It came as something of a shock last season when Notre Dame lost four of its 11 games and finished out of the Top 20 for the first time in 16 years. Well, here comes more shocking news: next week Coach Dan Devine will start his sixth and last season with yet another team that won't wake up the echoes of Rockne and Leahy. The Irish face Purdue and Michigan for openers and then Alabama and USC at season's end. No wonder the top bracket again looks so distant, even if the Irish do, indeed, emerge as best of all the rest. The challenge is similar to that of last season, which the Irish began with a 12-10 upset of Michigan. That they went on to carve seven victories out of the fourth-toughest schedule in the country was no small feat.
This year the defense will once again rely on Line-backer Bob Crable, who led the team in tackles with 187. The offense, without Halfback Vagas Ferguson and Quarterback Rusty Lisch, will depend on the arm of whoever wins the job—there are five candidates—and the speed of Split End Tony Hunter (Crable, Hunter and senior Tim Koegel were all teammates at Cincinnati's Moeller High). Still, any return to glory for Notre Dame will depend on this year's freshmen, a crop rated as the fifth-best group in the nation.
On Sept. 20 Syracuse (7-5) will host Miami of Ohio (6-5) in the inaugural game in its $26.85 million, air-supported 50,000-seat Carrier Dome. The Orangemen have 13 starters back from the Independence Bowl-winning squad of 1979, but they don't include Quarterback Bill Hurley or Receiver Art Monk. The hopes for the offense rest with 5'7", 180-pound sophomore Running Back Joe Morris, who has picked up 2,373 yards in only two seasons. Kicker Gary Anderson may learn to love the compressed air inside the dome, but then he may not need the extra carry it is said to provide: last season he booted 28 of 28 extra points and 15 of 21 field goals.
Before its 31-7 loss to Syracuse in the Independence Bowl, McNeese State had been undefeated. However, only eight starters are returning to Coach Ernie Duplechin's Cowboy team at this small (5,500 students) school on the shores of Louisiana's Lake Charles. Kicker-punter Don Stump, who won six games with his field goals, is back, but sophomore Stephan Starring will be calling signals in place of Chad Millet, and junior Tailback Theron McClendon will take over for Artie Shankle. Within the Southland Conference, Texas-Arlington (9-2), which is in a rebuilding year, and Lamar (6-3-2) represent the Cowboys' major challengers.
Tulane (9-3) lost both Coach Larry Smith (to Arizona) and Quarterback Roch Hontas (via graduation). Coach Vince Gibson, who comes in from Louisville, and Quarterback Nickie Hall are the new men on the spot. Don't expect more upsets on the order of the Waves' 1979 victories over Stanford (33-10) and LSU (24-13), but do expect Linebacker Marty Wetzel and Middle Guard Wilfred Simon to turn up smack in the middle of all the action.
In the Southern Conference, Tennessee at Chattanooga (9-2) is the team to beat. Bill Oliver, former defensive secondary coach at Alabama, takes over a prospering program from Joe Morrison (44-29-4), who has gone to New Mexico. The Moccasins have two-thirds of their lineup back, including Steve Woods (1,203 yards and 10 touchdowns passing) and his running backs, Mike Smith and Gwain Durden. "Everybody we play will be up for us, because UTC is a marked team," says Oliver with coachly caution.
Since his arrival at Tennessee 3½ years ago, Johnny Majors' teams have gone 4-7, 5-5-1 and 7-5. The '79 Vols played in the Bluebonnet Bowl but lost to Purdue 22-27. Although each year has been better than the previous one, the Vols could flatten out in '80. Majors must replace Jimmy Streater at quarterback and keep the Vols from brooding over the imposing schedule. "It's so tough," says Tackle Tim Irwin, "that we play Southern Cal for a breather." Still, Majors says, "I'm cautiously optimistic." Seven home games don't hurt. Kicker Alan Duncan, who's from Kenya, doesn't either.
Louisiana State (7-5) has said goodby to Coach Charlie McClendon after 17 years, 137 wins, 59 losses and seven ties, and hello to Jerry Stovall, the 39-year-old hometown hero who inherits 40 Tiger lettermen, including 12 starters. Stovall was an All-America halfback for the Tigers in the early 1960s.
