There was a time when Anthony Carter was a quiet youngster from Riviera Beach, Fla. He was kind of shy, small, bordering on delicate—5'11", 161 pounds—but he could cover 40 yards in 4.4 seconds with sand in his shoes and snag flying footballs out of the air; he scored 54 touchdowns in his high school career. Of course, all the Florida schools wanted him. But Carter? He wanted to get out of the state. Where to? Certainly to a school that lived by the forward pass. So he narrowed his choices to—get this—Texas or Michigan, as in Wishbone or Ramrod, and chose Michigan. Which is roughly akin to a flashy skater taking a hockey scholarship to the University of Florida. Why'd he do it? "Michigan meant success to me," says Carter, who traces his athletic roots back to the Tate Recreation Center in Riviera Beach. "They had those 105,000 fans every Saturday. And the coach told me that with my talent there was no way he wouldn't get the ball to me."
Carter didn't know it then, but Coach Bo Schembechler had made promises before. "We'll throw," Bo would tell the hotshot high school quarterback to keep him from going to Notre Dame. But come September, Bo would hand out the playbooks and there would be page-after-page-after-page of running plays. Of course, Bo's battering-ram offense was successful in the Big Ten (Michigan was 69-8-1 with eight championships in Bo's first 10 years), but at bowl time the bad joke was always on Michigan: 0-6. But all that was B.C. Before Carter.
Last year Michigan ended its bowl jinx by beating Washington 23-6. That Wolverine squad listed just eight seniors among its 44 top players. After losing two of its first three games in 1980—to Notre Dame and South Carolina, by a total of five points—Michigan regrouped to win eight straight, get Schembechler his ninth Big Ten title (second outright) and finish No. 4 in the polls.
As for Schembechler's promises, Carter says, "Coach Bo didn't lie to me." No, indeed. Bo is a pass fancier now—well, sort of. Michigan plays wide open against the patsies, but in the Big Ones, Bo still has a tendency toward over-caution. But even that could change. While becoming the first Michigan sophomore to make All-America since Bennie Oosterbaan in 1925, Carter caught 51 passes for a school-record 14 touchdowns, returned punts and kickoffs and averaged nearly 17 yards every time he touched the ball. The often curmudgeonly Schembechler calls Carter "the most gifted athlete I've ever been around." The gifted Carter says, "That's what he told me when he recruited me."
With Carter and 16 other starters returning, Michigan is clearly No. 1. Two of the four losses from the offense are at center and guard; important positions, yes, but the newcomers will be cushioned nicely by the tackle tandem of William (Bubba) Paris (6'7", 270) and Ed Muransky (6'7", 275), and Guard Kurt Becker (6'6", 260), who might be the best in the country at his position. The backfield features a trio that rushed for more than 2,700 yards, including Rose Bowl MVP Butch Woolfolk, Stan Edwards and Larry Ricks. Ordinarily there would be a lot of attention paid to the quarterback position, vacated by John Wangler, but the situation at Ann Arbor is such that there seems not to be much concern. Junior Rich Hewlett started last season before Wangler took over, and there is also sophomore Steve Smith, a former prep All-America.
The defense? Little worry here. Seven of 11 starters and a total of 20 lettermen are back from a unit that gave up just nine points in the last five games—including a secondary that allowed three touchdown passes all season. Nor do there appear to be any insuperable hurdles in the Wolverines' schedule, which includes one more Big Ten patsy than usual this year. The big dates are Sept. 19, when Notre Dame comes to Ann Arbor, and Nov. 21, when Ohio State takes the field. After that it should be the Rose Bowl, where Michigan has that phenomenal one-game winning streak. "Basically, we want back-to-back Rose Bowls," says Carter. That might be expecting a lot from Schembechler, but then again, Carter seems to get what he wants.
In four seasons at Texas, Coach Fred Akers has won one Southwest Conference championship, three games against hated Oklahoma and four bowl bids. Where did that get him? Well, when Texas won only seven games and lost five last year, Akers received so much abuse that his job may be on the line. One reason for all the frustration was that at mid-season the 'Horns looked all but bulletproof. They were 5-0, ranked No. 2 in the polls and had already defeated Oklahoma and SWC archrival Arkansas. Then, almost everybody got hurt. Star Halfback A.J. Jones suffered a neck injury, his running mate, Rodney Tate, injured his hand and Quarterback Donnie Little wrecked his right knee. In all, injuries cost Texas 14 starters or regulars for at least one game. No winning college team was banged up as badly as Texas. So many Long-horns were greenhorns that Texas drew 96 penalties for 1,037 yards—alltime conference highs.
But watch out. The infirmary is unoccupied—for now—and healthy again—for now—are 17 1980 starters, plus 21 other lettermen. And that's not counting Defensive Back Vance Bedford, a starter in 1979 who sat out all of last season with a knee injury, or Receiver Brent Duhon and Quarterback Todd Dodge, high school All-Americas last fall. With all that talent, Akers is sittin' pretty.
Experience is deepest where it matters most—on the offensive line. Guard Joe Shearin, Center Mike Baab and All-America Tackle Terry Tausch are seniors now and have been first-stringers since the day they arrived in Austin. Same for 6'6" Tight End Lawrence Sampleton, the No. 2 receiver in 1980.
Back, too, is Jones, the Longhorns' top ground-gainer in 1980 with 657 yards in 146 carries—in only seven games. Trying to stay sound, Jones hit the weights in the off-season—hard. "I want to get my upper body strong," he says. "Then I know I'll have a good year," good meaning "1,000 yards rushing and no visits to the trainer."
Little, the mad scrambler and No. 1 signal-caller for most of 1979 and 1980, no longer is the Texas quarterback; in January, he persuaded Akers to shift him to wide receiver because he figures that's where the pros will want him to play. In his stead, the starter will be aspiring lawyer Rick McIvor who connected on 69 of his 154 passes (44.2%) in spot duty the past two seasons. Slower afoot than Little, McIvor has an amazing arm; in high school he once cut loose with a 90-yarder. Texas publicist Jones Ramsey is so wild about McIvor's arm that he can't even contain himself when talking with Akers.
"Fred, I've seen him wing the ball 88 yards on a fly," Ramsey recently reported.
"We don't have an 88-yard play," said Akers.
"Let's put one in," said Ramsey.
Crippled as it was, the Longhorn defense was No. 2 in the SWC, behind Baylor's. Once again it will be led by All-America Tackle Kenneth Sims, who in 1980 made 100 unassisted tackles, had 13 quarterback sacks, caused five fumbles and recovered four. Behind him will be the linebacking firm of Scholtz & Shankle (Bruce and Doug), and in the backfield will be all-SWC Mike Hatchett, among others. Last fall Hatchett knocked down a Longhorn-high 18 enemy passes and intercepted five others. There may be more promising defenses, but not in the SWC.
Akers' main concern, he says, is depth at defensive tackle. But Sims is a DT, and Mark Weber, John Haines and Donald Sirles have been waiting for their time to come. Besides, about 138 other major-college coaches would be thrilled to have depth at defensive tackle as a main concern.
Akers' real main concern is keeping his job. If the Longhorns stay healthy, it's a lock.
Marcus Allen was telling a story recently about how he had been cut up in a knife fight in high school in San Diego, and how a gang called the Neighborhood backed off. The fact that Allen Sr. drove up in his truck with two shotguns in the back may have hastened the Neighborhood's departure. M.A. lies on the floor, spent from laughing. He says he learned one thing from this episode—it's weapons, not numbers, that count. At the University of Southern California, they are a few guys short this fall—quarterback is shaky, ditto fullback and the secondary—but the Trojans have several big, big weapons. The main one, of course, is Tailback Marcus Allen, a potential Heisman winner.
