The September shakedown is over in southern football and it is beginning to appear very much as though the dreadnaughts of last season are back in excellent running order and with a touch more armor. From College Park to Baton Rouge and from Morgantown to Miami, the teams to beat in the three major conferences are Georgia Tech in the Southeast, Maryland and Duke in the Atlantic Coast and West Virginia and Virginia Tech in the Southern.
Of the five, Georgia Tech will be pushed hardest. Undoubtedly among the best in the country after their 20-6 win over Southern Methodist Saturday, the Yellow Jackets still aren't that much better than the other schools in the country's second strongest conference and they face a withering schedule. Mississippi has already lost to Kentucky, but it doesn't have to meet another top team in the SEC all season. Ole Miss could sneak by while Tech and Auburn, 13-0 victor over Florida, are busy looking the other way.
Neither Maryland nor Duke has Tech's problem. West Virginia must still get by a good William and Mary, loser by only 14-7 in the closing minutes last week to Virginia Tech. Of the independents, the University of Miami, regardless of its opening loss to Georgia Tech, is the strongest in the South and one of the best in the nation. Not too many rungs down the ladder is Florida State, loser to Miami last week but beginning to flex its muscles and join the big boys in the land of football and king cotton.
Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are always heading for a bowl, and this year is no different from the rest. The kicking game, the explosive offense and meticulous defense one has come to associate with Coach Bobby Dodd are all there again. Dodd's big men this year are halfbacks Paul Rotenberry and Jimmy Thompson and quarterbacks Wade Mitchell and Toppy Vann. A big sophomore halfback, Stan Flowers, also caught my eye.
Auburn. Toward the close of last season the Plainsmen may have been the best team in the country. They are winning the early ones this year and players like Fullback Joe Childress, Tackle Frank D'Agostino and Guard Bob Scarbrough may carry them to a great record.
Mississippi. The Rebs looked brilliant in the second half against Georgia, with unpredictable Eagle Day doing everything a quarterback should. But then came the embarrassing Kentucky loss. Mississippi, with Billy Kinnard, half, Buddy Alliston, guard, and Gene Dubuisson, center, has the strength but remains an enigma.
Kentucky. The Wildcats were the surprise team of the SEC last season. Much is expected this year, although they were beaten by LSU in the opener 19-7. Bob Hardy is generally recognized as the best quarterback in the SEC. The line, led by End Howard Schnellenberger, is top-drawer.
Mississippi State. The Maroons lost a heartbreaker to Florida 14-20 in the opener but revived to beat Tennessee 13-7. Coach Darrell Royal expects State to be better this year and swears that Art Davis (voted most valuable player in the SEC in 1954) is the best halfback in America. "He plays at 190 and runs the 100 in 9.9."
Florida. Principal difficulty facing Florida is finding replacements for four tackles lost from last year's squad. Center Steve DeLa Torre, prime favorite for national recognition, only slightly overshadows Halfback Jackie Simpson. The Gator diet (Georgia Tech and Auburn) was a little rich for a starter, but blander opposition the rest of the way should balance the menu.
Louisiana State. After the surprise opening win over Kentucky, LSU returned to this mortal earth against Texas A&M but the startling 20-20 tie with Rice Saturday has the Tigers soaring again. Neophyte Head Coach Paul Dietzel is doing a splendid job organizing the bayou country for the future. His best are End Joe Tuminello, Halfback Levi Johns and Fullback O. K. Ferguson.
Georgia. Coach Wally Butts's Bulldogs are having an uphill pull regaining their once-proud position in SEC football. The 1955 edition is stronger than its predecessors, but so is the opposition. That 26-7 shellacking at Clemson last Saturday looks like more than an omen.
Vanderbilt. The Commodores are coming up. Their 21-6 win over Alabama gives them a 1-1 conference record at this reading, which is 50% above what it often is come October. Halfback Charley Horton, Tommy Harkins, jack of all trades, and End Joe Stephenson are the men of note.
Alabama. The Crimson Tide, which ran high for years in the SEC, has ebbed. J. B. Whitworth, brought home from Oklahoma A&M to stir up some ripples, has hard work ahead.
