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Original Issue

THE TOP 20

1. MICHIGAN

There was a time when Anthony Carter was a quiet youngster from Riviera Beach, Fla. He was kind of shy, small, bordering on delicate—5'11", 161 pounds—but he could cover 40 yards in 4.4 seconds with sand in his shoes and snag flying footballs out of the air; he scored 54 touchdowns in his high school career. Of course, all the Florida schools wanted him. But Carter? He wanted to get out of the state. Where to? Certainly to a school that lived by the forward pass. So he narrowed his choices to—get this—Texas or Michigan, as in Wishbone or Ramrod, and chose Michigan. Which is roughly akin to a flashy skater taking a hockey scholarship to the University of Florida. Why'd he do it? "Michigan meant success to me," says Carter, who traces his athletic roots back to the Tate Recreation Center in Riviera Beach. "They had those 105,000 fans every Saturday. And the coach told me that with my talent there was no way he wouldn't get the ball to me."

Carter didn't know it then, but Coach Bo Schembechler had made promises before. "We'll throw," Bo would tell the hotshot high school quarterback to keep him from going to Notre Dame. But come September, Bo would hand out the playbooks and there would be page-after-page-after-page of running plays. Of course, Bo's battering-ram offense was successful in the Big Ten (Michigan was 69-8-1 with eight championships in Bo's first 10 years), but at bowl time the bad joke was always on Michigan: 0-6. But all that was B.C. Before Carter.

Last year Michigan ended its bowl jinx by beating Washington 23-6. That Wolverine squad listed just eight seniors among its 44 top players. After losing two of its first three games in 1980—to Notre Dame and South Carolina, by a total of five points—Michigan regrouped to win eight straight, get Schembechler his ninth Big Ten title (second outright) and finish No. 4 in the polls.

As for Schembechler's promises, Carter says, "Coach Bo didn't lie to me." No, indeed. Bo is a pass fancier now—well, sort of. Michigan plays wide open against the patsies, but in the Big Ones, Bo still has a tendency toward over-caution. But even that could change. While becoming the first Michigan sophomore to make All-America since Bennie Oosterbaan in 1925, Carter caught 51 passes for a school-record 14 touchdowns, returned punts and kickoffs and averaged nearly 17 yards every time he touched the ball. The often curmudgeonly Schembechler calls Carter "the most gifted athlete I've ever been around." The gifted Carter says, "That's what he told me when he recruited me."

With Carter and 16 other starters returning, Michigan is clearly No. 1. Two of the four losses from the offense are at center and guard; important positions, yes, but the newcomers will be cushioned nicely by the tackle tandem of William (Bubba) Paris (6'7", 270) and Ed Muransky (6'7", 275), and Guard Kurt Becker (6'6", 260), who might be the best in the country at his position. The backfield features a trio that rushed for more than 2,700 yards, including Rose Bowl MVP Butch Woolfolk, Stan Edwards and Larry Ricks. Ordinarily there would be a lot of attention paid to the quarterback position, vacated by John Wangler, but the situation at Ann Arbor is such that there seems not to be much concern. Junior Rich Hewlett started last season before Wangler took over, and there is also sophomore Steve Smith, a former prep All-America.

The defense? Little worry here. Seven of 11 starters and a total of 20 lettermen are back from a unit that gave up just nine points in the last five games—including a secondary that allowed three touchdown passes all season. Nor do there appear to be any insuperable hurdles in the Wolverines' schedule, which includes one more Big Ten patsy than usual this year. The big dates are Sept. 19, when Notre Dame comes to Ann Arbor, and Nov. 21, when Ohio State takes the field. After that it should be the Rose Bowl, where Michigan has that phenomenal one-game winning streak. "Basically, we want back-to-back Rose Bowls," says Carter. That might be expecting a lot from Schembechler, but then again, Carter seems to get what he wants.

