Two coaches banished to the press box at one point in conference-imposed disciplinary measures seemed the least of the ACC's troubles in 1986, and the off-season wasn't much better. In the spring, North Carolina tailback Derrick Fenner, the '86 ACC rushing champ (1,250 yards) was arrested on murder and drug charges. He has pleaded innocent to both, but won't play for the Tar Heels. Torin Dorn will try to fill Fenner's shoes, despite totaling only 141 yards last year (plus another 101 in the Aloha Bowl), but senior quarterback Mark Maye will either make or break North Carolina. Early games against Oklahoma and Auburn could leave the Heels battered and bruised for the conference chase.
Former Maryland coach Bobby Ross succeeds Bill Curry at Georgia Tech after a two-week fling as an NFL assistant. Ross must deal with the loss of running back Jerry Mays to knee surgery, and he's still looking for a quarterback. However, Tech has nine defensive starters back, including free safety Riccardo Ingram, a major league baseball prospect.
To replace Ross, Maryland settled on Joe Krivak, who ran the Terps' offense when they won ACC championships in 1983, '84 and '85. Nine starters return on offense, including quarterback Dan Henning and his top three receivers.
At N.C. State, coach Dick Sheridan treats his players like family. He scolds them for using profanity, prohibits his coaches from verbally abusing them and also tries to put players at positions of their own choosing. But Sheridan has two big holes: at quarterback, where Erik Kramer has graduated, and at wide receiver, where all-ACC Nasrallah Worthen was suspended for disciplinary reasons. Don't look for Sheridan to repeat last year's 8-3-1 Cinderella act.
Duke also has a new leader in Steve Spurrier, the 1966 Heisman Trophy winner at Florida. His strong sophomore class will need a year of seasoning, and the Blue Devils, 4-7 last year, will hardly make a dent in the ACC's traditional powers.
Bill Dooley, late of Virginia Tech and, before that, North Carolina, is back in the Tar Heel State, this time at Wake Forest. He won't match his earlier successes, though; Wake is a fraction the size of the schools Dooley is familiar with, and the Deacs have had only two winning records in the last 15 years.
Virginia is justifiably proud of having the country's highest player graduation rate (89%), but on the gridiron the Wahoos will again fail to make the grade.
Yes, that was Colorado wedged between Oklahoma and Nebraska in the '86 conference standings—but don't count on the Buffs butting in between the Terrible Two this time around; they'll pull in third. Two of last year's Prop 48 casualties, quarterback Sal Aunese and halfback J.J. Flannigan, should revive a Colorado offense that ranked 79th in Division I-A. The defense, rated 11th in the nation, returns mostly intact—that is, if tackle Curt Koch and linebacker Don DeLuzio can each recover from a broken leg suffered last spring when a driver ran them down as they were walking near Brownsville, Texas.
As a sophomore, Oklahoma State tailback Thurman Thomas rushed for 1,553 yards and 15 TDs. Last year, knee troubles limited him to 741 yards, but his spring-practice showing portends a grand comeback. "It's the best he's looked since he ran for 237 yards against Washington in the 1985 opener," says coach Pat Jones, who would like to reverse his own fortunes. Since starting out 10-2 in 1984 he has gone 8-4 and 6-5. He may have the horses to do it in Thomas, sophomore quarterback Mike Gundy and receiver Hart Lee Dykes.
"I'm not going to fool anybody," says new Iowa State coach Jim Walden. "We're not in the class to challenge national championship teams, and there are three of them on our schedule." Walden's not being modest; last year's 6-5 may be just a fond memory for a team that has little depth, only four returning offensive starters, no announced starting quarterback and a two-year NCAA probation to contend with. Walden hired backfield coach Norm Andersen away from UCLA, where he had tailback Gaston Green. At Iowa State he has 5'7", 160-pound Michael Brown.
Kansas State brought in 18 jucos, including quarterback Gary Swim from Snow Community College. Both of the Wildcats' top tailbacks, Tony Jordan and Terry Richards, went to Rochester (N.Y.) East High; Jordan set the Kansas State rushing record last year, with 218 yards against Iowa State.