At the mere mention of the Heisman, M.A. is back on the floor, rolling around in laughter. "Say what?" he chortles. "The Heisman. Come on."
But seriously, M.A.?
"Well, in America anything is possible."
And there is no place in America where more seems possible than at USC, which has produced three Heisman-winning tailbacks in the past 15 years, Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson and Charles White. In fact, USC may well have another powerhouse after a dismal, awful, stinking, inept year in which the Trojans were "only" 8-2-1. USC is out of the Pac-10 doghouse this year (five conference teams were put on probation for one year and were ineligible for the Rose Bowl), and probably can plan on spending New Year's Day in Pasadena once again.
M.A. was No. 2 in the nation in rushing last fall, following Heisman winner George Rogers, and he takes all the junk about the tradition of the USC tailback seriously. "The people before me—Charlie White, Anthony Davis, Mike Garrett, O.J.—were gifted athletes. They all had great natural ability, then they worked to excel. So I sure don't want to be the tailback that fails. What if people started saying, 'The tradition of great tailbacks at USC ended with Charlie White; that Marcus Allen was awful'?"
Small chance. M.A. likely will become USC's second alltime career rusher, behind White. Last year he rushed for 1,563 yards and 14 touchdowns, led the team in pass receptions (30), was two for two as a passer and missed one game because of an eye injury (at which point no one would have been surprised to find him ushering in Section 26). Coach John Robinson says, "He's one of those guys you could hand a golf club for the first time, and he'd hit the ball right down the middle. Then he'd go help you find your ball."
Allen aside, USC suffered at quarterback last year, and this year's top candidate is a lefthanded sophomore, John Mazur, who has never taken a game snap. He's smart, but as Robinson says, "Being smart is no good if you can't throw the football." In practice, Mazur looks like a thrower. On defense, the anchor is 6'5", 230-pound Linebacker Chip Banks, who might be the best defender in the land. He had 107 tackles in 1980, including 15 for losses, and 10 deflected passes.
For his part, Allen is still laughing and rolling on the floor and not at all concerned about the strain of carrying the ball as many as 40 times a game. "When you're excited, you're never tired," he says, "...and I'm excited."
When Oklahoma Running Back Buster Rhymes (rhymes with rhymes) was 16 and growing up in a rugged area of Miami he was shot in the back—by his father. "It was O.K.," Buster says. "It was an accident." There was no argument on that score. Dad, George Rhymes IV, had the .22 caliber pistol out, the safety wasn't on, and the gun just sort of went off. "It paralyzed my left side for about an hour and a half," says Buster. "At first I thought my back was on fire, then I thought I had a knife in it. Now we all laugh about it. You'd really have to do something terrible to make me mad at my dad."
These days, Buster is getting ready to do terrible things to Sooner rivals. As a freshman in 1980, he set the alltime Oklahoma record for a first-year man by rushing for 659 yards (only 19 yards less than the team leader, David Over-street) and also scoring 10 touchdowns. Already there is talk that Buster just might make Sooner fans forget about Billy Sims. When Rhymes arrived in Norman to the sound of that old tune Much Hoopla, he says that fans repeatedly came up to him and said, "We hope you don't fumble like all the other guys we've had."
Fumbling has been the bugaboo of the Sooners' wishbone. By its very nature, the attack creates fumble possibilities with its last-second decisions under very trying circumstances. In 1979 Oklahoma lost a school-record 36 fumbles; last year only 26. But in his 86 carries in 1980, Buster fumbled nary a time.
The quarterback in the Sooners' system must be sure-handed, to say the least. There will be a new wishbone operator this year, probably junior Kelly Phelps. He runs well, throws not so well. But Phelps was redshirted last season and still has a lot to learn. For example, he admitted last spring that "they'd call a play and I'd have to stop and think, 'That goes to the left, doesn't it?' " But he will be helped greatly—as will Rhymes and Fullback Stanley Wilson—by an outstanding offensive line bulwarked by guards Terry Crouch and Don Key. On defense, the Sooners are super as always, with the only caveat a somewhat inexperienced secondary. But junior Cornerback Darrell Songy (32 tackles last year) should help keep things together.
Coach Barry Switzer complained bitterly about poor play in spring practice—"the worst spring we've had since I've been here"—and the final insult came when the alumni beat the varsity, 39-36. But, like so much at Oklahoma, it wasn't all that serious. On the opening kickoff one former Sooner (Terry Peters) rushed onto the field from the bench—where he belonged—and tackled a freshman, Ricki Byars, who was touchdown bound.
One thing that may make life easier for Switzer this year is the overall weakness of the Big Eight, which really is only the Big Two—Oklahoma and Nebraska. The key games in the pollsters' minds will be at USC on Sept. 26 and Texas (at Dallas) on Oct. 10. Still, Sooner coaches are trying to dampen excessive enthusiasm, which is why Assistant Head Coach Merv Johnson deadpans, "Buster had a pretty good year for a freshman, but he is by no means a complete back. He does, however, understand what it takes to play."
He also understands what it takes to make money over the summer. He worked as a porter on Miami's Pier One and knew when to throw a fake on the docks, too. While carrying bags for some Florida State fans (Oklahoma beat the Seminoles 18-17 in the Orange Bowl last January) "all they could talk about was how much they hated Oklahoma," he says. "Finally, one of them looked at me and asked me where I was from. I just told them Miami." Good for a $10 tip.
5. NOTRE DAME
Everyone knows that Notre Dame football players are different. They are well-rounded, clean-cut, God-fearing and generally indistinguishable from the rest of the student body, except that they tend to be 6'7" and appear to have misplaced their necks. Take senior All-America Linebacker Bob Crable, for instance. Here's an easygoing sort, a marketing major with a 2.6 GPA, who married his high school sweetheart this past summer. He also worked on a construction crew. "Shoveling was my specialty this year," he says. Big deal. Lots of college kids work construction. But not too many "come home and lift three times a week," as Crable did.
All right, so maybe Crable isn't exactly like everyone else. His teammates noticed that a couple of years ago when he tacked a picture of USC Tailback Charles White on the wall and punched it each time he entered his room. When Crable is asked for a role model, he says, "Hey, anyone who can really stick a guy on a tackle. I enjoy watching that...but I enjoy doing it more."
Crable has put plenty of good hits on people since his days at Cincinnati's Moeller High, whose teams went 36-0 during his four years there. "I guess it was the tradition and mystique of Notre Dame football that got me here," he says. Except that Notre Dame's record the past three years hasn't quite been up to Moeller's standard. Last season's 9-2-1, with losses to USC and Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, was the best the Irish have had since Crable came to South Bend. Ah, but we have yet another Moeller alumnus (there are nine such on the team) at South Bend this year, and 46-year-old rookie Coach Gerry Faust doesn't intend to see his .907 winning percentage drop so much as a point.
Faust, who seems to get in about 27 hours of work each day, inherits a strong squad from retired Dan Devine, and reaped what is conceded to be the nation's strongest crop of freshman recruits, including two ex-Moeller players, Fullback Mark Brooks and Linebacker Mike Larkin. Moreover, last year's starting backfield of Tailback Phil Carter, Fullback John Sweeney and Quarterback Blair Kiel returns, while Tim Koegel, the backup QB in 1979, is healthy after missing last season with injuries. In what Faust considers his key move, he has switched Tony Hunter from split end to wingback, in order to get the ball to him more frequently (an anticipated 15 to 20 times a game).
