The smiling face on the left belongs to none other than Red Grange, a man whose name has been in apposition to autumn and football ever since that day in October 1924 when Red, an unknown sophomore halfback for Illinois, scored four breathtaking touchdown runs in the first 12 minutes against Michigan. This year SPORTS ILLUSTRATED is particularly honored to have Red Grange join its football staff and, as one of his first contributions, help select the magazine's Eleven Best Elevens for the coming season.
In the map above you will see the banners of these Eleven Best planted in rough proximity to their campuses. One glance should impress you with the fact that they are heavily concentrated in just two sections of the country—the Midwest and the South—and not by accident, or predilection on the part of the prognosticators. It is no longer a matter for dispute that the finest collegiate football is played in these two areas. In selecting the best of the nation's teams, the choice lies almost entirely among representatives of those areas, with an occasional candidate—like Oregon State this year—from East or West.
There are few who would challenge the credentials of six of the teams on this list. Auburn, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan State and TCU would have to be, and are, the choice of anyone who set out to peer into the 1958 season without benefit of ouija board or tea leaves. So let us examine these teams first to see what causes this unaccustomed unanimity among football observers.
Auburn has lost practically none of the momentum that carried it to the top of the Associated Press ratings by the end of 1957. The line, which is almost hefty enough for the pros, will be as impenetrable as last year, when it gave up fewer yards and fewer points than any in the country. Coach Shug Jordan's team is now so rich in replacements that a graduation here and there is just a momentary problem. The only worry that this coach could possibly have is that his players might grow complacent at the same time that one of his strong Southeastern Conference opponents became inspired by the thought of knocking Auburn off its pedestal.
Oklahoma has now reached that condition of football eminence where its victories come as a matter of course. Coach Bud Wilkinson is not only a superb organizer, recruiter and teacher, but he sees to it that his team's difficult games are widely enough separated to give him plenty of time for preparation. Last year's upset loss to Notre Dame was only a slight hesitation in a football success story that should go on and on and on.
Notre Dame is now well past the difficult stage it went through when youthful Coach Terry Brennan took over from Frank Leahy and found that some of the supply lines of football talent had been allowed to atrophy. That logistical problem has now been remedied, and Notre Dame is ready to resume its customary position among the royalty of college football. Its narrow victory over Oklahoma last year was a significant warning of things to come now that Brennan and Notre Dame are functioning smoothly, and no one should listen seriously to this fine coach's protestations of trouble ahead. Even one of the most difficult schedules in the game will look relatively easy after this team is through with it.
Ohio State has developed the happy habit of winning the Big Ten championship, and without Michigan State as an opponent there is no reason to think that Coach Woody Hayes's players will fail to continue on their winning way. This team is so sound at all positions that spectacular achievements by individuals will not be obvious. That is the way of a Hayes team; it wins—as it did against Oregon in the Rose Bowl last New Year's Day—so ploddingly and methodically that one tends to overlook how really good it is.
Michigan State is the most threatening obstacle to Ohio State's Big Ten crown. However, this team always tends to reflect something of Coach Duffy Daugherty's mercurial temperament. The Spartans can be very exciting and wonderful, but they can also fall into the dumps. It is those dumps, coming on the wrong Saturday, that cause them the occasional grief they suffer each season.
TCU always produces the kind of volatile teams that characterize Southwestern football. You never know what will happen next, and wise men in Texas realize the fallibility of picking a winner in their unpredictable football climate. Nonetheless, the fine running backfield, the excellent team balance at all positions and the intelligent coaching of Abe Martin are three good reasons why TCU may upset the experts and turn out to be a preseason southwestern favorite that actually won.
All of the remaining five positions on the Eleven Best are open to debate, and plenty of it took place before Red Grange and the rest of the football staff made their choices. Here is the reasoning that guided them:
Clemson is a team with good experience coming out of a so-so performance in 1957, and offensively the Tigers will be as explosive as anything in the Southeast. This is due largely to a quarterback named Harvey White, around whom Coach Frank Howard has built the team's attack. Clemson's schedule is difficult, but the team is strong enough to survive if it plays up to its potential.
Miami has been on the verge of great football achievements for several years, but a tough, big-time schedule has always dimmed the bright promise of Coach Andy Gustafson's teams. This year, with tiny Quarterback Fran Curci to lead the offense, Miami is in its best position yet to rank among the leaders.
Wisconsin has put the rest of the Big Ten on the alert. Last year the Badgers gave Ohio State its worst afternoon of the season, using a lineup heavily weighted with sophomores. Coach Milt Bruhn's men can both run and pass, and with the experience they lacked in 1957 they are likely to be the surprise of the year.
Mississippi maintains a somewhat weak schedule for a perennial southeastern leader, but nonetheless Coach John Vaught's players have generally proved their mettle later in a bowl game, as they did last year against Texas. With Fullback Charles Flowers and Quarterback Bobby Franklin showing the way, the Rebels will be in the thick of the fight for the southeastern championship.
Oregon State is not an overpowering team, but it plays the kind of precision football that was the trademark of the Red Sanders teams at UCLA when Coach Tommy Prothro was working there as an assistant. With plenty of speed and a good defense the Beavers ought to dominate the unhappy western football scene.
