1 Notre Dame
This is an article from the Sept. 5, 1977 issue
Four years ago Notre Dame played the three military academies—Army, Navy and Air Force—beat them by a combined score of 154-25, and won a share of the national championship with an undefeated season. This year all three are again on the Fighting Irish schedule and another national championship is on the horizon. The team is so talent-laden that even with the loss of Al Hunter, the first back in Notre Dame history to gain more than 1,000 yards (who was drafted last week by the Seattle Sea-hawks after being placed on disciplinary suspension), Notre Dame should go undefeated. Particularly since the Irish play a schedule that includes only two nationally ranked teams: Pittsburgh in the opener and USC on Oct. 22.
The Notre Dame defense, which ranked seventh in the country against the rush last season, remains intact. Its mainstay is 1976 Outland Award winner (as the best lineman in the country) Ross Browner, a 245-pound end who made 97 tackles last year (worth 203-minus yards) and recovered four fumbles, raising his career total to an Irish record of 10. Nor is there any weakness at the other end of the line, where 6'3", 242-pound All-America Willie Fry sets up. Behind the front wall is a tough, mobile group of linebackers led by 240-pound Bob Golic, an All-America wrestler. The strong safety is Browner's little brother Jim (210 pounds), who was credited with 80 tackles and had two interceptions last year as a sophomore.
On offense the Irish have lost three players. Junior Rusty Lisch steps in at quarterback for Rick Slager, who graduated. In the final games of last season, after Slager was injured, Lisch engineered wins over Alabama (21-18) and Miami (40-27). Coach Dan Devine also is looking forward to the recovery of Fullback Jerome Heavens, who was the leading Irish rusher two years ago (5.9 yards per carry) before suffering a knee injury. Should he not come around after missing spring practice, sophomore Vagas Ferguson, who crashed for 107 yards in the upset of Alabama, will take over. Three-time All-America Ken MacAfee returns at tight end. He averaged 14.2 yards on 34 receptions last year and at 6'4", 253 pounds is an excellent blocker. Still, Devine plans to reduce the football's flight time this year, except when it comes off the toe of junior Joe Restic, who averaged 41.7 yards a punt in 1976. Restic, who is the son of Harvard's coach, also was All-America honorable-mention defensive back last year. He came off the bench in the second game of the season, when Randy Harrison broke his forearm, and went on to lead the Irish in interceptions (four). With Harrison back, the two will probably alternate at free safety.
With the military less than massed to stop them and with 34 lettermen (18 of them starters from a team that went 9-3 in 1976), this should be a Devine season under the Golden Dome.
Considering how spoiled the folks in and around Norman have gotten in recent years, last season must have seemed almost dismal. After all, there were only nine wins for Sooner fans to boom about—the fewest in Coach Barry Switzer's four years at OU—and instead of a trip to Miami and the Orange Bowl, there was only a 41-7 wishbone-vs.-wishbone clobbering of poor Wyoming in the Fiesta Bowl.
A rash of injuries in the secondary, the necessity of starting a sophomore quarterback and the unusual absence of a superstar contributed to Oklahoma's 9-2-1 record, which included back-to-back losses to Oklahoma State (31-24) and Colorado (42-31). This dropped Switzer's record at OU to 41-3-2. Poor guy. That means he won't win No. 50 until late this season—probably in one of two year-end showdowns at home against Big Eight challengers Colorado and Nebraska.
But, rest assured, it will come. The Sooners are that strong. All they seem to be lacking from the 1974 and '75 teams, each of which was selected as a wire-service poll national champion, is a big name. Says Switzer, "There's no Leroy Selmon out there. And there darn sure ain't no Little Joe Washington around."
Nevertheless, the 1977 team may have the most overall speed in Sooner history. The offensive backfield, perennially the showcase of Switzer teams, is stocked with enough nifties and swifties to make up for the absence of a Washington. Junior Thomas Lott, a backup quarterback for four games until starter Dean Blevins was hurt, rushed for 195 yards in a 49-20 win over Kansas State. Fullback Kenny King gained 791 yards last fall. Halfback Elvis Peacock has turned into a distance runner, reeling off an 84-yarder against Oklahoma State and a 50-yard scamper against Nebraska. The other halfback, Junior Billy Sims, gained 139 yards in 18 carries during two injury-plagued seasons. If Sims is hale, look out, America.
With this talent, Switzer is not likely to order much more passing this season than in the past. As he says, "We might be tempted to pass more often except our receivers always tip off the opposition by doing cartwheels when they come out of the huddle."
Only rugged Tackle Mike Vaughan is missing from the offensive line, and nine starters are back on defense, including 6'4", 215-pound Linebacker Daryl Hunt, who as a freshman led the team in tackles with 172. If Nose Guard Reggie Kinlaw is sound following knee surgery, the defense should be considerably stronger than it was in '76, when the Sooners gave up 33 more first downs than its fleet offense made.
Switzer & Co. will get a clue as to how good they are on Sept. 24. That is when Oklahoma plays Ohio State for the first time—in Columbus. The talk is—and not just in and around Norman—that if the Sooners win that one, they'll win them all.
Come on now. Do you really expect to find anything startling in Ann Arbor? Michigan has the very same team that finished third in the polls last year and in the Top Ten every year since 1969, which, coincidentally, was the year Coach Bo Schembechler arrived. No new quarterbacks, running backs, linemen, kickers or cheerleaders. Some of the guys have different names, maybe, but everyone is as factory-built as a GM car. You can safely bet your maize-and-blue nose warmer, your Michigan helmet lamp and a six-pack of Strohs that a) the Wolverines will play Ohio State for the Big Ten title on Nov. 19, b) they will go to the Rose Bowl (if they win) or the Orange Bowl (if they don't), where they will c) lose.
Sorry, friends, but by now all of you know exactly how a Michigan season goes: nine teams get crushed by the Wolverines' peerless, passless option offense and powerhouse defense (O.K., so last year the Wolverines were upset by Purdue and this season there is Texas A&M to be reckoned with), then comes the gang war with Ohio State, then Michigan folds up at bowl time. Michigan's eight-year record in final games—four bowls and four with Ohio State—is 0-7-1. Otherwise it is 76-4-2.