Tennessee. It's a strange position that the Vols, one of the nation's winningest teams for the past 25 years, are in today. The 21-0 loss to Duke Saturday was their sixth straight, longest losing streak in their history. This is a sophomore squad which will bear watching.
Tulane. Despite excellent coaching the Green Wave hasn't the manpower to get too far. They lost to Texas 35-21 but took weak Northwestern 21-0 the past week. Bryan Burnthorne and Tony Sardisco are excellent guards.
ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE
Maryland. The Terps rank at the top of the nation's teams this week following their brilliant wins over UCLA and last Saturday Baylor 20-6. Stars are legion, and Jim Tatum has established himself as one of the soundest strategists in the land. The line is without peer. Certain All-America choice is Center Bob Pellegrini and close to him is Quarterback Frank Tamburello.
Duke. The Blue Devils are off and winging after convincing triumphs over North Carolina State and Tennessee. That's fine so far, but Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Navy come on successive Saturdays! WHEW! Top men are Halfback Bob Pascal and Guard Jesse Birchfield.
Clemson. The Tigers, with three wins in a row, are a solid squad headed by the great Don King at quarterback. Two other players to note are Center Wingo A very and Halfback Joel Wells.
Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons were finally headed off by West Virginia this past Saturday after trouncing Virginia Tech and South Carolina. Bob Bartholomew is generally considered one of the nation's outstanding tackles. Others who bear watching are Quarterback Nick Consoles, End Jack Ladner and a 256-pound sophomore guard named George Johnson.
North Carolina. Coach George Barclay's Tarheels probably should be rated higher after their great effort against Oklahoma and a tight squeeze (25-18) over N.C. State last Saturday. However, Carolina is burdened with its usual awesome schedule, which still includes Maryland, Notre Dame and Duke. Center George Stavnitski and End Will Frye are the standouts.
South Carolina. Despite losses to Wake Forest and Navy, South Carolina will present an explosive offense ere the season ends. Last year Quarterback Mackie Prickett led the ACC in passing and total offense and Halfback Mike Caskey was a ranking runner.
Virginia. The Cavaliers are coming back, although the schedule is too rugged to expect them to improve over last year's 3-6 record. Players to note are Guard John Polzer and heralded sophomore Jim Bakhtiar at fullback.
N. C. State. Coach Earle Edwards must have more material if his intricate multiple offense is to work. At present Halfback George Marinkov is one of his few outstanding men.
The Southern Conference as a whole does not measure up to the SEC and ACC, although West Virginia, Virginia Tech, and possibly William and Mary must be rated up with the best. West Virginia particularly now offers evidence that it belongs among the gods: first Richmond 33-12 and then strong Wake Forest by an astounding 46-0. The famous Freddy Wyant at quarterback is protected by a stalwart front wall led by tackles Bruce Bosley (235) and Sam Huff (225). Virginia Tech's hopes are high despite an opening loss to Wake Forest 13-0. Tech came back unfazed to trounce Pennsylvania 33-0 and to beat William and Mary as well. Halfback Dickie Beard, top ground-gainer in the conference last year, and Center Jack Prater lead the team.
William and Mary has lost to Navy and Virginia Tech but must be ranked third. Bob Lusk at tackle and Jack Yohe at halfback are players to watch. George Washington opened with a convincing 25-6 win over VMI and surprised with its 13-0 win at Virginia Saturday. Best men are Center Dick Gaspari and Tackle Dave Liddick. Richmond, after losing to West Virginia, came back Saturday to beat VMI 21-0, with Frank Pajackowski running wild at fullback. Davidson, ruined Coach Johnny Sauer's debut at The Citadel, 6-2, but The Citadel is coming. It looks like a rough year for Furman and VMI.
FRANKLIN BROOKS, guard on a strong Georgia Tech line.
STEVE DeLa TORRE, all-conference center at Florida.
JOE KOHUT, key guard in Miami's inside drive series.
BOB PELLEGRINI, center and All-America from Maryland.
JIM BAKHTIAR, Virginia fullback, called area's finest sophomore prospect.
BOB HARDY, Kentucky quarterback, leading passer in Southeast last season.
FREDDY WYANT, West Virginia, southpaw passer on strong Mountaineers.
DON KING, Clemson quarterback and feared passer despite injuries in '53, '54.