Coming off a 5-5-1 season—worst in Darrell Royal's two decades as head coach—Texas, under new Coach Fred Akers, hopes to bounce back with a revamped offense geared around the running ability of 225-pound Earl Campbell. Akers' first move was to scrap the wishbone, which confined Campbell to banging up the middle. This year Texas will run from the veer, allowing Campbell to use his speed and exceptional strength on pitchouts, and from the I, with Campbell at tailback. "I was afraid they'd do something like this," says Oklahoma Defensive Coach Larry Lacewell. "At tailback Campbell will be almost unfair."
Akers also plans for Texas to throw the ball quite a bit to Campbell. Texas may also have two of the finest wide receivers in the school's history. One is senior Split End Alfred Jackson, the other is sophomore Flanker Johnny (Lam) Jones, the Olympic sprinter. Used at running back last year, Jones finished second to Campbell in team rushing. If the offense sputters, there is always Russell Erxleben, the nation's leading punter (46.6) who also kicked 12 field goals last season, including a 57-yarder. Should the largely untested defensive unit come through, Texas will be tough.
Another coach stepping into the role of spoiler is Lou Holtz, who takes over for Frank Broyles at Arkansas. Like Texas, the Razorbacks will rely on exceptional speed to make their veer go. And the similarities don't end there. Arkansas also has an outstanding kicker in Steve Little, whose longest placement last year was 61 yards. What could make the difference is that Holtz has a veteran defensive unit. Last year Baylor had a surprisingly good season (7-3-1), but graduation has riddled both the offensive and defensive teams, and it would be a shock if the Bears could do as well. Another young team is Rice, which under Coach Homer Rice threw 504 times last year. The Owls will probably keep firing, but Quarterback Tommy Kramer is gone and the intricacies of Rice's triple-pocket combination take time to master. In conference play last year SMU was 2-6; this year things could get worse. For instance, Ohio State is the last warmup before SMU closes out the season entirely with SWC opponents. TCU has not had a winning football team since 1971. New Coach F. A. Dry, from Tulsa, where his teams won or shared four Missouri Valley Conference titles, inherits 39 lettermen—including Receiver Mike Renfro, who seems to have his dad Ray's ability, with 42 receptions last year, 49 the year before—and a near hopeless task.
The Big Ten has two new coaches, Gary Moeller at Illinois and Jim Young at Purdue. Both played for Woody Hayes at Ohio State. Moeller was a linebacker and captain in 1962 and Young a fullback in the 1950s. Both have also been defensive coordinators for Michigan's Bo Schembechler. They would also love to break the stranglehold their former mentors have on the Big Ten title. They won't. While both Illinois and Purdue recruited well, neither is a threat in 1977. Moeller has installed a Michigan-style five-man line in hopes of plugging the Illinois defense that gave up 22 points a game last year. On offense, senior Quarterback Kurt Steger will have 6'7" Dan Melsek and 6'8" Rich Grimmett at the tackle spots for protection. Purdue upset Michigan 16-14 last year but finished in a four-way tie for third with Minnesota, Indiana and Illinois, each 4-4 in conference play. Young may have a wealth of Big Ten experience, but that is not the case with his team—particularly on offense, where Purdue will have new faces at quarterback, tailback and at all but one position on the offensive line.
Last season Michigan State was the Big Ten's premier passing team. Asked why his Spartans threw so much, second-year Coach Darryl Rogers said, "If I was winning all our games, except the Rose Bowl, I'd run, too." Given the Spartans' prospects, Quarterback Eddie Smith will still be in there pitching. Last year he passed for 1,749 yards and 13 touchdowns, seven of them to the conference's top receiver, Kirk Gibson. The Smith-Gibson combo is back, but so is a porous rush defense that gave up 256 yards per game as Michigan State went 4-6-1.
Indiana's starting backfield returns, including sophomore Tailback Mike Harkrader. His 1,003 yards rushing was second best among returnees in the Big Ten. And Coach Lee Corso has more good news. "We have Michigan right where we want them—off the schedule," he says.