Aside from the late-season face-down act, there is no mystery in how the Wolverines do it. Their triple option attack that last year led the nation in total offense (448 yards per game), rushing (363 yards) and scoring (38.7 points) is back almost in full, led by an all-veteran line that includes 6'3", 245-pound All-America Guard Mark Donahue. The only absentees are two other All-Americas: Wingback Jim Smith and Running Back Rob Lytle. Still on hand are junior Tailback Harlan Huckleby, who gained 912 yards, and Fullback Russell Davis, a 6'2", 215-pound junior who rushed for 596. Replacing Smith is either 6'5" senior Rick White, who started at split end in 1975, or prize freshman-recruit Rodney Feaster.
Schembechler's meat-grinder offense is again led by lefty Quarterback Rick Leach, a two-year starter, veteran of two bowl games and, as Curt Gowdy would say, only a junior. Schembechler allowed him to throw 105 times in 12 games last year and Leach, who also plays center field for the Wolverine baseball team, completed 50, including 13 for touchdowns—which, you better believe it, tied a Michigan record.
The defense will have to replace five starters, including All-America Linebacker Calvin O'Neal. But Outside Linebackers John Anderson and Dom Tedesco return, as do Middle Guard Steve Graves and Dwight Hicks and Jim Pickens in the secondary. Besides, history is on Michigan's side: Wolverine defenses have yielded an average of 7½ points a game during the last seven years.
So where's the problem? If there is one, it is that Schembechler still has to find a way to welcome in the new year with a win.
4 Texas Tech
Way out on the high plains of West Texas is the city of Lubbock, one of those unlikely outcroppings of civilization that is home for a bunch of unlikely critters. From Lubbock have come a surprising number of pop musicians, daredevil pilots, squinty-eyed millionaires and great athletes. They are not necessarily born in Lubbock but arrive on earth in the vast flatland which makes Lubbock appear to be a glittering metropolis, and end up calling the place home. For years most of Texas Tech's football players crawled out from behind a nearby mesquite bush. By and large the Red Raiders still are Texans, but now they are from all over the state, and even a few are from foreign territory. They are no longer drawn to Lubbock because it is the closest place to get a drink of water. Now the lure is a winning record, a bowl team and a young coach from Alabama.
Steve Sloan is continually referred to as Bear Bryant's probable successor at Alabama. Despite that obvious recruiting handicap, Sloan built a team at Texas Tech that went 10-2 last season (including a 27-24 loss to Nebraska in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl) to get a share (with Houston) of the Southwest Conference championship for the first time. This season Tech is favored by many to win the SWC championship outright. If the Raiders develop a few more defensive linemen, they could move ahead of Waylon Jennings and Buddy Holly on Lubbock's alltime affection scale.
Quarterback Rodney Allison is the main man in the Tech attack. He is a 5'11", 188-pound senior, and a year ago he was listed behind senior Tommy Duniven on the depth chart. Duniven was a noted passer, but Allison moved in as the wizard of Tech's split-back veer offense, in which the quarterback often throws from a drop-back position. Against Texas, Allison guided Tech to first downs in 13 of 21 third- or fourth-down situations, the Raiders winning by three points, and Sloan called him "an absolute Houdini." Returning at fullback is 213-pound Billy Taylor, who has been clocked in 4.6 in the 40-yard dash, as has Running Back Jimmy Williams, who gained 607 yards as a soph but missed nearly all of last season with a knee injury. The offensive line is led by senior Tackle Dan Irons, 6'7" and 265; and there are returning seniors at the other tackle, at both guards and at center, with more lettermen behind them.
Eight regulars are back on the defensive unit, including Tackle Jim Krahl and End Richard Arledge. The Tech secondary, led by Free Safety Greg Frazier, intercepted at least one pass in every game last season, and three starters from that group are suiting up again.
The biggest question mark is the kicking game. "In fact, right now we don't have a kicking game," says Sloan. "Also, people don't realize we had a big-play defense last year, but some of our big-play guys are gone." The betting, nevertheless, is that Tech will pop up again, like cactus.
C'mon, Bear Bryant, you're playing possum again. You've got another monster down there in Tuscaloosa, haven't you? "Aw, that's ridiculous," says the Bear. "Shoot, we're young and slow. Heck, we've got to scratch to keep from getting embarrassed."
Bryant enters his 20th year at Alabama riding a streak of 18 consecutive winning seasons and bowl bids. Since 1972 the Crimson Tide has won 90.9% of its games, matching Oklahoma as the winningest team of the era. Last year Alabama started 14 underclassmen, and after a 2-2 opening the Tide won seven of eight, including the Liberty Bowl, in which it destroyed favored UCLA 36-6. The youngsters rang up 4,025 yards of total offense and 39 touchdowns and held opponents to 12.2 points a game. This year seven veterans return on defense, and the offense lists players who accounted for 3,100 of those yards and all but four of the touchdowns.
If Jack O'Rear's recent knee injury is not too severe, he and Jeff Rutledge will share time at quarterback. Rutledge hit 62 of 109 passes (57%) for 979 yards and eight TDs last season. O'Rear rushed for 467 yards, third high on the team. Ozzie Newsome is an All-America receiver who averages 21.2 yards a catch, largely because in an open field he can do a butterfly step one moment and rumble like a freight train the next. Back, too, is Fullback Johnny Davis, Alabama's leading rusher the past two years with 1,488 yards, and Halfbacks Tony Nathan and Pete Cavan. Bryant calls on a host of running backs, so none of them pile up much yardage. But while Nathan, Cavan and reserves Donnie Faust and John Crow totaled only 1,039 yards, their average carry was 6.4, 5.4, 6.8 and 5.8, respectively. Holdovers Louis Green (guard) and Jim Bunch (tackle) will be joined on the line by Center Dwight Stevenson, a former end who snapped the ball so well this spring that Bryant shifted Terry Jones, a two-year starter at center, to nose guard.
Bryant's main worry is replacing the defensive line, which was totaled by graduation. But in 6'5", 250-pound Marty Lyons, 6'4", 260-pound William Davis and 6'3", 240-pound Calvin Parker, among others, he has imposing people. They can count on help from a veteran secondary that yielded only 85 completions and five TDs in 1976, and three seasoned linebackers, notably Barry Krause, who was named MVP in the Liberty Bowl. Folks call him another LeRoy Jordan, a name not tossed around casually in Tuscaloosa.
Among the Tide's first five foes are Big Eight co-champ Nebraska, SEC champ Georgia and Pac-8 champ USC. But Nebraska and Georgia are undergoing face-lifts and USC is the fifth game of the season, so the Tide's young defensive line should have jelled. Alabama might stumble once, maybe twice—but no more.
