, who has improved his record in each of his four years as coach. "We're at that stage now. We have every reason to be optimistic."
After experimenting with the veer offense in the spring, Bellard is staying with the wishbone, which he helped devise while an assistant at Texas. There will be more passing, however, with Quarterback David Shipman rated steady and dependable. As for the bread-and-butter running game of the wishbone, 240-pound Fullback George Woodard scatters tacklers like duckpins. Among the new candidates for halfback is speedy Curtis Dickey, one of the state's best high school runners last year and now one of several outstanding freshmen. Bellard also hopes some reassignments in the line will make the blocking more consistent.
Assistant Head Coach Melvin Robertson again feels pleased with his defense. "We might not produce last year's statistics, but we could be better," he says. "We have five guys the pros really like." Among them are All-Conference Tackles Jimmy Dean and Edgar Fields. "I've always been an Aggie," says Dean, who was born while his father was an A&M student 21 years ago. On the other hand, Fields says, "Until I came here, I didn't even know what an Aggie was." Another standout is Middle Linebacker Robert Jackson, who might still be loading steel at Texas Forge if he had not seen some of his old high school friends playing college ball on television and decided, "Hey, I can do that." Jackson called the coach at Henderson County Junior College, made that team and then attracted the attention of A&M recruiters.
Even with late-season road games at Arkansas and Texas, the Aggies like their chances this year. "I can't say we'll have an average season," says Fields. "I think we'll be great." Maybe even unforgettable.
When Doug Dickey arrived in Gainesville in 1970, he inherited one All-America end with gout and a team with a tradition of big-play stars who didn't always want to play big. The campus was alive with Frisbees, halter-topped coeds and a professor who invented Gatorade. Alums considered the Florida-Georgia game the world's largest outdoor cocktail party, and although the Gators often won as many as eight or nine games, they had not won an SEC title in 42 years. "We couldn't look somebody in the eye and beat them," Dickey says. "Now I think we can."
Florida's record has improved annually since 1971. Last year the Gators lost only two games, by a total of four points, before Maryland upset them 13-0 in the Gator Bowl. "Nobody cared about the Terps," says Linebacker Scott Hutchinson. "We thought we'd get a Top Ten team to play in the Gator because we were really rolling."
This year the rolling should continue. Florida has a fairly soft schedule and 18 starters or former starters back. Jimmy DuBose is gone to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the backfield sparkles even without him. Consider the speed: Halfback Willie Wilder outran Ivory Crockett in a 60-yard dash last winter. Fullbacks Larry Brinson and Robert Morgan both run the 40 under 4.6 and neither is as fast as Sammy (Juice) Lemon. Tony Green, a disappointment last fall, reported at a trim 180 pounds, hungry to break the school rushing record (856 yards) he set in 1974 when he was named SEC Freshman of the Year. Back, too, are Wes Chandler, who averaged 22.9 yards a catch, and Kicker David Posey, the SEC's leading scorer. The wishbone—or whoosh!bone, as it's known in Gainesville—will be run by senior Jimmy Fisher, a 43% passer, but a winner both times he started as a Gator. Dickey's main offensive problem, if it can be called a problem, is finding the right spot for Terry LeCount, a world-class quartermiler who has been alternating at quarterback and wide-out.
The strength on the offensive line—Guards Keith Tribble and Joe Pupello, Tackles Bruck Mulliniks and David Forrester and Center Robbie Moore—is evident when you consider that such specimens as Mark Totten (6'6", 275), Steve Kiefer (6'6", 263), Don Swafford (6'7", 233) and Gavin Sprietsma (6'7", 235) all come off the bench. And yet the bruisers most talked about are on defense: Darrell Carpenter, the team's leading tackier, and Hutchinson, shifting from tackle to middle linebacker in place of departed All-America Sammy Green.
With nine games in Florida and no Alabama to play, Dickey knows the time is ripe for a shot at the conference title. "We want 110% from our players," he says. "Those are the guys who we'll play." Which is another way of saying tradition better not interfere.