Missouri coach Woody Widenhofer brought in three new assistants in an attempt to resurrect a defense that surrendered 417 yards a game in '86 and that includes a safety dubbed Toast, by the father of a teammate, because he gets burned so often. At least the Tigers will beat Kansas, which was outscored by Nebraska (70-0) and Mizzou (48-0) in its last two games.
With Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State all in SI's Top 20, life for the Other Six will be rugged. But last year every team in the league, even Northwestern, won at least two conference games for the first time ever.
The two Others most likely to succeed both have new slogans, which is always a good sign. Illinois talks of "A New Beginning" after last year's 4-7 collapse, and coach Mike White has appointed himself to an additional duty: motivational guru. White has 11 offensive and 10 defensive players who have started and 10 J.C. transfers. White may have to rethink his plan to "decentralize" the emphasis on QB; star running back Keith Jones is out with a leg injury.
At Indiana they say "It's Happening," and it very well could be if potential superstar QB Dave Schnell can return from shoulder surgery and if tailback Anthony Thompson can bounce back from the torn knee ligament he suffered in spring practice. Without them, even glorious linebacker Van Waiters won't save the situation.
Minnesota has made huge strides from 1-10 in 1983 to two straight 6-5 years. Exciting quarterback Rickey Foggie returns, but he fights leg stress fractures. Running back Darrell Thompson is also back, but nine of last season's defensive starters aren't.
Francis Peay did the finest coaching job in the nation last year, taking Northwestern to a 4-7 record, its best in 13 years. Quarterback Mike Greenfield, who has a string of 27 straight starts, will work behind a first-rate offensive line. There are plenty of problems in Evanston, but at last there's also real hope.
At Purdue, new coach Fred Akers has a huge rebuilding task. He'll do it, but there will be suffering aplenty in the meantime. Ditto for Wisconsin, where new coach Don Morton hopes a veer can improve last season's 3-9 mark. The good news may be that the Badgers return only one defensive starter.
Once again the byword in the industrial heartland is parity. Six teams have a shot at the title in the Mid-American Conference, which has had only one repeat champion in the past 12 years.
Does last year's champ, Miami of Ohio, have a chance? Not likely. The loss of the entire starting backfield, including quarterback and MAC MVP Terry Morris, makes the Redskins a longer shot, despite quality players like receiver Andy Schillinger, who led the major schools in TD receptions with 12.
Toledo may be the team to beat. With nine returning starters on offense the Rockets could pick up where they left off—a five-game winning streak. They'll have to find a replacement for Kelvin Farmer, the conference's leading running back, who rushed for 139.3 yards per game last year.
Two of the three Michigans—Eastern and Central—will be contenders. The MAC's top two offensive teams last year both boast talented tailbacks. Eastern features Gary Patton, who rushed for 1,058 yards, added 371 receiving, and returned kicks for 384. Central's Rodney Stevenson was the No. 2 rusher in the conference.
Ball State has eight starters back from the MAC's No. 1 defense but must get another big year from quarterback Wade Kosakowski. Thirty-one of his throws found tight end Ron Duncan, a first team Academic All-America.
Bowling Green coach Moe Ankney welcomes back four all-conference defensive players, which has led to a popular poster featuring MOETOWN'S GREATEST HITTERS: linebacker John Hunter, linemen Joe Foley and Greg Johnson and safety Kyle Kramer.
Kent State surprised everyone by finishing second last year, despite the death of coach Dick Scesniak just before the season. Hopes for 1987 ride on a freshman quarterback—Patrick Young—who was recruited sight unseen from that other Miami, the one in Florida.
Western Michigan and Ohio—every conference needs its patsies—will once again bring up the rear.
After Top 20 teams UCLA, Washington, Arizona State, and Arizona, comes Stanford, and there is no shame in finishing fifth in this conference; the bowls still come calling, and the Heisman committee shouldn't have any trouble figuring out how to spell Muster. Stanford was one of several West Coast teams that wanted fifth-year senior running back Brad Muster, and was the only one that doesn't play in the NFL. Muster was the conference Offensive Player of the Year, rushed for 1,053 yards, caught 61 passes and was eligible for the pro draft, but he elected to make a run for the Heisman. That comforted coach Jack Elway, who has quarterback problems and injuries to key defensive players.
