The Top 20

Will the Missile be a bigger blast than the Rocket? Will Nebraska ever win another bowl game? How long will it take SEC fans to discover that Woo Pig Sooie isn't a Chinese dish? Can the Gators win their first national title? Can anyone beat Miami?
August 30, 1992

1. Miami
2. Perm State
3. Florida
4. Florida State
5. Washington
6. Notre Dame
7. Alabama
8. Michigan
9. Oklahoma
10. Georgia
11. Syracuse
12. Colorado
13. Ohio State
14. Texas A&M
15. Iowa
16. Clemson
17. Nebraska
18. Mississippi State
19. Arkansas
20. San Diego State

1. Miami

The Hurricanes have so much talent they won't need many breaks to repeat as national champions, even with road games against Iowa, Penn State and Syracuse. (Forget the Florida State game at home on Oct. 3, because we know the Hurricanes will find a way to win that one, don't we?)

Pluses: Eight offensive and six defensive starters are back. The "ruthless posse" is the best collection of wide receivers in the land, and the linebacking corps of Darrin Smith, Jessie Armstead and Micheal Barrow is the posse's equal on the other side of the ball. Unsung fullback Stephen McGuire is as good a back as any in the land.

Minuses: Are there any? Miami's only weakness may be its kicking game. Erratic placekicker Dane Prewitt will try to replace the automatic Carlos Huerta.

2. Penn State

Joe Paterno, in his 27th season as the Nittany Lions' coach, seems euphoric as he contemplates his team's future. At the spring game he wore what he called his "Rose Bowl tie," in honor of Penn State's move into the Big Ten in '93, and in early May—May!—the Lions accepted an invitation to play in the Blockbuster Bowl on New Year's Day. All Penn State must do to guarantee its Blockbuster reservation is win six games, which should be no problem. In fact, it will be a major surprise if the Lions aren't 5-0 going into their Oct. 10 date with Miami at home.

Pluses: Paterno has at last embraced the forward pass. Quarterback Kerry Collins connected on 24 of 41 throws for 406 yards in the spring game. Richie Anderson, who gained 499 yards as a starter in the final four games of last season, leads the fastest group of runners in school history. On defense, strong safety Lee Rubin became the first non-linebacker since Brian Chizmar in 1987 to lead the team in tackles.

Minuses: The offensive line is a bit green, and the punting could create headaches for Paterno, who will have to rely on a walk-on with virtually no experience.

3. Florida

In his first two seasons since returning to Gainesville, where he won the Heisman Trophy as a quarterback in 1966, coach Steve Spurrier has led the Gators to a combined 19-4 record (13-1 in the SEC), mainly by employing a high-tech passing game. The main beneficiary of Spurrier's presence has been quarterback Shane Matthews, who this season has a chance to become the only player besides former Georgia star (and 1982 Heisman winner) Herschel Walker to be named conference Player of the Year three times in the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big Eight, Southwest or Pac-10.

Pluses: When Matthews can't find primary down field receivers Tre Everett, Willie Jackson and Harrison Houston, he will go to tight end Greg Keller and tailback Errict Rhett.

Minuses: Matthews may have to scramble a bit in the early part of the season while the young offensive line pulls itself together. The defensive line will miss end Darren Mickell, who left school after being suspended for cutting classes.

4. Florida State

Playing their first season as members of the ACC, the Seminoles will have a tough early league test on the road against Clemson on Sept. 12. Once again, however, their fate will be determined largely by how they fare against Miami on the road on Oct. 3 and Florida at home on Nov. 28. Casey Weldon's replacement at quarterback will be basketball player Charlie Ward. Coach Bobby Bowden likes Ward's scrambling style so much that he delayed spring practice until Ward had completed his basketball commitment.

Pluses: Last year linebacker Marvin (Shade Tree) Jones became the first sophomore finalist for the Lombardi Trophy. The secondary is anchored by strong safety John Davis and free safety Leon Fowler, both seniors.

Minuses: Tailback Amp Lee and cornerback Terrell Buckley both left for the NFL with a year of eligibility remaining.

