Those beleaguered Southwest Conference teams who have been choking on the Longhorns' dust for five years are about to drop so far behind they will have trouble seeing them. The very least expected of the nation's most successful team since 1968 is a sixth straight league title. The very most is a national championship. It little soothes opponents that the Longhorn freshmen finally lost a game last fall (their first since 1969) or that at least two other conference teams had better spring recruiting results. All those Owls, Aggies and Mustangs are still so much fodder. The only opponent who should seriously challenge Texas at all is rebuilding Oklahoma of the Big Eight. Such is the joy and good fortune of the Longhorns' schedule.
Veteran players will sustain Texas in 1973, returnees from a 10-1 team that plodded early but surprised Alabama 17-13 on New Year's Day. The No. 1 sustainer is Roosevelt Leaks, who can come at you six or eight straight times, as he so often did last year when Darrell Royal switched a few positions, told his halfbacks to stay out of the way and altered the blocking assignments. Everything came up Rosies as the 5'11", 210-pound fullback bettered 100 yards in five of his last seven games and gained 1,099 yards overall. The conference-leading figure was a record for a Longhorn sophomore and prompted many to call him the Southwest's best fullback ever. Royal indicates there may be more Roosevelt and less pure Wishbone again this year, especially if sophomore Quarterback Marty Akins is slow developing. "Without the elusive, dangerous breakaway type back," he says, "we're going to have to make a little bit of yardage each time we snap the ball."
The snapper is Bill Wyman, who with Guard Don Crosslin brings needed experience to an offensive line that lost Jerry Sisemore. There are more than a couple of beefy thumbs to plug the forward wall, however, and not even Akins' inexperience—he saw only a quarter's worth of action last season—is considered alarming. Royal believes Texas is "more solid offensively" than a year ago, when the Longhorns did not begin to dominate until the fourth quarter of the Arkansas game.
Texas' real strength remains its defense, where Linebacker Glen Gaspard and Tackle Doug English head eight returnees who allowed only eight touchdowns. Royal has twice wanted to play Gaspard at fullback, but now he calls him "the best player we've had who didn't make All-America."
USC might very well be the best team in the country in 1973—and still lose a game or two and fall from No. 1. The defending national champions must test their unbeaten streak of 17 games against Arkansas, Georgia Tech and Oklahoma in the first three weeks, and Washington State, Stanford, Notre Dame and UCLA later on. If the Trojans survive unscathed, John McKay should be bronzed for display in a Heritage Hall trophy case.
Although he admits that "the cupboard has run bare here and there," McKay is not poor-mouthing his potential. Despite the loss of four All-Americas, McKay feels "this team is capable of winning every game." A big reason would be junior Tailback Anthony Davis, who is not at all bashful while assessing his Heisman Trophy chances. "Maybe I'll win it," he says matter of factly. "I sure hope I don't screw up and blow everything."
No crisis could be greater, however, than the one Davis has already survived—a January automobile accident that injured his right knee and partially severed his left Achilles' tendon. "In the hospital," says Davis, "I thought about that little knee dance I do in the end zone after touchdowns. I worried about not being able to do it anymore. Then I thought that if I can't do that, I can't run anymore either. The accident helped me put things in perspective."
The well-recovered A.D. did not become a starter until Southern Cal's ninth game last year, but he still rushed for 1,191 yards and scored 17 touchdowns, including six against Notre Dame. This season, however, he will be without the excellent blocking of Fullback Sam Cunningham and an experienced offensive line that included Tight End Charles Young.
A suitable complement to Davis' running is the passing of Mike Rae's successor, Pat Haden. "He's as good a drop-back and roll-out thrower as I've ever seen," says McKay. Haden has two excellent receivers returning in Lynn Swann and his old high school buddy, J. K. McKay, the coach's son. Between them, the two caught 53 passes last year.
As good as the offense looks, the defense, with seven starters back, seems better. The linebacking unit, headed by Richard Wood and James Sims, "could be the best we've ever had," says McKay. Safety Artimus Parker already has 12 interceptions, one short of SC's career record. The Trojans are loaded, but so is their schedule, and one letdown will cost them the national title.
3 PENN STATE
When Perm State Coach Joe Paterno turned down a million-dollar offer last January from the New England Patriots, it was a type of decision seldom seen in these materialistic times. Impressed that Paterno had bypassed all that NFL lucre in favor of what he called the "healthy atmosphere" of University Park, Penn State's Class of '73 made him its commencement speaker and a grateful school administration raised his salary.
Everyone wants Paterno because of his seven-year record of 63-13-1, tops among major college coaches during that period. He is primed for another successful season, owing largely to a potentially jarring running game keyed to senior Tailback John Cappelletti. Hard to hit and harder still to bring down, Cappelletti rushed for 1,117 yards last season, second only to Lydell Mitchell's 1,567 of two years ago. Now he will function behind a seasoned offensive line—six of seven regulars return—alongside either Bob Nagle, last year's starting fullback, or Tom Donchez, a rugged blocker who challenges Nagle after a year's absence because of injury.