At USC, they've had it with playing runner-up to the guys from Westwood. Alums like Mike Garrett and O.J. Simpson, who felt alienated during the Ted Tollner regime, have been invited back by new coach Larry Smith to help with recruiting and provide some inspiration, but there are no Trojan horses in this year's backfield. There are thoroughbreds at linebacker in Marcus Cotton, Rex Moore and Keith Davis, but the Rose Bowl is at least a year away.
It'll be up to new California head man Bruce Snyder to pull the Bears out of the second division. He'll go with a three-wideout alignment, and Brian Bedford, who started last season as the No. 1 quarterback, will line up as a slotback.
Washington State has the thankless task of trying to recruit against Washington for talent in the Northwest. New coach Dennis Erickson has quarterback Timm Rosenbach, an All-America javelin thrower in high school, to direct his pass-and-pray offense. One target will be receiver Tim Stallworth, a cousin of Pittsburgh Steeler John Stallworth.
Oregon, unable to compensate for the loss of all-conference quarterback Chris Miller, will bring up the Pac-10 rear along with Oregon State, whose quarterback, Erik Wilhelm, led the Pac-10 last year with 470 passes, 283 completions and 2,871 yards—yet had only eight TD passes. The Beavers haven't won more than three games in a season since 1971 and may not this year, either.
San Jose State should march back into the California Bowl on the arm of quarterback Mike Perez (see story, page 96). But this isn't a one-man show: Receiver Guy Liggins (80 catches) and tailback Kenny Jackson (52) would make any team this side of Norman, Okla.
If the Perez gang falters, Fresno State will make the bowl date, though the Bulldogs lost 18 starters. Eric Buechele replaces Kevin Sweeney at quarterback.
UNLV has thin backfields on offense and defense but could challenge thanks to a rich junior-college haul that included quarterback Richard Williams.
Long Beach State is hard-pressed to recruit against its flashier neighbors, and also has trouble attracting fans. For those who do turn out, the 49ers will display a stellar quarterback in junior Jeff Graham, who should hook up often with flanker Tyrone McCullouch.
Cal State-Fullerton, the Team for All Time Zones, plays seven road games in six states, from Hawaii to Florida. The one trip Fullerton won't make is to the Cal Bowl.
Pacific's top four rushers were among 31 departed seniors. The Tigers must put the ball in the air more often this fall, which is fine with Kennedy Bryant, a wideout who gained 20 yards a catch last year. Utah State was dead last in total offense last year among Division I-A teams. Three quarterback transfers will vie for the privilege of turning that situation around. New Mexico State has beefed up its offensive line with tackle Joseph Bowser, a 6'5", 290-pound juco transfer—but not enough for a team that surrendered 37.8 points a game in '86.
The Top 20 trio of Auburn, LSU, and Alabama will vie for the Sugar Bowl, but the also-rans also ran to bowls—six teams took postseason trips last year. Florida is out from under its two-year probation, but the loss of scholarships during that period has depleted the offense. Quarterback Kerwin Bell's three top receivers are gone, and the line is suspect—Bell was sacked six times in the spring game. Freshman tailback Emmitt Smith, the nation's top high school recruit, and juco transfer Lloyd Hopkins will have to take up much of the slack.
Ole Miss will again enjoy the cushiest conference schedule, avoiding Alabama, Auburn and Florida. Eighteen starters return from last year's 8-3-1 squad, which allowed a respectable 285.9 yards per game. The offense features acrobatic receiver J.R. Ambrose.
Divining Tennessee's fortunes is as difficult as determining when the Student Arena Center, currently in its 48th month of construction, will open. There are both negative and positive signs to be found in last year's performance; coming off a Sugar Bowl trouncing of Miami, the Vols fumbled to a 2-5 start, then won their last five games. Quarterback Jeff Francis was seventh in the U.S. in passing efficiency, and last year's gaggle of injured running backs are all healthy. Fullback William Howard, who scored 13 of his 14 TDs from inside the 10, is the workhorse.
Georgia running backs Keith Henderson and Tim Worley failed to make grades in the tougher post-Jan Kemp era, so the Bulldogs must rely almost solely on senior tailback Lars Tate.