Although Minnesota and Wisconsin have nine and seven defensive starters back respectively, neither has a veteran quarterback. Iowa will be trying to improve on its most successful season (5-6) in seven years, but it will take an upset or two to pull it off.
Up in the rainy, title-starved Northwest, two perennial league also-rans probably will also run again, but at least they'll give their fans some excitement. Washington State Quarterback Jack Thompson threw 20 touchdown passes last season. His favorite targets, Mike Levenseller (67 receptions) and Dan Doornink, also return. There are 10 starters back on defense, and Coach Warren Powers doesn't plan to let them give up an average of 30 points a game again. At Oregon, new Coach Rich Brooks can call on Quarterback Jack Henderson, who had 157 completions in 298 attempts for 1,582 yards last season. Washington Quarterback Warren Moon is not considered to be in Thompson's or Henderson's class as a passer, but the Huskies should be the top team north of California. Their big gun is Tailback Ron Rowland, who last year gained 1,000 yards, and they have another good runner in soph Joe Steele, who averaged 5.5 yards a carry as a freshman. Second-year Coach Craig Fertig had a good recruiting year at Oregon State, but coming off a 2-10 season and facing a tougher schedule, the Beavers can count this as a rebuilding year.
In the Bay Area, California is expected to get a lot of scoring from Placekicker Jim (Into The) Breech, who has water-boy dimensions (5'7", 165 pounds) but goes into the season only 10 field goals shy of the conference record of 44. The Bears also have one of the better defenses in the West, led by 6'5", 245-pound End Ralph DeLoach and Backs Ken McAllister and Anthony Green. The Golden Bear offense will feature a pair of sophs, Quarterback Eric Anderson and 6'2", 225-pound Fullback Paul Jones. "We won't rely so heavily on one star to carry us as in the past years," says Coach Mike White, "but rather we will have the strength in all areas."
In a league loaded with fine passers, Stanford's Guy Benjamin could turn out to be the best. A 6'4" senior, Benjamin was third in the nation in passing last year and fifth in total offense. New Coach Bill Walsh is blessed at other positions, too—Offensive Tackle Gordon King and Linebacker Gordy Ceresino are both potential All-Americas. Except for a lack of depth, Stanford would be contending for the league title, and Walsh has been working on that. He brought in 34 recruits. There were 14 the year before.
A 46-yard field goal by freshman Steve Cox with five seconds remaining in the 1976 season allowed Tulsa (7-4-1) to gain a share of the conference title it had won or shared the previous three years. But although Cox will be around three more seasons, the Golden Hurricanes' championship streak is in jeopardy. For the second year in a row Tulsa must replace a top-flight quarterback. Last season it was Jeb Blount; this time it is Ron Hickerson, who passed for 1,554 yards, 12th best in the nation. Junior Quarterback Dave Rader is the probable choice, and with Wide Receiver Cornell Webster (32 receptions last year) unexpectedly signing with the Seattle Seahawks, Tight End Marcus Hatley will be a marked man. New Mexico State was co-champ with Tulsa despite an overall 4-6-1 record. One of five Valley schools that did not draw 50,000 fans for the entire season, the Aggies are building a $4 million stadium. Coach Jim Bradley has promised local partisans lots of passing, so Split End Stanley Sam (31 catches for 392 yards) will be busy.
It is ironic that West Texas State (4-5-2) will challenge New Mexico State for the championship—the Buffalo athletic department and regents have been seriously considering giving up football. Opponents are crossing their fingers because new Coach Bill Yung has 10 offensive starters on hand, including the Valley's No. 1, 3 and 4 rushers—Robert Mayberry (843 yards), Bo Robinson (725) and Anthony Dogan (596). West Texas is going to need all that offense, because last year the defense surrendered 41 points in a victory over N.E. Louisiana, 50 in a loss to Houston and 34 more on an embarrassing Saturday in Des Moines when Drake (1-10) got its only win. Drake was mighty generous itself, allowing an average 38.5 points per game. Quarterback Dan Dodd (6'6", 235 pounds) has a tall assignment.
