Duke could surprise North Carolina and Maryland and win the ACC largely because of Quarterback Ben Bennett. The No. 5 passer in the country a year ago, Bennett has earned himself a reputation as something of a wise guy. He was only nine when he started telling his Pop Warner teammates. "Look at me, I'm Joe Willie," and he still says that Namath "is everything I ever wanted to be." When Bennett, a senior, arrived in Durham, he listed his hobbies as "wild women and fast cars" and bought himself a cream-colored 1978 Corvette just in case anybody missed the point. "I was a pain in the butt," says Bennett, "because I had fun." Last year Bennett completed 236 of his 374 passes for 3,033 yards and 20 touchdowns while throwing only 12 interceptions. Duke has a new coach, Steve Sloan, who came from Ole Miss, but he doesn't plan to tinker much with the Blue Devils' wide-open offense. With just minor improvement in the defense, which gave up 420.2 yards a game last year, Duke could easily get its first bowl bid in 23 years.
Clemson is riding a nine-game winning streak and probably won't have much difficulty coming up with solid replacements for 13 departed starters, but it doesn't matter. The Tigers are still on NCAA probation and are ineligible for the ACC title. Wake Forest is deploying such halftime and postgame attractions as Bob Hope, the Four Tops, the Temptations, Tanya Tucker and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders to help fill Groves Stadium this fall, which may be good planning. The Demon Deacons lost all six ACC games in '82 and finished last in five of eight statistical categories, most notably total defense, allowing 449.3 yards per game. Wake Forest's hopes for success hinge on Quarterback Gary Schofield, who has thrown for 4,952 yards in two years.
Georgia Tech has come a long way in Bill Curry's three years as coach, but the Yellow Jackets still aren't durable enough or talented enough to survive a lineup of SEC opponents that's tougher than any SEC team's conference schedule. Tech meets Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia in addition to its ACC foes. The Yellow Jackets' attack features Robert Lavette, who led the ACC in rushing last year with 1,208 yards, scored 19 TDs and caught 25 passes.
Virginia is on the move under second-year Coach George Welsh, but he'll be lucky to win four games. One of those victories should come at North Carolina State, whose new coach, Tom Reed, stopped the spring game in the fourth quarter because he thought it was "dull and boring."
This year will make or break Missouri Coach Warren Powers. Last season the Tigers led the Big Eight in pass offense and the nation in pass defense, but their record was only 5-4-2, not good enough to keep the alums quiet. The Tigers finished sixth in the conference in rushing, averaging only 2.9 yards per carry, and attendance fell by 9,690 fans a game to an average of 52,097. Feeling the heat, Powers has brought in five new assistants and ditched the slotback formation in favor of the I. Rumor is that Powers must win at least seven games to keep his job. Seven home dates should help.
Oklahoma State Coach Jimmy Johnson has made changes, too. He has hired four new assistants, reassigned two others and switched from a drop-back pass offense to play-action passes. One old Cowboy face that still looks good is Ernest Anderson, who led the nation in rushing last year with 1,877 yards on 353 carries, an average of 170.6 yards per game.
Iowa State is also undergoing a face-lift. New Coach Jim Criner, who had a 59-21-1 record in seven years at Division 1-AA Boise State, inherits only 10 starters and the November Jinx—the Cyclones haven't won a game in that month in three years. Criner promises multiple formations to make better use of Quarterback David Archer, who threw for 1,465 yards and five TDs in '82.
Kansas State has vacancies everywhere, and 34 redshirts looking for jobs. As for Colorado, second-year Coach Bill McCartney needs another good recruiting year or two to clean up the mess left by Chuck Fairbanks. Kansas has more troubles than all the other Big Eight teams put together. Offensive Tackle Renwick Atkins pleaded guilty this spring to robbery charges and is on probation for three years; Quarterback Frank Seurer's father, who had moved to Lawrence from Huntington Beach, Calif. to be near his son, was found stabbed to death a month ago outside his restaurant; and the NCAA's longtime investigation of Kansas for recruiting violations hangs over the Jayhawks like a storm cloud. So top priority for first-year Coach Mike Gottfried is to improve morale.
All-America Quarterback Champaign Tony Eason, who set or tied nine NCAA records in 1982, has left Illinois for the New England Patriots, but have no fear, Illini, Mike (Magician) White is still around. In three years as IIlinois's coach. White has demonstrated a knack for pulling gifted quarterbacks out of his hat—first Dave Wilson, now a New Orleans Saint, and then Eason. At Cal, White produced Steve Bartkowski and the late Joe Roth. And before that, as a Stanford assistant, White coached Jim Plunkett. This season White has three potential stars—Jack Trudeau, Ken Cruz and Kris Jenner—from which to choose. White's not saying who will be the toast of Champaign this year, but he is saying, "He'll be better than Tony Eason." Order a magnum.