Eight starters return on the defense, a unit that ranked fourth in total defense last season. The secondary, consisting of John Krimm, Dave Duerson, Rod Bone and Stacey Toran, could well be the best in the country.
As usual, Notre Dame has a killer schedule, opening at home with LSU, then traveling to Michigan; Florida State and USC visit South Bend back-to-back, and the Irish finish with road games at Penn State and Miami (Fla.). Studying the schedule, Faust says, "I hope my lifelong dream doesn't end in a nightmare."
6. PENN STATE
One afternoon this summer Larry Kubin, Penn State's outstanding defensive end and a gourmet cook, put together a spaghetti sauce recipe for his wife and mother-in-law. A month later Kubin cooked up another surprise: He changed his mind about playing for Joe Paterno this season and signed a contract with the Washington Redskins, who had drafted him in the sixth round before his eligibility status—in question because of a knee injury early in the 1980 season—had been decided by the NCAA.
Kubin's defection was a blow to the Nittany Lion defense, but Paterno is working on a new recipe of his own. One of the key ingredients is a little unfamiliar to him. Something exotic called foot speed. Yes, Penn State, the home of the bullying linebacker, the hulking lineman and the power back, will have its own track team this fall with 10 players who run the 40 in 4.5 or less and eight at 4.6 flat. Even Paterno, who rarely talks in absolutes, even at gunpoint, says, "There is no question it's the fastest team I've ever coached."
And here's another absolute from Paterno, in re his team's schedule: "On paper, it's the toughest we've ever faced, maybe the toughest anyone ever faced." How tough? Try Nebraska, Miami and Pitt on the road and back-to-back home games with Alabama and Notre Dame. Still, optimism abounds in the Nittany Valley. "I believe we're looking down the barrel of a national championship," says All-America guard Sean Farrell. Pitt Coach Jackie Sherrill concurs. "Penn State," he says, "is going to get my vote as the No. 1 team in the preseason poll." "Tell Jackie I appreciate that," says Paterno with a smile, "but there's always somebody, and not necessarily the Alabamas or the Nebraskas, who can come out of the woodwork and beat you."
For that to happen, someone is going to have to come out of the woodwork and stop junior Tailback Curt Warner, Paterno's No. 1 track man. A 9.5 100-yard-dash man in high school, Warner rushed for 922 yards and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last season. "People say I'm like O.J. Simpson," says Warner. "But I enjoy smashing into people." That might make Paterno cringe, but if something happens to Warner, he can call on sophomore Jonathan Williams, who has 4.46 speed. And both Warner and Williams will be pushed by senior Joel Coles, who can't match their speed but is talented enough to have averaged 5.4 yards per carry a year ago.
Paterno's major offensive problem, in fact, may well be figuring how to work Warner-Williams-Coles combinations into the lineup while preserving his basic I formation offense, which has senior Mike Meade (himself a high school sprinter) at blocking back. "We don't have to play with a fullback and a tailback, I guess," says Paterno. "We're going to fool around with different sets and things like that."
Whoever is at tailback will benefit from one of State's strongest offensive lines ever. The anchor is Outland Trophy candidate Farrell, who bench-presses 520 pounds. "Sean is so good," says Warner, a graduate of the O.J. Simpson School of Self-Preservation Psychology, "that I'm honored to play on the same team as him."
All this seems to add up to run, run, run, but the Lions should pass more effectively than last year, too, when they completed only 46.2% for an average of just 121.1 yards per game. Sophomore Todd Blackledge, who became the starting quarterback four games into his freshman season, hopes to throw "at least 20 to 25 times a game."
The top receiver will probably be sophomore Flanker Kenny Jackson, who defeated Jonathan Williams in the dashes when they were scholastic track rivals in New Jersey. Though Paterno kept his usual short freshman leash on Jackson last year, he still led the team in receptions with 21 and his five TD catches were one short of a State record.
Paterno now has a need to find depth on the defensive line, with Walker Lee Ashley, Ken Kelley or Villanova-transfer Al Harris slated to replace Kubin. But his secondary is solid. Of 41 Penn State grads playing pro ball, none is a defensive back, but seniors Paul Lankford and Giuseppe Harris (brother of Franco and Pete, also State grads) may change that come 1982. The linebacking is, as always for Penn State, solid and deep with Chet Parlavecchio, Ed Pryts and Matt Bradley, who plays the outside linebacker-strong safety position known as the "hero." The term has been around Penn State for 20 years because then-coach Rip Engle didn't like the word "monster." "We had to sit around one day thinking up 'nice' names," recalls Paterno, then an Engle assistant. Now Paterno is facing a monster schedule but may have assembled a team that will make him a hero.
"What you have to understand about last season," says Nebraska's Roger Craig as he sprawls sideways on a bed on a steamy Lincoln evening, "is that I didn't consider myself third-string I back." Nor, the evidence will show, did he play like one. Craig rushed for 769 yards, second-best for the Cornhuskers, and his 15 touchdowns made him the No. 2 scorer in the Big Eight and tied him for sixth nationally with a guy named Herschel Walker. But he was third-string I back.
Now, Jarvis Redwine and Craig Johnson, who played ahead of him, are gone, and Craig is first-string I back. If he plays like one, and if Nebraska beats Oklahoma—something the Huskers have done only once in the last nine tries—a national championship isn't a pipe dream.
"Our tradition is to do well every year," says Craig, whose brother Curtis was wingback for the Huskers in 1975, '76 and '77. "The offense is built around the I back. It's up to the I back to get the job done." That's bad news for Husker opponents because, unlike Nebraska I backs of recent vintage, including All-America Redwine and I.M. Hipp, both of whom preferred to run outside whenever possible—and sometimes when it clearly wasn't—Craig relishes taking the ball inside and addressing himself to ill-humored defensive linemen and linebackers on their own turf. "I just like to run over people," says Craig, a junior from Davenport, Iowa.
Craig blames himself for a late-game fumble at the two-yard line against Florida State last year, a game Nebraska lost 18-14. "If I had shifted the ball from my left hand to my right, I wouldn't have fumbled. I would have scored and we would have won," he says. That mistake haunts Craig (the loss ruined Nebraska's national championship hopes; their record was 10-2), and while he was working in a meat-packing plant in Lincoln this summer, he had lots of time to think about it.
Most Nebraskans have forgiven and forgotten that transgression, and the focus is on 1981. Linebacker Coach John Melton looks as if he swallowed a canary when he concedes, "Our first 11 defensive players are going to be as good a unit as we've ever had." Six were starters in 1980, which may be why Coach Tom Osborne didn't bother to name a defensive coordinator when Lance Van Zandt left to join the New Orleans Saints. Hey, Tom, are you saying that they are so good that the best coaching may be no coaching? The only if is at defensive end, where three of last year's top four are gone, but the best—Jimmy Williams, who led the 1980 team in tackles with 66—returns. Maybe Osborne is right in leaving well enough alone.
So the defense—third-best in the nation a year ago, allowing only 209.1 yards per game—gets the Huskers into the Top Ten. But can the offense bump them all the way to No. 1? Like so many major powers, Nebraska has quarterback troubles—maybe. Mark Mauer, a senior from St. Paul, Minn., reads defenses well, and likely will start. But Mauer has never taken a snap that meant much to the outcome of a game (he threw 11 passes in 1980, five complete), and admits, "It will really be different than getting into a game when it's 30-6. That's the kind of experience I've had. I want to know what I can do when it's 0-0, or if we're down by a touchdown." Behind Mauer is hotshot sophomore Turner Gill, who could make Mauer the mop-up man again. Or, in typical Osborne style, the Cornhuskers may go again with two quarterbacks and give second-guessers in the stands something to gripe about.