5. Washington

The Huskies won a share of last season's national title despite a big disadvantage in TV exposure and Sunday-morning newspaper coverage in the East, and they might be championship contenders again. The schedule is favorable, with their three toughest foes—Southern Cal, Nebraska and Stanford—all visiting Husky Stadium. Coach Don James will alternate quarterbacks Mark Brunell and Billy Joe Hobert (who took the reins last fall after Brunell went down with a knee injury in spring practice), going with the one who's hottest on a given day.

Pluses: The linebacking corps, led by Dave Hoffmann, is deep and talented, and the secondary, with safeties Tommie Smith and Shane Pahukoa and cornerback Walter Bailey, might be Washington's best ever. At tailback, sophomore Napoleon Kaufman is good enough to wrest playing time from senior Beno Bryant, whose average of 5.7 yards per carry has him on track to break Hugh McElhenny's school record of 5.5. Tackle Lincoln Kennedy, 6'7", 325 pounds, will lead the blocking.

Minuses: Defensive tackle Steve Emtman decided to turn pro a year early instead of returning to see if he could score another Outland-Lombardi double as a senior. The Huskies also lost three offensive linemen to the NFL.

6. Notre Dante

Coach Lou Holtz banned reporters from the final two weeks of spring practice. One reason may have been that he didn't want it reported that he was trying Jerome Bettis, his 250-pound fullback, in a one-back set. Says Holtz, "I think that the things we do should be private." If Holtz wants privacy, he should take the New Mexico State job. Maybe he just didn't want the press to see him break in the five coaches he has hired since last season. The new defensive coaches will have to sort out a unit that could have Bryant Young, Junior Bryant and Tyler Young all in the game at the same time. However, at least in strong safety John Covington the Irish have an expert at keeping names straight. He has 19 siblings, ranging in age from nine to 37. "When I was six, I had brothers and sisters at the table that I didn't even know," Covington says. "I'd be sitting there, and someone would say, 'Who are you?' "

Pluses: Third-year starter Rick Mirer, who decided not to enter the NFL draft, does not have a howitzer arm, but he knows how to win. Bettis scored 20 TDs last fall.

Minuses: In its last four games the defense gave up a whopping 140 points, and while the coaches may be new, the personnel is the same.

7. Alabama

Has there ever been an Alabama team that finished 11-1 as quietly as last season's did? Every other lime the Tide has enjoyed that sort of year, it has been in the thick of the national title hunt. The '91 team dropped out of sight after an early 35-0 loss to Florida and then never generated a lot of excitement outside the state, in part because it was a defense-oriented outfit that scored just enough points to win. Even after beating Colorado 30-25 in the Blockbuster Bowl, Alabama finished no higher than fifth in any of the polls. In this, the 100th year of Crimson Tide football, the ghost of Bear Bryant must be grumbling.

Pluses: The defense, third in the nation last season, figures to be just as tough, because of the best pair of Antonios in the nation—London at linebacker and Langham at cornerback—and All-SEC ends John Copeland and Eric Curry. Receivers Prince Wembley and Kevin Lee are outstanding.

Minuses: Wide receiver and kick returner David Palmer, the Tide's most exciting player, was arrested for drunken driving after a traffic accident in June and has a court date this Monday. In addition, the secondary lacks depth.

8. Michigan

Quarterback Elvis Grbac, who led the NCAA in passing efficiency last fall, returns to see if there is life after Desmond Howard, his Heisman Trophy-winning wideout who left early for the NFL. Split end Derrick Alexander, who received a medical redshirt year after being knocked out for the season in the opener against Boston College, has the speed and ability to do a fairly decent Howard impersonation. Tailbacks Ricky Powers and Tyrone Wheatley will be used more often as receivers than they were last season.

Pluses: Center Steve Everitt is the latest of many superb Wolverine offensive linemen, and Powers is one of the best backs in the nation.

Minuses: Howard is gone.

9. Oklahoma

The transition from the wishbone to a passing game has come in fits and starts. But in last season's 48-14 Gator Bowl win over Virginia, the Sooners finally got it right. Cale Gundy threw for two TDs against the Cavaliers and surpassed the school's single-game passing yardage record of 246 yards in the first half. Gundy, a junior, skipped spring practice to play baseball, and in his absence Doug Switzer, son of former Oklahoma coach Barry, made a strong bid for the backup spot.