Southern Illinois (7-4)—along with Indiana State a newcomer to the Valley—would have lent badly needed prestige to the conference if Running Back Andre Herrera (1,588 yards) were around for a fifth season. But the Salukis believe senior Gary Linton is capable of similar effort. Indiana State (3-7) is not coming on as fast in football as it is in basketball, but the Sycamores should continue to improve.
Wichita State (4-7) offered a 50¢ rebate to season-ticket holders whenever the Shockers lost a home game last year. The Total Confidence Plan, as it was called, was deemed a huge success when State paid off on only two of five. The Shockers, who play the toughest schedule in the Valley, are powered by Fullback Jeff Haney, who had 221 yards rushing against Tulsa.
Arizona has a new coach, Tony Mason, who is noted for teaching good defense. He will have excellent material to work with, notably Tackles Jon Abbott and John Sanguinetti among his eight returning starters. On offense the Wildcats have two starters back at quarterback, senior Marc Lunsford, who was injured much of last year, and sophomore Jim Krohn. Lunsford will probably get his job back. Mason can also call on Placekicker Lee Pistor, who has set four Arizona kicking records. The Wildcats, who move to the Pac-8 next year, would love to leave the WAC champions, but so would Arizona State. The meeting on Nov. 26 should decide the title. Wyoming, the 1976 champion, also has a new coach—Bill Lewis, formerly an Arkansas assistant. He has All-Leaguers Walter Howard at tight end and Dennis Baker at offensive tackle, but little chance to make the Fiesta Bowl again. Utah has a new coach, too—Wayne Howard, from Cal State Long Beach. Howard brought a truckload of California JC transfers with him and inherited Wide Receiver Jack Steptoe, who had 38 catches for 752 yards and nine TDs last season. Junior-college transfer Randy Gomez will replace Quarterback Pat Degnan, who quit.
Texas-El Paso has 14 starters returning, but the Miners sank to 1-11 last year. Yes, there is a new coach in El Paso, also: Bill Michael. New Mexico plays three conference champions (Texas Tech, Colorado and BYU) in a row on the road after opening against Hawaii. Adios, Lobos. Colorado State could be the spoilers. The Rams had the best defense in the WAC last season and all but two starters are back, while on offense the entire backfield returns.
Considering the attention devoted to the Heisman Trophy in recent years, it is surprising to note that not since 1964, when Notre Dame's John Huarte won the statuette, have the preseason candidates been so obscure. By December, however, Oklahoma State's Terry Miller should be a household word.
A six-foot, 196-pound halfback from Colorado Springs, Miller attracted enough national attention last year when he rushed for 1,541 yards to finish fourth in the Heisman balloting. He topped the 100-yard mark eight times, including a pair of 200-yard efforts, led the Cowboys to a share of the Big Eight title (their first) and added 173 yards and four TDs in State's 49-21 rout of BYU in the Tangerine Bowl. Miller scored 23 touchdowns in all, but will have to work harder this fall, with every one of his offensive linemen gone. The defensive unit has also been hurt by graduation, and there is a possibility that the NCAA will slap Oklahoma State with some sort of probation for recruiting violations.
Last year Missouri showed 'em everywhere but at home. Among the Tigers' victims were USC (46-25), Ohio State (22-21) and Nebraska (34-24), a remarkable toll. But Missouri finished 6-5, being upset at home by the likes of Illinois and Kansas, which nearly cost Coach Al Onofrio his job. Returning Quarterback Pete Woods is a superb runner who also completed a 98-yard pass to overcome Nebraska. Slotback Joe Stewart, who caught that pass, flagged down 44 others for a total of 834 yards. But the interior line has only one returning starter, and the defensive backfield has been stripped of first-stringers.
Iowa State was 8-3 last year and finished second to Michigan in nationwide total offense—and still did not get a bowl bid. Halfback Dexter Green (1,074 yards) will make the Cyclones a factor in the league race, although this year's big game will be a non-conference bash against intrastate rival Iowa on Sept. 17. The two haven't played each other in 43 years, and a Des Moines Register poll indicated that half a million Iowans would attend the game if they could get tickets.