The Huskers could use a fullback along the lines of the departed Andra Franklin, who carried for 678 yards and, more important, blocked with vengeance for Redwine, Hipp and, oh yes, the kid on the third string. Running Back Coach Mike Corgan talks up senior Phil Bates as Franklin's heir apparent.
Craig's dreaming now as he stares at the ceiling: "Isn't it fun when the season rolls around? Big crowds give me chills." If Nebraska can get by Florida State and Penn State, and then ice Oklahoma, you can bet things will stay hot in Lincoln until New Year's Day.
For 23 seasons Coach Paul Bryant has been the Bear in the air at Alabama football practices, directing the daily ebb and flow of the Crimson Tide from atop a 30-foot tower overlooking the team's practice field. From this distant remove, the Bear has cultivated an aura of flinty omniscience, not to mention a career record of 306-79-16. But last spring Bryant became so irritated at the Tide's often indifferent play that he came down from his tower and personally conducted a workout, just as he did in the old days. If the session proved little else, it showed that the Bear believes 'Bama has the talent to do a lot of things well, if not necessarily the will. "These kids have got to learn what it takes to be champions," says the 67-year-old Bryant. "If they don't realize that, we'll be embarrassed."
The only people likely to be embarrassed this year are Alabama's opponents. They have the unhappy task of facing a Tide squad that not only figures to be an improvement on last year's 10-2 Cotton Bowl champions, but also is loaded for Bear. Bryant is just nine victories short of breaking Amos Alonzo Stagg's mark of 314 career wins, the most in the history of the game. This year's squad would no doubt like to be the one to give Bryant the record, but the coach is soft-pedaling the subject. "I don't want our players trying to win games for me," he says. "I want us to get a positive attitude about football around here again."
The other side of that is, there's also no guarantee that 'Bama won't go undefeated. The big question is whether the Tide can generate enough offense to contend for a national championship. The backfield is full of speed, with Ken Simon, Jeff Fagan, Joe Carter and Linnie Patrick. The difficulty may be with the offensive line and at quarterback. In a spring scrimmage, the offense had the ball 17 times inside the 30-yard line and didn't score a TD. In the Tide's only losses last season—6-3 to Mississippi State and 7-0 to Notre Dame—it was the offense that failed, largely because there was no passing attack. This spring Bryant had his offense throwing more—often from unusual formations—and though the Tide will generally stick with its wishbone, there'll be some footballs in the Tuscaloosa air.
Whether those passes will be successful depends largely on the performance of junior Quarterback Ken Coley, who excited Alabama fans with his daring running as a substitute last season. When he finally got a chance to start against LSU, Coley led 'Bama to a touchdown on its first possession. But, on the Tide's second possession, he strained the motor nerve in his right hand and didn't play again all season. His fingers were paralyzed until February, when one day he awoke and found that mobility had returned. Sharing signal-calling duty with Coley will be sophomore Walter Lewis.
If Bryant can find replacements for ends E.J. Junior and Gary DeNiro and Linebacker Randy Scott, the defense might be even better than last year's, which at peak efficiency allowed only 25 points in eight games. The defense is anchored around senior Nose Guard Warren Lyles. Lyles grew up street-tough in Birmingham—"I had my first drink of wine at the age of five," he says, "then left it forever"—and decided he wanted to play for Alabama after Notre Dame defeated the Tide in the 1973 Sugar Bowl.
Alabama travels to three of its first four games, but among those only the opener at LSU threatens to be a struggle. Thereafter, there is a soft touch before every strong opponent, and Bryant has even scheduled open dates before Alabama's games with Penn State and Auburn. If all goes well and the Tide is undefeated when it faces Mississippi State on Oct. 31 in Tuscaloosa, Bryant will be going for career-win No. 315. "I don't know how long I'll keep going," Bryant says. "There might not be much of me left." Whatever, it should be more than enough.
In a Westwood restaurant not long ago, UCLA junior Wide Receiver Cormac Carney—who last season led the Bruins in receptions with 33—was talking about the alleged pressures of his position. "So what if I fumble or drop a pass? Who'll remember in 20 years? I'd never shed a tear over losing, but I would if I knew I didn't try as hard as I could."
That spirit is omnipresent at UCLA, where everybody tries, where talent is deep and where patience runs deeper. Like when Homer Smith, the offensive coordinator, was diagraming on a chalkboard a play called "Pass 1-2 Pass." He asked a sleepy-eyed athlete if the play was a pass or a run. "Run," came the answer. Smith, a former West Point head coach who later studied at Harvard Divinity School, stayed calm. "That's pretty good," he said, "but let's back up just a little bit. What color is a brown dog?"
In charge of setting this tone is Terry Donahue, now in his sixth year as head coach. Donahue once planned to have Sunday practices, but his players politely suggested they'd rather not. Seeing nothing wrong about listening to players, Donahue backed off. Another example of Donahue's wisdom is the way he combats his conservative image: he uses his offensive weapons recklessly. "I bet I've run the fake punt more than any coach in America," he says.
UCLA had a surprising 9-2 season in 1980, and thanks to a powder-puff non-conference schedule of Colorado, Wisconsin and Iowa, the Bruins could be 9-2 again even with a weaker team. First, though, Donahue must develop an offensive line. Gone is hard-running Tailback Freeman McNeil, the No. 1 pick of the Jets; his spot probably will be taken by Kevin Nelson, but there is concern whether the 5'11", 190-pound sophomore can stand up to the punishment an I back endures. At quarterback again will be junior Tom Ramsey, who was gangbusters early last year when in a four-game stretch he completed 42 of 69 passes. "I'm not the best passer and I'm not the best runner," he concedes, "but I'm pretty consistent."
Ramsey has a fine corps of receivers, particularly Carney and senior Tight End Tim Wrightman; last year Wrightman weighed 232 and ran the 40 in 5.1, but after a summer bartending at Trani's, a sports hangout in San Pedro, he's 237 and does a 4.9. Wrightman likely will be the first tight end taken in next year's NFL draft. He was heavily recruited in high school, and decided on UCLA after a visit to Notre Dame. He stepped off the plane in South Bend, slipped on the ice, ripped the seat out of his pants—and could hardly wait to get back to his native California.
On defense, the Bruins are big and tough up front—especially 260-pound Tackle Irv Eatman—but have no veteran linebackers. And replacing three-time All-America Kenny Easley at free safety is next to impossible. Preseason choice is Tom Sullivan, who says, "Kenny is bigger, Kenny is faster, Kenny is stronger. Physically, it is not much of a contest." But the defense has plenty of talent, and thanks to the philosophy of Coordinator Jed Hughes—"We turn 'em loose and let 'em play hard"—UCLA won't embarrass itself. The Bruins gave up only 135 points in 1980, the fewest by UCLA since 1969, and Donahue says, "We expect to pick up where we left off."
So do the players. As Carney says, "We're good. Heck, if we don't think we're good, how can we expect others to think we're good?" And they're loose. Witness junior Fullback Frank Bruno, who offers his football philosophy: "When in doubt, sleep."
10. NORTH CAROLINA
Every summer Coach Dick Crum packs up his wife and three sons and heads for the Canadian wilderness. "Nobody can get me up there," he says. "If they need me, they have to send out a Mountie." Once Crum returns to the insanity of Carolina, however, everyone goes after him. "ACC teams seem to play their best against us," says Crum.
In three years at Chapel Hill, Crum has made Carolina not only the team to beat in the ACC but also a factor in the national picture; witness his 24-10-1 record and bowl victories over Michigan (1979 Gator) and Texas (1980 Blue-bonnet). Not bad for a basketball school.
