"Some major upsets in college football last night," said the radio one Sunday morning last September. Senior Editor Walter Bingham, just getting out of bed, froze. "In Miami..." the announcer went on, and Bingham knew the worst. As college football editor he had picked Texas as the No. 1 team in the country in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S special issue and now he was learning that Miami had upset the Longhorns in their opening game. In previous years Bingham had had a couple of No. 1 selections falter in midseason, but never had he been zapped the very first week.
Undaunted, Bingham and his staff are back for their annual evaluation of the season. This year's preview features scouting reports by Associate Editors Joe Jares and Ray Kennedy, Staff Writer Hal Peterson and, notably, Writer-Reporter Larry Keith, the junior member of the group. Keith's contributions include a rundown of small-college football (page 82) and the lowdown on our No. 1 choice this year, Ohio State. Larry—whose wife Carolyn is SI's picture researcher—has been a rising member of our staff since he came to us in 1970 not long after graduating from the University of North Carolina. He has frequently written our weekly roundup of college football games, has done pieces on Oklahoma Wide Receiver Tinker Owens, Miler Tony Waldrop (a fellow Tar Heel) and Boston Catcher Carlton Fisk and has a book coming out in December with Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps, called A Coach's World. Three years ago, when he was still pretty much a rookie, Keith asked if he could do a story on a young tennis player while vacationing in Florida. The result was our first look at Chris Evert.
During the football season Larry is principally responsible for checking our football stories for accuracy, but occasionally, when a particularly important game comes along, he may be dispatched early in the week to the campus of one of the teams to gather background material for the writer doing the game story. Keith's presence seems to inspire the teams he visits. When Dan Jenkins spent the week before the memorable 1971 Oklahoma-Nebraska game at Norman, Keith was on the Nebraska campus. The Cornhuskers won, and Keith's research proved vital to Jenkins' account. Before last year's Sugar Bowl, Keith was assigned to Notre Dame; John Underwood, who was writing the story, spent the week before the game with Alabama. The Irish pulled it out, of course, and Keith had another winner.
He is also sometimes assigned to what he calls "nonstories," although Bingham prefers to call them "if-stories," as in: What if so-and-so upsets so-and-so? Keith notes with good humor that two years ago he was there in case Texas should upset Oklahoma and last fall was ready had Auburn upset Alabama. Oklahoma won 27-0, Alabama 35-0, and Keith got a lot of flying time.
He also says with some glee that whereas his boss went down the drain with Texas last year, his own picks for No. 1 among small colleges have held up two years in a row—Delaware in '72, Louisiana Tech in '73. This season he likes Boise State.
KEITH: OUT ON A LIMB WITH BOISE