Northwestern Coach Dennis Green has 'em bubbling over in Evanston, too. Last season the Wildcats ended their 34-game losing streak, almost beat Ohio State and, believe it or not, actually had a player picked fourth in the NFL draft, Offensive Tackle Chris Hinton. Northwestern should keep improving. Quarterback Sandy Schwab, who hit 234 of 416 passes for 2,735 yards and 14 touchdowns last fall, setting three NCAA freshman records, heads a cast of 18 returning starters. Order two magnums.
Last season Dave McClain accomplished something no Wisconsin coach had ever done: He led the Badgers to victory in postseason play, a 14-3 defeat of Kansas State in the Independence Bowl. Quarterback Randy Wright (a transfer from Notre Dame), three veteran pass catchers and 26 redshirts carry Wisconsin's hopes in '83.
Purdue returns Quarterback Scott Campbell, who in three seasons has completed 426 of 755 passes for 5,605 yards and 33 touchdowns, running backs Mel Gray and Rodney Carter and a crew of first-rate receivers. But the Boilermakers have a brutal schedule. After opening at home against Notre Dame, Purdue must play Miami, Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan on the road.
Cross off Minnesota. After winning their first three games in '82, the Gophers lost eight straight. Even Coach Joe Salem's kid, Tim, the starting quarterback in 1980, has packed his bags and headed for Arizona State.
Indiana and Michigan State will continue to struggle as well, but with new hands at the helm. Sam Wyche, who had been the San Francisco 49ers' quarterback coach, takes over in Bloomington, while George Perles, former assistant head coach of the Steelers, returns to Michigan State, his alma mater. Quipped Wyche after signing on, "It's a 19-year contract." In Hoosierville, where basketball is king and the hoops coach is a Knight, that might not be long enough.
As a freshman at Bowling Green last year, 6'6", 200-pound Brian McClure led the conference in passing efficiency, completing 113 of 176 throws for 1,391 yards and eight TDs. If Coach Denny Stolz can find some halfbacks and receivers, the Falcons should repeat as champions. In 1982, Western Michigan put together its best record since 1941, when the Broncos were undefeated. The Bronco defense, headed by returning Linebacker John Offerdahl (149 tackles last fall), yielded fewer points—7.1 per game—than any Division I-A or I-AA team in the country.
Ohio returns all but one member of the offensive and defensive lines and Donny Harrison, who last year threw for 1,308 yards and ran for another 341. Before undergoing knee surgery in 1981, Toledo's Jim Kelso was an option-style quarterback. Last year Kelso's mobility was reduced, so he became a drop-back passer—and led the conference in total offense. Mobile now, Kelso will again be an option quarterback. Central Michigan will rely on Curtis Adams, who ran for 1,090 yards in '82 and was named the Mid-American's Offensive Player of the Year.
Ball State and Northern Illinois suffered unexpected losses. Cardinal Quarterback Jerry Eakle, who won the starting job last year at midseason, quit the team. At Northern Illinois, Peter Roth, whose 1,008 yards on the ground was the reason the Huskies led the Mid-American in rushing in '82, was recently declared academically ineligible.
The conference has three new coaches. Jim Harkema, fresh from Grand Valley State in Allendale, Mich., will try to work miracles at Eastern Michigan, winner of a total of seven games the past five years. Last season Harkema's team threw for 2,395 yards, and he promises to air things out in Ypsilanti. Dick Scesniak, most recently the offensive line coach at Wisconsin, takes over at Kent State. The Golden Flashes averaged a mere 61.5 yards per game on the ground last fall and scored only 114 points. Tim Rose moves up from defensive coordinator to the top job at Miami of Ohio, where he can look forward to the opening of 25,183-seat Fred C. Yager Stadium.
"If we go 10-1 and don't get a bowl bid," said Tulsa Coach John Cooper late last season, "they ought to close the bowls." The Golden Hurricane did wind up 10-1 (losing only to Arkansas) and indeed was passed over at bowl time. That's just one of the indignities the Missouri Valley has suffered in the last year. In March, New Mexico State announced it was moving to the PCAA. Then in July Wichita State lost its Division I-A status when an internal audit revealed that Cessna Stadium is 154 seats short of the 30,000 minimum. The Shockers are also on NCAA probation for recruiting violations, but they are still the best in the conference. Wichita State, which is coming off its best season in 21 years, returns 16 starters, including 6'7", 265-pound Defensive Tackle James Geathers and Eric Denson, the leading freshman rusher in the nation (988 yards) last year.
Tulsa, the Missouri Valley's only Division I-A team at the moment, returns most of its defense but only one key offensive player, Halfback Michael Gunter, who averaged 133.1 yards a game and 7.5 yards a carry in '82. Southern Illinois retains eight starters from the conference's best defense in '82 and another seven on offense, including 2,119-yard passer Rick Johnson. Drake, on the other hand, returns almost nobody.