Kansas (6-5) saved a winning season with that 41-14 victory at Missouri and Coach Bud Moore hopes that the architect of the win, Quarterback Mark Vicendese, has similar surprises in store. Kansas State (1-10), which hasn't won a Conference game in two years, should win at least once with the entire offensive starting lineup returning, including Quarterback Wendell Henrikson. A walk-on last year, Henrikson threw for 1,066 yards in seven games.
Pacific Coast A.A.
Since San Diego State quit the Pacific Coast Athletic Association three years ago, this has been a much weaker conference. To illustrate, defending champ San Jose State's 1976 record was 4-0 in league play but 7-4 overall. This year, the second under Coach Lynn Stiles, San Jose should repeat, even though Stiles claims 1977 will be a "building year," with only two starters returning on offense. But he has a potentially powerful passing combination in Quarterback Ed Luther and Tight End Vic Rakhshani, who was All-PCAA as a freshman. Fresno State's Jim Sweeney is also in his second year as head coach and he claims to have "the most exciting veer option quarterback in the country" in Dean Jones, who rolled up 1,342 yards of total offense last season. Junior Placekicker Vince Petrucci's 28 consecutive extra-point conversions is already a school record. Three of the four Bulldogs in the defensive backfield made first or second team All-Conference in '76.
At Cal State Long Beach, new Coach Dave Currey, a former Stanford assistant, will emphasize passing. The quarterback will be redshirt Paul McGaffigan or JC transfer Jim Freitas, younger brother of ex-San Diego Charger Quarterback Jesse Freitas. Cal State Fullerton has 15 starters returning from a 3-7 team, including Tight End Bruce Abraham and Wide Receiver Marcus Williams, who between them accounted for more than half of the team's total yardage last season. Pacific is changing from the veer to the I to accommodate Running Back Bruce Gibson, but it won't help much unless some blockers are found.
There is not a team in the ACC with realistic hopes of stopping Maryland from winning its fourth straight conference title. But the ACC's second division—and that includes everyone from Duke to Virginia—will be bounding like hares in pursuit of the Terrapins.
It is no secret how Duke plans to move. "Run with Dunn" is Coach Mike McGee's slogan. And why not? Quarterback Mike Dunn amassed 1,835 yards of total offense for the 5-5-1 Blue Devils last year—1,078 passing and 757 running. This year Dunn has Split End Tom Hall back to haul in his passes.
Bo Rein, who took over as coach at North Carolina State in 1976, had a discouraging 3-7-1 season and said, "Well, we left ourselves a lot of room for improvement." A little help on the offensive and defensive lines will go a long way, because the Wolfpack already has good-looking backfields on both units. Ted Brown rushed for 2,001 yards and 26 touchdowns his first two years, and Quarterback Johnny Evans ran and passed for 1,459 last year. The secondary is equally experienced, and 1975 All-ACC Cornerback Ralph Stringer, who was injured last season, is ready for action. North Carolina must replace Mike Voight, who did 50% of all the ball carrying and led the Tarheels to a 9-3 record last season. Matt Kupec will be returning at quarterback and the defense again features 6'4", 252-pound Tackle Dee Hardison.
Wake Forest may have the next Tony Dorsett in sophomore James McDougald, one of only four freshmen in NCAA history to exceed 1,000 yards rushing. Clemson has a new coach, Charley Pell, who formerly ran the Tigers' defensive unit, which was not bad. But last season the offense averaged only 15.7 points a game, so Pell has dropped the veer and installed an I. Even Virginia seems to be on an upswing of sorts. Last year the Cavaliers allowed their opponents an average of 416 yards a game, which was almost a 100-yard improvement over the year before.
Let's see now. Champion East Carolina and runner-up William & Mary have gone independent. VMI, which planned on dropping out, changed its mind, and Davidson is still a member even though it plays only one conference game and is ineligible for the title. UT-Chattanooga, Western Carolina and Marshall have joined the conference, upping membership from seven to eight. Confused?
