This will be a rebuilding year," said Coach Woody Hayes of Ohio State. For trusting believers in Big Ten football, this not very original remark had the kind of effect Nikita Khrushchev might achieve should he tell a Russian audience: "Communist armies are weaker than those of the West, and we will lose battles from Shanghai to Sevastopol. But wait until next year. We may do better." Khrushchev would not say anything of the sort, of course, and until this year neither would a Big Ten coach have admitted publicly that he was prepared to lose more games than he would win.
But times have changed in the Midwest, and nowhere have new patterns of thought been more evident than in the Big Ten. Hayes has been at Ohio nine years, and in that time he has won three conference championships, 17 consecutive conference games and, twice, the Rose Bowl. Oddly, he never appeared sure of his place in Midwest society while he won. He does now. Not only Ohio State but the other Big Ten teams are talking losses for the first time in memory.
Their troubles date back to the faculty revolts of 1956 against the influence of athletic departments. The faculties demanded, and got, greater control over admissions and requirements and, in particular, grant-in-aid scholarships.
Daniel J. McCarthy, proprietor of a downtown saloon in Madison, Wis. is absolutely certain he knows where the blame lies for such disgraceful defeats as Wisconsin's at the hands of Washington (44-8) and Illinois' against Penn State (20-9). "All those regulations and new recruiting policies cut down on the caliber of football players coming to our universities," says McCarthy. "Look at the way our teams are getting beat. I think it's a trend. Now the Big Ten has this education emphasis—standards are tougher—football suffers. Another year like this and we will not be dominant."
While the quality of Big Ten football has diminished, the enthusiasm of the loyal alumni and followers has never wavered. There has been no noticeable decline at the gate. This might stem from the fact that the league has become more competitive, with no team able to dominate the play as Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa did in recent years. Last season, for example, Wisconsin won the conference title with only five wins and two losses, while the fifth-place Northwestern team had four wins and three defeats.
Coach Milt Bruhn of Wisconsin, obviously chagrined at the Washington defeat, said, "Outside competition has been a little rough on me lately. But I know few conferences as tight as this. We have to point for every game, every Saturday. Why Minnesota and Illinois—the last two conference teams we met last year—impressed me as solid contenders. Illinois beat us 6-9, and Minnesota lost by 11-7. And Illinois tied for third in the conference, and Minnesota was last," Bruhn said.
Although restrictive recruiting has limited the supply of talented players, it has provided the coaches with the stimulus to create more imaginative systems. Iowa, with its worst won-and-lost record in four years, was nevertheless something of an artistic success. It unveiled an exciting offense that averaged 377.7 yards gained a game. This was the second most successful offense in the country. Furthermore, Iowa passed, and in a conference noted for its concentration on running plays, the inventive pass patterns proved a delight. Coach Bob Flora, assistant to Forest Evashevski at Iowa, said recently, "Let's face it, we are competing for an audience. Evy recognizes this and strives to open the game up; to run an interesting offense. He realizes that if he doesn't the fans are apt to desert to the pros."
Last season, in the midst of a torturous losing schedule, Minnesota Coach Murray Warmath observed, "There is no virtue like winning and no sin worse than losing." A Big Ten faculty committee that met last May obviously agreed, at least to a point. It reversed an earlier decision taken during the darkest of the "hate-football" days and permitted Big Ten teams to appear in the Rose Bowl after all. The committee further agreed to take under consideration a change in the stringent recruiting rules it had fought so hard to establish. If the committee's liberalizing recommendations are followed, big-time Big Ten football will be on the way back.
But in the meantime a horde of promising athletes has scurried off to the neighboring Big Eight and MidAmerican conferences, which as a consequence have grown stronger than they were in the past. Teams in both conferences have developed consistent followings and what their chief boosters hope are hard-to-break recruiting habits throughout the Midwest. The difference in play between the two conferences and the Big Ten, once so pronounced in favor of the latter, is now diminishing, and so the Big Eight and the Mid-American may soon be in a position to challenge the Big Ten for the title of king of midwestern football.
At Bowling Green in the MidAmerican, Coach Doyt Perry who, after leading the Falcons to the MAC title, could be mayor if he wanted the job, figures his league is 50% better than it was six years ago. "We're going to get major college status," says Perry. "But first we have to get half our games against major competition. That's the tough part. The big schools don't want to play us. Right now we'd play any team in the country, but they won't have us. It's just a matter of time and they'll have to take us on."