So why is the Bear grumbling? Out of habit. The last time Bryant predicted Alabama would be tough was in 1957. He was coaching Texas A&M that year.
Sadly, the school that fielded such exotically named individuals as Aramis Dandoy, Greenville Archer Lansdell III and Orenthal James Simpson has lost Cornerback Drungo Hazewood to pro baseball. USC also has lost 15 men to pro football, including Tailback Ricky Bell, runner-up for the Heisman Trophy; Quarterback Vince Evans, Rose Bowl MVP; and two All-America linemen, Gary Jeter and Marvin Powell. So much for the minuses. The good news is that USC should go to the Rose Bowl again and might be stronger at tailback and quarterback.
Rob Hertel, a second baseman who hit .329 for the Trojan baseball team, is sticking around for his senior season at quarterback instead of following Hazewood's example. Hertel was the best backup signal-caller in the Pac-8 last year, having completed 65% of his passes for 452 yards and eight touchdowns.
Sophomore Tailback Charles White (5.5 yards a carry and 10 TDs rushing in 1976), a record-setting high school hurdler, is "one of the best breakaway threats I've ever seen," says second-year Trojan Coach John Robinson. USC has had two Heisman winners (Simpson and Mike Garrett) and three strong Heisman contenders (Bell, Anthony Davis, Jon Arnett) at tailback, but White could turn out to be at least as good. Complementing him at fullback is Mosi Tatupu, who, says Robinson, "is about as easy to tackle as a Coke machine." Paving their way is a young, powerful offensive line. Soph Tackle Anthony Munoz goes 6'6", 270 pounds, and Robinson says 6'6" junior Guard Pat Howell "is the best lineman on our team right now, a potential All-America." The coach also rates Wide Receiver Randy Simmrin and Tight End William Gay as All-America candidates.
With only four starters back, the Trojan defense doesn't figure to be as overwhelming as the offense, but most coaches would gladly trade for it, particularly when they look at the charts and discover that 13 lettermen are knocking each other around for starting berths. All-America Safety Dennis Thurman and Rover Mike Carey, who suffered from Hodgkins' disease last fall, are the mainstays of the secondary. If there is a weakness, it might be the kicking game, where the Trojans must rely on inexperienced men. Certainly it isn't the schedule, which seems to have been tailor-made for a team going for the national championship. USC plays Missouri, Alabama, Notre Dame and UCLA, but has a breather in between each big game.
USC was 11-1 last season, dropping its opener to Missouri. "We lost the national championship on Sept. 11," says Robinson. "Our kids come here to be national champions. We recognize now the importance of being really ready for the first game." This season USC figures to be really ready for everyone. Including the Big Ten champion on Jan. 2.
7 Ohio State
In the Big Ten 1977 will be a year in which the good get better. Ohio State, the No. 5 ranked team in the nation in 1976, has eight starters returning on offense and seven on defense. The Buckeyes also have 28 prize freshmen, a bunch being compared to the class of '70, among whose luminaries were Rex Kern, John Brockington and Jack Tatum. Whether Ohio State will be the best, however, won't be determined until the last game of the season. This year the Big Ten title game is scheduled for Ann Arbor.
Woody Hayes took his 9-2-1 Buckeyes into the 1977 Orange Bowl against Colorado and his two-tailback attack prevailed 27-10. The 64-year-old coach had started last season with his customary I formation, which relied on Fullback Pete Johnson to be the chief churner of the cloud of dust. But Johnson sprained both ankles in the third game, a 22-21 upset by Missouri, and Hayes went to Tailbacks Jeff Logan and junior-college transfer Ron Springs. Well healed in time for the Orange Bowl, Johnson spent the evening on the bench. This year Hayes will start the season with his fastest backfield in memory and may even try some more new tricks—with the proviso that the ball stays on the ground. Last season Ohio State put the ball in the air only 40 times and scored only one touchdown on a pass in 12 games.
Veteran junior Quarterback Rod Gerald will direct the offense, which will again feature the shifty Logan, who gained 1,248 yards in 218 carries in 1976, and the speedy Springs, who rushed for 389 yards in 72 carries. There is also Gerald himself to contend with. The fastest man in the back-field (4.3 in the 40), he ran for 465 yards last year. Should Hayes decide he needs more heft in the backfield (Logan is 5'10", 184 pounds, Springs 6'2", 196 pounds), there is a power fullback waiting in the wings, 6'1", 223-pound Paul Campbell. With only two of last year's starters missing, the offensive line, led by 279-pound Tackle Chris Ward, will again be a force to be reckoned with.
All-America Tom Skladany, the nation's leading punter in 1974 and 1975, graduated. Junior David McKee, a 1976 walk-on, will probably do the punting this season, while freshman Doug McEldowney and soccer player Vlade Janakievski, a native of Yugoslavia, will be the placekickers.
A lack of depth in the secondary may be the Buckeyes' only weakness, even though that unit returns intact, and Hayes contends that "nobody in the country recruited better defensive backs." Standout Defensive End Bob Brudzinsky has graduated, but reserve Linebacker Paul Ross is a promising replacement. The speed of All-America Safety Raymond Griffin and the range of Linebacker Tom Cousineau, who led the Buckeyes in tackles (102) and assists (82), should guarantee that the defense will be redoubtable again. Just how redoubtable will be determined on Nov. 19 when it meets Michigan, last season's NCAA leader in total offense, to decide whose turn it is to go to the Rose Bowl.
8 Texas A&M
By the end of last season Texas A&M may have had the best college football team in the country. In the stretch the Aggies won six games in a row by lopsided scores and breezed to a 37-14 victory over Florida in the Sun Bowl. In a most practical way, that final rush of out-of-balance scores contributes to the belief that the Aggies can be every bit as good this year. True, eight starters are gone from a defensive unit that ranked fourth in the nation. But because the Aggies ran off with so many games, their reserves got a lot of playing time and thus valuable experience, and 14 lettermen will be on call.