Cappelletti and the other backs are the more dangerous for their ability to catch passes, a duty shared with Tight End Dan Natale, who led last season's team in receptions with 30, and Jimmy Scott, a 162-pound wide receiver with wispy moves and 9.6 speed. Still unresolved is the matter of who will do the throwing. Strong-armed Tom Shuman, understudy a year ago to All-America Quarterback John Hufnagel, had the job to himself until the annual spring game, in which he was outshone by sophomore Dick Barvinchak, a refugee from varsity basketball.
Another question concerns the traditionally hard-nosed Penn State defense. Two other All-Americas, Defensive End Bruce Bannon and Linebacker John Skorupan, graduated with Hufnagel, while Randy Crowder, a 6'2", 235-pound bruiser, has undergone knee surgery. That might force Paterno to replace him at tackle with Defensive End Dave Graf, an adjustment that would weaken both positions. "I'm concerned whether we'll be strong enough without Crowder," the coach frets.
At the very least, Penn State should continue to fulfill its well-nigh solitary mission of keeping big-time college football alive east of the Alleghenies. Given its schedule—oh, so soft with the Marylands and Navys—10-1 is the worst it can be.
"We'll probably throw the football more, but we're not going to get too fancy. We had four interceptions last year. We've got to eliminate mistakes like that."
No, that is not Woody Hayes, it is Bo Schembechler of the Michigan Wolverines, once a member of Woody's staff at Ohio State and now his ex-boss' toughest rival in the Big Ten. Schembechler is a slimmed-down version of Woody with less of an explosive, tear-up-the-sideline-markers temper but all the same dogmatism, inner fury and stress on fundamental football.
Michigan had a 10-0 record last season and was on its way to Bo's third Rose Bowl in four years when disaster struck in Columbus. The Wolverines were sniffing at Ohio State's goal when Schembechler gambled on trying for a touchdown instead of a field goal, which would have produced a tie and given his team the bowl trip and the Big Ten title outright. The TD attempt failed. Ohio State held, won the game and tied for the title, thus earning the right to go out to Pasadena to get chewed up by USC.
This year the two teams again meet in the last regular-season game, but this time it will be before 100,000-plus screaming fans in Ann Arbor, where Michigan also plays Stanford—in its second game. There are not too many other dangerous teams on the schedule, and Michigan could possibly get through undefeated.
Back to Schembechler's startling admission that the Wolverines might pass more in 1973. The reason for such un-orthodoxy is junior Quarterback Dennis Franklin from Massillon, Ohio, "one of the greatest quarterbacks in the country," who will be throwing to such as Tight End Paul Seal, "the best tight end in the conference." The quotes are Bo's. In the past, Franklin has appeared to be a better runner than passer, but he worked on his throwing all summer back home in Massillon.
"It's nice to have an established quarterback to start the year with," said Schembechler. "The last two seasons we've had a sophomore for our opener and we weren't overly impressive."
Michigan has excellent players elsewhere, too, notably Safety Dave Brown, Fullback Ed Shuttlesworth (a plunger with Csonka-like sock) and Defensive Tackle Dave Gallagher ("as good as there is around"). And, of course, a coach who thinks a 10-1 season is par. The Wolverines will be no worse than last season.
Bear Bryant, you old dog you, you can't kid us. You've got another winner down here in Tuscaloosa, haven't you? "Who, us?" asks Bryant, keeping his leathery face straight. "Win our third straight SEC title? You can't be serious." And with that he pushes back his checkered hat and directs his attention away from such crazy talk and out to the practice field where the best team in the conference, whether he admits it or not, is working out.
Terry Davis is gone, the quarterback who operated Alabama's triple option so well he was voted the Player of the Year in the conference. Nor is Guard John Hannah there to open holes for runners. This has Bryant moaning, of course—"Other than linebackers, we have only eight proven winners," he says—but he quickly adds that he has some other people who should be winners soon. Wayne Wheeler, the wide receiver, is a winner. Wheeler caught the key passes in Alabama's victory over LSU. Buddy Brown is a strong offensive lineman. Defensive End John Croyle is highly considered, and Mike Washington promises to be an outstanding cornerback. Washington surprised Bryant this spring—"He was ordinary last year, but now he's anything but ordinary"—and it is a pet theory of the Bear's that a team must find several surprises in addition to its winners if it is to be a championship contender.
The position at which Alabama needs its biggest surprise is quarterback. Four men battled for the job all spring, each looking brilliant on occasion, clumsy on others. Right now the edge goes to junior Gary Rutledge, who was Davis' backup last year. Rutledge will have a wealth of running backs to hand off to, the most experienced of whom is Wilbur Jackson. He averaged 7.1 yards a carry in 1972 and could become one of the best in the South.
What Bryant would really like to avoid this season is a year-end disaster. In 1971 Alabama took an 11-0 record into the Orange Bowl against Nebraska and was embarrassed 38-6. Last year the Tide was 10-0 until Auburn blocked a pair of punts for a 17-16 upset, and Texas rallied in the second half of the Cotton Bowl to win 17-13. This year's menaces appear to be the best teams in the conference—Florida, Tennessee and Auburn—plus a sleeper (nightmare?), LSU at night in Baton Rouge. Much as the Bear would like to make a clean sweep and win his fourth national title, it would take more winners and surprises than even he is likely to come up with.