Fifteen starters return to Mississippi State, but replacing quarterback Don Smith will be troublesome. The new QB has the privilege of delivering the ball to flanker Fred Hadley, the Bulldogs' prime weapon. Most of the defensive front is back, but they surrendered 259.4 yards per game on the ground.
Kentucky must replace QB Bill Ransdell, who set every Wildcat career passing record and most of their total offense records. If the running game performs as it did when Ivy Joe Hunter (621 yards) was healthy it will take the pressure off senior QB Kevin Dooley.
Vanderbilt's All-SEC tight end Carl Parker moves to flanker. On defense, the Commodores rely on their Gaines—linebacking brothers Chris and Brad will shore up a unit that allowed nearly 250 yards rushing per game.
David McWilliams turned Texas Tech around last season to become SWC Coach of the Year, and now he's at Texas, challenging Arkansas and Texas A & M in a race reduced to eight teams with the NCAA-mandated sidelining of SMU. McWilliams will have an experienced quarterback in Bret Stafford, who holds or shares 14 school records. The Longhorns also have quality breeding: tailback-wideout Eric Metcalf, son of ex-NFL star Terry, and defensive starters Bobby and Duane Duncum, sons of pro wrestler Big Bad Bobby Duncum.
On probation until 1989 for admitted booster payments to players, TCU welcomes back three defensive starters who asked to be redshirted last year. If banged-up blue-chip quarterback Scott Ankrom is sound, the Frogs could return to their 8-3 1984 form.
At Texas Tech, Spike Dykes, McWilliams's successor, has 51 lettermen, the most in school history, back from last years 7-5 Independence Bowl team, including all-SWC return specialist Tyrone Thurman (at 5'3", 130 pounds, the smallest player in college football), quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver and all-SWC receiver Wayne Walker.
Baylor, at the tail end of a two-year probation, is starting from scratch because of losses at key positions. "Last fall we fired some of the best shots we've ever fired," says coach Grant Teaff of his 9-3 Bears. "Now we have lots of empty cartridges scattered around." The entire backfield has to be replaced but Teaff calls his offensive line, led by Joel Porter, "the strongest we've ever had."
Rice hasn't had a winning season in 23 years and won't this year, either. The mystery team is Houston. New coach Jack Pardee is a master at working miracles in hopeless situations, and Houston is far from hopeless.
With 12 talented starters back, Brigham Young should reclaim the title it lost for the first time in 10 years. Junior quarterback Bob Jensen must improve on last year's 16 passing touchdowns, but he'll have lots of time to look for targets. The Cougars have a superb offensive line, led by 6'2", 280-pound John Borgia.
San Diego State rode Todd Santos's arm to a conference title-clinching win over BYU and a 39-38 loss to Iowa in the Holiday Bowl. Santos needs only 261 yards a game to break the alltime NCAA record for career passing yardage. The Aztecs won't repeat though: coach Denny Stolz lost 28 seniors.
Wyoming was second in the nation in passing last year and new coach Paul Roach has vowed to keep the offense exciting. The most important boarder in the "Roach Motel" will be quarterback Craig Burnett, a senior who threw for 1,242 yards and 13 touchdowns in only four games. Roach also has tailback Peter Gunn to shoot through some holes—if the weak offensive line can open any.
Air Force was 6-5 and missed a bowl bid for the first time in four years. The Falcons have Chad Hennings at tackle, but the defense returns only one other player, and quarterback Steve Letnich has to learn more about the wishbone.
Hawaii's Al Noga-led defense was sixth in the country last year, but the Rainbows will have trouble scoring points—they are thin at the skill positions. Utah averaged 426 yards a game in 1986 but allowed 495, making its defense the absolute worst in the country. New defensive coordinator Tom Gadd has installed a 4-3, and there's no place to go but up.
UTEP lost quarterback Sammy Garza, who threw for 3,140 yards last year. This makes it all the more important for the Miners' defense to improve on the 32.3 points a game it allowed last year. Colorado State lost the NCAA's leading scorer, running back Steve Bartalo, and returns only eight starters. New Mexico had the second worst defense in the nation and couldn't score points, either. At least new coach Mike Sheppard has receiver Terance Mathis, who caught 53 passes for a conference-leading 955 yards and 10 touchdowns.