Behind North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the race is wide open. Maryland (7-4) has regained three stars it lost to injuries early last year—Tight End Eric Sievers, Defensive Back Lloyd Burruss and Middle Guard Marlin Van Horn—and with 29 players who have started at least one game, the Terps could have a strong season. Running Back Charlie Wysocki (1,140 yards in nine games), Safety Ralph Lary (seven interceptions) and Dale Castro (16 straight field goals last season) are quality performers.
After three fine years and three straight bowl trips, Clemson (8-4) is rebuilding. The Tigers lost half their starters, including Quarterback Billy Lott. North Carolina State (8-4) was similarly depleted. Wake Forest went from 1-10 in 1978 to 8-4 and the Tangerine Bowl, the Deacons' first bowl since 1949. The offense will miss running backs Albert Kirby and James McDougald, but Quarterback Jay Venuto and his top receivers are back, along with the formidable kicking game and eight defenders.
Independent East Carolina (7-3-1) is breaking in a coach. In six years with the Pirates, Pat Dye guided ECU to a 48-18-1 record, then went to Wyoming in January, taking his staff with him. The new mentor, Ed Emory, formerly defensive line coordinator at Georgia Tech, is molding a team around Halfback Anthony Collins and Fullback Theodore Sutton, stars of a ground attack that was tops in the nation (368.5 yards a game).
In practically any conference other than the Southwest, Baylor (8-4) might be a major contender. It is coming off a 24-18 victory over Clemson in the Peach Bowl, and everything points to an up year for the Bears except a schedule that lists, in order, Houston, SMU, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Texas. Coach Grant Teaff is even a little uneasy about opening against Lamar on that school's home field. "I'll tell you right now that that's no snap," he says. "We'll have to play the best football of the season to beat them in Beaumont." Baylor's best: All-America Linebacker Mike Singletary, who averages 15.7 tackles a game. At Texas A&M (6-5) it's Coach Tim Wilson's second full season. In the first. Tailback Curtis Dickey & Co. upended Penn State (27-14), SMU (47-14) and Texas (13-7). To repeat that performance, the Aggies will have to get a lot of growing up from a group of 26 freshmen who are rated the best in the SWC this year.
Mark down Indiana State (8-3) for the Missouri Valley Conference title. The Sycamores have a new coach, former defensive coordinator Dennis Raetz, who took the place of Dick Jamieson, now an assistant with the St. Louis Cardinals, but Raetz, 34, has 44 lettermen (including 17 starters) returning. Three All-Conference players excel on offense, including Reggie Allen (1,895 yards of total offense last season). His receivers, Eddie Ruffin and Kirk Wilson, had 50 catches and 1,051 yards between them. Tulsa (6-5) and Southern Illinois (8-3) are the Missouri Valley's next best.
In the Mid-American Conference, Central Michigan (10-0-1) should extend its 18-game unbeaten streak and its domination of the league, in spite of up-and-coming Toledo (7-3-1). The Rockets' outstanding player is Roverback Mike Kennedy, who made 60 unassisted tackles and had four interceptions in '79.
Oklahoma State (7-4) might be a late-bloomer: the Cowboys won their last three games in '79 and have virtually everyone back except Quarterback Harold Bailey. Coach Jimmy Johnson has an all-conference fullback in Worley Taylor and a good wide receiver in Ron Ingram.
With half of the Pac-10 ineligible for the Rose Bowl, Washington (8-3), which upset Texas 14-7 in the Sun Bowl, could have something to say about Pasadena. For one thing, the Huskies have a known quantity in senior Quarterback Tom Flick. He stepped in in the eighth week of last season and led the team to four wins in the last five games, and in his one loss (24-17 to USC), converted on 18 of 28 passes for 245 yards. His completion percentage was 60.9%. Seven other returning starters include Fullback Toussaint Tyler. If the offense is solid, not so the defense. Coach Don James is compensating for inexperience with a new flex defense patterned after the Dallas Cowboys'. "We call it the Animal Package because of our terminology," says James. "It's 'Bear,' 'Lion' or 'Tiger,' depending on which defensive lineman is backed off the line of scrimmage."