6 OHIO STATE
While Woody Hayes claims he does not harbor grudges for more than, oh, 20 years, he will never forget the 42-17 pasting that Anthony Davis and USC poured on his Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl. So revenge will drive Hayes and Ohio State this year—on the ground, naturally—and if they can beat Michigan on Nov. 24 in Ann Arbor, they may get another shot at A.D. and USC in Pasadena.
As always, Ohio State has enough good football players to field several teams. This year Hayes has 45 lettermen and 17 starters returning, and he also has recruited an army of muscular freshmen to bolster the defensive tackle position. The 60-year-old Hayes can hardly be accused of living on the other side of Generation Gulch; last season he started four freshmen, including Tailback Archie Griffin, who hopped along like no Buckeye since Cassady. Griffin gained 239 yards against North Carolina and, for the season, averaged 5.4 yards per carry.
This year Griffin and 228-pound Fullback Champ Henson, a junior who led the nation with 20 touchdowns last season, will be working behind Quarterbacks Greg Hare and Cornelius Greene. The 6'3" Hare took the Buckeyes to Pasadena but has always been intimidated by Hayes' icy stares. As a result he has been indecisive at times. The 6-foot, 168-pound Greene, a sophomore with only junior varsity experience, displayed a quick, strong arm in the spring and also appeared indestructible on his crazy-legged roll-outs on action patterns. More important, Hayes likes his discipline and decisiveness, and those qualities alone could make Greene Ohio State's first black quarterback. Up front the blockers will be led by 258-pound senior Tackle John Hicks, an All-America who, Hayes claims, is "the best tackle we've ever had here."
Defensively, Linebackers Randy Gradishar and Vic Koegel will have to come through—or else. Gradishar and Koegel, who saw only 80 minutes of action in '72, both had knee operations during the off-season; if healthy, they will join Co-captain Rick Middleton, the team's leading tackier, to give Hayes his best linebacking corps ever. And Van DeCree was voted All-Big Ten as a sophomore. Pete Cusick, the only returnee from the top four defensive tackles of last year, came to Columbus as a 230-pound fullback. He is now a 244-pound tackle and he tosses runners around like Styrofoam dummies. Hmmm. If only Anthony Davis were a Styrofoam dummy.
7 NOTRE DAME
It is difficult to believe that Ara Parseghian became 50 years old this spring and that his coaching career at Notre Dame is about to span an entire decade. Since Ara was summoned to South Bend in 1964, only Nebraska's Bob Devaney and Alabama's Bear Bryant have posted higher winning percentages. Yet from that November afternoon his first Irish team let a share of the national championship slip away in the last two minutes of the season at USC, Parseghian has been unable to win the Big One. Even in 1966 when Notre Dame was voted the title, the uproar over his decision to settle for a tie against Michigan State deprived him of complete satisfaction.
Associates say Parseghian will never be happy until he coaches the Irish to a perfect season, but this year's golden helmets are unlikely to provide such blessed relief. Similar in overall capability to last year's team, whose 8-3 record was Parseghian's "worst" at Notre Dame, they should be more explosive on offense, but less mature on defense than any Irish team in recent history. The severity of season-ending defeats to Southern Cal (45-23) and to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl (40-6) dropped Notre Dame out of the Top Ten for the second straight year.
Tackle Steve Niehaus might have been All-America as a freshman except for a knee injury, and along with Mike Townsend, the nation's leading interceptor, he will compensate for chinks in the Irish armor. Meanwhile, Quarterback Tom Clements, whose sophomore statistics were as good as Terry Hanratty's, and Eric Penick and Art Best backs who can really scurry for a change, should keep Notre Dame ahead in some high-scoring contests.
In only two of his nine Notre Dame seasons has Parseghian met opposition whose composite records reached .500. His chief antagonists—Purdue and Southern Cal—failed to play a .500 schedule only once each during that time, and judging from past records they should again be the major obstacles. Parseghian has now beaten the Boilermakers three straight after as many failures, has taken three in a row from Michigan State and four from Army, as well as all 19 meetings with Northwestern, Navy, Pittsburgh and Air Force. Miami (Fla.) has managed a tie in three tries against him, and new opponent Rice was thrashed 55-2 when it last made such a drastic mistake in scheduling. The Trojans, however, bring back all those unpleasant memories, both old and new, that Ara Parseghian cannot seem to shake.
8 ARIZONA STATE
Around Tempe, Arizona State Coach Frank Kush is a man whose bite is as sharp as a cactus. It isn't that he pummels his players with mailed fists, but Kush has twisted a recalcitrant's mind behind his back on occasion. "People who are quitters, they're the ones who hate him," points out Woody Green, Rush's All-America halfback. "He's mean but he's no meaner than football is. When he beats you, well, you get beat in football, too. He brings out the best in you, and that's all I can ask because when you get to the pros they aren't going to holler at you, they're going to take your money. I plan on keeping mine."
Kush was one of 15 children, the son of a coal miner who died at an early age. In 15 years at Arizona State he has not known a losing season, and his teams have won almost 80% of their games.
Over the last two years ASU has unofficially changed its school colors from maroon and gold to Green and White—Halfback Green and Quarterback Danny White, to be more precise. The backfield pair has fused an offense that racks up such point totals as 56, 59, 55 and 60, never smaller than 31 last year. Green and White have won 21 games and lost three.