Pluses: Outside linebacker Reggie Barnes, who had nine sacks, five tackles for losses and 73 stops overall last season, is the Sooners' best player. Tight end Joey Mickey caught both of Gundy's TD passes in the Gator Bowl victory.

Minuses: Only two starters are back on the offensive line, and one of them, Paul Moriarty, has switched positions.

10. Georgia

Another team that has finally acknowledged the game of the '90s is Georgia, where last fall freshman Eric Zeier (SI, May 4) broke most of the school's single-season passing records. The new-look Dawgs will have to do a lot of scoring because their defense is suspect.

Pluses: Besides Zeier, whose four interceptions in 286 attempts broke the SEC record for lowest interception percentage, the Bulldogs have two potential first-round draft picks in wideout Andre Hastings and tailback Garrison Hearst.

Minuses: Georgia is hoping that an influx of junior college transfers can plug up the gaps left by the loss of 11 starters, seven of them on defense.

11. Syracuse

The Orangemen should match last season's 10-2 record, which culminated in a 24-17 win over Ohio State in the Hall of Fame Bowl. In Qadry (the Missile) Ismail they have a player whose '91 stats in kick returns, pass receptions and rushing compare favorably with the numbers put up by his older brother, Notre Dame's Raghib (the Rocket) in 1990, when he finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting. Defenses won't be able to key on Ismail because of quarterback Marvin Graves's skill at running the option.

Pluses: Syracuse gets to play both of its toughest foes, Miami and Ohio State, in the Carrierdome, where the Orangemen have gone 25-5-2 since the middle of the 1986 season. Kicker John Biskup and punter Pat O'Neill are a crack tandem. Minuses: Holes in the offensive line and defensive secondary.

12. Colorado

Coach Bill McCartney has changed his offense for the third time since 1985. The I bone, which replaced the wishbone, has been scrapped in favor of a one-back spread attack because, says McCartney, Colorado had become too predictable. The Buffaloes' first major test is a Sept. 26 visit by Iowa.

Pluses: Outside linebackers Chad Brown and Ron Woolfork might be even quicker than the departed Alfred Williams and Kanavis McGhee, both of whom are now second-year NFLers. A fine secondary features cornerbacks Deion Figures and Ronnie Bradford.

Minuses: The quarterback situation—who will replace Darian Hagan?—is a dead heat between Vance Joseph and Kordell Stewart.

13. Ohio State

The Buckeyes' chances of reaching the Rose Bowl will depend largely on whether Kirk Herbstreit can become an effective quarterback. First-year offensive coordinator Joe Hollis says he wants the Buckeyes to pass more. But their fans may find themselves believing that the old Woody Hayes playbook has been dusted off, especially because tailback, with Raymont Harris, Robert Smith and Butler By'not'e, is one of the team's deepest and strongest positions.

Pluses: The defense boasts safety Roger Harper and linebackers Steve Tovar and Jason Simmons.

Minuses: Uncertainty at quarterback.

14. Texas A&M

The Aggies are another team with a big question at quarterback, but they are so strong everywhere else that A&M could be the first Southwest Conference team to seriously challenge for the national title since Texas in 1983. Jeff Granger, who made it to the final cut for the Olympic baseball team, is the quarterback of the moment, but three others could also see action. Still, coach R.C. Slocum must be confident that at least one of his signal-callers will come around. How else to explain the thick, new, pass-oriented playbook that offensive coordinator Bob Toledo calls Gone with the Wind III.

Pluses: The Aggies have a pair of standout tailbacks in Greg Hill and Rodney Thomas, a bunch of fleet receivers and five starters back on the offensive line. The Wrecking Crew defense, led by linebacker Marcus Buckley, cornerback Derrick Frazier and safety Patrick Bates, had a school-record 56 sacks in '91.

Minuses: Because the SWC is working on a four-game losing streak in the Cotton Bowl and has won only two of the last nine, it is a mistake to take anybody from this league very seriously.

15. Iowa

With games against N.C. State (in the Kickoff Classic this Saturday), Miami, Michigan, Colorado and Ohio State, the Hawkeyes have a murderous schedule that will make it difficult, if not impossible, to match last season's 10-1-1 record.