2. TEXAS

In four seasons at Texas, Coach Fred Akers has won one Southwest Conference championship, three games against hated Oklahoma and four bowl bids. Where did that get him? Well, when Texas won only seven games and lost five last year, Akers received so much abuse that his job may be on the line. One reason for all the frustration was that at mid-season the 'Horns looked all but bulletproof. They were 5-0, ranked No. 2 in the polls and had already defeated Oklahoma and SWC archrival Arkansas. Then, almost everybody got hurt. Star Halfback A.J. Jones suffered a neck injury, his running mate, Rodney Tate, injured his hand and Quarterback Donnie Little wrecked his right knee. In all, injuries cost Texas 14 starters or regulars for at least one game. No winning college team was banged up as badly as Texas. So many Long-horns were greenhorns that Texas drew 96 penalties for 1,037 yards—alltime conference highs.

But watch out. The infirmary is unoccupied—for now—and healthy again—for now—are 17 1980 starters, plus 21 other lettermen. And that's not counting Defensive Back Vance Bedford, a starter in 1979 who sat out all of last season with a knee injury, or Receiver Brent Duhon and Quarterback Todd Dodge, high school All-Americas last fall. With all that talent, Akers is sittin' pretty.

Experience is deepest where it matters most—on the offensive line. Guard Joe Shearin, Center Mike Baab and All-America Tackle Terry Tausch are seniors now and have been first-stringers since the day they arrived in Austin. Same for 6'6" Tight End Lawrence Sampleton, the No. 2 receiver in 1980.

Back, too, is Jones, the Longhorns' top ground-gainer in 1980 with 657 yards in 146 carries—in only seven games. Trying to stay sound, Jones hit the weights in the off-season—hard. "I want to get my upper body strong," he says. "Then I know I'll have a good year," good meaning "1,000 yards rushing and no visits to the trainer."

Little, the mad scrambler and No. 1 signal-caller for most of 1979 and 1980, no longer is the Texas quarterback; in January, he persuaded Akers to shift him to wide receiver because he figures that's where the pros will want him to play. In his stead, the starter will be aspiring lawyer Rick McIvor who connected on 69 of his 154 passes (44.2%) in spot duty the past two seasons. Slower afoot than Little, McIvor has an amazing arm; in high school he once cut loose with a 90-yarder. Texas publicist Jones Ramsey is so wild about McIvor's arm that he can't even contain himself when talking with Akers.

"Fred, I've seen him wing the ball 88 yards on a fly," Ramsey recently reported.

"We don't have an 88-yard play," said Akers.

"Let's put one in," said Ramsey.

Crippled as it was, the Longhorn defense was No. 2 in the SWC, behind Baylor's. Once again it will be led by All-America Tackle Kenneth Sims, who in 1980 made 100 unassisted tackles, had 13 quarterback sacks, caused five fumbles and recovered four. Behind him will be the linebacking firm of Scholtz & Shankle (Bruce and Doug), and in the backfield will be all-SWC Mike Hatchett, among others. Last fall Hatchett knocked down a Longhorn-high 18 enemy passes and intercepted five others. There may be more promising defenses, but not in the SWC.

Akers' main concern, he says, is depth at defensive tackle. But Sims is a DT, and Mark Weber, John Haines and Donald Sirles have been waiting for their time to come. Besides, about 138 other major-college coaches would be thrilled to have depth at defensive tackle as a main concern.

Akers' real main concern is keeping his job. If the Longhorns stay healthy, it's a lock.

3. USC

Marcus Allen was telling a story recently about how he had been cut up in a knife fight in high school in San Diego, and how a gang called the Neighborhood backed off. The fact that Allen Sr. drove up in his truck with two shotguns in the back may have hastened the Neighborhood's departure. M.A. lies on the floor, spent from laughing. He says he learned one thing from this episode—it's weapons, not numbers, that count. At the University of Southern California, they are a few guys short this fall—quarterback is shaky, ditto fullback and the secondary—but the Trojans have several big, big weapons. The main one, of course, is Tailback Marcus Allen, a potential Heisman winner.

At the mere mention of the Heisman, M.A. is back on the floor, rolling around in laughter. "Say what?" he chortles. "The Heisman. Come on."

