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With bowls ahead, they're whistling in Dixie

Or else whistling past graveyards in the wild Southeastern Conference as everybody grabs for a New Year's plum. Once-beaten Auburn, LSU and Tennessee bowled along last week, but Ole Miss had a painful victory

These are the days when a man can hardly walk into a press box without stumbling over one of those handshaking, backslapping fellows who scout teams for the bowl games. With their chamber of commerce grins and bright blazers (aqua for the Cotton, blue for the Liberty, etc.), they are easily identifiable, and before you can say "Hi" they will plaster an advertisement, usually a small sticker or emblem, on your lapel. Last weekend flocks of them were down South among the cotton and magnolias, dogging four teams, each with only one loss, from the bowl-happy Southeastern Conference.

At the end of one of the more eventful Saturdays the SEC has had in some time, the scouts had seen three cliff-hangers and a rout. Only Auburn won easily, jogging past poor Mississippi State 56-0 in the nightcap of a doubleheader on Birmingham's Legion Field. In the afternoon Louisiana State tried manfully to lose to Alabama, but finally accepted a 14-9 victory. At Columbia, S.C., Tennessee had an even closer call, needing George Hunt's 31-yard field goal with 15 seconds left to beat South Carolina 20-18. And look what happened in Mississippi's Hemingway Stadium. Ole Miss beat Houston 24-13 before a crowd of 36,535, but the price was dear: Archie Manning's college career was probably brought to a painful, premature finish.

The Rebels were leading 14-7 with 10:16 left in the third quarter when Manning, attempting to pass, was tackled by a Houston linebacker, Charlie Hall, as he released the ball. Manning fell on his left arm and then lay writhing on the AstroTurf. "I don't think I can play, coach," he told Bruiser Kinard, who has been the Rebels' acting head coach since Johnny Vaught was hospitalized last month because of heart trouble. The arm was wrapped in ice and bandages, and after the game, still in uniform, Archie was taken to the Lafayette County Hospital where X rays revealed a fracture of the left radius, the large bone in the forearm. Surgery was performed Monday in Memphis. The normal recovery period for such an injury is about three months, which means that Manning would miss the Rebels' last three games—against Chattanooga, Mississippi State and LSU. However, doctors indicated Manning might be back by New Year's Day.

Up to the time of his injury, Manning was having one of his best days of an up-and-down year. He was scrambling as well as ever, indicating he had recovered from an early-season groin injury, and he had completed 14 of 26 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Without Archie Ole Miss is about as dangerous as the Confederate Army without Lee. With his status indefinite, the top bowls might be inclined to pass up the Rebels in favor of something more exciting. Something like Auburn, LSU or Tennessee.

All along there have been people who believed the South's most explosive offense and perhaps its No. 1 quarterback belong to Coach Shug Jordan's Auburn Tigers. Auburn had run up basketball scores against almost every team except LSU, which pulled off a 17-9 upset three weeks ago to give Auburn its only loss. But that game was played in a driving rain and, as Auburn Quarterback Pat Sullivan puts it, "LSU has a fine team, but we think it might have been a little, ah, different under other conditions."

In this so-called year of the quarterback, Sullivan has received barely a nod. Word of his deeds does not seem to get much north of Lester or west of Pickensville. He is only a junior, but he leads the nation in total offense and already holds most of Auburn's career passing records. A sprint-out quarterback of the Manning type, he is dangerous from any point on the field, as evidenced by the fact that he and his favorite receiver, Split End Terry Beasley, another junior, have combined on four touchdown passes of from 62 to 85 yards. Now Auburn followers are sporting PAT WHO? buttons, a spoof on the Manning craze at Ole Miss, and Jordan says, "I wouldn't trade Pat Sullivan for any quarterback in the country." Nor, surely, any receiver for Beasley, who is nowhere in total receptions but averaging 22.8 yards per catch. Said one bowl scout: "He's worth coming to see no matter who wins the game."

Before the Mississippi State game Sullivan noted the presence of the bowl scouts and said, "Hmmm. Maybe we can light up the board for these people." He did, so expertly that he and Beasley played less than a half. In his brief appearance Sullivan ran for 42 yards and one touchdown and completed 14 of 18 passes for 222 yards and three more touchdowns. All but unnoticed in the flashing of scoreboard lights was the fact that two of Auburn's defensive stars, Linebacker Bobby Strickland and End Bob Brown, were injured and probably will miss the Tigers' remaining games with Georgia and Alabama.

"Auburn is a club without a weakness," said Mississippi State's Charley Shira. "You look at a team and you say, 'Every player is good except....' But there is no except with Auburn. It's difficult to tell the second team from the first."