Arkansas' athletic committee was told in 1972 by Coach Frank Broyles that it would be at least three years before the slumping Razorbacks were competitive again. Competitive at Arkansas is not like competitive at other schools. Competitive in Fayetteville means winning nine or 10 games and going to the Cotton Bowl. Anything less is a disappointment, and in 1972, 1973 and 1974 the football-loving people of Arkansas were sorely disappointed. The team finished fourth in the Southwest Conference each of those years, won a total of only three more games than it lost and received no bowl invitations. "It was a very difficult time," says Broyles. "I put on a face and tried to go about business in an optimistic way."
What made matters worse was that the rest of the conference was growing stronger while the high schools in Arkansas were not producing the quality players they once did. Broyles got busy, poured money into new facilities and hired a staff of assistants who could recruit as well as they could coach. In 1975, right on schedule, all that effort paid off. Arkansas finished 10-2, shared the league title and flattened Georgia in the Cotton Bowl 31-10. Which made everybody in Arkansas very happy.
This year there should be even more joy. "Our squad has learned how to win again," says Broyles, "and we now have a proven player or a player with potential at every position."
The team's principal strength is its defense, which has six starters returning. All-America candidates Bo Busby at safety and Johnnie Meadors at end are two prime reasons why Broyles says, "If we can score, we can have a great year." Last season the Razorbacks led the conference in fewest points allowed, a protective cushion Broyles would love to have again for his inexperienced offense.
Most of the offensive talent is in the line, which is bolstered by three returning starters. One of them, R. C. Thielemann, switches from guard to center to make room for 270-pound Steve Heim. The change suits Thielemann, who prefers blocking a nose guard head on to chasing down a linebacker. "I like to do my talking with my headgear," he says.
Arkansas also has some fine running backs, notably versatile Jerry Eckwood. Before suffering a knee injury last season, Eckwood gained 100 yards or more in five straight games. Sophomore Ron Calcagni has the edge at quarterback, but much is expected of freshman Houston Nutt, whom Bear Bryant tried hard to recruit for Alabama. The schedule is ideal for developing young quarterbacks: four home games and two open dates before the first road contest. By then the resurgent Razorbacks should be at their competitive best.
While visiting a hospital in Knoxville last winter, Coach Bill Battle came upon a small boy bedridden with mononucleosis. "Hope you get better real soon," he said. "I hope you do, too," the boy replied.
At times last season the Vols seemed to have mono themselves. Following seasons of 11-1, 10-2, 10-2, 8-4 and 7-3-2, they fell to 7-5 and missed a bowl bid for the first time since 1964. The defense yielded 193 points in 12 games, and when it did stop teams like Vanderbilt and North Texas State, the sometimes explosive offense sputtered and the Vols lost. O blamed D and D badmouthed O. After a 23-6 drubbing by Mississippi, Battle summoned his players to clear the air. "We felt like talking, but nobody could think of anything to say," says End Larry Seivers. "The meeting ended like the whole season—strange."
This year Vol fans, many of whom moor their orange-and-white houseboats in the Tennessee River alongside Neyland Stadium, will see some changes. For one, a new upper deck will add 9,600 seats to the stadium. For another, to pump life into the Vols' predictable attack, Battle has hired Dal Shealy, the triple-option genius who helped Carson-Newman gain its high NAIA rankings and engineered Baylor's offense when the Bears won the Southwest Conference in 1974. In Shealy's "5-5" attack the line tries to drive five yards downfield with backs deployed, ready to scoot five yards after them once the quarterback, reading defenses, decides who gets the ball. "We may not always make the five yards," concedes Assistant Coach Fred Malone. "But we're gonna be pretty berserk down there if we don't." The pressure is on Randy Wallace, a 50% passer who netted 1,318 yards in the air. He will operate behind a veteran line that features Guard Mickey Marvin; his prime target will be Seivers, who beat a lot of double coverage in 1975 with his eye-popping cuts and 34-inch vertical spring to lead the SEC with 41 catches for 840 yards. To complement the passing game Tennessee has able ball carriers in Kelsey Finch, Frank Foxx, Bobby Emmons and Mike Gayles. Stanley Morgan, an All-SEC tailback in 1974, looks even better now at wingback.