But seriously, M.A.?

"Well, in America anything is possible."

And there is no place in America where more seems possible than at USC, which has produced three Heisman-winning tailbacks in the past 15 years, Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson and Charles White. In fact, USC may well have another powerhouse after a dismal, awful, stinking, inept year in which the Trojans were "only" 8-2-1. USC is out of the Pac-10 doghouse this year (five conference teams were put on probation for one year and were ineligible for the Rose Bowl), and probably can plan on spending New Year's Day in Pasadena once again.

M.A. was No. 2 in the nation in rushing last fall, following Heisman winner George Rogers, and he takes all the junk about the tradition of the USC tailback seriously. "The people before me—Charlie White, Anthony Davis, Mike Garrett, O.J.—were gifted athletes. They all had great natural ability, then they worked to excel. So I sure don't want to be the tailback that fails. What if people started saying, 'The tradition of great tailbacks at USC ended with Charlie White; that Marcus Allen was awful'?"

Small chance. M.A. likely will become USC's second alltime career rusher, behind White. Last year he rushed for 1,563 yards and 14 touchdowns, led the team in pass receptions (30), was two for two as a passer and missed one game because of an eye injury (at which point no one would have been surprised to find him ushering in Section 26). Coach John Robinson says, "He's one of those guys you could hand a golf club for the first time, and he'd hit the ball right down the middle. Then he'd go help you find your ball."

Allen aside, USC suffered at quarterback last year, and this year's top candidate is a lefthanded sophomore, John Mazur, who has never taken a game snap. He's smart, but as Robinson says, "Being smart is no good if you can't throw the football." In practice, Mazur looks like a thrower. On defense, the anchor is 6'5", 230-pound Linebacker Chip Banks, who might be the best defender in the land. He had 107 tackles in 1980, including 15 for losses, and 10 deflected passes.

For his part, Allen is still laughing and rolling on the floor and not at all concerned about the strain of carrying the ball as many as 40 times a game. "When you're excited, you're never tired," he says, "...and I'm excited."

4. OKLAHOMA

When Oklahoma Running Back Buster Rhymes (rhymes with rhymes) was 16 and growing up in a rugged area of Miami he was shot in the back—by his father. "It was O.K.," Buster says. "It was an accident." There was no argument on that score. Dad, George Rhymes IV, had the .22 caliber pistol out, the safety wasn't on, and the gun just sort of went off. "It paralyzed my left side for about an hour and a half," says Buster. "At first I thought my back was on fire, then I thought I had a knife in it. Now we all laugh about it. You'd really have to do something terrible to make me mad at my dad."

These days, Buster is getting ready to do terrible things to Sooner rivals. As a freshman in 1980, he set the alltime Oklahoma record for a first-year man by rushing for 659 yards (only 19 yards less than the team leader, David Over-street) and also scoring 10 touchdowns. Already there is talk that Buster just might make Sooner fans forget about Billy Sims. When Rhymes arrived in Norman to the sound of that old tune Much Hoopla, he says that fans repeatedly came up to him and said, "We hope you don't fumble like all the other guys we've had."

Fumbling has been the bugaboo of the Sooners' wishbone. By its very nature, the attack creates fumble possibilities with its last-second decisions under very trying circumstances. In 1979 Oklahoma lost a school-record 36 fumbles; last year only 26. But in his 86 carries in 1980, Buster fumbled nary a time.

The quarterback in the Sooners' system must be sure-handed, to say the least. There will be a new wishbone operator this year, probably junior Kelly Phelps. He runs well, throws not so well. But Phelps was redshirted last season and still has a lot to learn. For example, he admitted last spring that "they'd call a play and I'd have to stop and think, 'That goes to the left, doesn't it?' " But he will be helped greatly—as will Rhymes and Fullback Stanley Wilson—by an outstanding offensive line bulwarked by guards Terry Crouch and Don Key. On defense, the Sooners are super as always, with the only caveat a somewhat inexperienced secondary. But junior Cornerback Darrell Songy (32 tackles last year) should help keep things together.