Arizona State is missing some quality players, most notably Wingback Steve Holden, one of eight pro draftees, but the team has a notion that its defense will be better. In '72 the Sun Devils set an NCAA scoring record, but the defense seemed to have a bad case of the TDs also, as it allowed more than 21 points a game. Give up 48 but score 59, that's old ASU.
The offense once again will be stunning. Green says his knee, which was strained near the end of last season, is fully recovered, and White has come back from a broken collarbone suffered in spring practice. "It's probably helped my passing because the shoulder is stronger now, and I'm throwing the ball better." White is the son of Whizzer White, not the Supreme Court Justice but a former ASU All-America who went on to play with the Chicago Bears. Green was nicknamed Moby in high school because his slippery style suggested that even harpoons could not bring him down. "What makes Woody great is his intensity," Danny White says. "He's not going to be stopped behind the line. He'll gain yards every time." Despite such praise, Green remains unaffected: "I just want to be myself and not let all the jive and publicity go to my head."
It was a particularly long, cold, windy winter and spring in Colorado, and not all the icicles were caused by the snow. A few extra hung from the lower eyelashes of Colorado football fans. Normally an 8-4 season would not break up Boulder, but last fall the Buffalo buffs were envisioning a big year, maybe even a national championship, after ranking third in the nation in 1971 with a largely sophomore team. After CU rocked its first three opponents by a combined score of 114-30, Quarterback Ken Johnson's father died. Although Johnson played the next game, Colorado was destroyed 31-6 by Oklahoma State. Another three-game winning streak, capped by victory over Oklahoma, turned to ashes in consecutive burnings by Missouri and Nebraska. After Auburn embarrassed the Buffs 24-3 in the Gator Bowl, football speculation in Boulder was almost as savage as land speculation in the rest of the state.
Coach Eddie Crowder, who doesn't mind conceding error, says he may have had a tendency to tinker too much, and will go with a less variable offense this year, featuring fewer passes and a fierce ground attack. But Colorado will still go to its receivers when necessary. Tight End J.V. Cain leads a list of four potential bull's-eyes. The problem, again, is who will throw the ball. If not Johnson, dogged by injury and misfortune, then it must be 5'7" Joe Duenas, who has it all—except height.
Tailback Charlie Davis (926 yards, 14 TDs) is among the best in the land, and there is not much wrong with Fullback Bo Matthews (720 yards) or Wingback Jon Key-worth either. With Bill McDonald back at center, Greg Horton at left tackle and a herd of good sophomores like Guard John Kormylo and Center Pete Brock coming up, the line should help score a lot of points. That is good, because Colorado lost its entire top-flight defensive secondary, plus four starters up front. Transfer Backs Rod Perry and Ed Kertel must stick like campaign decals to aid Safety Rich Bland. Fortunately, linebacker is strong with Randy Geist, Jeff Geiser, John Stavely and Rick Stearns. Tackles Jeff Turcotte, Mark Sens and Wayne Mattingly characterized a kind of aluminum space-blanket front line—strong but thin. And there should be a lot of big kicks in the footwork, led by barefooted Chilean Fred Lima, national leader in placement scoring with 80 points. The Buffs are scarcely bare of talent: most of those 1971 sophomores are back for another try.
The Bruins are going to be good this season, perhaps very, very good, but the trouble is that very, very good in the Pacific Eight is likely to get you second place. For lurking at the end of the schedule—on Nov. 24, to be precise—is the showdown against cross-town rival USC, and teams that go head-to-head with the Trojans usually come out headless. More, the UCLA season begins in Lincoln against a Nebraska team that has a score, 17-20 as a matter of fact, to settle. In short, the Bruins are bracketed.
They were not bad last year, 8-3 including that first-game upset of two-time national champion Nebraska, and this year they have strengthened themselves with a transfusion of king-size junior college talent. "We're bigger all the way around, especially in the line," says the voluble coach, Pepper Rodgers. "They're quick, too, those big men." Two of the transfers, Pat Sweetland, a 6'2", 240-pound guard, and Weak Safety Kent Pearce, have earned starting positions on the defensive platoon, and many of the other 15 transfers are expected to see action. Rodgers believes that his two split ends, Steve Monahan, a junior college All-America last year at Orange Coast, and Norm Andersen can play anywhere, and this year UCLA, which appeared at times to lack confidence in passing, is expected to throw more than before.
Although Quarterback Mark Harmon missed the spring game with a fractured collarbone, he will be ready when the season starts. "There's not a better man in the country at operating the Wishbone," says Rodgers. "No one works harder than Harmon to play the game."
The running attack, strong last year, as fullbacks averaged five yards a carry, is expected to be even stronger. Halfbacks Kermit Johnson and Eddie Ayers and Fullback James McAlister give UCLA, as Rodgers puts it, "the speed and power you need in the Wishbone." McAlister may be uncertain at the start of the season. Switched from halfback to fullback, he missed all spring because of track and did not have the chance to work out at his new position. More definite debits: the kicking game is not as good as last year's, and the defensive secondary is not as deep.
For all his loquacity, Rodgers refuses to make predictions on how UCLA will do. "All I know," says Rodgers, "is that we throw the ball better, we catch the ball better, we execute better, we play better defense, we got better people, so we got to be better."
