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Another big year in the Big Ten

It has often been claimed, and statistics tend to prove it, that in college football the Western Conference is supreme. Returns from key games last week indicate the pattern will hold up again this fall

Traditionally, the big college football conferences of the country flex their intersectional muscles in the early fall, before the teams get down to the rugged business of knocking heads at home. Traditionally, too, partisans of sectional football claim their own teams are, by and large, the nation's best. Unless the partisans are from the Big Ten, they are dead wrong.

In the last 15 years Big Ten teams have won 133 games against foes from four other strong conferences while losing 59 and tying eight. The next best conference is the Southwest, with a 134-102-12 mark, followed by the Southeastern with 66-64-5, the Pacific Coast (AAWU plus Oregon and Oregon State) with 69-115-9 and, humbly, the Big Eight which, with a 54-116-11 record, might better be called the Big Two (Oklahoma and Missouri together have won 28 and lost 33) and the Little Six.

Using another yardstick, the Big Ten has placed more players (89) in the demanding ranks of the National Football League than any rival group. The 12-team Southeastern Conference was represented in the NFL in 1961 by 82 players, the Southwest by 59, the Pacific Coast by 49 and the Big Eight by only 28, almost half of these Oklahomans and Missourians.

Even last week's game in Seattle, in which the Big Ten's Purdue and the AAWU's Washington huffed and puffed their way to a 7-7 tie, bolstered the Big Ten's position of authority. While Washington will probably prove to be the best football team on the Coast this fall, Purdue most likely will rank only third in its league behind Ohio State and Michigan State.

A record Seattle crowd of 55,800 was ecstatic following the kickoff. Washington moved 76 yards in 11 plays to score over a shocked Purdue line. But the seemingly invincible, purple-helmeted Huskies suddenly began to look very much like squashed grapes. Penalties and two Washington fumbles at critical phases of the second quarter set up Purdue's only score. The second half produced more of the same frustrating football. Washington outgained Purdue on offense but also outfumbled the Boilermakers. The game ended indecisively, with Purdue running out the clock.

In Austin, the University of Texas, pride of the Southwest Conference, was also outplayed by a West Coast team but not outscored. The Longhorns defeated a surprisingly lively Oregon team 25-13 after trailing 6-3 at the half and being outgained 236 yards to 71 in the first 30 minutes. Oregon had flop-flipped its defense to meet the Texas flip-flop offense (in which the same guard, tackle and end line up on the wingback side) and might have built a more impressive lead had it not been for some untimely fumbling. To the discomfort of most of the crowd in Austin's Memorial Stadium, Oregon Quarterback Bob Berry and Halfback Mel Renfro, 190 pounds of sheer speed, had their team still on top early in the third period, 13-3, when Texas Coach Darrell Royal became discouraged with the listless, lethargic play of his first two lines and inserted the third-string line. That did it. Tearing the Oregon defense to pieces with the first-string backfield of Jerry Cook, Ray Poage, Johnny Genung and sophomore Ernie Koy, the reserves ignited the Texas attack. In 16 minutes the Longhorns scored 22 points and won the game.

Winning big is not exactly a Southeastern Conference habit, but that is what the league's killer team, Louisiana State, did last week against the Southwest's Texas A&M at Baton Rouge, 21-0. The two conferences are so closely matched that the Tigers' victory over the Aggies gave the Southeastern a slim 54-53 margin in games with the Southwest in the last 15 years.

A brand-new coach, Charlie McClendon, and a bright old star, Halfback Jerry Stovall, were the difference. McClendon unleashed a powerful offensive team in his debut while still sticking to the solid, conservative football that has become LSU's trademark in the SEC. Stovall contributed a 58-yard kickoff return, a key interception, one touchdown and some fine punting to the night's work of a team that is shoulder-pad-deep in talent. The game ended with Texas A&M on the Tigers' 21-yard line, its deepest penetration of the evening.

While LSU had an easier time than Purdue in upholding the league's national status, Big Ten teams were winning decisively on other fronts, the Big Two won, but not easily, and the Southwest added two victories to Texas' one. If records prove anything, the Big Eight can expect another mediocre year, the Big Ten a very bright one and the rest of the conferences can argue—on even terms, of course.