If there is a single constant in college football, it is change. Unlike the professional game, in which a team's characteristics vary only slightly from season to season, college football must be played in response to its talent. And the talent is never the same from year to year, and neither is the style of play. For millions of enthusiasts each fall, that is where the fascination lies. Last season, for instance, was remarkable for its wealth of first-rate quarterbacks—George Mira of Miami, Don Trull of Baylor, Roger Staubach of Navy, Bill Munson of Utah State, Pete Beathard of USC, George Bork of Northern Illinois, to name only a few. Staubach, the Heisman Trophy winner as a junior, is back for one more year of those harrowing escapes. Back, too, are some other sweet-throwing quarterbacks. But if 1963 was the year of the passer, 1964 will be the year of the runner.
Never before, according to a cluster of pro scouts, have so many truly superb runners been in action. The bulk of the leading ground-gainers in the nation from 1963 are returning—six of the top seven, 12 of the first 16, 14 of the best 21—and this does not include Johnny Roland of Missouri, who was seventh nationally in 1962 but ineligible to play a year ago. "'Counting everyone—seniors, juniors, sophomores, eligible redshirts, knowns and unknowns," one scout says, "our reports show there are more than 50 first-rate runners in the country this year. And of that list there must be 20 who would star on any team at any time."
Led by Auburn's Jimmy Sidle (see cover), the 20 include four runners who made somebody's All-America last year: Sidle, Kansas' Gale Sayers, Oklahoma's Jim Grisham and Iowa State's Tommy Vaughn. The others, not necessarily in order of ability, are: Sidle's teammate at Auburn, Tucker Frederickson; Roland; Mike Garrett of Southern California; Junior Coffey of Washington; Tom Nowatzke of Indiana; Larry Todd of Arizona State; Ernie Koy of Texas; Ken Willard of North Carolina; Mike Curtis of Duke; Kent McCloughan of Nebraska; Donny Anderson of Texas Tech; Jim Grabowski of Illinois; John Kuzniewski of Purdue; Hoyle Granger of Mississippi State; Larry Dupree of Florida; and Bob Schweickert of Virginia Tech.
The inclusion of Sidle and Schweickert, both quarterbacks, exposes another interesting facet of the 1964 season. A majority of the most effective quarterbacks in the nation seem to be runners first, passers second. Sidle gained 1,006 yards rushing a year ago and was second in the country. Schweickert gained 839 yards and was sixth. Other important quarterbacks who will be looking first for an opening to run are Pitt's Fred Mazurek, Missouri's Gary Lane, LSU's Pat Screen, Illinois' Fred Custardo, Oklahoma's Mike Ringer and Ole Miss's Jim Weatherly. More like Navy's Staubach—the fine thrower who can run—are Alabama's Joe Namath, Oregon's Bob Berry and Rice's Walter McReynolds. Sadly enough for the pros, that leaves very few pure throwers in 1964, but three good ones are Tulsa's Jerry Rhome, California's Craig Morton and Northwestern's Tom Myers.
In a season spangled with so many fine running backs, logic dictates that the team with the most of them should finish as the country's best. Auburn is that team and this year heads the 11 Best Elevens selected by the editors of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (see box). It has, first of all, that tremendous one-two punch of Sidle and Frederickson, who are not only tough, fast and experienced, but large. Sidle is 6 feet 3½ and 225, and Frederick-son is 6 feet 2 and 225. With either blocking for the other and rumbling behind an equally big tall and experienced line, the forecast is for nothing but miles of yardage and a host of victories. Sidle figured in all but two of his team's touchdown drives last year. He is a player of extraordinary self-reliance, a trait impressed upon him as a practical way of life when he was still only a child. His father died on Guam in 1945 when he was 3, and he lost his mother when he was 11. One pro scout says of him, "He's only going to be another Paul Hornung, that's all. He's what you call a 20-yard runner with good moves, and his arm is better than anyone thinks. Besides, he's got mental guts."
Tucker Frederickson has, too, but he is something altogether different, if not altogether unreal.
Predicts Will Walls of the Pittsburgh Steelers: "He'd go in the first round of the NFL draft at five different positions—running back, fullback, tight end, cornerback or safety. He's the best blocker in the country, and the best safety. He can be something else as a runner with his size and speed."
Walls adds, "Auburn's got more potential pros than any team in the country. They've got two ends I like, two tackles, a punter, a center and a linebacker [Bill Cody] who's flat gonna kill some people someday."
With all of this, Auburn also has something of a surprise—if indeed a team coming off a 9-1 record deserves to have surprises—in the form of Halfback Gerald Gross, a 6-foot, 190-pound sprinter. Gross was injured in the first eight minutes of the first game last year as a sophomore and played no more. Now he is well. Gross has been so well, in fact, that Coach Ralph (Shug) Jordan might move Frederickson to fullback so that Gross at times can play the running back position. Auburn people are guarded about Gross's ability because he has yet to prove what he can do, but others are already certain. Says Norm Carlson. Florida's publicity man, formerly of Auburn: "Gross is the best back to come out of Georgia [Carrollton] in 20 years. If he's well, he'll be the greatest thing the SEC has seen. In fact, when I think of the backfield Auburn could have, with Sidle as good as last year, with Frederickson running like he can and with Gross in top form—man! That's the best backfield in the history of football."