On defense, Russ Williams, once a linebacker, and Jeff Moore, formerly an end, have switched to strong safety and cornerback to buttress the secondary. Two sets of tackles and ends will alternate; Jim Woofter and Danny Jenkins will supply the lightning, and 275-pound Jesse Turnbow, 250-pound Glenn Tucker and strongman David Barron the thunder. Craig Puki moves from running back to linebacker, joining Andy Spiva, a menace afield.
Tennessee runs into Alabama and Florida back-to-back on Oct. 16 and 23. That's when Battle will know if things have gotten better. Or, possibly, worse.
A visitor to the University of Colorado might wonder why an athlete being romanced by the Buffs would consider any other place. The Rocky Mountains rise to the west of the school's red tile roofs, and the town of Boulder offers every pleasure a youth could wish. In fact, Colorado does attract fine athletes in great numbers. Last year's Buffs had splendid physiques and abilities: 11 of them were chosen early in the NFL draft, a record no other school could match.
But, as a rival coach points out, "Colorado has a history of losing games it ought to win." Last season, for example, Colorado had Oklahoma on the ropes but managed to lose by one point. The Buffs jumped to a quick lead over Texas in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl and wound up losing 38-21. In the midst of a disciplinary hassle, Colorado got thoroughly whacked by Nebraska. The Buffs won the rest of their games but finished third in the Big Eight.
Coach Bill Mallory, entering his third season at Colorado, thinks he knows what has been going wrong—the defense. But defense is Mallory's specialty, and the Buffs are definitely getting better at it. "We have the potential to be as good as Oklahoma or Nebraska," he says. "Last year the kids saw how close we were—only two points away from a three-way tie for the conference championship. This past spring we had the best recruiting haul I know of at Colorado. They rave about their secondary at OU, but ours is as good as theirs or anybody else's."
The offensive line has largely moved on to the NFL, but 270-pound Guard Leon White returns, shifting to tackle, and finds himself lining up beside people who can bend a scale as well as he can. Like Tight End Don Hasselbeck. Already an All-America, Hasselbeck is 6'8" and weighs 255. Having those vital statistics in front of him should mean a 1,000-yard season for Tailback Tony Reed, who is as good as any back in the Big Eight, according to Mallory. That covers a lot of ground, and so does Reed—202 yards in the final spring game, to be exact.
One of Mallory's problems is replacing Quarterback Dave Williams, the conference total-offense leader. But that may be resolved with the emergence of senior Jeff Austin and the return home of sophomore Jeff Knapple. Austin is 6'4" and weighs 215. "He's a good runner," says Mallory, "has a good arm and all the equipment to run our offense. He's very key to us." Knapple, a high school hero in Boulder, hasn't had much game experience in the past three years. He suffered a separated shoulder as a high school senior, played in one game at UCLA before being injured, then transferred to Colorado and sat out a year. He is 6'3", weighs 200 and will take charge if Austin falters. The Buffs play both Oklahoma and Nebraska in the high altitude of Boulder and could be the surprise team of the league.
17 MIAMI OF OHIO
Everyone knows Miami, as in Moon Over. But not so many can locate that other Miami, as in Confusion Over. It is in Oxford, Ohio, and getting to the campus there isn't all that hard. Just find a two-lane road leading northwest out of Cincinnati. When you think you're hopelessly lost, you're in Oxford. Take three steps and you've crossed town.
You're also on the turf of the Miami University Redskins (the school has a four-year scholarship open to any full-blooded Indian who will enroll and be the school mascot; none has). Miami has no business being among this land's best football teams, but it is. Over the last three years its 32-1-1 record happens to tie it with Oklahoma as the best in the nation.
O.K., so some of those wins are over Dayton and Marshall. But Purdue hardly comes down with a case of the giggles when the name Miami (enrollment and stadium capacity both are less than 15,000) sneaks into the conversation. In the past three years Purdue's record against Miami is 0-2-1; South Carolina has been whipped twice lately by Miami; Florida, Georgia and Kentucky have also been thrashed. "If I were a big school," says Miami Defensive Coordinator Joe Novak, "I wouldn't play us." Head Coach Dick Crum says, "We get fair football players, then make 'em a whole lot better."
This year's plan is to knock over everybody, including six members of Miami's own Mid-American Conference. Then, goes the scenario, an 11-0 mark might send Miami to something besides the Tangerine Bowl, which it has won three years running.