The Aggies may have been a bit lacking in speed last season, but not in strength or size. Consider Fullback George Woodard who at 6 feet, 265 pounds is even more immense than he was last year. He could never be confused with a jackrabbit, but who really wants to catch him? In the spring Coach Emory Bellard abandoned the wishbone—which he had helped introduce while on the University of Texas staff in 1968—in favor of the veer. After a week the Aggies were back to the wishbone, and Bellard gave up any notion of trimming down Woodard. The Aggies put Woodard through weight and density testing and found that he has only 17% fat, low for his size, fat-testers say. As a wishbone fullback it is handy to be big and strong. A sophomore last year, Woodard ran up the middle for 1,153 yards and 17 touchdowns. Complementing him was 6'2", 197-pound freshman Halfback Curtis Dickey, who rushed for 726 yards and eight touchdowns. The other running back, David Brothers, was also a freshman starter and accounted for 244 yards. Three more starters return in the offensive line—Center Mark Dennard and Tackles Frank Myers and Cody Risien. It is hard to imagine any collection of mere humans who will be able to stop the Aggies on the ground.
Unless, of course, there is no passing game to worry about, and that is unlikely. Despite the departure of a couple of top receivers, A&M's passing should suffice. The quarterback is David Walker, who started his first game for the Aggies at the age of 16. At this time last year Walker was a third-teamer and discouraged. He had quit football to stay home in Sulphur, La., but finally decided to return and started those all-victorious, high-scoring final seven games, in which he completed 60% of his passes.
It will be up to a rebuilt defense to decide how high in the polls A&M can go. But Bellard doesn't waste anyone's time by poor-mouthing his chances. "I don't think our defense is going to be a weak spot," he says.
Aggie Placekicker Tony Franklin, who kicked field goals of 62 and 65 yards last season, has set nine NCAA records. No problem here. The problem is the schedule, with Texas Tech the third game of the season and Texas and Houston coming to College Station late in the year. One of these four teams is going to the Cotton Bowl.
If you want to see Maryland on a losing streak, don't hold your breath. The Terps, who were 11-0 before losing to Houston by a touchdown in the Cotton Bowl, have 37 lettermen returning, and Coach Jerry Claiborne, who has seen his troops win 20 straight ACC games, feels this might be his finest team ever.
Maryland gave up more than one touchdown in only three regular season games in 1976 to rank second in the nation in total defense and the Terps should be up there again, despite the loss of both tackles, most notably All-America Joe Campbell. The replacements are All-Conference Guard Ernie Salley and either of two outstanding junior lettermen, Charlie Johnson and Kenny Watson. With four veteran linebackers and five experienced people in the secondary, Maryland can afford to do some juggling up front, as long as everything has meshed by the time the Terps travel north to meet Penn State on Sept. 24.
The exceptionally quick Terrapins run from the power I and rely on three basic plays: the speed option with senior Quarterback Mark Manges carrying; tailback up the middle; tailback sweep. And with three excellent tailbacks—225-pound junior Steve Atkins, junior Preacher Maddox and sophomore George Scott—what Maryland wants, Maryland most usually will get. That threesome turned in seven 100-yards-plus games last season, the best individual performance being a 225-yard effort by Atkins against Syracuse.
Fullback Tim Wilson has graduated; Steve Koziol and Mickey Dudish, both junior lettermen, both capable blockers, will fill his cleats. The junior wingbacks, Chuck White and Dean Richards, are fine receivers. In fact, except for Tight End Bob Raba, who will be replaced by 6'3" sophomore letterman Eric Sievers, all the Terp receivers are back, to the delight of Manges, who is deadly at short range and only slightly less effective going long (81 for 139, good for 1,145 yards and 11 touchdowns last season). Manges loves to throw when no one—not even his coach—expects him to. However, Manges' second love is tucking the ball under his arm and taking off upfield. He averaged 3.6 yards in 125 carries last season.
"Our running will be excellent, our passing outstanding," says Claiborne, who has led Maryland to four straight bowl games since taking over a moribund program in 1972. He is not quite as enthusiastic when he talks of his freshmen, who he feels are only average. But that is of little solace to Maryland opponents. In recent years an average group of Terp freshmen would be considered outstanding elsewhere.
Says Claiborne, "Last year in the games we didn't play well and in the bowl game we lost, it was our mistakes and not the opposition that hurt us. Now we are going to do everything we did last season—only with fewer mistakes."
10 Penn State
Almost since he arrived at Penn State in 1966, Joe Paterno has been trying to sell the pollsters on Eastern college football. Each year, as his Nittany Lions marched toward another Lambert Trophy and another bowl game, Paterno crossed his fingers and hoped that this would be the year. And when the results from 1976 came in, the East had a national champion, the first since 1959—but it was Pittsburgh. Paterno, who suffered through a 7-5 season, had no choice but to grin and bear it.
His own team had been out of the running since the fourth week of the season, following consecutive losses to Ohio State, Iowa and Kentucky. At that point, Paterno installed freshmen Bruce Clark and Matt Millen at linebacker and shifted Mike Guman from safety to running back. Sophomore Chuck Fusina took over at quarterback (53% passing for 1,260 yards), and the Nittany Lions ran off six straight wins before the matter of Eastern supremacy was settled with a 24-7 loss to Pitt.
This year Paterno is somewhat noncommittal about his still-young team's chances. Of 30 returnees, only 11 are seniors, but the entire offensive backfield and 19 of the first 22 on defense are lettermen. "I think we're going to have a good team in 1977," he says. "The alumni think 'good' means right at the top. I'm not so sure."
His main task, aside from patching up the offensive line, may be picking a starting tailback from among four candidates: Guman, Steve Geise, Duane Taylor and Ed Guthrie. "Tailbacks are like horses," says Paterno. "You've got to run them to tell how good they are." Their form charts, according to Paterno, go like this: "Geise has intensity, Guman smoothness, Guthrie balance, Taylor quickness." Two problems: Taylor comes back from knee surgery and Guthrie was hampered by a leg injury in the spring. If none of them works out, the coach may go with a freshman—6'1", 185-pound Booker Moore.
At least the fullbacks—Matt Suhey (five touchdowns, 3.9 yards per carry) and Bob Torrey (4.4 yards per carry)—are fit. And if the line matures, Fusina will do lots of passing to Flanker Jimmy Cefalo (14 catches) and Tight End Mickey Shuler (21 catches, three TDs).
On defense, Penn State will look like, well, Penn State. The entire secondary returns, along with a slew of experienced linemen, notably sophomores Clark and Millen, and senior Randy Sidler, who will shuttle between tackle and middle guard as the Nittany Lions occasionally shift out of their famous 4-4 and experiment with a 5-3 alignment.
Paterno would love to develop his young team slowly. No such luxury. Everything goes on the line early. After the Sept. 2 opener with Rutgers, Penn State has a week off, then faces Houston, Maryland and Kentucky—all at home, though. If the Lions are 4-0 on Oct. 2, this could be the year—Penn State's.