The University of Houston must wait until 1976 to become a full-fledged member of the Southwest Conference, but admission to the nation's Top 20 should come much sooner—like this season. There are two sound reasons why optimism is currently bubbling in aerospace country. The first is that Houston will have almost as high a percentage of veterans returning as the U.S Supreme Court. No less than 10 of the 11 defensive starters are back, and so are seven from the starting offense. Even both kicking specialists return. The second reason is a soft schedule.
Last year, with six sophomores scrambling to sort things out on defense, the Cougars ran into trouble early and had to win their last four games to pull out a 6-4-1 season. This year the crunch, such as it is, will not come until midseason. Over a five-week span they face their four toughest games—San Diego State, Miami of Florida, Auburn and Florida State—and they should be ready.
To achieve this the defense will have to be nastier to opponents than in 1972 (202 points), but Houston counts on the offense to grab back what the defense gives away. Head Coach Bill Yeoman is the father of the "Houston Option," a Veer-type attack that stresses an explosive running game and presaged the Wishbone T that has been so successful at Texas, Oklahoma and elsewhere. This year the Veer promises to be even more of a Wehrmacht. "We'll be a threat from anywhere on the field," boasts Yeoman. Behind a good offensive line there is a backfield bursting with reasons why. The runners will be Marshall Johnson, successfully switched from split end last year; Leonard Parker, injured all season after gaining 125 yards in the opener; Reggie Cherry, five yards a carry last year; and freshman Jeff (The Jet) Bergeron, a Texas high school star who scored 67 touchdowns for Port Neches-Groves and drew drooling scouts even to his phys ed classes. The backfield ringmaster will be senior Quarterback D.C. (stands for D.C.) Nobles, who had only seven of 209 passing attempts intercepted last year. Nobles is a good student, married and the father of three children, and 12 pounds heavier than he was in '72. "Last year D.C. was 168 pounds of milk shakes," says Yeoman. "This year he's 180 pounds of muscle."
Now the question is whether the defense, somewhat inexperienced aside from its 10 returnees, can prove that it, too, is made of muscle instead of milk shakes. If it is, Houston should be 9-2, perhaps 10-1, and highly rated.
Gone is Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers. Gone is Outland Trophy winner Rich Glover. Gone to the athletic director's chair is Bob Devaney, who coached the Corn-huskers to successive national championships before slumping to fourth place in the polls last season. But the Huskers are far from goners. There to keep them from sinking into oblivion will be a coach who teaches Sunday school, a left-handed quarterback from Las Vegas and a monster named Wonderful.
Filling Devaney's ripple-sole, walk-on-water shoes is Tom Osborne, a tall, handsome nonsmoker, nondrinker who was formerly Devaney's offensive coach. Despite the losses from last season, Osborne admits his offensive line "may be as good as any we've ever had." Best of those linemen is Daryl White, 6'4" and 247 pounds of tackle who is as immovable as if he were cemented in place. A better run-pass balance and a strengthening of talent at the vital I back slot will make for a rampaging offense. Tony Davis will try to do some Johnny Rodgers, while Fullback Maury Damkroger will handle the short yardage. There to keep the scoring at a 30- to 40-point-a-game average is Dave Humm, a junior from Las Vegas who completed 153 left-handed passes last year.
Defensively, the soft spots are soft only in comparison to the contingent that yielded just 8.1 points a game in 1972. Who is going to push around John Dutton, a 6'7", 248-pound tackle? The defensive backfield has been fortified considerably. And for a monster the Huskers will go with either Terry Rogers, 5'11" and 196 pounds, or with a 6'4", 211-pounder of multiple talents and the honest-to-goodness name of Wonderful Monds. Wonderful, a transfer from Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College, is one of the fastest of the Huskers, and after stealing a pass during the spring game he flashed 91 yards for a touchdown.
No small wonder, either, is Osborne, 34, who 11 years ago became an assistant coach for no salary but all he could eat at the training table. Equating religion with football he says, "My faith has enabled me to realize there's more to life than athletics." To which the 76,500 folks who have bought out all Husker home-game tickets are more inclined to say "Oh, yeah" than "Amen." To a large extent, Nebraska football and religion are synonymous, and as long as the Huskers win, the fans will feel their prayers have been answered.
"Doggone!" shouts Tennessee's superwholesome boy wonder, Coach Bill Battle, in moments of anguish. "Dad Jim! And gol darn!" Thus does the air turn baby-blue before his anger. Fortunately, there have been few occasions for such outbursts from this youthful prodigy: since he became coach in 1970, Bill Battle's record has been a dazzling 31-5-0. Indeed, Battle's Tennessee is undefeated against teams from 49 states and the District of Columbia, but against Alabama it is 1-2 and against Auburn it has lost three doggone straight games. "Everywhere I go," says Battle, "people keep asking, 'When you gonna beat Auburn or Alabama, Bill?' "
This may be the year. The offense is the backbone of it all. It will be led by the powerful tailback, Haskel Stan-back, who set a school rushing record with 890 yards, and by the small (5'11", 175 pounds) slippery natural-scrambler quarterback, Condredge Holloway, a junior who was confined to the pass pocket last year more than he liked. Holloway skipped spring practice in favor of playing baseball, an astonishing omission at a school so football-directed as Tennessee. "It may have helped," says Battle philosophically. "The team moved real well behind the other two quarterbacks, and I think that got Condredge's attention." The offensive line, led by sophomore Guard Phil Clabo (6'6", 270 pounds) and senior Tackle Gene Killian, is strong, and the team's pass receiving should be improved by two sophomore ends, Darrell Culver and John Yarbrough.
