It won't take long for Don Nehlen to become West Virginia University's winningest coach; he enters the season tied with Art (Pappy) Lewis at 58 victories. Nehlen's Mountaineers should win early and often, thanks to sophomore quarterback Major Harris and a schedule that's part "Who's home?" (Maryland, Boston College and Penn State will come calling at Mountaineer Field) and part "Who cares?" (Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, East Carolina). Harris completed half of his 155 passes for 1,200 yards in '87 and rushed for 615 yards, second on the team behind tailback A.B. Brown, who returns as well. If the defense can stiffen, Nehlen's sixth bowl game could take place on Jan. 2.
Syracuse coach Dick MacPherson is hoping to build on an undefeated season, but while this year's Orangemen are good, they are two very significant bricks—quarterback Don McPherson and noseguard Ted Gregory—shy of last year's load. Sophomore Bill Scharr, a drop-back passer who threw all of seven passes last season, will be McPherson's successor, and 6'3", 254-pound junior Rob Burnett will lead the defensive line in Gregory's stead.
Three other eastern schools bear watching. Strong backfields on both sides of the ball could make Boston College a potential spoiler and even an outside contender for the Top 20. Pitt was hoping that tailback Brian Davis would conquer the classroom and become eligible to assume Craig (Ironhead) Hey-ward's mantle; alas, Davis could not cut it in academia, so the backfield chores belong to Adam Walker, a junior who carried 38 times for 214 yards in '87. Rutgers's season has already been a struggle. Two starting linebackers were injured, and an offensive reserve, Robert Lowther, was killed in a car accident two days after the Scarlet Knights' spring game.
They're still grinning at Memphis State over the Tigers' 13-10 defeat of Alabama, and State has a good chance this season to be all that it can be. The Tigers' top defender, end Marlon Brown, is a 26-year-old Army veteran who made 21 of his 99 tackles in '87 behind enemy lines; their best spring rusher was Marvin Cox, 25, who spent four years in the Marines before walking on to the team last year. Navy could use some battle-hardened veterans to handle its schedule (Air Force, Pitt, Notre Dame, Syracuse and South Carolina come all in a row), but the Middies do have two fine sophomore quarterbacks in Alton Grizzard and Gary McIntosh. Six quarterbacks weren't enough for injury-plagued Army last fall, but at least coach Jim Young will have five of them back, with experience.
Quarterbacks are also the hot topic down South. Tulane has one of the finest in the nation in senior Terrence Jones, a career 57.2% passer, although his favorite receiver, All-America Marc Zeno, has moved on. Junior Brian Mitchell at Southwestern Louisiana demonstrated his mastery of the run-and-shoot last year: Three times he rushed and passed for more than 100 yards a game, and once he went over 200 in each department. As a true freshman, Brett Favre threw 15 touchdown passes for Southern Mississippi; as a sophomore, he'll try to cut down on his 13 interceptions. When he's not throwing either one, he'll hand off to senior tailback Shelton Gandy.
Howard Schnellenberger, still trying to duplicate his Miami magic at Louisville, will do so without two top local schoolboy running backs who described the Cardinals coach as being uninterested in recruiting them. The two, Craig Walker and Anthony Carter, were grabbed by Kentucky and Vanderbilt, respectively.
Tulsa is mighty interested in the plethora of high school talent in its backyard—it just can't persuade the guys to pass up Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The Golden Hurricane does have a new coach—the third in four years—31-year-old Dave Rader. Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer will try to bounce back after a 2-9 rookie season. Dave Currey appears to be losing ground at Cincinnati, and Art Baker has a sound offense returning but little defense at East Carolina.
Akron's Oct. 15 meeting with Auburn should appeal to folks who like to stare at wrecks on the interstate. Akron was 4-7 last season, its first in Division 1-A, and coach Gerry Faust's eagerness to pit his Zips against quality competition may have exceeded his judgment. If enough players walk away from the Auburn collision, Akron, which returns all but four starters, should continue the .500 Faust tradition.