Assessing the quality of this year's Buffalo herd is a snap. Colorado will be big and fast. With 14 of last year's starters on hand, fourth-year Coach Bill Mallory (22 wins, 13 losses) feels comfortable enough about his future in Boulder to have bought himself a homestead outside of town. And like its coach Colorado's talent-laden team seems to have gained the conviction and audacity needed to turn the Big Eight into a three-team race.
Granted the Buffs shared the conference championship with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State last season, and went to the Orange Bowl because they had beaten both the Sooners (42-31) and the Cowboys (20-10). But 1976 was not a typical year in the Big Eight. Since the conference reached its present size in 1960, Oklahoma and Nebraska, the two juggernauts, have won or tied for the league title 15 times between them. Last year Oklahoma lost two games, Nebraska three. Colorado was picked to finish sixth in the 1976 preseason poll, and might have ended up there but for the emergence of Quarterback Jeff Knapple, a Boulder product who transferred to Colorado after spending a disappointing freshman year at UCLA and led the Buffaloes to an 8-3 overall record.
A sophomore last fall, Knapple engineered five touchdowns in five possessions during a 45-24 thrashing of Drake. He led the Buffs to 265 yards total offense in one quarter as Colorado crushed Iowa State 33-14, and he added 286 more during a furious comeback against Oklahoma that produced the most points scored against the Sooners since 1969. In eight games the 6'2", 202-pounder passed for 904 yards and averaged nearly four yards a carry.
Knapple's running ability may be sorely tested this fall, because along with the departures of Tailback Tony Reed and Fullback Jim Kelleher went 1,825 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns.
But the men Mallory starts in their places—junior college transfer Mike Kozlowski or freshman Jeff Hornberger at tailback and James Mayberry or Mike Holmes at fullback—will operate behind a Rocky Mountain-sized line. From left tackle to right it will consist of Matt Miller (6'6", 272), Steve Hakes (6'2", 245), Leon White (6'3", 278), Dave Griffin (6'3", 250) and George Osborne (6'5", 241).
There are some Buffaloes to beware of on defense, too. Tackle Ruben Vaughan (6'3", 261) and Middle Guard Laval Short (6'2", 246) anchor the line. Odis McKinney heads a veteran secondary that intercepted 19 passes last season and should be even stronger with the return of Safety Tom Tesone, who sat out 1976 with a knee injury.
The Buffaloes won't be stampeding to the Big Eight title, however. They figure to start out 6-0, but then they play both Nebraska and Oklahoma on the road. The Cornhuskers have beaten them nine straight and the Sooners are not likely to give up 42 points in Norman.
Last year's 9-2-1 UCLA team, Coach Terry Donahue's first, averaged only 13.6 passes a game. The Bruins would like to increase that to about 20. "We're not going to become a passing team," says Donahue, "but we need to become a balanced team." The fact that only one offensive line starter is back could have something to do with Donahue's intention. He does have good receivers but now that Jeff Dankworth has graduated to UCLA law school, the quarterbacking is, well, up in the air. The leading candidates are junior Steve Bukich, son of ex-pro Rudy, and sophomore Rick Bashore, who finished spring practice ranked "dead even" with Bukich.
But if the offensive line jells quickly—Tackle Gus Cop-pens is back and Bruce Davis has been switched from the defensive unit—the Bruins will not have to worry about having nothing to do on or about New Year's Day. One thing in Donahue's favor is that UCLA doesn't leap into the Rose Bowl race until the fifth game. Moreover, the Bruins have not exactly been stripped clean of runners. Junior Halfback Theotis (Big Foot) Brown wears a size 15 triple-E shoe, which last season helped his 218 pounds around and over opposing tacklers for 1,092 yards, third best in school history. Alongside Brown in the veer alignment will be freshman Freeman McNeil or 173-pound Olympian James Owens (sixth in the high hurdles at Montreal).
The defense should be good enough to forestall disaster so long as it can keep up with the catalogue of offenses it will be seeing early in the season. UCLA opens at Houston, which operates out of the veer; five days later it entertains Kansas, a wishbone team; then comes Minnesota with the I formation and, finally, Iowa, which lines up in the wing T. Playing a key role in containing this array of formations will be Jerry Robinson, a split end two years ago who transformed himself into a quick, hard-hitting 208-pound inside linebacker for the Bruins' 3-4-4 defense. Another defensive stalwart is 240-pound Tackle Manu Tuiasosopo. The tough defensive backfield is led by Cornerback Levi Armstrong and Free Safety Pat Schmidt. Donahue hopes they, plus Linebackers Raymond Bell and Frank Stephens and Nose Guard Steve Tetrick, "will form the nucleus of a unit that will carry us until the offense gains experience."
The kicking game is in fine shape again this year. Frank Corral averaged more than 44 yards a punt in '76 to finish sixth in the country and also kicked a school-record 55-yard field goal against Oregon.
There is yet one more reason why UCLA should be a strong second-half team: Donahue's staff did an excellent job of recruiting, most notably McNeil from L.A., Defensive Tackle Billy Don Jackson from Texas and Flanker Fred Brockington from Michigan. If Donahue can get his youngsters to peak when they did last year, the Nov. 25 date with USC figures to fall at just about the right time.
Pittsburgh's alltime leading running back, Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett, is a Dallas Cowboy. Coach of the Year Johnny Majors, who masterminded the Panthers' rise from a 1-10 team in 1972 to a 12-0 national champion in 1976, is the coach at Tennessee, his alma mater. All told, 11 starters are gone, five on offense and six on defense. Say hello to Jackie Sherrill, and wish him well. Pitt's new coach, who last year was at Washington State, is not a complete stranger. From 1973 to 1975 he was one of Majors' assistants and the architect of the Panthers' 5-2 defense, an alignment he plans to keep. But it is doubtful if he can keep Pittsburgh No. 1.
"I try to get the 'if nots'—what if I don't do this or that—out of my mind as quickly as possible and get to the 'ifs,' " says Sherrill, who at 33 is the youngest coach ever to undertake the task of defending a national title.