Well, anyway, Appalachian State is the favorite. The Mountaineer defense is a trademark, and eight starters are returning to an offense that ranked second in the conference to East Carolina last season. If anything, State, which was 6-4-1 last year, should be better. The heat is off Running Backs Scott McConnell and Emmitt Hamilton now that Quarterback Robby Price, the conference offensive leader two years ago, has fully recovered from a knee injury. VMI's hopes are soaring with Placekicker Craig Jones, who hit on 15 of 18 field-goal attempts, and 16 returning key starters, who helped spark a four-game win streak at the end of last season.
The spoiler might be UT-Chattanooga, which was 6-4-1 against tougher opposition last year. Coach Joe Morrison can call on 41 returnees, 15 of them starters, and in Greg Cater he has a punter with a 44.2-yard average. Western Carolina again features Tailback Darrell Lipford, who rushed for 1,074 yards in nine games, but the Catamounts will be hard pressed to match their 6-4 record now that foes like Presbyterian and Lenoir Rhyne are off the schedule. For the first time, Marshall is eligible for the conference title, but the Thundering Herd was 4-7 last year and is not considered a contender.
The Citadel has the league's No. 1 passer in Marty Crosby, but even so, the Bulldogs scored only 47 points in five SC games. Furman, 6-4-1 last season, faces a massive rebuilding job.
When Georgia clinched the SEC title last November, Coach Vince Dooley kept a promise by shaving his head. Dooley's hair is back, but his offense isn't, and he'd probably prefer it the other way around. The Bulldogs ranked 11th in the land and No. 1 in the SEC both in rushing (3,075 yards) and scoring (324 points) and they controlled the football a whopping 73 plays a game. All but two linemen are gone and only Tailback Kevin McLee returns in the backfield. Seven members of the "Junkyard Dog" defense are back, most notably All-SEC Rover Bill Krug and Linebacker Ben Zambiasi. But Dooley isn't overly optimistic. "Much of our effectiveness was a tribute to ball control," he says. "Now we might find that we're not big enough to spend a lot of time on the field."
Once-mighty LSU rebounded from losing seasons in '74 and '75 with a 6-4-1 record last year, and if it weren't for a missed field goal against Nebraska and a dropped TD pass at Florida, the Tigers would have had a bowl bid. Coach Charlie McClendon enters his 16th season in Baton Rouge with a softer schedule and 10 solid veterans, including Quarterback Steve Ensminger, who reminds folks of ex-Tiger passer Bert Jones. Tailback Terry Robiskie, the school's alltime rushing leader, is gone, but McClendon says his replacement, Charles Alexander, "will run right into the record books."
Johnny Majors comes home to Tennessee (6-5) and Volunteer fans hope he can rework the magic he used to turn Pitt into a national champ. Majors' secret there was recruiting 140 players his first two years. The NCAA doesn't permit that kind of wholesale shopping anymore, and the current Vol squad is too light to contend with its SEC rivals, to say nothing of getting a bowl bid.
Vanderbilt (2-9) and Auburn (3-8) won't be going to any bowl games either, not until their defenses stop giving up points, as they did last year (24.9 a game). The Commodores' stickouts are Defensive End Dennis Harrison, who is 6'8", 272, and Receiver Martin Cox. Auburn's best are Running Backs William Andrews and Joe Cribbs.
Bad news: Mississippi lost its last three games by a combined score of 105-16. Worse news: almost everybody is back.
You don't need a Ph.D. in probability to figure out this bottom line. A "C" in Logic 101 is enough to conclude that Yale, which shared the league title with Brown last year, is loaded. The Eli offense will roll with Halfback John Pagliaro, who averaged 5.7 yards a carry, rushed for 1,023 yards and scored 16 TDs. All-Ivy Guard Steve Carfora and Tackle Jim McDonnell will open the way, and left-handed Quarterback Bob Rizzo can count on junior John Spagnola to make another dozen impossible receptions.
The most likely challengers are Brown, if it finds a replacement for All-Ivy Quarterback Paul Michalko, and Dartmouth, which has Running Backs Curt Oberg and Sam Coffey, who combined for 1,337 yards a year ago, plus a seasoned defense that blanked Penn and Cornell. Dartmouth Tackles Greg Robinson and Ken Jansson, a 250-pound All-America weightman in track, both know how to buttonhole a ballcarrier.