In Coach Dave Currey's fourth season at Long Beach (Calif.) State (7-4) the '49ers should push past San Jose State (6-4-1) and Utah State (7-3-1) to the top of the Pacific Coast Athletic Association. Twenty-one transfers, including three J.C. All-Americas (Punter Mike Horan, Linebacker Michael Otis and Defensive Tackle Anthony Swain), complement Currey's 32 returning lettermen. Tackle Ben Rudolph and All-PCAA Safety Ervin Cobbs are defensive standouts, and Ralph Petrosian a pressure field-goal kicker. The Western Athletic Conference faces some knotty questions that will take all season to be answered. What becomes of Air Force (2-9), now without Quarterback Dave Ziebart, as the only service academy with a conference affiliation? Has Utah (6-6) recovered sufficiently from a so-so season to make a charge at second place? It would seem to have the numbers (50 lettermen and 10 transfers), but San Diego State (8-3) may have the better chance with Quarterback Matt Kofler on the roster. At Mesa (Calif.) J.C., Kofler completed 146 of 248 passes for 2,236 yards and 26 touchdowns, while running for 455 yards and seven TDs. As for Nevada-Las Vegas (9-1-2), its bid for WAC membership faces another year of study. The Rebels, meanwhile, have five starters at the skill positions on an offense that ranked third in the nation in total offense (472 yards per game).
Two years ago Navy won nine games, including a 23-16 victory over BYU in the Holiday Bowl, after which it lost Quarterback Bob Leszczynski. Bob Powers took over last year behind the Middies' finest line in a decade, and Navy went 7-4. Now he is gone, and Coach George Welsh has moved Fred Reitzel, a two-year starter at safety, to quarterback. Says Welsh, "If we can find some help in the offensive line and defensive secondary, we could be all right." The Middies had a total of 21 first-and second-teamers injured during spring drills, but they'll have time to recuperate before midseason, when Navy faces Washington, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Georgia Tech. The situation at Army (2-8-1) continues to be grim. Coach Lou Saban quit. The new man is Ed Cavanaugh, and he hasn't got much to march with.
The 100th anniversary season of football at Dartmouth (4-4-1) should be considerably more auspicious. Coach Joe Yukica's team is just reaching its peak, led by the troika of Quarterback Jeff Kemp, Receiver Dave Shula and Halfback Jeff Dufresne. The Big Green's biggest obstacle in its run for the Ivy League title will be the Yale jinx. Dartmouth has scored only 13 points against the Eli (8-1) in their last three meetings.
Temple (10-2) made it to the Garden State Bowl, its first postseason game in 45 years, and triumphed over Cal 28-17. But the Owls have probably peaked. They will be without Brian Broomell, the NCAA's No. 2-ranked passer, and Mark Bright, their 1,000-yard halfback. Receiver Gerald (Sweet-feet) Lucear will still be looking for TD passes (he had 13 to top the country last year), but the defense will be weaker now that Linebacker Mike Curcio is gone.
Rutgers (8-3) should have no great difficulty achieving its ninth straight winning season. The Scarlet Knights' finest moment in '79 was a 13-7 upset of Tennessee. This season they face Alabama. There are 17 returning starters, including Quarterback Ed McMichael (58.8 completion percentage) plus the entire starting backfield and four of six offensive linemen.
Boston College (5-6), having won four of its last five games, which is four more than it won in all of '78, has 39 lettermen back. Eagle Linebacker Jim Budness is All-America caliber and sophomore Quarterback John Loughery looks ready for a good year. Colgate (5-4-1) improved steadily as last season progressed, and it, too, has the core of that squad—19 first-teamers in all. The offense is anchored by Center Tony Bubniak. All-East Linebacker Joe Murphy led the team in tackles with 146.
Howard Schnellenberger begins his second season as coach of Miami (5-6) with all but two starters returning. The Hurricanes face, in order, Houston, Florida State, Notre Dame, Mississippi State and Penn State. Last season, in his first start, Quarterback Jim Kelly completed 18 of 30 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Hurricanes to a 26-10 upset of the Nittany Lions. This year he'll not only have his superb receivers on hand—Pat Walker (26.4 yards per catch), Larry Brodsky and Jim Joiner—but also two potentially outstanding backs in freshmen Robert Neal and Keith Griffin (whose older brother Archie owns a pair of Heisman Trophies). The defensive line, perennially a way station for the pros, features Middle Guard Jim Burt and End Tim Flanagan.
Villanova (5-6) is minus but four of its first-teamers and has a good chance for its first winning season since 1976. Senior Quarterback Pat O'Brien has 3,362 passing yards.
West Virginia (5-6) has a new Mountaineer Field (capacity 50,000) and a new coach, Don Nehlen (formerly an assistant at Michigan). It also has experience, chiefly in Quarterback Oliver Luck, Tailback Robert Alexander and Linebacker Delbert Fowler.