Even Shug Jordan admits that Auburn has a good team, something Jordan and other Southeastern Conference coaches do about as often as they run a double reverse pass off a spread formation. Jordan says, "We have experience, depth, speed, size, strength and as much potential as any team we've fielded."
One team Jordan fielded was the 1957 national champion. And that brings up the question of whether Auburn might be self-satisfied after last year. "Not hardly," says a Dixie writer who knows Auburn—and Jordan—well. "Remember 1958, following the unbeaten team of a year before? Auburn was 9-0-1. You don't get fat playing for Shug. Besides, there's not much else for a boy to think about at Auburn except playing football."
In Shug Jordan (pronounced like sugar, a nickname tracing back to a childhood urge for sugar cane) Auburn has a coach who has been forced to prove under the most devilish circumstances that he is one of the best in the business. Jordan was hit with three harsh blows in the late 1950s—two NCAA probations that were to last six years, and the arrival of Bear Bryant as the coach at Alabama. The combination all but destroyed Auburn's recruiting in its home state, but there were—and remain—excellent resources to call on. First, Auburn does not have to depend solely on Alabama for its athletes. Located 24 miles from Georgia and 150 miles from Florida, Auburn looms as the nearest major campus to both southeast Georgia and northwest Florida, each a deep reservoir of high school talent. On Auburn's roster this season there are, to be sure, 28 players from Alabama, but there also are nine from Georgia (including Gross, Punter Jon Kilgore and Tackle Jack Thornton) and seven from Florida (including Frederickson. Cody and Center Mike Afford).
The second resource is Jordan himself. A soft-voiced, contented man at 53, Shug is an old Auburn athlete with a lifetime contract, a philosophy of the game that embraces fundamental power and simplicity of execution, an experienced, loyal staff that puts every second of Auburn's brisk 90-minute workouts to expert use and that enviable ability to "get it out of the boy." His record for the past seven seasons is a glistening 55-12-3.
"I guess everybody has to go through a 'tower coaching period' in his career," says Jordan. "I had one of those platforms rigged up, but I got rid of it a year or so ago. Came back to earth. We believe in the bare essentials. You can't fool a team as good as you are. You either whip 'em or you don't. Therefore we like to use from six to 10 plays and perfect them. We don't eat ourselves alive in practice, either. It's unthinkable for us to lose a Saturday game in our Tuesday scrimmage."
As for the problems of recruiting, Alabama and the still-lingering effect of the marathon six-year probation, Jordan says, "Oh, we're holding our own now in Alabama. And we offer the rural boys from Georgia and Florida more of a home atmosphere than they can find anyplace else. The long probation cost us three bowl games and undoubtedly some athletes. But the worst thing it did was probably knock my two top assistants. Buck Bradberry and Hal Herring, out of head coaching opportunities. As for the Alabama game, it'll always be a good one."
For Auburn to be No. 1, it must survive some rugged Dixie opponents, not the least of which is Alabama, which it plays in a televised game on Thanksgiving. But even before that one, Sidle and Frederickson and friends must reckon with some top running backs from highly improved Kentucky (Rodger Bird) at Lexington, where it always has trouble, Georgia Tech (Gerry Bussell), Mississippi State (Hoyle Granger) and Florida (Larry Dupree). Alabama, which should be the nation's seventh-best team, plays some of the same teams, plus a new opponent, LSU. With Joe Labruzzo, Don Schwab and Pat Screen, LSU has its finest backs since Billy Cannon. Ole Miss, never without players, is a third SEC power rated among the 11 Best.
If any other conference in the nation looks as strong, it is the Big Eight, which has been gaining momentum steadily since a flood of enthusiastic young coaches started chasing Oklahoma's Bud Wilkinson into politics about 1958. That was the year Missouri got Dan Devine, Kansas got Jack Mitchell and Iowa State got Clay Stapleton. They quickly transformed the Big Eight into something more than a basketball league. Missouri won the championship in 1960, Colorado in 1961 (under another new man, the now-departed Sonny Grandelius), and after Oklahoma reclaimed some honor in 1962 Nebraska, now headed by the immensely successful Bob Devaney, won last year.