There are plenty of "ifs" on offense despite the return of Quarterback Matt Cavanaugh, who completed nearly 60% of his passes (for 1,046 yards) and rushed for 366 more. Sherrill will switch the Pitt attack from the veer to the I or pro set. The reason is not just Cavanaugh's quality arm. Pittsburgh's receiving corps is one of the areas where the team has great depth, with junior Split End Gordon Jones and senior Flankers Willie Taylor and Randy Reutershan. Fullback Elliott Walker, who blocked superbly for Dorsett, has shed 15 pounds since last season and at 190 should get the 300 yards he needs to become the school's second-leading rusher. Guards Tom Brzoza and Matt Carroll bring a total of five years of experience to the offensive line, but the other four starters are gone.
Last season Pitt had the nation's sixth stingiest defense, but has lost both ends, two linebackers, a tackle and the middle guard. However, the secondary—J. C. Wilson, LeRoy Felder, Jeff Delaney and Bob Jury—is intact; and it was second in the nation with 29 interceptions in 1976. The stick-out is Jury, a safety who pulled in 9 to rank second in the country in this category. The lone returning starter on the line is 6'6", 228-pound Tackle Randy Holloway, who topped the Panthers last season with 18 quarterback sacks. Junior Dave Logan steps in at middle guard and should do creditably. Although 6' 2", 240 pounds, he can run the 40 in 4.7.
The biggest "if of all is the kicking. Beginning in 1973 Carson Long and Larry Swider booted every placement and punt, respectively, but no more. "If I had been here last year," says Sherrill, "the one thing I would have done is recruit a kicker. Can you imagine a freshman coming in with the game on the line against Notre Dame on national television?" Sherrill's placekicker just may be David Trout, a freshman from Mount Pleasant, Pa. It won't take long to see if he's the goods. Tune in on Sept. 10 when Pitt opens against Notre Dame.
14 Mississippi State
In Mississippi these days, he who laughs last in the fall is generally a State fan. From all the old jokes a powerhouse is abuilding. No more do the football fans in Starkville think that The Wretched of the Earth is a chronicle of the Bulldogs' sufferings in the SEC. At last the football team is getting more publicity than the school's cheese factory. Or, at least it will after the NCAA lifts its probation two games into the season.
Last year, playing in relative obscurity (no TV exposure, no possibility of a bowl game), the Bulldogs of Bob Tyler went 9-2. their best record since before World War II, and as left-handed Quarterback Bruce Threadgill says, "If you can win being on probation, you sure can win being off it." Especially when most of the horses are back in the barn. Even Tyler, raised in the Southern tradition of preseason caution, says, "I feel good about this team." That's like Patton saying he felt good about the Third Army.
Gone is ace Running Back Walter Packer, plus three of the people who opened holes for him, but there to insure that the wishbone fulfills Tyler's every desire are Fullback Dennis Johnson, 6'4" and a fast 235 pounds and last year's leading rusher (859 yards), and 195-pound sophomore Halfback James Jones. In addition, there is licensed pilot Thread-gill, who came of age last season along with the Bulldogs' switch from the veer to the wishbone offense. As a sophomore, his pass completion percentage was a lowly 35%, but last year he completed 45 of 89 throws for seven TDs, scored four more himself and personally accounted for 1,361 of the Bulldogs' 3,803 yards of total offense.
Also in attendance are seven of last season's eight top receivers, senior sub Fullback Terry Vitrano, who has gained nearly 1,000 career yards, and Running Backs Darryl McGlasker (five TDs) and Len Copeland.
Despite the loss of four major starters, the defense should be at least as good as last year's—and last year's was very good. Up front the standout is 6'5", 265-pound Tackle Larry Gillard; he is buttressed by two solid ends, Ray Peyton (6'3", 225) and Bobby Molden (6'6", 225). As a group, the linebackers are inexperienced; the best of the bunch is Mike Lawrence, who has had a series of injuries. Says Tyler: "Mike gets up slow, his socks are always falling down and he looks terrible, but he makes the big play and inspires everyone." Behind this inspiration is a veteran defensive back-field led by Cornerback Henry Davidson and converted Linebacker Gerald Jackson at strong safety.
Inspiring the upper classmen to make an all-out effort is a crop of freshmen labeled the best ever recruited at State—and last year the Bulldogs lettered 10 freshmen. "From what I've seen," says Tyler, "another 10 or 12 of our freshmen will play a lot." Then he grinned.
Over in Tuscaloosa, Ala. no one is grinning about the Bulldogs this year. They're no longer a joke, son.
Last year Houston was eligible to compete for the Southwest Conference title for the first time and not only wound up in the Cotton Bowl but also defeated Maryland, the No. 4 team in the nation. Can the Cougars do it again? It won't take long to find out. Houston opens against UCLA and Penn State. "Last year we blindsided some people," says Coach Bill Yeoman. "We can't do that this year." But if the Cougars don't make it back to the Cotton Bowl, you can still write them down for one bowl or other. They landed what may be the best freshman crop in the conference to go with 14 returning starters.
Houston's 414-yard per-game offense could be even better this season. Junior Quarterback Danny Davis, a quick, clever operator who can run and throw equally well, was first to show confidence early last season by wearing a T shirt that said 1976 SWC CHAMPS. Recruited out of Dallas, Davis wavered between Houston and the University of Texas until he got a suspicion Texas might try to make a defensive back out of him. The most highly desired schoolboy quarterback in Texas this past year was Darrell Shepard of Odessa. He too signed with Houston. So did half a dozen large linemen, including 230-pound Tight End Dave Taveirne from Austin. The famed Houston veer offense—different from the wishbone in that it has two running backs rather than three, but an extra receiver—shows no sign of slowing. Speed in fact is the Cougars' primary asset, both offensively and defensively.
One of the people Davis—or Shepard, if it comes to that—will be giving the ball to is Alois Blackwell, who gained 939 yards last year and had five 100-yards-plus games. "From mid season on, he was the best back in the league," says Backfield Coach Elmer Redd. Blackwell ripped for 149 yards in the Cotton Bowl.
The Cougars are worried about replacing Kicker Lennard Coplin, who hit nine of 15 field goals, and they hope that Split End Don Bass, who averaged 23 yards per catch in 1976, recovers from off-season knee surgery. Most of all, they worry about replacing All-America Defensive Tackle Wilson Whitley, now with the Cincinnati Bengals, and the entire left side of the defensive line. Another of those highly rated freshmen, 6'5", 245-pound Hosea Taylor, could be the cat to shore up the line. Behind it there already is plenty of strength with Robert Oglesby and All-Conference Cornerback Anthony Francis, who led the nation by snagging 10 interceptions a year ago as a junior.
Last season Houston's dazzlingly quick defenders gave up a mere 95 points in the Southwest Conference, a performance not likely to be matched this year.
