Oklahoma just plain came unstuck in 1981. The Sooners led the nation in rushing offense (334.3 yards per game), but they fumbled an astounding 52 times and ended up with their worst record (7-4-1) since 1970. Kelly Phelps will direct the never-a-dull-moment Sooner wishbone. He was injured for the last half of 1981 but completed only 33% of his passes when he was healthy. Stanley Wilson ran for 1,008 yards as a fullback but has asked Coach Barry Switzer to move him to halfback. There's a vacancy there because Buster Rhymes is sitting out the season for taking stereo equipment from a teammate's room. (Cornerback Elbert Watts, who was also involved in that incident, transferred out of school.) Among the other ballcarriers is a Sims (Fred, no kin to Billy), two Ledbetters (Welden and Jerome, no relation to each other) and a Dupree (Marcus, a freshman and a second cousin to Billy Joe). On defense the Sooners were defenseless in '81 but could be tough if Tackle Rick Bryan and Linebacker Jackie Shipp have superseasons.
Oklahoma could make the Top 20 if it wipes the butter off its fingers, but Kansas' fate seems to be out of its hands already. The NCAA spent most of the summer on an inquiry into the Jayhawks' program, including former Offensive Coordinator John Hadl, who reportedly offered two recruits up to $30,000 to become Jayhawks, and Tailback Kerwin Bell, who turned out to have been academically ineligible to play football in his freshman year (1980), when he ran for 1,114 yards. Bell tore the ligaments in his right knee in the third game of 1981, but Quarterback Frank Seurer still led the Jayhawks to an 8-4 season. After hanging fire while the NCAA reviewed his transcripts from high school. Bell is back in good graces—and good form—and ready to play. However, Kansas may yet be put on probation because of the recruiting payoffs. No decision had been made as of this writing.
The Jayhawks' pass defense, ranked No. 4 in the country in '81, features Cornerback Rod Demerrite and Free Safety Roger Foote, but the star of the Jayhawk defensive show is another foot—that of Punter Bucky Scribner. He averaged 43.8 yards on 75 punts last year and placed 20 of them inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Missouri expected to rebuild in 1981. Instead, the Tigers went 8-4, beating Oklahoma (19-14) for the first time since 1969, upsetting Southern Miss (19-17) in the Tangerine Bowl and ending the season ranked No. 19 in SI's poll. Only six starters are back from a defense that allowed fewer yards per play (3.4) than any team except Texas, but among them are Safety Kevin Potter and Cornerback Demetrious Johnson, the hero of the Oklahoma game with a fumble recovery, an interception and a rundown to save a touchdown.
August 31, 1982
The Tiger offense has a game-breaker in James Caver, a split end and punt and kickoff returner, who averaged 16.1 yards a catch in '81. Caver played junior high football in Hanau, West Germany before his father. James, an Army first sergeant, was transferred to Waynesville, Mo. James Jr. paid his way to Mizzou for two years but earned a scholarship with a 52-yard pass-run for a TD in the '81 opener against—sorry, Dad—Army.
It's Year Two A.P. (after probation) at Auburn, and the War Eagles look ready to take off. Or perhaps they already have. Space shuttle astronauts Ken Mattingly and Henry Hartsfield, both Auburn grads, carried Tiger jerseys (numbered 58 and 54 for their respective years of graduation) with them in Columbia, and at launch time Mission Control bade them well with the words "Godspeed and War Eagles!" Auburn has eight home games (including the first six in a row), 15 returning starters, a likely All-America (Donnie Humphrey) at defensive tackle—and, best of all, a No. 1 quarterback. After shuffling four quarterbacks throughout his first year as head coach at Auburn, Pat Dye has settled on junior Randy Campbell to run the wishbone.
The real good news is that Auburn won its in-state recruiting battle with the Bear for the first time since 1968, signing the top three running backs in Alabama—Tommy Agee, Alan Evans and Vincent (Bo) Jackson. The latter is a state decathlon champion and baseball star from McCalla. He was picked in the second round of last June's baseball draft and offered $200,000 by the Yankees, but he turned out to be just another Jackson who got away.
Head Coach Mike White has turned Illinois around—from 3-7-1 in 1980 to 7-4 in '81—with a pack of junior-college transfers (18 in '81) and a passing attack developed during White's coaching years at Stanford and Cal and, most recently, as an assistant with Bill Walsh's 49ers. There are 10 new jucos on hand to fortify the Illini offensive line and defense, which, despite the efforts of Defensive Tackle Mark Butkus (Dick's nephew), gave up 70 points to Michigan last year.
But the key to the Illini fortunes is Quarterback Tony Eason, who came from a run-oriented J.C., American River College in Sacramento, in 1980, took a redshirt year behind Dave Wilson and last season was the No. 4 passer in the country. He completed 248 of 406 (61%) for 3,360 yards—tops in Big Ten history (Mark Herrmann of Purdue held the previous single-season mark of 3,212). Eason, who set nine Big Ten and 10 school records, including most touchdowns in a season (20), has even been the subject of a hit song around campus, Champaign Tony. White calls his Illini offense the Flare-Flood, because that's what the receivers do—flare out and flood a zone. And it works. Nine Illini receivers had 15 or more receptions in '81.