Coach Barry Switzer complained bitterly about poor play in spring practice—"the worst spring we've had since I've been here"—and the final insult came when the alumni beat the varsity, 39-36. But, like so much at Oklahoma, it wasn't all that serious. On the opening kickoff one former Sooner (Terry Peters) rushed onto the field from the bench—where he belonged—and tackled a freshman, Ricki Byars, who was touchdown bound.

One thing that may make life easier for Switzer this year is the overall weakness of the Big Eight, which really is only the Big Two—Oklahoma and Nebraska. The key games in the pollsters' minds will be at USC on Sept. 26 and Texas (at Dallas) on Oct. 10. Still, Sooner coaches are trying to dampen excessive enthusiasm, which is why Assistant Head Coach Merv Johnson deadpans, "Buster had a pretty good year for a freshman, but he is by no means a complete back. He does, however, understand what it takes to play."

He also understands what it takes to make money over the summer. He worked as a porter on Miami's Pier One and knew when to throw a fake on the docks, too. While carrying bags for some Florida State fans (Oklahoma beat the Seminoles 18-17 in the Orange Bowl last January) "all they could talk about was how much they hated Oklahoma," he says. "Finally, one of them looked at me and asked me where I was from. I just told them Miami." Good for a $10 tip.

5. NOTRE DAME

Everyone knows that Notre Dame football players are different. They are well-rounded, clean-cut, God-fearing and generally indistinguishable from the rest of the student body, except that they tend to be 6'7" and appear to have misplaced their necks. Take senior All-America Linebacker Bob Crable, for instance. Here's an easygoing sort, a marketing major with a 2.6 GPA, who married his high school sweetheart this past summer. He also worked on a construction crew. "Shoveling was my specialty this year," he says. Big deal. Lots of college kids work construction. But not too many "come home and lift three times a week," as Crable did.

All right, so maybe Crable isn't exactly like everyone else. His teammates noticed that a couple of years ago when he tacked a picture of USC Tailback Charles White on the wall and punched it each time he entered his room. When Crable is asked for a role model, he says, "Hey, anyone who can really stick a guy on a tackle. I enjoy watching that...but I enjoy doing it more."

Crable has put plenty of good hits on people since his days at Cincinnati's Moeller High, whose teams went 36-0 during his four years there. "I guess it was the tradition and mystique of Notre Dame football that got me here," he says. Except that Notre Dame's record the past three years hasn't quite been up to Moeller's standard. Last season's 9-2-1, with losses to USC and Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, was the best the Irish have had since Crable came to South Bend. Ah, but we have yet another Moeller alumnus (there are nine such on the team) at South Bend this year, and 46-year-old rookie Coach Gerry Faust doesn't intend to see his .907 winning percentage drop so much as a point.

Faust, who seems to get in about 27 hours of work each day, inherits a strong squad from retired Dan Devine, and reaped what is conceded to be the nation's strongest crop of freshman recruits, including two ex-Moeller players, Fullback Mark Brooks and Linebacker Mike Larkin. Moreover, last year's starting backfield of Tailback Phil Carter, Fullback John Sweeney and Quarterback Blair Kiel returns, while Tim Koegel, the backup QB in 1979, is healthy after missing last season with injuries. In what Faust considers his key move, he has switched Tony Hunter from split end to wingback, in order to get the ball to him more frequently (an anticipated 15 to 20 times a game).

Eight starters return on the defense, a unit that ranked fourth in total defense last season. The secondary, consisting of John Krimm, Dave Duerson, Rod Bone and Stacey Toran, could well be the best in the country.

As usual, Notre Dame has a killer schedule, opening at home with LSU, then traveling to Michigan; Florida State and USC visit South Bend back-to-back, and the Irish finish with road games at Penn State and Miami (Fla.). Studying the schedule, Faust says, "I hope my lifelong dream doesn't end in a nightmare."