Yeoman will remind you that Houston was 2-8 in 1975. "We fired eight blanks that year, so how can you tell?" he says. This year, rival coaches know the Cougars are loaded with talent.
16 Arizona State
Since his high school playing days 30 years ago, Arizona State Coach Frank Kush had avoided a losing season until last year. His Sun Devils dropped their home opener to underdog UCLA and never recovered, finishing with a galling 4-7 record. "We had many things go wrong in 76," Kush says. "They were things tangible and intangible. If it were any one item we would have corrected it. Suffice it to say we started with spring ball and we're building solidly with winning foremost in mind." Grimace. "We will not sink to the levels of last season."
Senior Wide Receiver John Jefferson is one of the players Sun Devil fans hope will lead ASU back to glory. He suffered from recurring ankle sprains last season, yet he holds most of ASU's catching records and should have every one of them by the time he's through. Kush, who has coached such receivers as J. D. Hill and Charley Taylor, rates Jefferson the best. Who will be throwing to Jefferson is the question. Dennis Sproul saw the most action last year but suffered a knee injury that required off-season surgery, then more surgery for bone chips. The job could go to senior Fred Mortensen or one of two promising sophs, 6'5" Mark Malone or John Fouch. And there is a freshman with a good pedigree—Zeke Bratkowski's son Steve.
Tight End Bruce Hardy had a poor junior year but a fine spring, according to the coaching staff. Another junior that Kush feels is ready is Running Back Mike Harris, a 205-pounder who played little last year. Back, too, is 5'8", 174-pound Arthur (Turtle) Lane, who had knee surgery early in the 1976 season. Four out of five starters return in the offensive line; from an 11-0 team that would be impressive, from a 4-7 team, maybe not.
Speaking of his 5-2 defense, Kush, perhaps lying low, says he has "problems at the tackles." Switching 6'4", 242-pound Bob Pfister over from the offense may have solved one of them. The linebacking corps will be experienced. The defensive backfield had looked good going into spring training but looked even better coming out, after the coaching staff had a chance to work with junior-college transfer Kim Anderson.
Arizona State and Arizona turn the Pac-8 into the Pac-10 in 1978, so this will be the last season before, as Kush says, "we go out of the bass pond and into the ocean to fight sharks. We're going to have to get that quality kid who's as big as anyone else." ASU did do well in recruiting such blue-chippers as Bratkowski, Anderson, Running Back Newton Williams from North Carolina and 6'3", 240-pound Defensive Tackle Eddie Sanders from Miami.
"We have a lot to prove to ourselves," says Kush. "I think the kids have the right frame of mind. If they don't, they're going to have it. If you're any kind of competitor at all you don't forget that kind of year. That'll be a permanent scar as far as I'm concerned."
The quarterback is a senior with 15 plays under his belt, one of them a pass. The offensive line has one returnee. On defense, nine veterans are back, but a year ago Florida gave up 292 points in 12 games, and the 4,391 yards the Gators yielded was the most in the Southeastern Conference. Still, Florida should do just fine this season. The Gators won eight games last year, so the defense, as Coach Doug Dickey insists, isn't as bad as it seems. Heavy attrition, plus injuries, forced him to start eight new players, and it was a lack of experience, not talent, that led to boxcars on the scoreboard.
Indeed, Florida's best game defensively was the season finale, in which it held Miami, a team that had scored 27 points against Notre Dame a week earlier, to 10 points. By then Richard Ruth, who bench-presses 435 pounds, and Michael DuPree had emerged as a formidable pair of ends. And the linebackers were awesome, especially Scott Hutchinson, who led the Gators with 12 sacks, and Scot Brantley, Rookie of the Year in the SEC.
Brantley is a training-room psychologist who suggests that the real problem on defense was too many juniors. As many as six started. "Freshmen and sophomores play hard because it's new; seniors because this is it," he says. "But juniors have no built-in motivation." The Brantley Observation will be tested this season, for Florida starts just four juniors. Included in that count is Placekicker Berj Yepremian, Garo's little brother.
Once again the Gators have no shortage of fine running backs and receivers. Wes Chandler is an All-America split end whose 44 catches netted 967 yards, tops in the SEC, and 10 TDs, as many as anyone in the nation. Halfback Tony Green is just 292 yards shy of becoming Florida's all-time rushing leader. Green has great acceleration and elusiveness, and catching Chandler in the secondary is a bit like catching a dollar bill dropped out of an airplane. Also returning are Willie Wilder, who gained even more yards than Green in 1976, and 230-pound Earl Carr, a 9.7 sprinter who shifts to fullback this year. Only Dave Forrester returns to the line, but newcomers Mark Totten (6'6", 290 pounds) and Steve Kiefer (6'5", 270) certainly have the size, and Bill Bennek was a standout in the spring.
With Quarterback Bill Kynes deciding to accept a Rhodes scholarship over another year of football, Terry LeCount takes over. He is a 9.5 sprinter and ex-split end whose one pass attempt last season was good for a touchdown. "He's an absolute ath-a-lete," Dickey says. "He'll make the switch with no trouble at all."
Pitt and Utah replace Houston and North Carolina on the schedule; otherwise it is the same. The big one is Mississippi State on Sept. 24. That's when Dickey finds out if LeCount and the defense are as good as he thinks. Or, in terms of juniors, if less truly is more.
It is hardly a surprise to find the Cornhuskers in the Top 20. In the past eight seasons they have won 79 games, and last year's 27-24 defeat of Texas Tech in the Astro-Blue-bonnet was their seventh bowl victory during that period. What is surprising is finding the Cornhuskers ranked as low as 18, especially since six of their first seven games will be played before home crowds in Memorial Stadium.
Most years that would have proved too great an advantage to spot a Nebraska team. But as of this spring there was no first-string quarterback—or rather there were five, which is the same thing—and Nebraska's power I needs a passer in the tradition of Jerry Tagge, David Humm or Vince Ferragamo to make it go. The depth chart lists Ed Burns, Tim Hager, Randy Garcia, Jeff Quinn and Tom Sorley all on the same line. Last year they completed a total of nine passes, which was fine because Ferragamo was winging his way to 2,254 yards and 22 touchdowns. But someone is going to have to come through during those first seven weeks, because after that Nebraska runs into Oklahoma State, Missouri and Oklahoma on the road to close out its regular season.