The Louisiana State Tiger is of a different stripe. With only one offensive starter back from last season, Coach Charley McClendon's squad produces only modest scores, but LSU wins with that forgotten relic, defense. No team, not even Auburn, has run for a touchdown against LSU, and only Texas A&M, in the season opener, has managed to beat the Tigers with passes. In that game, LSU had an 18-13 lead with only seconds left, but an overeager Tiger defender tried to intercept a desperation Aggie pass instead of simply knocking it down. The ball went over his head and into the hands of an A&M receiver, who ran for the winning touchdown. "That's one I'll never forget," says McClendon. "Those are the kind that make a coach wake up screaming in the night."

Since then the Tigers have used their defense to win six straight games, the most recent—and most satisfying—victory the one Saturday over Alabama. LSU's secondary, led by junior Cornerback Tommy Casanova, surrendered a touchdown to the passing of Scott Hunter, but otherwise all the Tide could manage was a field goal. The defense stopped Alabama's runners with only 79 yards, and it intercepted four passes. The last interception, by Linebacker Louis Cascio, ended an Alabama drive in the closing seconds.

Meanwhile, the LSU offense was showing some signs of improvement. Senior Quarterback Buddy Lee ran the team smoothly, and his backup, sophomore Bert Jones, connected on a 57-yard pass for LSU's longest gain of the afternoon. Running Backs Art Cantrelle and Jimmy LeDoux each scored and made some good yardage, but the best running came from a member of the defense, Safety Craig Burns, who set up a touchdown with a 33-yard punt return and a field-goal attempt with an interception return.

"LSU is just real, real tough defensively," said Bear Bryant. "They were much more aggressive in the secondary than we were, and their front whipped ours badly."

"We don't try to outsmart anybody," said LSU's McClendon. "We stick to technique. Above all we try not to give the other team anything. I won't say this was our best defensive game, but it was surely one of our best. I think it's about time people started recognizing us. We're a pretty good team."

Perhaps even more than the others, LSU is eager to get into a major bowl. Last season the Tigers had a 9-1 record, best in the SEC, and were kind of willing to play in the Cotton Bowl. Then Notre Dame surfaced, and in the ensuing confusion LSU was left without an invitation to any big bowl. As a matter of pride, the LSU players voted down the Astro-Bluebonnet. They may have a more exciting vote to make this year.

So Charley McClendon is understandably proud of his LSU team, but how about Tennessee's young Bill Battle? Up until Saturday he was making this coaching business look like a snap. Only 28, Battle was Athletic Director Bob Woodruff's personal choice to succeed Doug Dickey when the latter went to Florida. Dickey's departure upset Tennessee fans enough, but the bile really started flowing when Woodruff named Battle. How could a mere kid go in against Bear and Shug and all those other wise old SEC coaches?

Easy. Tennessee won six of its first seven, and the Volunteers even gave Auburn a time of it before losing 36-23. Battle, bless his irreverent heart, has a stock answer for those who ask foolish questions, like how does it feel to be so young? "I don't know," says Battle. "I've never been any older."

Battle probably aged a bit on Saturday. The Vols nursed a 10-3 lead through the first three quarters, but suddenly Quarterback Tommy Suggs got South Carolina moving. Suggs, who has been the recipient of boos and hate mail for his play this season, led the Gamecocks 80 yards for a touchdown, a two-point conversion and an 11-10 lead. The score came with 6:55 left to play. Then, after Tennessee went ahead on Quarterback Bobby Scott's 20-yard pass to Fullback Curt Watson, Suggs hit Flanker Jimmy Mitchell for 61 yards and an 18-17 lead with 4:56 to play.

With Scott injured and on the sidelines, the Vols' backup quarterback, Dennis Chadwick, came in and moved the team to the Carolina 14 with 23 seconds left. Both teams were out of timeouts, but Tennessee rushed in Hunt to kick the winning field goal with time running out. Battle, who once coached under South Carolina's Paul Dietzel, allowed himself some youthful enthusiasm after the game.

"Regardless of whether you play well or not," he said, "you show class when you come from behind."

The Vols have perhaps the best-balanced team in the conference. They have a capable passer in Scott, the blond quarterback who looks like Glen Campbell. He had hit on 21 of 38 passes in Tennessee's 38-7 rout of Florida. And in Watson, the 217-pound junior fullback, the Vols have a powerful runner. Their defense is sound, too, especially the secondary. Led by Safeties Tim Priest and Bobby Majors, it picked up 23 interceptions in the first six games.

But the catalyst has been Battle, who let it be known early that, despite his age, he was not going to be just one of the boys. Says Chip Kell, a senior guard, "he made it clear that football here was going to be played his way or not at all. I got the message, and now I'm playing harder than I ever did."

So there they are, four fine Old South teams all prettied up and looking for some place to go on New Year's Day. None of them can officially accept a bowl invitation until Nov. 21. That will be some day in Dixie.