Tennessee's kicking game is a bizarre but absolutely essential element this year. The shoeless All-America placekicker, Ricky Townsend, who made all 31 of his PATs in 1972 and 12 of 19 field goals, is back with his bare big toe. He may also punt—with his shoe on, plus a special elbow brace to keep his arm properly extended when he drops the ball onto his foot. "It sure sounds flaky," admits Battle, "but what's a little eccentricity with a kicker like that?"
Tennessee's defense is tattered: seven starters were lost from '72's superb unit. Battle says, "I think we've filled in everywhere all right except maybe the cornerbacks."
The Tennessee schedule has six fairly weak opponents and five genuine tough guys, including Auburn and Alabama. It should be another winning year for the Battle-hardened Volunteers—but not perfect, gol darn it.
Venerable Shug Jordan was named the Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year and placed second to John McKay for the national honor, but the Dallas Bonehead Club best recognized his accomplishments in 1972. Following the graduation loss of Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan and his trusty receiver, Terry Beasley, the Tigers were supposed to disappear for a while. But Jordan blew it: he failed to tell his ragamuffins they were supposed to lose 10 games, whereupon they finished 10-1, including a 17-16 upset of unbeaten Alabama.
Jordan is realistic this time around. "We will not have any psychological advantage going for us," he says. "We will be playing people who will be smarting from last year. They will be looking us up every Saturday, not standing around waiting for us to come to them. That fact in itself should be a challenge."
Another problem is Jordan's typical "Who's he?" offense. Just when Tailback Terry Henley was gaining an identity (216 carries for 843 yards) he graduated, leaving seven offensive and six defensive returnees. Quarterback Randy Walls led the Tigers to nine of their 10 regular-season victories, but hurt a knee in Gator Bowl preparations, forcing untested Wade Whatley to debut against powerful Colorado. The result: Auburn 24-3. With Walls also absent from spring practice, Jordan wanted Whatley to gain experience and poise, but Whatley injured his hip and missed most of the workouts. Fullback Rusty Fuller and Wing-back Thomas Gossom return along with one side of the offensive line, Tight End Rob Spivey, Tackle Andy Steele, Guard Bob Farrior and Center Steve Taylor. Despite the loss of Henley, the Tigers could be strongest at tailback with sophomores Mitzi Jackson and Chris Linderman. Both are hard runners with breakaway speed, and Jordan would like to open things up by improving his passing attack. Walls (97) and Whatley (four) threw only 101 passes all season, something Sullivan just about accomplished in two games.
Defensively, Tackles Benny Sivley, All-SEC, and Bob Newton return. So do Linebackers Bill Luka, Ken Bernich and Bill Newton and Sideback David Langner. Ends Rusty Deen and David Hughes and Sideback Jim McKinney also contribute to a well-regarded defense.
Jordan is no bonehead when he observes, "There will be a similarity to last year in that we will have to fight for every inch...."
It is hard to believe the school that gave us Jack Mildren and Greg Pruitt and 22 victories in two years and eight zillion yards of Wishboning has turned into Oklahoma Crude. But in addition to wondering who is left to coach and who to play quarterback at Norman, the sickies are asking who remains to alter records and who to lead cheer rallies.
No sooner did Coach Chuck Fairbanks depart for the pros last spring than Kerry Jackson, star quarterback heir apparent, departed because of prose. (In April the school admitted that Jackson's high school transcript had been changed; thus Jackson was declared ineligible, and Oklahoma forfeited eight victories. In August the Big Eight zonked the Sooners with a two-year probation that will keep them out of bowl play this season and next and off national television in 1974 and '75. The NCAA is yet to be heard from.) Just as new Coach Barry Switzer started to pick up the pieces, the new rally leader, Bill Lamebull, a Southern Cheyenne, was warned by some Indian brethren not to perform in native dress.
Switzer will debut with a strong nucleus of quality players and try to hide a lack of depth. Redshirt Steve Davis cuts upheld almost as well as Mildren, and his experience puts him ahead of highly touted freshmen Scott Hill and Joe McReynolds. While Jackson moved out, the rest of last year's second-string backfield moves up. Senior Fullback Tim Welch and junior Halfback Grant Burget both averaged more than five yards a carry in 1972, but it is sophomore jet Joe Washington who is being counted on. If not a better talker than Pruitt, Washington is surely a better blocker and he may even have more moves; in the spring game he gained 127 yards and scored three touchdowns. "Maybe the crowd got him going," said Switzer. "We do have crowds in the fall, don't we?"
Oklahoma crowds will also enjoy Tinker Owens at split end and the brothers Selmon on defense. Tinker is the elfin receiver who rang the bell against Nebraska and Penn State last season. Five-11, 225-pound Luscious Lucious Selmon and his younger brother, Dewey, will undoubtedly ring a few bells of their own. A third Selmon, LeRoy, has been sidelined by illness.
The Sooners must play USC, Texas and Colorado in the first five games. With Kerry Jackson, this Sooner Wishbone would have been devastating. Without him, Oklahoma may have to bone up on some wishes.