Upset-minded Harvard and Cornell could determine the 1977 champion. Crimson Coach Joe Restic plans to continue confusing opponents with his multifiex offense. Unfortunately, Jim Kubacki, who ran the show for Harvard the past two seasons, is gone and it might take time—say, half a season—for his replacement, Tim Davenport, to figure out all the permutations. Cornell is now coached by Bob Blackman, who won more Ivy League games and championships than anyone else—when he was coaching at Dartmouth.
Princeton may have troubles on defense, and Penn is in need of a running attack and a quarterback. The Quakers do have All-Ivy Punter Rich Serino and most of a defense that held Brown and Princeton to a total of 15 points. Lowly Columbia had an All-League guard in John Garland. Alas, he graduated.
Until last year no Southland school had ever been invited to a post-season game, but the Independence Bowl picked conference champion McNeese State (4-1 in league play, 10-2 overall) for its inaugural game and the Cowboys upset heavily favored Tulsa 20-16. With 17 of last year's starters returning, McNeese sees another bowl game on the horizon. Two senior quarterbacks—Terry McFarland and Jim Morvant—direct an offense that scored an average of 25 points a game in 1976. The Cowboys' veteran defense will be led by Linebacker Doug Fruge and Cornerback Charles Jefferson.
But it will be no cakewalk. Indeed, it looks more like a dogfight with Southwest Louisiana, 9-2 in 1976. The Ragin' Cajuns have lost most of their offensive line through graduation, but Quarterback Roy Henry, who threw for 1,709 yards last year, is back for another season. Texas-Arlington is a wishbone team that will be counting on Fullback Derrick Jensen, who was eighth in rushing in the nation last year with 1,266 yards. Louisiana Tech has lost Billy Ryckman, the nation's leading receiver in 1976, and Quarterback Steve Haynes (ranked No. 14 in passing) and can only hope that its experienced defense can keep the door barred. Running is the strength of the Lamar University Cardinals, who can break Fullback Jeff Bergeron around end or Halfback Kevin Bell up the middle. But its success depends on junior college line transfers. Arkansas State is hoping a wholesale infusion of transfers—14 in all—will make it a contender.
Western Michigan is the closest thing the Mid-American Conference has to a bona fide Top 20 candidate, but please excuse the national pollsters if they don't rush to rank the Broncos. The MAC had a breakthrough last year when Miami was ranked among the best in the country before the season. Then Miami had its first losing campaign in 34 years.
By blending youth and experience, Coach Elliot Uzelac of Western Michigan could produce the right combination for this year's title. Junior Tailback Jerome Persell is the nation's leading scorer and rusher now that Tony Dorsett is a pro. Last season he set the MAC rushing record (1,505 yards) and tied the scoring mark (11.8 points per game). If the opposition keys on Persell, State can turn to two strong fullbacks, Keith Rogien and Doug Lincoln. If the ground game falters—the Broncos lost an All-Conference center and both tackles—sophomore Quarterback Albert Little can pass to walk-on Wingback Craig Frazier. Nine of 11 starters are back from a unit that led the NCAA in defense against the pass.
Defending champion Ball State said farewell to 15 starters, including Quarterback Art Yaroch and Tailback Earl Taylor, and figures to finish in the second division. Ohio University could be a Bronco breaker, with senior Tailback Arnold Welcher trying for his third consecutive 1,000-yard season. Central Michigan's bid is led by senior Tight End Wayne Schwalbach, who also ranked third in punting (38.3-yard average) in the conference. Bowling Green's new coach, Denny Stolz (in 1975 he was head coach at Michigan State), inherits a rich offense but no defense. Kent State will count on Mike Zele, the league's top defensive lineman, while chagrined Miami will rely on Middle Guard Jack Glowik to anchor its defense.
Eastern Michigan has a potential first-round pro draft pick in senior Defensive Back Ron Johnson, but along with Toledo and Northern Illinois, the Hurons figure to end up anywhere from eighth to 10th in the MAC standings.