The last time Ohio State went into a season unranked was 1979, when a sophomore quarterback named Art Schlichter led the Buckeyes to 11 victories and to within a yard of a national title in the Rose Bowl. Except for the spot left by Schlichter (he's now a Colt), the Buckeye offense is deep and strong, with the likes of Joe Lukens at guard, Tim Spencer (who ran for 1,217 yards and 12 touchdowns in '81) at tailback and Gary Williams (50 catches for 941 yards and six TDs) at split end. Then there's the great unknown. Sophomore Mike Tomczak led a pack of six quarterback aspirants in the spring, but, says Coach Earle Bruce, "The job is wide open."
Unfortunately, the same applied to Ohio State's defense in '81. The Buckeyes ranked next to last in the country in pass defense (136th out of 137 schools) and gave up more than 30 points on four occasions. After the close call (31-28) against Navy in the Liberty Bowl, Bruce fired his defensive coordinator and two assistants. Marcus Marek, a two-time All-Big Ten middle linebacker, will make another attempt to hold the Buckeye ground. Marek's 148 tackles in 1981 was tops among OSU defenders for the third straight year, his career total now stands at 394. Still, it stacks up as a down year in Columbus, but then again, the last time....
"I heard the thump" said UCLA Place-kicker Norm Johnson, "and I knew it was over." USC's George Achica had raised his left hand and batted down what would have been a last-second winning field goal, and the Bruins lost 22-21 to end the regular season at 7-3-1. Then came a 33-14 loss to Michigan in the Bluebonnet Bowl, which was followed by the off-season loss of three assistant coaches. Coach Terry Donahue has fired 17 assistants in his seven UCLA seasons.
With 15 starters returning—including junior Tailback Kevin Nelson, who missed five games in '81 because of ankle and knee injuries but still gained 883 yards and scored five touchdowns—UCLA should be able to cut its losses in '82. Other key players are Tom Ramsey at quarterback, Cormac Carney at split end and Irv Eatman at defensive tackle—each scheduled to start for his third season. After facing the likes of Michigan (Sept. 25) and Washington (Nov. 6) on the road, the rematch with George Achica's left hand will be on Nov. 20. Note: That game, along with all UCLA home games for at least the next five years, will be held in the Rose Bowl. The Bruins moved from the L.A. Coliseum after 52 years because they didn't want to share that turf with the NFL Raiders.
Houston's most fearsome player, 6'6", 263-pound second-team All-America Offensive Tackle Maceo Fifer, has the unfearsome nickname Bunny. His mother dressed him up as a rabbit one Halloween, and the inevitable nickname stuck. The Cougars have seven other offensive starters returning, but they still might be shy of the runners—particularly sticky-fingered runners, in view of the 39 fumbles Houston lost last season—they need to get their veer in order. Houston can count on junior Quarterback Lionel Wilson, who passed for 1,225 yards and ran for 65 more to lead the Cougs to a 7-4-1 finish. The defense, which last season ranked third nationally, giving up an average of 235.6 yards per game, has six starters back, including Cornerback Butch LaCroix, a premed senior with a 3.2 grade-point average who was No. 3 in the country with seven interceptions in 10 games.
Mississippi State Quarterback John Bond spent last summer harvesting catfish with his dad on a farm in Greenwood, Miss. It's one sign of the times that the Bond way to skin a cat is by using a machine imported from Germany that heads, guts, skins and fillets 3,000 catfish an hour. That's efficiency. It's another sign of the times that MSU Coach Emory Bellard, the father of the wishbone, spent last winter developing an offense to make the Bulldogs' passing game more efficient. "We've always thrown a lot of passes," says Bellard. "It's just that they've always been backwards, on pitches." His creation is as yet unnamed. It's a triple-option, of course, but it puts four receivers out on most plays. Among those pleased with the new scheme are Split End Glen Young, who runs a 4.37 40 and led the nation in punt returning with a 16.2 average but caught just 19 passes, and 6'5" Tight End Jerry Price, who hauled in 18 balls and claims to have hands big enough to palm two basketballs. Big deal? That's two in one hand, at once. The reason for the offensive emphasis at Mississippi State is that the defense, ranked No. 6 against the run in '81, lost five starters, including Linebacker Johnie Cooks (to the Colts) and Tackle Glen Collins (to the Bengals). Back is Mr. Sack: Defensive End Billy Jackson, who amassed 31 sacks in two seasons.
Tennessee Linebacker Mark Burns designed and sold T shirts; Middle Guard Chris Wampler kept souvenir shops supplied with official Fair knives; and Center Scott Heard charmed the kiddies in a Pac-Man costume.
It was World's Fair time in Knoxville, and the Vols were only doing their part—30 in all had summer jobs with the extravaganza. Now it's time for them to do their part to live up to the promise shown last year. It was a young Vol squad that allowed 87 points in its first two games, then came on to yield an average of 17.8 and win eight of the last 10, including the last-ever Garden State Bowl, 28-21 against Wisconsin. The defense gets back eight players, including 6'5", 260-pound Tackle Reggie White, who blocked three extra points in '81, but will miss Punter Jimmy Colquitt, who averaged 43.8 yards a boot.
Willie Gault steps in at split end for Anthony Hancock, the Chiefs" No. 1 pick. Gault, a world-class high hurdler (he was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic track team) and a 10.10 man for 100 meters, had better than a 21-yard average on both pass receptions and kickoff returns. In his honor, the offense, which averaged 23 points a game after scoring just seven in those first two contests, was dubbed "Orange Lightning."