Doug Dickey's fourth year at Florida promises to be the one in which he feels most at home, considering the new houses he and seven of his assistant coaches recently settled into, opting to tackle job security head on. It is no coincidence then that the 1973 Gators resemble the kind of teams Dickey coached at Tennessee—tough and talented.
"We have good quality," says Dickey. "We have some big-play people and some depth in guys who can make winning plays. I think Florida has reached the point where it can look the best teams in our league in the eyes."
Everyone's eyes will be on Nat Moore, for it is he who epitomizes the "big-play people" Dickey mentioned. In one year Moore has gone from junior college basketball player to the SEC's most explosive running back. His 845 yards on 145 carries set a Florida record, and he reeled off scoring jaunts of 46 yards against Florida State and Ole Miss, 52 yards against Auburn and 60 against Alabama.
At 5'10½" and 178 pounds, Moore gave up basketball because "I think my future, at my size, looks better in fool-ball." He led the Gators in pass receptions with an average gain of better than 14 yards.
"Moore is the finest back I have ever coached," says Dickey. "He can do more with the ball in his hands than any college back I have ever seen."
Florida foes will also see plenty of Quarterback David Bowden if he can stay healthy. Bowden suffered a sprained ankle, a bruised shoulder, a pulled hamstring and still led the SEC in passing as a sophomore. This year he can cuddle up behind 6'2", 240-pound senior Guard Kris Anderson in addition to some hardened juniors. All-conference as a sophomore two years ago, Anderson was sidelined by knee surgery for most of last year. Nicknamed "Quake," he once fell three stories at the site of a construction job only to rest for a few minutes and return to work. Way to go, Quake.
Sammy Green, 6'1", 230 pounds, handles all the odd jobs for a defense that returns eight starters. Last season Green played on the special teams and saw action at linebacker, tackle and middle guard. Wayne Fields, a freshman, led the team in interceptions. This year freshmen may be called on to provide some depth at running back. Robert Morgan, Henry Davis and Larry Brinson are prime candidates. But good as they may be, chances are that it will be the Moore the merrier.
Two very important factors should be taken into account when Tulane's 1973 prospects are evaluated: the Green Wave players are better, the Green Wave opponents are not. Accordingly, the team seems capable of grabbing the big chunk of success it so narrowly missed last year.
And 1972 will not soon be forgotten, what with the 24-21 loss to Miami when the winning touchdown came on a fifth-down play in the fourth quarter. Fifth downs are not only controversial, they're illegal. And how about the 9-3 loss to LSU? Twenty-four years of frustration seemed almost over until a Tulane pass receiver was hauled down inches from the Tiger goal line. The last seconds did not allow enough time for a good cry, much less a quarterback sneak.
Despite such adversity, Tulane finished 6-5, considerably better than the previous season's 3-8. That was Coach Bennie Ellender's first at his alma mater, and it was a humbling initiation to big-time football following his college-division national championship at Arkansas State. Two outstanding recruiting seasons have now passed and the Green Wave is anticipating its biggest splash in years.
Seven starters return to the offensive team plus the leading ground-gainer of 1971, Ricky Hebert, who was injured last year. Quarterback Steve Foley, a razzle-dazzle sprint-out scrambler, set a total-offense high for a Tulane sophomore with 1,319 yards and was chiefly responsible for a school-record 108 pass completions. The interior linemen average 241 pounds a man, and only one is under 6'3".
Even though the defense has fewer veterans, it may possess its greatest potential in years. Ellender calls 6'6", 260-pound Tackle Charles Hall "one of the best college players I've ever seen." Mike Truax, whose cousin Billy plays for the Dallas Cowboys, is a well regarded defensive end. He and Hall were credited with more than 100 tackles each last year. The linebackers will be young, but the secondary provides better-than-average support in Cornerback John Washington and Safety David Lee.
All of this talent will be showcased seven times in the Sugar Bowl, leaving an unimposing road schedule, which is all the better without last year's nemesis, Michigan. Three tough teams remain—North Carolina, Georgia Tech and LSU—but they must avoid the distractions of Bourbon Street. Four other opponents will be adjusting to new coaches. "There isn't a team on our schedule we can't contend with," says Hall.
18 NORTH CAROLINA STATE
When Lou Holtz arrived at North Carolina State, the team needed a magician more than a coach. Holtz, who does card tricks on the banquet circuit, filled the bill, changing a 3-8 record in 1971 into 8-3-1 in 1972 and winning ACC Coach of the Year honors.
But Holtz cannot rely on surprise anymore. Instead he must depend on his 14 returning starters, nine on offense and five on defense. The offensive team has five of last year's six All-ACCers, including Quarterback Bruce Shaw. As a junior Shaw led the conference in total offense, completing 91 passes for 1,708 yards and nine touchdowns. Prior to the Peach Bowl he broke his wrist in practice. Freshman Dave Buckey took over and was voted the game's outstanding offensive player. Between them, Shaw and Buckey produced 51% of the Wolfpack's total offense of 2,472 yards rushing and 2,286 passing.
After the spring game doctors discovered that Buckey was suffering from a detached retina. He was operated on in April and after several months of concern he has been given the go-ahead.