The Big Eight—a potpourri of colleges ranging from the flats of Kansas to the thin-air heights of Colorado—will no longer be known as "Oklahoma and The Seven Dwarfs," thanks in part to more successful recruiting. Jack Mitchell of Kansas, Sonny Grandelius of Colorado and Bill Jennings of Nebraska are all cheering the demise of the old order. Last year Oklahoma lost its first league game in 13 years—losing to Nebraska 21-25—and narrowly missed a second defeat at the hands of Kansas 7-6. Meanwhile, Oklahoma Coach Bud Wilkinson readily admits a New Deal is in store for the Big Eight. In his view, everything in this country has increased except the number of college football teams. "There are more high school teams, more players, better coaches and bigger and faster players. Frankly, a prospective player has no material reason to weigh his choice toward any one school. Actually, it's the luck of the draw when you land the exceptional athlete. I believe you win games by setting a novel tempo, but first you have to hang tough and kick good. But it's getting harder to contain teams like Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado."
Elated by the closer competition in the league, people in Big Eight country have been coming out in larger numbers to the games. Kansas this year has sold 10,000 advance season tickets, almost twice as many as last season. Other teams are experiencing similar success.
"It's not only that our football is as good as any played anywhere in the country," explains Coach Cliff Speegle of Oklahoma State, "but ours is more interesting. We take the best of the Southwest's gifted passing skills and the best of the Big Ten's running game and merge them into a balanced, complete game. That's what stirs the fans, sound but exciting football."
Huey Long, had he lived, would have enjoyed the football they will play this year in the Midwest. His "share the wealth" never got a better workout.
1959 RECORD: WON 9, LOST 0
In five years Coach Doyt Perry's teams have won 37 games, lost 4 and tied 4. This year they should come close to the same winning pace, although at the outset the Falcons will be weak at end and quarterback. Perry hates to talk about sophomores or to write their names in the lineup, but he feels he may have a few who "could improve the outlook." One who should strengthen an already strong squad is Bob Reynolds, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound tackle. He backs up two polished performers, Bob Bird, 220 pounds, and Jerry Croft, 230 pounds. Another sophomore, hard-hitting Halfback Don Lisbon, is pressing last year's rushing yardage leader Chuck Comer (6.8-yard average) for the starting left half position. Sophomore Willis Jones, 6 feet 2, 215 pounds, should alleviate a weakness at end. With the team emphasizing line splits and the belly series, Halfbacks Comer and Bernie Casey, leading scorer and pass catcher (66 points and 18 catches), will have plenty of chance to show their stuff.
1959 RECORD: WON 5, LOST 4, TIED 1
This is a year of woe for Coach George Blackburn. The list of graduates—Jack Lee, Ed Kovac, Jim Leo, Max Messner—looks like a roster of pro draft choices, which indeed it is. Blackburn is busy reshaping and polishing, trying to patch the Bearcats' football machine together again. The big linemen, bears on defense, can't get the knack of offensive play, and the cute halfbacks, who look so good easing by tacklers, aren't tall enough to defend against passes. However, Ken Byers, a quick-reacting tackle, is the complete lineman. His tacklemate, 238-pound Ron Kostelnik, however, is overpowering on defense but only a competent blocker. Blackburn has converted Fullback Charlie Shuff to end. The center of the line has Guards Ed Wolf and Leon Love and Center Don Ross, who block as well as they defend. The high-speed back-field is tailored to fit the slot-T and fly-T formations. Two halfbacks, Fred Oblak and Jack Van Buren, will turn the ends, and Fullback Ed Banks will go up the middle.
1959 RECORD: WON 3, LOST 7
The Flyers after a 2 and 8 season in 1958, a slightly better one last year, now have high hopes for 1960 and a new coach, Stan Zajdel. Fortunately for Zajdel there are 18 experienced hands returning and at least four hardy sophomores who can step into the starting lineup without detracting from it. The line, averaging 219 pounds, is impressive at tackle, with Ransom Piltz, 6 feet 4, 255 pounds, and Bob DeMarco, 6 feet 3, 230 pounds, sure candidates for Mid-American Conference mention. Sophomore Bob Heck-man teams with 6-foot-5 Mike Monaghan at the ends, giving Dayton a strong pass-catching team. The backfield will be dominated by sophomores—with long-passing Quarterback Jack Unverferth, elusive Halfback Andy Timura, and Fullback Bob Michigan, the best. A new system, the Delaware wing T, will be installed to provide more effective two-on-one blocking for these power runners. The new-found backfield strength should provide the Flyers with a lot more scoring kick.