"Ah, that thing about us just being basketball-oriented is kept alive by a few writers," says Crum. Well, Dick, not exactly. "People realize we're coming on, but basketball is still the thing around here," says junior Quarterback Rod Elkins. "At the football games most of the students just get drunk."
Even the most inebriated realize that Carolina has lost two of its greatest players ever—Linebacker Lawrence Taylor, the second pick in the entire draft, by the Giants, and Tailback Famous Amos Lawrence, fourth-round pick of the San Diego Chargers—as well as a defensive tackle, Donnell Thompson, who went to the Colts in the first round. What's sobering is that Crum isn't worried. He feels he "hasn't lost a thing" at tailback and that linebacking "will be our strongest defensive position." No, that man hasn't been on a binge. While Lawrence captured the headlines, Kelvin Bryant, now a junior, gained 1,039 yards rushing, just 79 fewer than Lawrence...on 52 fewer carries.
On defense, the Tar Heels have no one with the singular talent of Taylor, but they do have three exceptional linebackers in Calvin Daniels, Darrell Nicholson and Lee Shaffer, all of whom started in '80. Daniels is a fan of Sam Peckinpah movies. When they're not showing, he can satisfy his thirst for violence by watching Nicholson in action. Nicholson led the team in tackles last season with 75 solos and 42 assists. Second was Shaffer, the most underrated of the three linebackers. On the line Crum must replace 12 years of experience, and only junior Jack Parry, a tackle who was backup nose guard last season, has lettered.
On the offensive line, the Tar Heels lost All-America Guard Ron Wooten, a sixth-round pick of the Patriots. Dave Drechsler moves from left tackle to Wooten's left guard position. "We can use Drechsler any place in the offensive line," says Crum. "He can even switch during the game." But depth may be a problem. Drechsler has twice required knee surgery and starting Right Tackle Mike Marr had knee surgery in the spring.
Quarterback Elkins is the Carolina key. As a sophomore he completed 81 of 160 passes for 1,002 yards, tying Jay Venuto of Wake Forest for the ACC passing lead. He doesn't have to run much with Bryant in the backfield, but he can scramble; he was sacked only three times last year. "Rod's a quiet leader who keeps things on an even keel, just like Coach Crum," says Drechsler. "That's how we like to keep it around here."
The Tar Heels were swamped only once last year—they were routed by Oklahoma 41-7 at Norman. But the Sooners are no longer on their schedule; ditto Texas Tech, which Carolina beat 9-3 on the road. The replacements are Miami of Ohio, South Carolina and Boston College, all at home. If the lines hold up, Tar Heel fans can start chilling the celebratory beer right now. They will, anyway.
No conference has ever produced four consecutive national champions, and yet that is precisely what could happen this year should Georgia successfully defend the title it won in 1980, following two years of Alabama rule. Certainly one thing in the Bulldogs' favor is sophomore Running Back Herschel Walker (page 38). Also returning is Buck Belue, the quarterback with the country and western name and the ability to grin and pick apart rival defenses. If Georgia can get by Tennessee in its opener, it should have clear sailing until it bumps into Florida on Nov. 7. At worst, the Bulldogs look like a 9-2 team, and without Alabama or LSU to face, another undefeated season is a good possibility.
What makes that surprising is that 13 starters are gone, and for the first time in 17 years the 'Dawgs will be without their highly respected assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, Erk Russell, who took the head coaching job at Georgia Southern. It's quite possible the team will miss Russell more than all the other absentees put together, because he was the architect of Georgia's complex "split-60" defense. Certainly this season will be a test of Head Coach Vince Dooley's administrative skills as well as of his coaching ability.
Both of Georgia's starting offensive tackles, the starting right guard and the flanker, Amp Arnold, are gone, but the Bulldogs should still field a better offensive line than last season's. Arnold will be replaced by Lindsey Scott, who split time at split end with junior Chuck Jones. Jones now takes over that position by himself, which means the receiving is in good hands. Left Tackle Jeff Harper graduated, but sophomore Guy McIntyre, a redshirt reported to be better than Harper, will step in. Jimmy (The Mountain) Harper takes over at right tackle. Harper's nickname says it all; he is 6'5" and a rock-hard 270 pounds.
With Eddie (Meat Cleaver) Weaver anchoring the defensive line, and linebackers Nate Taylor, Will Forts and Tommy Thurson all back, Georgia's first line of defense is solid. It is in the secondary where the 'Dawgs are most vulnerable. Two starting cornerbacks, a safety and a roverback have graduated, and though the contenders for those spots are all promising, none can be called experienced.
If Georgia is to have any hope of defending its championship, Walker and Belue will have to be as good as last season, and maybe better. So how 'bout them 'Dawgs? Not too shabby.
One of the few things that remain from the Panthers' 10-1 season in 1980 is the chewing tobacco. "I don't understand it myself but almost the whole team chews that stuff," says Offensive Guard Emil Boures, who doesn't indulge himself. The habit was particularly appropriate last year when the Pittsburgh defense, recognized as one of the finest in history, chewed up offenses and spit them out like so much used Red Man. That defense gave up just 1.6 yards per rush.
Gone, though, are nine defensive starters, seven of whom were selected in the first five rounds of the pro draft; in addition, four of the six senior offensive starters were picked before the fifth round. The whole package added up to a drafting record unmatched in recent collegiate history.
But hang no black bunting yet. The Panthers have, among other things: 1) an impressive offense led by junior Quarterback Dan Marino; 2) one of the most respected coaches in the country in Jackie Sherrill, who is 39-8-1 in four years at Pitt; and 3) a schedule concocted by a pastry chef. The Panthers play six home games, including the season finale against archrival Penn State, the only legitimate Top Ten team on their agenda. "One thing I do know about this season," said Defensive Coordinator Serafino Fazio, "is that we're competitive with any team on our schedule."
Another thing Fazio knows is the defensive strategy he'll use to compensate for the loss of his entire front five, including All-Universe Hugh Green. "What we've done is simply send out an appeal to the offense," says Fazio. And the offense heard it, particularly Marino, a football camp instructor during the summer who has thrown for 25 touchdowns and 3,289 yards in just 11 starts. "This year it's going to be our turn," says Marino. "We're going to stress ball control." That might be a good idea, the Pitt offense having turned the ball over 54 times last season.
Marino will throw mainly to sophomore Dwight Collins, who had a spectacular freshman season with 30 catches for 827 yards (27 average). He'll work behind an outstanding offensive line anchored by Boures, who has been temporarily switched to center, Tackle Jimbo Covert (6'5", 279) and, possibly, freshman Bill Fralic, a 6'5", 265-pound tackle considered by many the nation's top recruit.
On defense, only senior Linebacker Sal Sunseri and sophomore Free Safety Tom Flynn return, but they'll try to uphold the honor of Heisman runner-up Hugh Green and Co. "We took Hugh's techniques, the way he fought off blockers and other things, and made our training films from them," says Fazio.
Studying those films have been interior linemen John Hendrick, J.C. Pelusi and Phil Puzzouli. Sherrill may play Fralic at defensive tackle, particularly if Hendrick's knee doesn't respond from a midseason operation. That more than anything else describes the rebuilding job Pitt faces on defense. But don't write off the Panthers. Even with the losses, Sherrill considers the interior defensive line one of his strong points (contingent upon Hendrick's health). "You tend to forget about the other people when you have players like we did in front of them," says Fazio.