The offense also has four talented runners. Stan Fritts (689 yards, 106 points), Willie Burden (605 yards, 44 points), Charley Young (611 yards, 42 points) and Roland Hooks (283 yards, 14 points) prompt Holtz to say, "There's not a stronger group of running backs in America."
The offensive line also is intact, with Harvey Willis at tight end, Rick Druschel and Allen Sitterle at tackle, Bill Yoest and Bob Blanchard at guard and Justus Everett at center. Yoest may well be the best lineman in the South and an All-America candidate.
"The key to our 1973 season will be overall defense and the kicking game," Holtz says. The defense held only one opponent (Duke 17-0) to less than two touchdowns last year, but the offense was productive enough to offset the weakness. This year that defensive deficiency may be telling. Only five starters return, and the second unit has only two lettermen, so depth is a problem. As for the kicking game, Holtz is still trying to pull something out of a hat.
The other big problem is scheduling. State has a toughie. It meets archrival North Carolina following trips to Nebraska and Georgia. North Carolina will have played Maryland and Missouri at home. It will take some doing to beat the Tar Heels, but then maybe Lou Holtz can turn them into rabbits.
19 OKLAHOMA STATE
It is an old story at Oklahoma State: the Cowboys have a new coach. Jim Stanley is the third in as many years. But his team is an old story, too, and he could not be more pleased. Seventeen of 22 starters are returning from a team that upset Colorado 31-6 and suffered three of its five losses by a total of only six points. At only one spot are the Cowboys hurting—their top two centers were lost to graduation—and Stanley says, "I definitely think well be better." At Stillwater these clays that low-key evaluation amounts to pessimism.
The Cowboys' record of six and five represented their first winning season since 1959, and much of the credit went to a new Wishbone offense. Coach Dave Smith installed it before moving to SMU, but the Wishbone will be back. So will senior Quarterback Brent Blackmail, one of the best in the Midwest at its operation. In 1972 Blackmail ran for 842 yards, including five touchdowns, and passed for 572, including six more scores. Against Missouri, with the clock running out on fourth and 28, he hit Split End Steve Pettes for a 54-yard scoring play and a 17-16 win. Blackman is an elusive runner, capable of 4.8 for the 40, and he is completely recovered after breaking a collarbone in the spring game.
Another returnee is the club's leading rusher, junior Fullback George Palmer, who gained 937 yards. Palmer averaged 4.8 yards a carry over the season, but returning Halfback Fountain Smith averaged an impressive 6.7 in gaining 610.
Four key players return on defense, including Linebacker Cleveland Vann, who was on the Associated Press All-Big Eight team. He was in on 122 tackles, 50 of them unassisted, six behind the line of scrimmage. He also deflected two passes and made three interceptions.
Safety Alvin Brown tied the Big Eight record of eight interceptions. He also deflected 13 passes and had 67 tackles. He can run 40 yards in 4.5 seconds, but then he hasn't got much to carry. The amazing Brown weighs only 162 pounds. No wonder they called the Cowboy secondary "Alvin and the Chipmunks."
Defensive Tackle Barry Price goes 238 and he hits more like a bear than a chipmunk. Six of his 52 tackles caused fumbles, and if he can control a notorious temper he should be even better.
So should his team.
20 WASHINGTON STATE
Bert Clark used to say, "Washington State doesn't belong in the Pacific Eight." Fine, and who is Bert Clark? Well, he used to coach Washington State. And Bert Clark was right, too; Washington State did not belong in the Pacific Eight. WSU was the Brown of the West, the VMI of the North, the gimme on everybody's schedule.
Jim Sweeney says, "We've put together a superfeeling of togetherness and goal orientation." And who is Jim Sweeney? Well, he is the guy now coaching Washington State, and forgive him if he lacerates the language with an idiom that may be described as Billy Graham-jockstrap. Sprinkling "super" around like it was going into style, he got the woebegone Cougars up to 7-4 last year, and Super-Sweeney says it could have been 9-2 "if I had done a better job of coaching." Three years ago, when the Cougars had a 1-10 season (down from a heady 1-9 the year before), he told the "supergreat" alumni, "You need me more than I need you."
WSU runs out of a triple option called the Multiple Veer. It depends heavily on a versatile quarterback, and while WSU lost few to graduation, one was Quarterback Ty Paine, a three-year starter who holds many school records. Paine's understudy, Chuck Peck, is returning as heir apparent, but count on Mike Mitchell from Walla Walla Community College to start. Sweeney says that Mitchell has "superfoot quickness and can ad-lib real good." Formerly, this was known as scrambling.
Ken Grandberry, who will almost surely become WSU's alltime rusher early in the season, will be at tailback again, "superphysical" Andrew Jones moves up to start at fullback, and the Cougars are set with lettermen receivers. The offensive line, built around Center Geoff Reece and Guard Steve Ostermann, is loaded with "the kind of players who pull the trigger for you."
The defense got a lot of rest last year, while the offense hung onto the ball, but it is broad where a defense should be broad, quick where it should be quick.
Sweeney's main problem could be to keep the new Cougars believing that they are still the new Cougars if things start to crumble a little. In the first five weeks Washington State gets three bowl teams—Arizona State, Ohio State and USC—and then UCLA and Stanford. If the Cougars do not hold together for those, the whole season could be superfluous.