So what kind of football may we expect from these fine teams and the dozens that will be giving them fits on Saturday afternoons? Plenty of scoring, for one thing. Except in isolated instances such as Ohio State, where the supply of topnotch football players is so overwhelmingly abundant, the day of grind-'em-out split-T football—"four yards and a cloud of dust," as the late Herman Hickman used to call it—is about over.
MIAMI GOES RADICAL
It isn't just that the defenses have caught up with this particular offensive technique, although such is indeed the case; in the meeting of the NCAA Rules Committee in Florida last winter, several radical changes were written into the rules. One involves the point after touchdown, and another alters the rules on blocking. These new rules cannot help but affect the appearance of collegiate football this coming season.
The point-after-touchdown rule is the one that has caused the biggest stir, and rightly so, for it is the first change in football scoring since 1912, when the value of a touchdown became six instead of five points. Under this new rule, a place kick for extra point counts one point, as always, but if the conversion is made by a run or a pass it is worth two points. Although this piece of football legislation has brought cries of anguish from the coaches (see HOTBOX), since it is they who must accept the responsibility for the wrong choice if it backfires, it was, after all, their own fraternity that made the decision. Ever since the coaches assumed the responsibility for writing the rules of football for the NCAA, they have increased the complexities of the game to the point where it is practically unplayable without the most expert instruction and long hours of drill. In other words, the coaches have gradually been making themselves indispensable.
As far as the fan is concerned, the new conversion rule should make for far more exciting football, something the colleges have seriously needed since the intrusion of the wide-open pro game has threatened their gate receipts. Not only will the dull conversion play become something worth watching in a tight game, it will increase the urge to gamble.
It is indeed a paradox, then, that the rules committee should have simultaneously written a new rule on offensive blocking. This rule, which permits the use of only one arm by the blocker (see illustration below), is strongly slanted in favor of the defensive team. First the coaches open up the offense with their new rule on conversions, then they inhibit it with a new rule on blocking.
Perhaps our sympathies should go out to the referees. They, like everyone else, don't know how to interpret the new blocking legislation. The ones who are meticulous will be blowing their whistles all afternoon long, to the consternation of the spectators. Those who like to see the game proceed apace will simply ignore all but the most flagrant violations.
Football, like everything else in the U.S., seems to thrive on change. If that is a solid premise, then Football 1958 should be a world of fun and very healthy.
A NEW PROBLEM FOR FOOTBALL PLAYERS
THE OLD RULE on blocking permitted an offensive blocker to use both arms if his hands were tucked against chest. This was of particular value in head-on blocking and defending passer.
[See caption above.]
THE NEW RULE permits the blocker to use only one arm even with hand against chest. This seriously reduces the blocker's effectiveness and gives great advantage to the defensive player.
[See caption above.]
SLIPPING AROUND blocker is now easy for defense, as question is unsettled whether blocker may switch from one arm to other.
RED GRANGE PREDICTS
the results of this weekend's games
Kentucky vs. Georgia Tech
Kentucky figures to be well-balanced if somewhat inexperienced. But its offense will find Georgia Tech's solid defense too tough to pierce. Maxie Baughn, a 215-pound junior center, is the boy to watch in the Tech line. My pick is GEORGIA TECH.
Clemson vs. Virginia
Clemson has a great backfield, headed by all-league Quarterback Harvey White, and a veteran line, while Virginia, with a scarcity of veterans, must rebuild. CLEMSON will outman the Cavaliers.
Florida vs. Tulane
Florida will send out a strong line in front of 145-pound Quarterback Billy Dunn, who is a good runner and a better-than-average passer. Tulane has last year's fine freshman team, a good backfield and an adequate line. I pick FLORIDA in a close game.
Texas vs. Georgia
Texas has a fine nucleus, with Bobby Lackey the No. 1 choice to replace last year's great quarterback, Walt Fondren. Georgia is bothered by lack of depth and below-par ends despite an over-all improvement over last year. TEXAS is the choice.
Missouri vs. Vanderbilt
Missouri is considerably improved and sophomores give added backfield speed. Vanderbilt features Boyce Smith, a fine passer, and Tom Moore and Jim Butler, two fast halfbacks. I will be working this game on NBC-TV, so I'd rather not pick the winner until after the final whistle blows.
Kansas vs. TCU
TCU's very fine backfield, featuring Halfback Marvin Lasater, makes the Horned Frogs a good running team. Kansas is good enough in the backfield but has problems at the guards and tackles. I'll take TCU.
Penn State vs. Nebraska
With lettermen at every position and two-deep in the backfield, Penn State's prospects are good, and the Nittany Lions will have too much power for a Nebraska team which will have to rely mainly on last year's reserves and sophomores. PENN STATE to win.
Denver vs. Oklahoma State
The picture at Denver is bright, but the Pioneers are slow starters. Oklahoma State is greatly improved and two-deep in every position. Halfback Jim Wiggins and End Jim Woods should lead OKLAHOMA STATE to victory in NBC-TV's western regional game.
UCLA vs. Pittsburgh
UCLA will be one of the nation's best teams until eligibility runs out for six stars, including All-America End Dick Wallen. Pitt, after losing most of its interior line, may not be ready to test UCLA, which is my choice to win.
Southern California vs. Oregon State
Oregon State, big, fast and deep in able reserves, is the outstanding team on the West Coast. USC, with a young squad and anticipating some growing pains, is hardly in a position to dent State's Rose Bowl hopes so early in the season. OREGON STATE.