Linebacker Sunseri isn't about to forget 1980. "I want my senior year to be every bit as good as Hugh's. How good? Well, 9-2 isn't going to be good enough in my book. Pitt's established as a national contender, and nobody wants that to change." Sunseri emphasized the point by letting fly with a stream of tobacco juice into a wastebasket. His brand is Red Man.
The University of Florida has a well-deserved reputation as one of the nation's leading "party schools," but until a year ago, there wasn't a whole lot to celebrate. The Gator football team hadn't had a winning season in two years, and in 1979, under new Head Coach Charley Pell, Florida had tumbled to 0-10-1. But last year was something to shout about. The 1980 Gators scrambled to an 8-4 record that included a 35-20 victory over Maryland in the Tangerine Bowl, and did it despite having lost their first-string quarterback, Bob Hewko, in the fourth game. Now Hewko is back from knee surgery, but he may not be able to reclaim his job from Wayne Peace. A freshman last year, Peace showed his poise against Kentucky, when, with 34 seconds left (and no timeouts) he completed three straight passes to set up the field goal that gave the Gators a two-point win.
If, as Pell says, the Gators are "a little better" this year than last, he will almost certainly, as they say, give Peace a chance. Peace performed remarkably well for a freshman, throwing for 1,271 yards and five touchdowns. Junior Tyrone Donnive Young is a gifted wide receiver—averaging 19.5 yards per catch last season—and should be the recipient of many of Peace's bombs. (Just doesn't sound right, does it?)
The Gator backfield should be more explosive this season, the second year of Offensive Coordinator Mike Shanahan's reign. Shanahan, whose unit broke 40 school offensive records when he held the same post at Minnesota, is responsible for Florida's switch to a wide-open attack. The leading rusher from a year ago, junior Fullback James Jones, is back, but he averaged only 59.7 yards a game. However, Tailback Lorenzo Hampton, a 4.5 man in the 40, is fully recovered from the broken left foot that sidelined him for the season in a Gators scrimmage game last year.
The chink in Florida's defense is at linebacker, but fortunately for the Gators, a lot of opponents will never get past the line of scrimmage to exploit that deficiency. The reason is David Galloway, a 6'3", 283-pound tackle, who runs the 40 in 4.7. Galloway had lost both his parents by the time he was 11, so his then-19-year-old sister, Shelley, took him in and raised him. And raised him. And kept raising him. When he isn't crunching ballcarriers, Galloway relaxes with the exploits of Conan the Barbarian, Marvel Comics' untamed hero. Then, the suspicion is, he eats the pages. "He's an awesome, dominating player," says Pell appreciatively.
It's hard to see how the Gators can finish among the top three teams in the SEC; they open at Miami and play Mississippi State and LSU back-to-back on the road. Regardless, it seems clear that Florida is back. And there's nothing tougher than a Gator's back.
14. OHIO STATE
That he was the No. 1 quarterback at Ohio State as a freshman was astonishing enough. That he came out throwing in his first game and never stopped was downright shocking. Five interceptions against Penn State, remember? Had Woody Hayes gone soft in the head? Never mind. Art Schlichter, son of a grain farmer, was going to change the face of Ohio State football and harvest a Heisman Trophy to boot. What happened?
"We've had some tough times and some great times," says Schlichter, now a senior. The great times came in his second season: Hayes was gone, and the Buckeyes went 11-1 for Earle Bruce, losing by a point to USC in the Rose Bowl. Schlichter made the NEA All-America and finished fourth in the Heisman voting. The tough times? Last year Ohio State ranked first in many preseason polls, but lost to every Top 20 team it played—UCLA, Michigan, Penn State.
"We had 26 seniors on last year's team, and I think we had a little tension, disunity," says Schlichter. "We weren't what you'd call a team because a lot of players didn't perform up to their capabilities. The mood this year is a little scared but excited, wondering if we can do the job. I think that's good."
Schlichter's backup, Bob Atha, who will also do all the placekicking, thinks that pressure on Schlichter might have been part of the problem. Says Atha, "They built up Art [for the Heisman] and it hurt him very much. And I think Art was conscious of it to a point that he ran the options in a way to protect himself from injury. You can't blame him. We're friends, but I felt sorry for him."
In defense of Schlichter, his offensive line certainly didn't play up to its potential, allowing defenders to chase Schlichter all over the turf and sack him 23 times. Still, he completed 53.4% of his passes and threw 12 for touchdowns. Tackle Luther Henson and Guard Scott Burris are gone from the interior line, but Tackle Joe Smith and Guard Joe Lukens, who made All-Big Ten as a sophomore, return. Bill Roberts, a 6'5", 258-pound sophomore tackle, could really make life easy for Schlichter.
Two other great losses are Flanker Doug Donley, who caught 43 passes for seven touchdowns, and Tailback Cal Murray, the Big Ten rushing leader with 1,267 yards. Bruce may move last year's fullback, speedy Tim Spencer (577 yards on 108 carries), to tailback and replace him with soph Vaughn Broadnax, who, at 6'3", 242, is in the classic Ohio State fullback mold. But Schlichter wants to change all that "three yards and a cloud of SuperTurf" stuff. He's trying to cajole Bruce into using a no-fullback, split-tailback offense, which would include Spencer and junior Jim Gayle, to add yet another pass-catching threat to the attack.
"One thing we have is great receivers," says Schlichter. "Gary Williams [39 catches, six TDs] is one of the best. Thad Jemison and Victor Langley are fine, too, but Cedric Anderson is going to be great. He runs better than anybody I ever saw after he gets the ball. And we'll have to score to win, I know that. We lost a lot on defense."
And how! Seven defensive starters are gone, including the entire secondary. Only two tackles and two linebackers return, and there's very little experience elsewhere. That should make the Buckeyes dangerously vulnerable to their third and fourth opponents, pass-happy Stanford (which has Schlichter's Heisman rival, John Elway, throwing for it) and Florida State, not to mention one of the strongest Michigan teams they will ever have faced in the season finale at Ann Arbor.
Fletcher Jenkins, a defensive tackle from Tacoma, leans forward on his sofa in his Seattle apartment and plucks a two-inch steel screw from the jade plant on the table. It's the screw that was inserted in his left knee following surgery a year ago. So why does he keep it in the jade plant? "So I can find it when I get depressed. It reminds me that things can be a whole lot worse."
Husky fans are anything but depressed, and one of the reasons is Jenkins. He was generally ignored in the recruiting wars (only Idaho State and Wyoming expressed serious interest), but he thinks that was justified. "Let's face it," says Jenkins, a senior, "I wasn't sound academically." Now, not only have his grades perked up (2.5 GPA in music; he plays drums with a jazz trio, and wants to teach or play professionally), but no one can ignore his football. Last season he made 88 tackles, including 10 sacks. In one virtuoso performance against Southern Cal, a game Washington won 20-10, Jenkins had 12 tackles, four sacks and recovered a fumble. At only 6'2½", 247 pounds, he has pro scouts clucking that he isn't big enough for the NFL. Time will tell. In the meantime, he's becoming a savvy guy. He even learned while laboring over a jackhammer this summer. "The trick was to let the hammer do the work and just maintain control," he says. Kind of like letting linemen thrash around while one slips inside to crush the ballcarrier, right, Fletcher?
And while he's expected to do a big share of the heavy-duty work on the Washington defense, Jenkins is only the brightest star among many. Seven defensive starters return, including Mark Jerue, the former nose guard who will likely switch to linebacker. What's music to Jerue's ears?: "The sound the guy makes when I hit him." Washington's defense should be a symphony.