6. PENN STATE

One afternoon this summer Larry Kubin, Penn State's outstanding defensive end and a gourmet cook, put together a spaghetti sauce recipe for his wife and mother-in-law. A month later Kubin cooked up another surprise: He changed his mind about playing for Joe Paterno this season and signed a contract with the Washington Redskins, who had drafted him in the sixth round before his eligibility status—in question because of a knee injury early in the 1980 season—had been decided by the NCAA.

Kubin's defection was a blow to the Nittany Lion defense, but Paterno is working on a new recipe of his own. One of the key ingredients is a little unfamiliar to him. Something exotic called foot speed. Yes, Penn State, the home of the bullying linebacker, the hulking lineman and the power back, will have its own track team this fall with 10 players who run the 40 in 4.5 or less and eight at 4.6 flat. Even Paterno, who rarely talks in absolutes, even at gunpoint, says, "There is no question it's the fastest team I've ever coached."

And here's another absolute from Paterno, in re his team's schedule: "On paper, it's the toughest we've ever faced, maybe the toughest anyone ever faced." How tough? Try Nebraska, Miami and Pitt on the road and back-to-back home games with Alabama and Notre Dame. Still, optimism abounds in the Nittany Valley. "I believe we're looking down the barrel of a national championship," says All-America guard Sean Farrell. Pitt Coach Jackie Sherrill concurs. "Penn State," he says, "is going to get my vote as the No. 1 team in the preseason poll." "Tell Jackie I appreciate that," says Paterno with a smile, "but there's always somebody, and not necessarily the Alabamas or the Nebraskas, who can come out of the woodwork and beat you."

For that to happen, someone is going to have to come out of the woodwork and stop junior Tailback Curt Warner, Paterno's No. 1 track man. A 9.5 100-yard-dash man in high school, Warner rushed for 922 yards and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last season. "People say I'm like O.J. Simpson," says Warner. "But I enjoy smashing into people." That might make Paterno cringe, but if something happens to Warner, he can call on sophomore Jonathan Williams, who has 4.46 speed. And both Warner and Williams will be pushed by senior Joel Coles, who can't match their speed but is talented enough to have averaged 5.4 yards per carry a year ago.

Paterno's major offensive problem, in fact, may well be figuring how to work Warner-Williams-Coles combinations into the lineup while preserving his basic I formation offense, which has senior Mike Meade (himself a high school sprinter) at blocking back. "We don't have to play with a fullback and a tailback, I guess," says Paterno. "We're going to fool around with different sets and things like that."

Whoever is at tailback will benefit from one of State's strongest offensive lines ever. The anchor is Outland Trophy candidate Farrell, who bench-presses 520 pounds. "Sean is so good," says Warner, a graduate of the O.J. Simpson School of Self-Preservation Psychology, "that I'm honored to play on the same team as him."

All this seems to add up to run, run, run, but the Lions should pass more effectively than last year, too, when they completed only 46.2% for an average of just 121.1 yards per game. Sophomore Todd Blackledge, who became the starting quarterback four games into his freshman season, hopes to throw "at least 20 to 25 times a game."

The top receiver will probably be sophomore Flanker Kenny Jackson, who defeated Jonathan Williams in the dashes when they were scholastic track rivals in New Jersey. Though Paterno kept his usual short freshman leash on Jackson last year, he still led the team in receptions with 21 and his five TD catches were one short of a State record.

Paterno now has a need to find depth on the defensive line, with Walker Lee Ashley, Ken Kelley or Villanova-transfer Al Harris slated to replace Kubin. But his secondary is solid. Of 41 Penn State grads playing pro ball, none is a defensive back, but seniors Paul Lankford and Giuseppe Harris (brother of Franco and Pete, also State grads) may change that come 1982. The linebacking is, as always for Penn State, solid and deep with Chet Parlavecchio, Ed Pryts and Matt Bradley, who plays the outside linebacker-strong safety position known as the "hero." The term has been around Penn State for 20 years because then-coach Rip Engle didn't like the word "monster." "We had to sit around one day thinking up 'nice' names," recalls Paterno, then an Engle assistant. Now Paterno is facing a monster schedule but may have assembled a team that will make him a hero.