The big trouble spot is quarterback, although Crum insists, "I really feel pretty good about our quarterbacks." Which shows how giddy success can make a fellow, especially when one doesn't have Sherman Smith, who was Seattle's second-round draft pick. That leaves two sophomores. Bob Maxwell is more polished, more consistent, a better passer; Larry Fortner runs stronger and is more apt to make the big play in the multiple offense. Two talented defensive ends return (Bill Palmer and Carl Wintzer); both missed parts of last season with injuries.
Other key spots are solid. Nose guard will be Jack Glowik, who specializes in creating havoc; Joe Hasenohrl will anchor the defensive line at tackle; the offensive kingpin up front will be Tackle Mike Watson. Tailback Rob Carpenter, the 13th best rusher in the nation last year, is back again and confessing modestly that why he carries the ball so well is "kind of mysterious. I look at a film and I say. That's not me.' "
But it is and it is Miami, a team that succeeds because the players do what Crum implores them to before each game: "Just go out there, lay your ears back and play."
18 NOTRE DAME
If Notre Dame were ever to enter a season with a team made up entirely of the lame, the infirm and the dim, experts would study the lineup carefully and conclude that, sure enough, the Irish have the makings of yet another superior team. Just the name Notre Dame guarantees the school a place in everybody's Top 20.
And if Notre Dame should have a few decent players—bingo!—you're immediately talking national championship, which is the principal language spoken around South Bend. But such chatter this year is idle. For while the infirm and the dim don't dominate the squad, several key players have a history of turning up lame. A national title would be a miracle. The Irish are good, likely can go at least 8-3, but for Notre Dame that's bad. That would ditto last year's record, which easily could have fallen to 6-5 save for dramatic comeback wins over North Carolina and Air Force.
The Irish play Pitt in the season opener, an especially tough challenge for Notre Dame's offensive line, which is so new the players still will be introducing themselves to one another. Later, there's Alabama, and the season closes at Southern Cal.
It is that interior offensive line that has the coaches in jitters, although Offensive Coordinator Merv Johnson is trying the calm approach. "We aren't as bad as we were afraid we might be," he says. "It's not a throw-up-your-hands situation." But the only returning starter in the interior line is Guard Ernie Hughes, and Coach Dan Devine frets, "The hardest position to play is the offensive line."
Elsewhere Notre Dame has a fine supply of talent, notably fourth-year Quarterback Rick Slager (he sat out 1973 with a shoulder separation, by coincidence the last time the Irish won the national title). Ken MacAfee was an All-America tight end last year as a sophomore, catching 26 passes. More top-flight backs are on hand than second-year Coach Devine can say grace over. There's Fullback Jerome Heavens, who led the team in rushing as a freshman. And there are two premier running backs in fleet Al Hunter and Mark McLane who, believe it, doesn't mind blocking. Says McLane, "I wouldn't say there's a cockiness around here, just confidence." But McLane missed all of spring practice with an injury, and Hunter missed part of it.
The defense has reason to be confident. Key players are Ends Ross Browner and Willie Fry (who also missed spring ball) and Tackle Jeff Weston. "We have a good chance to be average," says Line Coach Joe Yonto.
Slager admits that around Notre Dame "sometimes we get to winning so much that we almost lose respect for winning." But the fans don't feel that way, which is why 8-3 will bring out grumblers complaining that Devine is not divine. And certainly not Rockne, Leahy or Parseghian.
No. 2 behind Arizona State in its league and in its state last year, Arizona has lost 12 starters, yet people in Tucson remain optimistic. The reason is Head Coach Jim Young, a Bowling Green graduate who served his apprenticeship under Bo Schembechler at Michigan, came west in 1973 and soon had the Wildcats clawing opponents. With essentially the same players, a 4-7 team became an 8-3 team. Arizona went on to 9-2 records the past two seasons, and the faithful don't think it's ever going to end. The seating capacity of Arizona Stadium has been upped from 40,000 to 57,000, making it the biggest football edifice in the Western Athletic Conference, and Young deserves much of the credit. And there is more than just added seats and a good coaching staff in Tucson to cause optimism.