1959 RECORD: WON 6, LOST 4
Nine members of last year's first team have graduated. Looking at the list of replacements, Coach Jim Miller must feel a sharp sense of irritation. He has proud quarterbacking, lively running and skillful receiving, but he can't protect any of them. His blocking and tackling are abysmal and offer little support to the high-spirited backs. But first to the fun. Vying for quarterback are Bob Lusky, the total-offense leader in 1959 (621 yards), Tony Hanley, the leading passer (46% completions) and, maybe the best of all, Sophomore Gerry Gross, who is certain to get a chance to prove himself. Taking the hand-offs will be Halfbacks Ted Karpowicz, Jim Post, last season's most successful ball carrier (4.4 yards a carry), and two box-shaped sophomores, Fullbacks Bob De Luca and Vic Battani, both 5 feet 9, 205 pounds. The ends, Larry Vargo and John Perreto, are good too. But the interior line is shadowy and ill-formed. No lettermen return and nobody worth singling out is coming up.
1959 RECORD: WON 5, LOST 3, TIED 1
The winter future book had new Coach Pete Elliott winning the Big Ten Conference title in his first year. This was before Halfback John Counts, the team's second-leading scorer (30 points, 19 pass receptions and 5.2 average per carry last year), was declared scholastically ineligible, and his replacement, Gary Kolb, signed a baseball bonus contract. Even so, the Illini will be the team te beat in the Big Ten. The backfield is led by All-Big-Ten Fullback Bill Brown, whose 504 rushing yards in 1959 amounted to almost a third of his team's total. Brown will carry more of the running responsibility despite defenses ganged to meet the sole Illini running threat. The passing will be shared by Quarterback Mel Meyers (51% completions) and John Easterbrook (44%). The line, averaging 220 pounds, is smart, sizable and snappy. Right Tackle Joe Rutgens, a 245-pounder who is sometimes called an All-America, blocks and tackles with disdainful élan. As does 256-pound Left Tackle Cliff Roberts.
1959 RECORD: WON 4, LOST 4, TIED 1
This is the year the Hoosiers, with a glistening new $4.5 million stadium and a team that at last looked respectable, hoped to go first class. But Indiana, impaled on its own ambitions, was sentenced by the NCAA to four years' probation for sinful recruiting. Coach Phil Dickens' problems now are to maintain squad morale and find a passer. Among 94 men on his roster there is not one who has ever completed a pass in college competition. Consequently, Dickens will rely heavily on running. Willie Hunter, 202 pounds of nonthrowing tailback, leads a single-wing ground attack jammed with power. Two 200-pounders—Wil Scott, blocking back, and Fullback Don Cromer—complete the hard-running backfield. The loss of 19 letter-men is overcome in part by an encouraging blend of juniors and seniors, including All-America hope, End Earl Faison, 6 feet 5 and 235 pounds, and two gristly sophomores—Tackle Jim Haas, 24 years old and 235 pounds, and 23-year-old Tailback Woody Moore.
1959 RECORD: WON 5, LOST 4
The Hawkeyes went to the Rose Bowl in 1957, skipped a year and returned in 1959. Last season they stayed home. This, then, should be an Iowa year, and there are good signs that it will be—a hard-hewn line averaging 225 pounds; a bevy of racy halfbacks, and a fullback who runs like a bee-stung grizzly. Speed and quickness up front and in the backfield will plague, harass and bewilder the opposition. Among the best and fastest are the 235-pound tackles Charlie Lee and AI Hinton, 200-pound Sophomore Fullback Joe Williams and 200-pound Quarterback Wilburn Hollis. Coach Forest Evashevski has geared the wing T to cut out yardage on the ground, with Hollis occasionally testing the defense with a pass or two on rollouts. One potential weakness, however, is Hollis' arm, which can be distressingly inaccurate at times. A sophomore-packed defensive roster is directed by Linebacker-Guard Sherwyn Thorson, Iowa's liveliest All-America possibility.
1959 RECORD: WON 7, LOST 3
Everybody, but everybody, is looking for those 230-pound tackles and those 200-pound backs—everybody but Coach Clay Stapleton. He sacrifices girth for quickness and power for alertness. The heaviest lineman, 206-pound Tackle Ron Walter, casts a slim shadow on the football field. But the small, snappy linemen uncoil the Tennessee single wing by belting out fast blocks for the quick-stepping backs, and then play errorless defense. Smallish End Don Webb, 5 feet 10, 169 pounds, buzzes around, settling on passes (he led last year's team with 24 catches) and making enough tackles to gain all-conference honors. Two other linemen are expected to join Webb as all-conference selections: Larry Van Der Heyden and linebacker Arden Esslinger. In the backfield the Cyclones have Fullback Tom Watkins, the nation's No. 2 rusher in 1959 (843 yards), along with Wing-back Mick Fitzgerald (7.1 rushing average). For passes there is Sophomore Hooomann; for blocking there is Wingback Cliff Rick.