7. NEBRASKA

"What you have to understand about last season," says Nebraska's Roger Craig as he sprawls sideways on a bed on a steamy Lincoln evening, "is that I didn't consider myself third-string I back." Nor, the evidence will show, did he play like one. Craig rushed for 769 yards, second-best for the Cornhuskers, and his 15 touchdowns made him the No. 2 scorer in the Big Eight and tied him for sixth nationally with a guy named Herschel Walker. But he was third-string I back.

Now, Jarvis Redwine and Craig Johnson, who played ahead of him, are gone, and Craig is first-string I back. If he plays like one, and if Nebraska beats Oklahoma—something the Huskers have done only once in the last nine tries—a national championship isn't a pipe dream.

"Our tradition is to do well every year," says Craig, whose brother Curtis was wingback for the Huskers in 1975, '76 and '77. "The offense is built around the I back. It's up to the I back to get the job done." That's bad news for Husker opponents because, unlike Nebraska I backs of recent vintage, including All-America Redwine and I.M. Hipp, both of whom preferred to run outside whenever possible—and sometimes when it clearly wasn't—Craig relishes taking the ball inside and addressing himself to ill-humored defensive linemen and linebackers on their own turf. "I just like to run over people," says Craig, a junior from Davenport, Iowa.

Craig blames himself for a late-game fumble at the two-yard line against Florida State last year, a game Nebraska lost 18-14. "If I had shifted the ball from my left hand to my right, I wouldn't have fumbled. I would have scored and we would have won," he says. That mistake haunts Craig (the loss ruined Nebraska's national championship hopes; their record was 10-2), and while he was working in a meat-packing plant in Lincoln this summer, he had lots of time to think about it.

Most Nebraskans have forgiven and forgotten that transgression, and the focus is on 1981. Linebacker Coach John Melton looks as if he swallowed a canary when he concedes, "Our first 11 defensive players are going to be as good a unit as we've ever had." Six were starters in 1980, which may be why Coach Tom Osborne didn't bother to name a defensive coordinator when Lance Van Zandt left to join the New Orleans Saints. Hey, Tom, are you saying that they are so good that the best coaching may be no coaching? The only if is at defensive end, where three of last year's top four are gone, but the best—Jimmy Williams, who led the 1980 team in tackles with 66—returns. Maybe Osborne is right in leaving well enough alone.

So the defense—third-best in the nation a year ago, allowing only 209.1 yards per game—gets the Huskers into the Top Ten. But can the offense bump them all the way to No. 1? Like so many major powers, Nebraska has quarterback troubles—maybe. Mark Mauer, a senior from St. Paul, Minn., reads defenses well, and likely will start. But Mauer has never taken a snap that meant much to the outcome of a game (he threw 11 passes in 1980, five complete), and admits, "It will really be different than getting into a game when it's 30-6. That's the kind of experience I've had. I want to know what I can do when it's 0-0, or if we're down by a touchdown." Behind Mauer is hotshot sophomore Turner Gill, who could make Mauer the mop-up man again. Or, in typical Osborne style, the Cornhuskers may go again with two quarterbacks and give second-guessers in the stands something to gripe about.

The Huskers could use a fullback along the lines of the departed Andra Franklin, who carried for 678 yards and, more important, blocked with vengeance for Redwine, Hipp and, oh yes, the kid on the third string. Running Back Coach Mike Corgan talks up senior Phil Bates as Franklin's heir apparent.

Craig's dreaming now as he stares at the ceiling: "Isn't it fun when the season rolls around? Big crowds give me chills." If Nebraska can get by Florida State and Penn State, and then ice Oklahoma, you can bet things will stay hot in Lincoln until New Year's Day.