It's the offense that makes people around Seattle a bit nervous that there won't be another appearance in the Rose Bowl, where the Huskies lost to Michigan, 23-6, last January. Only three returning offensive players have strong credentials, and two, Anthony Allen and Paul Skansi, play the same position—wide receiver. The third is Split End Aaron Williams. "It's a little scary to think we may have the best receivers in the country but may not be able to get the ball to 'em," says Coach Don James.
That's because there's nobody on hand to replace departed Quarterback Tom Flick, who led Washington to 13 victories in 17 starts. His likely successor: Steve Pelluer, a big, strong and brainy sophomore who looks every inch a QB but who can be overly cautious. Running back is another huge question mark, following the departure of Toussaint Tyler, the fourth-best rusher in Washington history, and Kyle Stevens, the sixth-best. Probable starters are Vince Coby, who was impressive (422 yards on 102 carries) in 1979, and even stepped ahead of Stevens as starting tailback late that season, and Cliff Johnson. Both were out all of 1980 with knee injuries. Maybe they can graft a shoot off Jenkins' jade plant, to assure their full recovery.
The Huskies have a favorable schedule, including patsies Pacific and Kansas State in their first two games, and the offense probably will think they're supermen. But with Jenkins beating a tattoo on the opposition ("What I do best is get out on the field and really play"), and with a lot of help from his friends, James may be speaking straight when he eyes his crack defense, checks his questionable offense and admits, "We might wind up winning games 3-2."
16. MISSISSIPPI STATE
His name is Bond; he wears a flak jacket to protect himself; he's a great escape artist; and he has a license to kill. So why is this fellow living in an apartment with his wife, Kay, in Starkville, Miss.? The name is Bond, but it's John, not James, and he's the quarterback for Mississippi State.
Bond's emergence last year as a freshman savior (1,569 yards of total offense in 11 games) was just the first of many pleasant surprises for the Bulldogs. Along the way from 3-8 to 9-2 and a berth in the Sun Bowl, there was a memorable 6-3 upset of No. 1 Alabama. The brains behind State's turnaround: Coach Emory Bellard, father of the wishbone offense, who in two seasons in Starkville has not only recruited Bond and a few dozen other fine prospects, but also invented a new offense—the wingbone.
State won't be the surprise this season that it was in 1980, however. Fifteen starters return, including Bond and Middle Linebacker Johnie Cooks, who bolster the Bulldogs' 4-3 umbrella defense. Cooks, who had 79 solo tackles and 37 assists, was All-SEC in 1980. Defensive End Billy Jackson, who was overlooked by many schools because he is only 6'1", 220, had 14 quarterback sacks last fall as a freshman. If State has a weakness on defense, it will be in the secondary, where departed Cornerback Willie Jackson and Safety Larry Friday have left large gaps.
MSU's rushing offense was seventh best in the nation last season, and with junior Center Kent Hull and All-SEC Guard Wayne Harris back, getting running room and passing time shouldn't be a problem. The difficulty will be finding a replacement for All-America Wingback Mardye McDole, who led the SEC as a rusher-receiver last year. Bellard hopes that sophomore Danny Knight will "do a lot of things real good," and junior Michael Haddix, a proven runner, will start at halfback. Haddix finished third in the SEC in rushing last year with 724 yards, followed in close order by the mercurial Bond with 720.
Bond, an avid duck hunter (hence license to kill), grew up around the State campus because his father, Andrew Bond, was on the school's administrative staff in the admissions department. This fall he'll be wearing a flak jacket to protect his ribs. If his equipment holds up, this time 'round they may just have to issue Bond a license to thrill.
A year ago Stanford, a 15-point underdog, blitzed Oklahoma 31-14. Then, as an 18-point favorite, Stanford was dumped 28-23 by California. Though the Cardinals ranked high among national leaders in passing (sixth), total offense (seventh) and scoring (15th), they ended the year with a 6-5 record and no invitation to a bowl. Things will change this fall at Palo Alto.
But not on offense, where once again John Elway, now a junior, will ring up numbers faster than a digital supermarket checkout gizmo. Last year Elway, a .361-hitting outfielder who so far has rejected big-buck offers from the New York Yankees, completed 248 of 379 passes for 2,889 yards and 27 touchdowns. He broke a Pac-10 record with six TD passes against Oregon State and tied an NCAA mark by throwing four scoring passes in the first quarter. He was the first sophomore named Pac-10 Player of the Year and the first sophomore All-America at quarterback since Northwestern's Tom Meyers 18 years ago. Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer said, after the wipeout of his Sooners in Norman: "Elway put on the greatest exhibition of quarterback play and passing I have ever seen in this stadium." At 6'4", 202 pounds and growing, Elway can also carry the ball when necessary. And nobody hurries him out of the pocket, from which, not incidentally, he can look out at an army of gifted receivers.
All-America Ken Margerum is gone, but Andre Tyler, who led Stanford—and co-led the Pac-10—with 53 receptions, is back. Tyler's style—cutting cute patterns under the coverage—mixes well with that of Flanker Mike Tolliver, whose explosive running reminds folks of former Cardinal and current Dallas Cowboy Tony Hill. Back, too, is Darrin Nelson, who twice has caught 50 passes and rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a season; he missed doing so last year (47 receptions, 889 yards rushing) only because an ankle sprain kept him out of 1½ games, a bruised hip, out of another. That Stanford has an offense its fans love to watch is no news. What is, is that it might not have a defense rival teams love to see. Coach Paul Wiggin has taken drastic steps. First, he instituted a rigorous year-round weightlifting program. Then he junked his old "read-and-react" style in favor of an "attack technique" that calls for a lot of linebacker free-lancing similar to that of the Oakland Raiders. Though the defense gets back eight starters, two of them, Linebacker Dave Morze and Safety Kevin MacMillan, may well lose their jobs to junior Gary Wimmer and senior Pete St. Geme. And somebody else will be out of his job, too, if freshman Nose Guard Terry Jackson, a 6'7", 260-pound high school All-America defensive tackle from Washington, D.C., lives up to his press clippings. "I feel better about this defense," says Wiggin. "I think you'll see improvement."
Which means, of course, that Stanford's foes might be seeing even more of Elway.
18. BRIGHAM YOUNG
The curly-haired, bull-necked super quarterback ducked into the locker room one day last spring and out came plain old Jim McMahon, mild-mannered, bookish and bespectacled BYU communications major. "I felt strange out there in practice," he said. "I'm a senior, and I'm surrounded by a lot of new faces. We lost 21 seniors off last year's team, a lot of people who made me look good."
On the field, McMahon wears neither glasses nor contact lenses, and his vision is only 20-60 in his right eye; he stuck a fork in it when he was six. "I can make out the colors of the jerseys O.K.," he jokes. And William Tell knew that apple he had to hit was the red thing.
Just how good did McMahon look last year, anyway? Well, statistically, if not esthetically, he looked like the best passing quarterback in college football history. He became the first, since Tulsa's Jerry Rhome in 1964, to lead the nation in passing efficiency and total yardage, setting a few NCAA records along the way—like 32 of them. Consider just a few: 47 touchdown passes (17 more than runner-up Joe Adams of Tennessee State); 4,571 yards gained passing (1,648 more than runner-up Mark Herrmann of Purdue and 851 more than the record set by BYU's Marc Wilson in 1979); an average gain of 10.27 yards per pass attempt (his completion percentage was a whopping, though not record-breaking, 63.8%). Also, he enters 1981 with a string of 12 games in which he has passed for more than 300 yards. Nevertheless, McMahon is not satisfied. "I haven't reached my full potential," he says, "I want to do better this season. I expect to do better."