Tom Osborne has never beaten the Sooners in the four years since he succeeded Bob Devaney as coach, although his teams have always finished in the Top Ten in the year-end polls. The rap is that Osborne is too conservative, especially when it counts most. All three of last year's defeats (the Huskers finished 9-3-1) were to conference rivals, which is proof positive that the Big Eight has become too strong, top to bottom, to be bullied by the likes of Nebraska any longer.
In the Cornhuskers' favor is the presence of Lance Van Zandt, who was hired away from Kansas to revamp Nebraska's so-called bend-but-never-break defense, which cracked wide open in two of last year's losses (34-24 to Missouri and 37-28 to Iowa State). Under Van Zandt the unit should be more attack-oriented than in the past. Or as Linebacker Jim Wightman says, "This is a more vicious system." Still, the personnel is smallish, particularly by Nebraska standards.
The offense is in pretty good shape, despite the quarterback problem, with slashing 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore I. M. Hipp at fullback and I-Back Rick Berns (972 yards, 11 TDs). Back-ups at fullback are Keith Steward and Dodie Donnell, while the depth chart for I-backs includes Junior Byron Stewart, who had a 5.9 yards-per-carry average in 1976 and 5'7", 175-pound sophmore Tim Wurth. Ken Spaeth, a 6'5", 230-pound tight end who caught 19 passes for 265 yards and four touchdowns last season, is also back.
Osborne put the Huskers in perspective recently when he said, "We have a lot more holes to fill than we've had in a long time, but I think we've got some talent in all areas. It's not like we're destitute."
After a couple of decades of indifferent football, the Wildcats signed Fran Curci as head coach in 1973, erected 58,000-seat Commonwealth Stadium and in 1976 were 7-4 and beat North Carolina 21-0 in the Peach Bowl. (The last time Kentucky had been invited to a postseason game was in 1951, when Bear Bryant was the coach.) The return to respectability became more or less official when the NCAA, which doesn't usually bother with the transgressions of the inept, hit the school with a year's probation for recruiting violations.
The sharp slap on the carpus means no bowl and no TV appearances, and Kentucky's loss is the viewing audience's loss: the Wildcats will be very good, perhaps very, very good. Only one player is gone from a defense that had three shutouts in the final four games of last year. It is headed by 6'7", 247-pound End Art Still and Linebacker Jim Kovach, and figures to be one of the best in the nation. As LSU Coach Charlie McClendon told Curci, "Art Still cuts the field in half. Wherever you put him, we're going the other way." But Curci is concerned about Still. "He has put a ring in his left ear. I don't know if that will hurt him."
The only question on offense is whether an inexperienced line (All-America Tackle Warren Bryant is gone; only two starters return) can get out of the way of Quarterback Derrick Ramsey and Fullback Rod Stewart, a couple of battering rams. Kentucky calls its attack the veer, but Ramsey and Stewart seldom do.
At 6'5" and 222 pounds Ramsey is hardly a typical quarterback—not fast, and as a passer, not greatly feared. "His strength is his strength," says Curci. "He's not speedy, but he's faster than he gets credit for, and when he turns the end and gets into the secondary, it's hard for those little defensive backs to bring him down." Reinforcing his coach's updated opinion (Curci had alternated Ramsey at end and quarterback during a lackluster sophomore season) were the 17 TDs Ramsey ran and threw for in 1976.
When the Wildcats aren't attacking the flanks with Ramsey, they usually are battering the middle with Stewart, who has speed as well as power. As a change of pace, Ramsey has been known to put the ball in the air, but not often, or to hand off to one of his halfbacks: this year, sophomore Randy Brooks and junior Chris Hill. But when you're hunting with a double-barrel shotgun, why throw rocks? Especially against an upgraded schedule.
Last season Kentucky played seven home games; this year, they have five. "And I thought last year's schedule was tough," says Curci. "Going in, there wasn't one game I was sure of winning. If anything, this year's schedule is tougher. After last season, our fans think we can line up with anybody. But we're still five or six players away from a top-notch national contender. If we are going to do well, everybody will have to be ready."
20 Brigham Young
Unlike most clubs that try to live by the pass, Brigham Young doesn't die with it. The secret, says Coach LaVell Edwards—besides having a quarterback who can throw and receivers who can catch—is having an outstanding defense that can turn other people's interceptions into non-victories. "And this year," he says, "our defense has size and quickness and could be our best ever." Coming off of a 9-2 season in which the Cougars gave up an average of 16 points a game while scoring 32, that is no idle threat.
BYU's defenders once again are led by Mekili Ieremia, a 6'2", 238-pound end who does a war dance after each of his many quarterback sacks (17 last year), which is what you might expect from a native of Samoa who arrived in the States by sailboat, was befriended by a Protestant minister and learned his football at Sleepy Hollow (N.Y.) High. Ieremia's main henchmen are Defensive Tackle Gary Peterson (6'4", 270), Middle Linebacker Rod Wood (6'1", 225), Larry Miller (a 6'5" Ted Hendricks look-alike at linebacker) and 176-pound senior Safety Tony Hernandez. They erase a lot of aerial mistakes.
Not that the Cougars just toss up the ball and pray. They let Quarterback Gifford Nielsen use the pass the way other teams use the ground game—to probe, to trap, going for five yards instead of 50. Instead of bombs, BYU hurts opponents with delays and quickies, with flare controls and sprintouts.
"You can drive defenses crazy with diversified passing." says Edwards. "We love to turn that underneath pass coverage inside out by sneaking Fullback Todd Christensen out of the backfield, and when he gets the ball, with his speed, watch out.
"Let's face it," says the Cougar coach, "I love the passing game. Fans love the passing game. We turned our whole season around last year with a bomb at the last second against Arizona. That's the beauty of the pass. You're a threat until the final minute."
With the return of the 6'5", 203-pound Nielsen, a first-team Football Writers All-America, plus all of last season's top receivers—speedsters John VanDerWouden, Mike Chronister and George Harris, and Tight End Tod Thompson—WAC rivals may come up with a new defense, the 1-1-9: a nose guard, a linebacker and nine guys in the secondary yelling for help.
An added plus is the running game, which should be stronger than last year's despite the loss of Jeff Blanc. Edwards has moved 210-pound Roger Gourley to tailback, and out of the shadow of Christensen, because he is too talented to be wasted as a second-string fullback. But with Casey Wingard, Clay Blackwell and Robbie Kahuanui on hand, he will be fighting for a job.
Heck, BYU might even run as much this year as Woody Hayes passes.