Quarterback Bruce Hill, WAC offensive Player of the Year, is gone, but his two-year backup man, Marc Lunsford, a high school whiz in Bloomington, Ind., has a stronger arm and can run. He'll be throwing to his old high school partner, Reed May, a transfer from Michigan State, as well as to an outstanding deep threat, Keith Hartwig, one of many Californians on the squad (there are 30 Arizonans, 28 Californians; 10 of 24 freshmen on scholarship are from California). If Lunsford's passing or the running of Keith Jackson or Dean Schock doesn't get the Wildcats on the scoreboard, they can always turn to Lee Pistor from Phoenix. In two seasons the 148-pound Pistor has kicked 22 field goals, 15 of them last year in 19 attempts. He also has made 35 of 38 extra-point attempts and led the team in scoring with 80 points.
Arizona's schedule is fairly tough—Auburn, UCLA and BYU are the first three opponents, and Texas Tech and Arizona State come later—but the defense seems up to the challenge. Tackle Jon Abbott, a premed student and a first-team Academic All-America, has been moved from middle guard. Another fine student-athlete is junior Defensive Back Doug Henderson, who grew up in Germany, started college as a sophomore, is an excellent student in computer science and is the school's top long jumper and triple jumper. Linebacker Obra (the Cobra) Erby led the 1975 team in defensive points (117 unassisted tackles, 71 assists) and made All-WAC. Linebacker Mark Jacobs was All-WAC the year before.
Young is working more with the defense this season—his top assistant, Larry Smith, left to become head coach at Tulane—while hoping the offense can match its amazing 1975 record of rarely giving the ball away. Of Bruce Hill's 217 passes, only three were intercepted, and the team lost only six fumbles. Nine turnovers, compared to 37 in 1974.
"I think we'll have a good football team," says Young, who hasn't had a bad one yet in Tucson. "A number of men classified as inexperienced are very fine players."
Look out, America, Joe Roth is back! Golden Bear, golden hair, golden arm, golden future—this guy had everything last year except official ranking as the nation's best passer, and he's after that this time. Give him room to throw and he's gotcha.
This is the same Joe Roth who at the beginning of last season was a holder on extra points. With California 1-2, he moved into the starting quarterback spot occupied the year before by Steve Bartkowski and rallied the Golden Bears to seven victories in eight games, an 8-3 record and a share of the Pac-8 championship. Along the way he bombed Washington for 380 yards. With Steve Rivera grabbing everything tossed his way and Chuck Muncie putting in a better statistical year than Archie Griffin, Cal accomplished feats that seemed impossible for Cal, not to mention an I-formation team.
In a year when a nationwide NCAA record for rushing yardage was set, with wishbone attacks all over the place, the Golden Bears, with their drop-back passer, still managed to take the team total-offense crown. And no team ever will have a better balanced offense. Cal gained 2,522 yards in the air and 2,522 on the ground. That averaged out to 229 yards each way per game, which made the Bears pretty tough to beat.
It may be easier to beat Cal this year because Rivera and Muncie are both pros now. But—in a sense—so is Roth, at least in throwing a football. He again should drive defensive backs crazy with his long-range strikes to people like Wesley Walker, a 9.4 sprinter who topped the nation in yards per catch (23.3) and caught nine touchdown passes. Ed (Cowboy) Gillies will also help to replace Rivera, while a pair of straight-ahead brutes, Tom Newton and Paul Jones, will hammer away in place of Muncie. The defense is nothing to brag about—Cal's average score last year was 30-21—and only Linebacker Phil Heck made All-Conference. However, Coach Mike White has imported some monsters from the junior-college ranks to keep the seven returning starters company.
So, why isn't this team ranked higher? Mostly because of a schedule that has it opening on the road against Georgia, Oklahoma and Arizona State before the Golden Bears even get to USC and UCLA.
"It's hard for me to envision what they were thinking when they made this schedule up," says White, a go-get-'em type who graduated from Cal in '58, when the Bears won their last conference title. "But we should be one of the best prepared teams in the country, with five 750-play scrimmages last spring. We have some great trips to look forward to this fall. We're calling it our exhibition season. If nothing else, it will sure give Joe Roth his day in the sun."