That may be difficult, all the more so because BYU's offensive coordinator, Doug Scovil, who developed McMahon as well as predecessors Marc Wilson and Gifford Nielsen—now with Oakland and Houston, respectively—has become head coach at San Diego State. But BYU will pass 75% of the time, and McMahon may do better if Head Coach LaVell Edwards finds a few new pass receivers. Gone are the two top pass catchers from last season, Running Back Scott Phillips (60 receptions, an indication of just what "running back" means in Cougar argot) and Tight End Clay Brown, 48 for 1,009 yards and 15 touchdowns. Junior Brad Hardisty will start at tight end, while junior Scott Pettis, who averaged 10.4 yards on 27 carries last year, moves into the starting backfield; Pettis was issued a catcher's mitt. The best of McMahon's returning targets is Wide Receiver Danny Plater, a speedster who caught eight touchdown passes in 1980. However, the BYU offensive line is inexperienced, and McMahon may lack for pocket time.
Two problems remain. One is the schedule, which is simply too easy for a team chasing a high national ranking. BYU has won or tied for the WAC championship six times in the past seven years and should win another title this year. The only non-conference opponents are Long Beach State and Colorado. So look for BYU to run up a few scores, just as it did last year—83-7 vs. Texas-El Paso, 70-46 vs. Utah State—to catch the attention of the pollsters.
The other problem is related to the first—how to get McMahon the notice he deserves as a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate. "The other top candidates will be playing against big names," says McMahon. "I'll have to work that much harder to be outstanding." Just look good.
It has been an unusually long summer down on the Bayou. For months people have been looking deep into their gumbo trying to fathom what the 1981 season will bring for their Tigers. Is the promise of last season enough to improve on a 7-4 record and contend for the SEC championship? LSU Coach Jerry Stovall is as puzzled about his team's prospects as anybody, acknowledging that a lot will depend on how the Tigers do in their first two games. "By the third week of the season we could either be 0-2 or No. 1 in the country," says Stovall.
LSU is a team that promises to get a whole lot better as the season wears on, assuming too many of its frontline players aren't obliterated in the opening two weeks. The Tigers' first test is against Alabama, on Sept. 5, on prime-time network television, not a game Bear Bryant is likely to take lightly. The following week LSU takes on Notre Dame as Gerry Faust makes his college coaching debut before the Irish faithful. "We're going to have to do the best we can just to keep from being embarrassed," Stovall says.
The Tigers lack experience and depth at several positions, and that could be a liability in a schedule with six opponents who played in bowl games last season. The defensive line has been weakened by graduation, and both safeties—including All-SEC Chris Williams—are gone. Stovall says he may start freshmen in their place. One agreeable surprise in spring practice was the play of Defensive Tackle Bill Elko, who is Frank Kush's nephew. Elko transferred from Arizona State after Kush was fired as head coach there, and though he's being converted from end to tackle, he has adjusted well. The secondary and the linebackers will be strengthened by the addition of freshmen Jeffery Dale and Gregg Dubroc.
LSU will run a veer offense, as it did last year, but this season the Tigers should be more explosive. Junior Jesse Myles is back at full speed at fullback, which is good news, because Myles led the team in rushing in '80 despite missing half the season with a broken leg. Lester Dunn, a sophomore who didn't play a down with the varsity last year despite gaining 61 yards on four carries as a freshman, had an excellent spring and will give the Tigers much-needed speed.
The key to the whole season is junior Quarterback Alan Risher, who came from nowhere last year to throw for nine touchdowns and run for six, and complete 57.3% of his passes. "He can throw that ball in a knothole," says Stovall, "and he doesn't make mistakes. If we can't run on you, I'm going to fill that air full of football. I want our players to know we're busting our cookies to win. But Alan has got to stay healthy for us to function. We won't be able to gain the length of my arm without him."
Risher, a pre-med biochemistry major from Slidell, La., is aware that he'll probably have two freshmen as backups, making him all the more indispensable. "It puts a little more pressure on me than I had anticipated," he says. "But I've never been one to stand around in the pocket and let those big boys hit on me." Risher's running (362 yards) helped carry LSU last season, but this year it will probably be more controlled. Certainly neither he nor Stovall is looking for a repeat of the Tigers' experience against Rice last September. In that game there were several center-to-quarterback goofs that led to a Rice victory.
Risher's primary targets will probably be high hurdler (13.54) Orlando McDaniel, sprinter (10.27) Efrem Coley and converted Running Back Eric Ellington, a 5'9" 182-pounder who runs the 40 in 4.6. LSU's two leading receivers last year were running backs, and Stovall continues to believe that a pass in the backfield is as good as a pitch-out. That kind of flexibility, along with Risher's ability to hide the ball on play-action passes, makes the Tigers a constant threat to go long.
Bring on 'Bama. Bring on Notre Dame.
It happened three years ago, when a lowly Baylor team was about to face mighty Texas. At a pregame pep talk Coach Grant Teaff figured he had to pump up his Bears, get them to give that "little bit extra." So he rattled off a tale about two Eskimos fishing in a hole cut in the ice. One is reeling in fish after fish, the other catching nothing. Finally the unlucky Eskimo asks his friend why he is doing so well. "Easy," the first Eskimo answers. "I keep the worms warm in my mouth." His story told, Teaff shouted that—by gosh—he would do whatever it took to succeed! Then the coach pulled a worm out of his pocket, threw back his head and popped it into his mouth. Baylor, of course, upset Texas.
"It just shocked and excited them," Teaff recalls. Yeah, Coach, but about the worm? "Well, when they charged out of that locker room, I followed them and spit that thing out first chance I got."
Point is, Grant Garland Teaff has been shocking and exciting folks at Baylor since the day he arrived in 1971. The Bears won a Southwest Conference title in 1924 and didn't win another until 1974. Then last season Baylor won one again. "It took us half a century to win one title but only six years to win the next," Teaff says. "So we must be doing something right."
What Teaff's doing right, among other things, is recruiting and signing such players as Walter Abercrombie, the senior tailback who is Baylor's alltime most productive ballcarrier. Last season he rushed for 1,187 yards and had 10 touchdowns, both tops in the SWC. Off the field, Abercrombie sings in a gospel band called The Real Thing and earns more than peanuts in the Mars candy factory. Teaff's worm act beguiled him. He chose Baylor because he was raised in Waco and thought it was whacko to leave. He's elated that he stayed. "I think we're contenders again," he says.
If so, Teaff must find able replacements for 13 departed starters from the 1980 team that led the SWC in offense and defense. Missing on defense alone are six starters, notably all three linebackers, including two-time All-America Mike Singletary. Teaff got a lift in the secondary when Safety Scott Smith, a fifth-year student, passed up an offer to coach at Mississippi. Good news, too, is Baylor's front four, thanks to the sudden development of Tackle Tommy Tabor and End Charles Benson, who last fall batted down 13 passes at the line of scrimmage. And immediate help is expected to come from freshman recruits—particularly Brian Camp, Alan Jamison and Kevin Hancock, all of whom are among superscout Joe Terranova's "Sweet 60 Freshmen."
On offense, the entire returning backfield—Abercrombie, Fullback Dennis Gentry and Quarterback Jay Jeffrey—is All-SWC. And for additional punch, Teaff moved Alfred Anderson, last season's SWC Freshman of the Year as a running back, out to wingback. Quarterback Mike Brannan, MVP of the 1979 Peach Bowl, is back to challenge Jeffrey after sitting out the last four games of 1980 with a knee injury. "The offense has to pull some games out of the hole," Abercrombie says. "I think we can." Some, yes. A lot, sure. But all of them? Like that old worm, it's pretty hard to swallow.