Pluses: The offensive line, led by center Mike Devlin, will be as good as any in college football. Defensive tackle Mike Wells is a certain All-America.

Minuses: Iowa's main concern is the loss of quarterback Matt Rodgers and tailback Mike Saunders.

16. Clemson

This is a place where a pair of monument-sized guards, 320-pound Stacy Seegars and 287-pound Jeff Fortner, receive the same sort of adulation accorded quarterbacks and wide receivers. The Tigers are so old-fashioned that they pass only when necessary and believe that defense is still the most important part of the game. It will be interesting to see if Florida State's presence in the ACC forces the Tigers to pass more.

Pluses: Six starters return from the unit that finished fourth in the nation in total defense and first against the rush.

Minuses: There are big-play guys in receivers Terry Smith and Larry Ryans and runner Rodney Blunt, but coach Ken Hatfield is loath to turn them loose.

17. Nebraska

The Cornhuskers wound up in the Top 10 in at least one of the major polls every year from 1970 through '88, but now Nebraska is working on a stretch of three consecutive finishes in the second 10. Both Washington and Oklahoma are road games, and the second Pac-10 opponent, Arizona State, is stronger than in past years.

Pluses: Derek Brown and Calvin Jones give Nebraska a potent one-two punch at I-back. Wide receiver Tyrone Hughes should be a high draft choice.

Minuses: Coach Tom Osborne won't decide on his starting quarterback until the opener against Utah on Sept. 5.

18. Mississippi State

Last year, in his first season in Starkville, coach Jackie Sherrill turned the downtrodden Bulldogs into a 7-5 team. This year long-suffering State fans have reason to expect even more improvement, with a wide-open passing game in the offing.

Pluses: The leading returnees—slick option quarterback Sleepy Robinson, wide receiver Willie Harris, offensive tackle John James and line-backer Daniel Boyd—will be joined by Kevin Bouie, who was the country's top junior college runner last fall, and wide receiver Olanda Truitt, a transfer from Pitt.

Minuses: Cornerback is a major headache for Sherrill, and the schedule features consecutive road games against Texas, LSU and Memphis State, followed by a Thursday night game against Florida.

19. Arkansas

The Razorbacks are embarking on their first season in the SEC. Will they cut it? Coach Jack Crowe, a former assistant at Auburn, thinks he knows what it takes to win in the conference. Hence, he has stockpiled big, quick defensive linemen, such as Henry Ford, and quarterbacks, of which he has four.

Pluses: Oscar Gray is a 260-pound former fullback who will be playing tight end. The Hog offensive line will be anchored by guards Isaac Davis and Ray Straschinske.

Minuses: The many talented players Arkansas has may still be a year away.

20. San Diego State

Everyone will be out to stop Marshall Faulk, who last year rang up 1,429 yards rushing, the third-highest total ever for a freshman. But junior David Lowery is a fine quarterback, and he has some sure-handed receivers. His main protection is huge tackle Tony Nichols.

Pluses: In addition to Faulk, five other starters are back on offense, including a fine wide receiver in Darnay Scott.

Minuses: Last season's defense gave up 26 points a game. The same cast is back, albeit a year older. The Aztecs' first three games are against Southern Cal, BYU and UCLA.

PHOTOAL TIELEMANSGino Torretta (13) finds himself surrounded by the college name's premier supporting cast. PHOTOJOHN BIEVERThousand-yard rusher Rhett is overshadowed by his backfield male, Matthews. PHOTORICHARD MACKSONHobert led the Huskies to the national title, but he wilt be pressed by Brunell. PHOTORICHARD MACKSONThe Wolverines will ask Powers, who rushed for 108 yards per game in '91, to increase his receiving duties. PHOTORICHARD MACKSONIs Vance Joseph the man to lead the Buffalo attack out of the Ice Age and into the '90s? PHOTOJOHN BIEVERHatfield has game-breakers like Blunt (33) but is reluctant to turn them loose.

Miami could be the first team to repeat as national champion since Alabama did so in 1979.

Washington had 11 players drafted by the NFL last spring, more than any other school in the country.

Oklahoma coach Gary Gibbs is 1-5 against Nebraska and Colorado and 0-3 against Texas.

The Buckeyes have not been to the Rose Bowl in seven years, their longest drought since 1969.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)