The Volunteers figure to be stronger defensively than when they have the ball. Oh, Tennessee still has some firepower left over from last season's 9-2-2 team, which won the SEC title, mostly in the persons of quarterback Andy Kelly (2,241 yards, 14 touchdowns) and wideout Carl Pickens (page 72). But the Vols are a bit thin at running back and have holes to plug in the offensive line despite the return of center John Fisher and guard Tom Myslinski.
The most remarkable thing about the Tennessee defense is the secondary, which is fast enough to win a lot of relay races. Floyd Miley, Jeremy Lincoln, Rod Lewis and Dale Carter all cover 40 yards in less than 4.4 seconds. The best of the bunch is Carter, who last season intercepted seven passes, including two in the Sugar Bowl; broke up eight more; and was the nation's top kick returner, with a 29.8 yard average. Other names to remember: Carey Bailey at tackle and linebacker Earnest Fields, who led the team in tackles, with 140.
"The offense has been the tempo setter around here through the years because of some very good personnel," says Johnny Majors, the dean of SEC coaches. "It's been a long, long time since the defense had the edge. We're better physically than we've been in some time, but at the same time I don't have that much vision of superiority or grandeur."
The winner of Georgia Tech's Sept. 28 visit to Clemson is likely to claim the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. That's one of seven home games for coach Ken Hatfield's Tigers, who figure to be just about as good as last season on defense—they were No. 1 nationally—and better on offense, especially if the young line comes around as expected. Clemson's main weapons will be senior quarterback DeChane Cameron, who completed 49 of 82 passes in the Tigers' last five games; tailback Ronald Williams, whose 941 yards rushing last season was second nationally among freshmen; and sophomore wide receiver Terry Smith, whose 34 catches and 480 yards were both school records.
The sterling defense will feature All-ACC middle guard Rob Bodine and 310-pound tackle Chester McGlockton on the line. The biggest imponderable at Clemson is why senior linebacker Ed McDaniel has never made the All-ACC team. He has led Clemson in tackles in two of the last three years, and last season his 109 stops—11th best in the conference—were 24 more than anybody else on the team had. Perhaps the voters have overlooked him because he's only 5'11" and 220 pounds. Time for McDaniel to get noticed.
13. Ohio State
University president Gordon Gee—the man who gave Colorado coach Bill McCartney a 15-year contract extension just before he left Boulder for Columbus—says that he won't discuss an extension for Buckeye coach John Cooper until after this season, which means that Cooper might have to pack his bags if his team doesn't improve on last season's 7-4-1 record. Ohio State missed out on the Rose Bowl by virtually giving Michigan a 16-13 victory in Columbus when a win would have earned the Buckeyes the trip to Pasadena. That took so much starch out of State that in the Liberty Bowl, Cooper's team was simply awful, losing 23-11 to a mediocre Air Force.
"We completely embarrassed ourselves and the university," says tailback Robert Smith.
Smith, who could be Ohio State's best runner since Archie Griffin won back-to-back Heismans in 1974 and '75, is the main reason the Buckeyes should make amends. The former two-time Mr. Ohio prep star gained 1,126 yards last season, breaking Griffin's freshman record by 259 yards. This season Smith, fullback Scottie Graham and a finally healthy Carlos Snow will be the main men until Ohio State finds a replacement for quarterback Greg Frey, who passed for 2,062 yards last year. The leading candidates are Kent Graham, a transfer from Notre Dame, and redshirt freshman Joe Pickens. On defense the Buckeyes will build around inside linebacker Steve Tovar, who led the team with 125 tackles last season, and end Alonzo Spellman, who sat out the winter quarter because of academic misconduct but came back to have a good spring.
Also hoping to make a comeback this season are the Tigers, who have been so dominant in the SEC—winning titles in 1987, '88 and '89—that last season's 8-3-1 record was considered a disappointment. "It's obvious we weren't a hungry team," says cornerback Corey Barlow. "That's not the case this year. This year the seniors want to get back into the championship mode, and we have worked hard to get better."
Coach Pat Dye has shaken up his staff and changed his philosophy on both sides of the ball. On defense, instead of the customary 3-4, the Tigers will use a four-man front, even though that means moving Walter Tate, the league's best noseguard, to tackle. On offense Dye upset some Auburn fans by passing over popular Pat Sullivan, his quarterback coach and the Tigers' Heisman Trophy winner in 1971, to name Tommy Bowden, Bobby's son, as offensive coordinator.
Bowden, who filled the same role last season for Bill Curry at Kentucky, believes in a wide-open passing game, which should be good news for quarterback Stan White. His performance last season as a freshman (2,242 yards, 14 touchdowns) wasn't exactly shabby. "For years our defense has been known around the country as one of the toughest and one of the best," says wide receiver Dale Overton. "This year we want our offense to develop the same reputation." The Tigers' best runner will be tailback Darrell (Lectron) Williams, who seems to be completely healthy for the first time in his career.
The Hawkeyes hope to parlay 16 starters returning from last season's Rose Bowl team and a soft nonconference schedule (Hawaii, Iowa State and Northern Illinois) into an improvement on their 8-4 record of 1990. It could happen. Iowa gets Michigan at home and doesn't have to play Michigan State. "We're anxious to go back to the Rose Bowl," says running back Mike Saunders, "and I think it's realistic to believe that we'll be out there playing Washington again. The only thing that can stop us is ourselves."