The Big Eight is certainly anybody's league this year and any of four extremely strong teams—Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska—could win the conference title. One, in fact, should it be fortunate enough to beat the other three (they all play each other), could shove Auburn out of the top position. Like Auburn, all are running teams. At Kansas are Sayers, the best breakaway back in the nation, and his halfback accomplice, Mike Johnson. Johnny Roland has blazing sophomore Charlie Brown and Gary Lane to help him at Missouri. Nebraska's Kent McCloughan will be helped by some of the best backs ever to come up from the freshman team. And Oklahoma has a whole stable of threats, headed by Jim Grisham, Larry Shields and Lance Rentzel, that could be the equal of Auburn's.
In the face of this powerful challenge from the Big Eight and the SEC—not to mention Illinois and Ohio State of the Big Ten and Washington and USC of the West Coast's AAWU—chances of the University of Texas repeating as the national champion would seem hopelessly remote. Over the last 30 years only four teams have repeated: Oklahoma (with Tommy McDonald) in 1955-56, Notre Dame (with Johnny Lujack) in 1946-47, Army (with Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard) in 1944-45, and Minnesota (with Bruce Smith) in 1940-41.
Coach of the Year Darrell Royal lost heavily from his unbeaten Texas team but retains enough of his steady defensive men (all the ends, linebackers and secondary), plus the grandest collection of runners he has ever had, to warrant more than casual consideration. Texas surely will be one of the best again, though Royal may have to settle for an 8-2 record which, for the coach who has won more games than any other (44-5-1) over the last five seasons, must look something like a fatal disease.
One trouble with Texas, as with some others among the 11 Best, is the schedule. Royal believes that only a miracle can help him survive Army, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Rice on successive Saturdays, and he probably is right. But Texas represents more than a slight problem for Oklahoma (a senior team with a new coach, Gomer Jones), which could come apart with a Texas loss, and for Arkansas and Rice. In any normal year Rice, loaded with more able football players than Coach Jess Neely has had in 25 years, would be thinking in terms of the No. 1 spot itself. But the Owls open with equally loaded LSU and must, of course, play Texas and the rest of those disrespectful Southwest Conference kin.
The schedule poses a curious problem for Washington, too. It is always one of the severest defensive teams against a normal attack, but there is little normal about the gaudy offenses of Baylor, Oregon, California and USC—four teams that believe in all-out bombardment. The other Rose Bowl team, Illinois, comes closer to matching Auburn's muscles than any other, but Illinois is not eligible for Pasadena under Big Ten rules this time, and the resulting morale factor for Coach Pete Elliott will be a hard one to control. Ohio State, on the other hand, is sitting perfect. It is time for Woody Hayes to have another top team. The pressure is off, and the material is there.
It is time, too, for another ex-power to rebound, this one from the East—Syracuse. There are more running backs at Syracuse than there are letters in Coach Ben Schwartzwalder's name and, aside from an early meeting with Kansas, the schedule is hardly ferocious. Navy again has the talent for a 9-1 year but a schedule that could send it all the way to 2-8. Along with Rice, LSU, Michigan, Duke, Arkansas and Southern California, however, Navy has excellent reasons for believing that by the season's end it will prove the 11 Best list was riddled with glaring omissions.
Meanwhile, in addition to Jones at Oklahoma, there will be new coaches to observe at famous old institutions, chief among them Ara Parseghian at Notre Dame, Ray Willsey at California, Vince Dooley at Georgia, Doug Dickey at Tennessee and Alex Agase at Northwestern.
No one knows what ingenious things these and other coaches could produce if they were given the same set of football rules to work with two years in succession, but this season, as in so many recent ones, there are changes.
The major change is, in effect, unlimited substitution, which means that once again there will be specialists—linebackers, safeties, kickers, passers and perhaps even runners. The rule will allow limitless subs on the field when the clock is stopped, and it will allow two free subs to enter the game even when the clock is running. Coaches, therefore, will have no trouble inserting their specialists who cannot handle two-way jobs. Many are planning to use three teams—a two-way unit, a defensive unit and an offensive unit (as Coach Paul Dietzel made famous at LSU)—and some, like USC's John McKay, are considering trying to overwhelm opponents with as many as four teams, two of which would be capable of playing both ways if need be.
It is obvious that the new rule is going to be anything but an equalizer. The rich, meaning those teams well stocked with athletes, will get richer, for the rule will allow them to make use of the material, both specialized and all-round. Those teams that can summon 11 good players and that, under past rules, could have played pretty evenly with a deeper opponent whose depth could not be gotten into the game, are bound to be "outmaterialed" more than ever. What it all indicates is that the teams with the most and best athletes—and that includes all the 11 Best Elevens—will still be the winners, but probably by larger scores.
Texas Tech's Donny Anderson runs over and around tacklers, shocking some with power, faking others with speed.
Jim Grisham, Oklahoma fullback, hits hard once and, with legs churning, hits hard again on the same play. Consistency, size and durability made Grisham an All-America in 1963.
North Carolina's Ken Willard is a slasher who compensates for a lack of real speed by crushing defenders with a high-kneed style that gives him good balance and extra power.
THE 11 BEST ELEVENS
OHIO STATE 7-1-1