8. ALABAMA

For 23 seasons Coach Paul Bryant has been the Bear in the air at Alabama football practices, directing the daily ebb and flow of the Crimson Tide from atop a 30-foot tower overlooking the team's practice field. From this distant remove, the Bear has cultivated an aura of flinty omniscience, not to mention a career record of 306-79-16. But last spring Bryant became so irritated at the Tide's often indifferent play that he came down from his tower and personally conducted a workout, just as he did in the old days. If the session proved little else, it showed that the Bear believes 'Bama has the talent to do a lot of things well, if not necessarily the will. "These kids have got to learn what it takes to be champions," says the 67-year-old Bryant. "If they don't realize that, we'll be embarrassed."

The only people likely to be embarrassed this year are Alabama's opponents. They have the unhappy task of facing a Tide squad that not only figures to be an improvement on last year's 10-2 Cotton Bowl champions, but also is loaded for Bear. Bryant is just nine victories short of breaking Amos Alonzo Stagg's mark of 314 career wins, the most in the history of the game. This year's squad would no doubt like to be the one to give Bryant the record, but the coach is soft-pedaling the subject. "I don't want our players trying to win games for me," he says. "I want us to get a positive attitude about football around here again."

The other side of that is, there's also no guarantee that 'Bama won't go undefeated. The big question is whether the Tide can generate enough offense to contend for a national championship. The backfield is full of speed, with Ken Simon, Jeff Fagan, Joe Carter and Linnie Patrick. The difficulty may be with the offensive line and at quarterback. In a spring scrimmage, the offense had the ball 17 times inside the 30-yard line and didn't score a TD. In the Tide's only losses last season—6-3 to Mississippi State and 7-0 to Notre Dame—it was the offense that failed, largely because there was no passing attack. This spring Bryant had his offense throwing more—often from unusual formations—and though the Tide will generally stick with its wishbone, there'll be some footballs in the Tuscaloosa air.

Whether those passes will be successful depends largely on the performance of junior Quarterback Ken Coley, who excited Alabama fans with his daring running as a substitute last season. When he finally got a chance to start against LSU, Coley led 'Bama to a touchdown on its first possession. But, on the Tide's second possession, he strained the motor nerve in his right hand and didn't play again all season. His fingers were paralyzed until February, when one day he awoke and found that mobility had returned. Sharing signal-calling duty with Coley will be sophomore Walter Lewis.

If Bryant can find replacements for ends E.J. Junior and Gary DeNiro and Linebacker Randy Scott, the defense might be even better than last year's, which at peak efficiency allowed only 25 points in eight games. The defense is anchored around senior Nose Guard Warren Lyles. Lyles grew up street-tough in Birmingham—"I had my first drink of wine at the age of five," he says, "then left it forever"—and decided he wanted to play for Alabama after Notre Dame defeated the Tide in the 1973 Sugar Bowl.

Alabama travels to three of its first four games, but among those only the opener at LSU threatens to be a struggle. Thereafter, there is a soft touch before every strong opponent, and Bryant has even scheduled open dates before Alabama's games with Penn State and Auburn. If all goes well and the Tide is undefeated when it faces Mississippi State on Oct. 31 in Tuscaloosa, Bryant will be going for career-win No. 315. "I don't know how long I'll keep going," Bryant says. "There might not be much of me left." Whatever, it should be more than enough.

9. UCLA

In a Westwood restaurant not long ago, UCLA junior Wide Receiver Cormac Carney—who last season led the Bruins in receptions with 33—was talking about the alleged pressures of his position. "So what if I fumble or drop a pass? Who'll remember in 20 years? I'd never shed a tear over losing, but I would if I knew I didn't try as hard as I could."

That spirit is omnipresent at UCLA, where everybody tries, where talent is deep and where patience runs deeper. Like when Homer Smith, the offensive coordinator, was diagraming on a chalkboard a play called "Pass 1-2 Pass." He asked a sleepy-eyed athlete if the play was a pass or a run. "Run," came the answer. Smith, a former West Point head coach who later studied at Harvard Divinity School, stayed calm. "That's pretty good," he said, "but let's back up just a little bit. What color is a brown dog?"