The Hawkeyes almost stopped themselves last season, losing three of their last four games, largely because of breakdowns in the punting game. Ohio State, Minnesota and Washington all succeeded in making blocks that were instrumental in their victories, leading Iowa coach Hayden Fry to order extra work for punter Jim Hujsak and the punting team in spring practice. Elsewhere, Fry likes what he sees, even at running back, where Saunders and Marvin (Scooter) Lampkin will try to make Iowa fans forget Nick Bell and Tony Stewart, who combined for 1,768 yards rushing. Quarterback Matt Rodgers hopes to bring recognition to Iowa for having the all-league performer at that position for the seventh time in the last nine years.
As erratic as Iowa was last season, no team had more of a roller-coaster ride than did the Crimson Tide. In its first season under coach Gene Stallings, the Tide got off to a horrible start, losing its first three games, then rallied for a 7-4 record that included Alabama's first win over Auburn in five years. The Tide then succumbed in a 34-7 humiliation at the hands of Louisville in the Fiesta Bowl. After all that, nobody is certain what to expect this season, though the decision by tailback Siran Stacy to stay in school instead of leaving for the NFL was certainly good news for the team.
The main question is whether Stallings can find a quarterback good enough to get the ball to splendid receivers Prince Wimbley and Craig Sanderson, both of whom are back after being sidelined with injuries early last season. The main candidates to replace Gary Hollingsworth at quarterback are redshirt freshman Jay Barker and senior Danny Woodson. On defense the stalwarts will be nosetackle Robert Stewart, a 270-pounder who bench-presses 500 pounds, and linebacker Antonio London. True freshman Dameian Jeffries could be the latest in the school's recent string—Cornelius Bennett, Derrick Thomas and Keith McCants—of All-America linebackers.
17. Southern Cal
The Trojans' 8-4-1 record was only so-so by USC standards, and yet it was a minor miracle, considering that coach Larry Smith sometimes started as many as four freshmen on defense. In addition, Smith had to put up with talented but temperamental quarterback Todd Marinovich. Now Marinovich is gone, having chosen to enter the NFL draft after being arrested on drug charges. In spite of various other off-the-field incidents (during the past 12 months several USC players were convicted of offenses ranging from public drunkenness to kidnapping and robbery), the mood at Troy is surprisingly upbeat. Says Smith, "Our war cry in 1991 is, Get it back!"—meaning the league title from powerhouse Washington. While that probably won't happen, the Trojans are getting an assist from the schedule makers; they'll meet Washington at home on Nov. 9.
Despite being somewhat thin in the line, the Trojan defense should be better, especially at linebacker, where Kurt Barber and Willie McGinest are potential All-Americas. The depth at linebacker is such that USC will often play five linebackers and only two down linemen in passing situations. Of the offense Smith says, "I like running the football. I like knocking people on their butts. We're going back to good old Trojan football." That might be because sophomore quarterback Reggie Perry is not the passer Marinovich was, though the Trojans do have all sorts of good runners, including Perry and tailback Mazio (Rolls) Royster.
If Perry is disappointing, Smith will turn to Curtis Conway, who could eventually become the Trojans' most potent weapon. "He's like having O.J. Simpson at quarterback," said defensive coordinator Chris Allen after watching Conway slip five tacklers for a 30-yard touchdown run during spring practice. Conway would prefer to play flanker, though, because that's where he figures he'll play in the NFL. Says Smith, "I told him, 'I know what you're thinking. You see guys like Tony Rice and Major Harris, and they don't get drafted.' But I told him the big difference is that you can eat peanuts off their heads. Curtis is a legit six-two."
Although coach Tom Osborne insists that everything is serene in the land of the Big Red (SI, May 6), some diehards are concerned about the team's recent late-season swoons. The Huskers have lost their last four bowl games, and at least part of the problem has been an unimaginative, predictable offense that throws a bomb about as often as Johnny Carson goes home to his native state. This season, however, might see the introduction of—a drumroll, please—Air Nebraska.
"I think it will be a lot different," says senior Tom Haase, who will share the quarterback job with Mickey Joseph. In addition, Nebraska may often attack from a one-back set, with sophomore Derek Brown, a can't-miss star, getting most of the work at tailback.
The Husker offense had better be good, because the defense has to plug some big gaps left by the departure of eight stalwarts, all of whom went to NFL training camps this summer, six as draft picks. "I'm not alarmed, nor do I feel that we can't have a good defense," Osborne says. Yet he needs to find more hitters like junior outside linebacker Travis Hill, who could be as good as anybody in the country.
Defense isn't a concern for the Longhorns, despite that shellacking at the hands of Miami in the Cotton Bowl. Write that off as just one of those afternoons for a defense that ranked 18th nationally in total yards allowed per game. Look for the Longhorns to hook 'em even more fiercely this season, especially if Shane Dronett, a 6'6", 258-pound junior end, has recovered completely from the broken hand that hampered him during spring drills. The offense is solid, with quarterback Peter Gardere and tailback Butch Hadnot, but Texas needs to find some receivers. Jason Burleson, who has trained at four positions, may have found a home at tight end.
20. North Carolina
And who is this we find at the bottom of the top? The Tar Heels? It's true. The noted basketball power discovered the joys of winning football last season, going 6-4-1 after successive 1-10 seasons in coach Mack Brown's first two years. This season Carolina could further enhance the ACC's growing gridiron reputation. The only question mark is whether a year of experience has improved a shaky defensive secondary. The Heels are solid at linebacker, where Dwight Hollier led the ACC in tackles with 155, and at quarterback, where Chuckie Burnette, who had a fine spring, should get stiff competition from last year's starter, Todd Burnett, as well as from hotshots Mike Thomas, a junior college transfer, and Jason Stanicek, a true freshman from Park Forest, Ill.