The 1968 college football season is over, except for the Penn State-Syracuse parka parade at University Park next Saturday followed by the familiar assortment of Peach, Pecan, Potato, El Toro and Rose Bowls in the holiday weeks ahead, and for cornerbacks, defensive coaches, statistics keepers and scoreboard operators, the end has not come a minute too soon. There were weekends to cherish for such teams as Georgia, Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, SMU and Ohio U., which enjoyed unexpected success, but the most noteworthy, stimulating and memorable happening of all was the way offenses overwhelmed defenses and introduced frenzy to every game.
There were more touchdowns scored, more total yardage gained, more passes thrown and more completed for more yardage than ever before. Five hundred-yard total offense figures were not uncommon and the average number of points scored in all major-college games was 42.5, breaking the old record of 38.8 set in 1951 and an increase of 5.7 per game in just one year. Houston won games by scores of 100-6, 77-3 and 71-33—before losing one 40-20—and Iowa beat Northwestern 68-34. Buffalo edged Temple 50-40, Air Force won over Colorado 58-35 and Indiana beat Baylor 40-36 and Iowa 38-34 before losing to Purdue 38-35. A team with a 20-point lead was about as safe as a steer in a slaughterhouse.
There were several reasons for the scoring splurge. Teams ran more plays—an average of 9.8 per game—partly because of the rule change that provided for a time out after every first down, but mainly because they called plays quicker and used shorter counts. Even more of a factor was that defenses, set wider and wider to protect against spread formations, were increasingly vulnerable to running games. Sixteen backs topped the once-sacred figure of 1,000 yards running in one season, and school and conference ground-gaining achievements of such stars as Tom Harmon, Glenn Davis and Mike Garrett were shattered. "What was once a perfectly good defense technically," says Texas Tech Coach J. T. King, "is no longer sound. A lot of coaches are going to do some deep thinking about defense this winter."
The other most surprising trend was the emergence of the sophomore quarterback as a child to be reckoned with. It was only six months ago that any coach with an untried quarterback would consider his team to be a year away. "This is a rebuilding season," the coach would say as he trotted his sophomore out with instructions to call two running plays and fall on the ball when in doubt. But two-platoon football and the attractive money being offered by the pros have made the advanced training of high school quarterbacks a science. By the time he is 19 the quarterback may well be a poised young man who can read seven different defenses and call audibles at the line faster than his coach can pray on the sidelines. And so coach after coach and team after team was flabbergasted this year by what its sophomore quarterback could do or, worse luck, what the other fellows' sophomores could do.
The most exciting of the prodigies was SMU's Chuck Hixson, who led the nation's passers with 265 completions for 3,103 yards and 21 touchdowns in 468 attempts. As a result SMU, which was picked for a low finish in the Southwest Conference, enjoyed a 7-3 season. The most effective youngsters, however, belonged to Woody Hayes at Ohio State. He had two, Rex Kern and Ron Maciejowski, and they led the Buckeyes to a Big Ten championship and No. 1 ranking. Then there were Mike Cavan of Georgia, who marched the Bulldogs to an 8-0-2 record and an unexpected Southeastern Conference championship, and Bill Montgomery of Arkansas, whose team was 9-1 and tied Texas for the Southwest Conference title. Notre Dame, happily, turned up Joe Theismann, who started the last three games for the Irish after Terry Hanratty retired for knee surgery, and who led his team to a 21-21 tie with USC (page 18). And there were others, too, like Scott Hunter of Alabama (8-2), Archie Manning of Mississippi (6-3-1), Jim Plunkett of Stanford (6-3-1), Tommy Suggs of South Carolina (4-6), Leo Hart of Duke (4-6) and Mike Sherwood of West Virginia (7-3).
As far as the happy coaches of these teams are concerned, the rebuilding was a pleasure and the next season can start tomorrow. And as far as their assistants in charge of defense are concerned, next season never has to start at all, or at least not for 10 years or so, by which time somebody might have found a way to keep the football out of the end zone and sophomores in their place.