Elsewhere in the Valley, Illinois State keeps 21 of 22 starters, including I-AA All-America Safety Mike Prior, who intercepted eight passes in '82. West Texas State, the No. 1 passing team in I-AA a year ago, has a new quarterback, junior David Harbin, but the ball will stay in the air. The best defensive player in the conference is 6'4", 220-pound Indiana State End Ed Martin, who made 121 tackles last year, 15 of them for losses.
How do you keep going after you've lost the NFL's No. 1 draft choice, Quarterback John Elway; the nation's leading pass catcher, Halfback Vincent White; the conference's premier tight end, Chris Dressel; and your top three rushers and top three blockers? If you're Stanford, you recruit the country's best high school quarterback, John Paye, a three-sport star from nearby Menlo Park who hit 555 of 930 passes for 7,646 yards during his schoolboy career. Further, if you're Coach Paul Wiggin and know your job is on the line, you field a respectable defensive unit for a change. To that end, Wiggin will switch from a 3-4 alignment to a 4-3.
"Don James doesn't rebuild, he just reloads," says Al Roberts, a former Washington assistant who's now with the USFL's L.A. Express. Well, James had better round up all the ammo he can find. The Huskies, who wound up in everyone's Top 10 last year, lost 16 starters. Another problem is the schedule. Replacing Texas-El Paso and San Diego State are Michigan and LSU. Washington will rely heavily on Tailback Jacque Robinson, who led the Pac-10 in rushing last year (926 yards) despite being hampered by injuries through the first five games.
Look for Arizona State to be involved in a lot of shoot-outs. The Sun Devils return their entire offensive backfield, a large, veteran offensive line and Luis Zendejas, the nation's best placekicker. Gone, however, is most of the "Cactus Crunch" defense, which last season was the stingiest in the country. It gave up just 228.9 yards per game and had 49 sacks.
Last year, his first at Cal, Coach Joe Kapp took a team that finished 2-9 in 1981 and turned it into a 7-4 club. But he has lost most of his first-stringers on the offensive and defensive lines as well as his leading wide receivers and running backs. The Bears' best player is David Lewis, who caught 54 passes, the most ever by a Pac-10 tight end.
Washington State will be one-dimensional this season—eight defensive starters are back but the offense is very green. Oregon can't be any worse than it was in '82, when the team produced just 11 touchdowns, converted only eight of 22 field-goal attempts, scored more than 13 points in only one game and had just one healthy running back. Or could it? With a mere two first-stringers returning on defense and a quarterback who threw for only 393 yards last year, the Ducks should lay another egg in Eugene.
The situation is just as bad at Oregon State, where folks are fast losing patience with Coach Joe Avezzano, who has lost 30 of 33 games in his three seasons. Though the Beavers have brought in perhaps their best recruiting class in 15 years, they'll still edge Oregon once again for last place in the Pac-10.
"I talked to a lot of coaches and decided my dad was smarter than all of them," says Fresno State Quarterback Kevin Sweeney. So Sweeney spurned offers from big-time schools and stayed at home to play for his father, Jim. Redshirted last season as a freshman, Kevin takes over in '83, but two Sweeneys may not be enough for the Bulldogs. Thirteen starters are gone, including Jeff Tedford, who threw for 2,993 yards last year, and Henry Ellard, who caught 62 passes and was the Rams' second-round draft pick.
Though San Jose State beat Stanford in 1982 for the second year in a row, the Spartans later suffered disappointing losses to Cal, Long Beach State and Fresno State. Coach Jack El-way has 22 J.C. transfers and 20 redshirts, and he'll need all of them. Replacing Cornerback Gill Byrd, a first-round choice of the Chargers, and Quarterback Steve Clarkson may prove to be a daunting task.
The team to beat in the PCAA is Long Beach State. After a 1-3 start in '82, the 49ers won their last four games. The reason: Quarterback Todd Dillon, who for the season threw for 3,517 yards and ran for another 70. His 3,587-yard total has been exceeded only once in NCAA history, by BYU's Jim McMahon, who accounted for 4,627 in 1980. Dillon's targets include five players who caught 20 or more passes last fall.
Utah State had a 5-2 record and an upset win over BYU to its credit when injuries struck; the Aggies lost their last four games. For '83 they have a new coach, Chris Pella, who was promoted from assistant after Bruce Snyder left to coach the Rams' running backs, and a new quarterback, BYU transfer Gym Kimball. Pacific also has a new coach, former Assistant Bob Cope, but otherwise the Tigers haven't changed much. Paul Berner, who threw for 2,586 yards last fall and Tight End Tony Camp, who had 48 catches, return, but the defense may be as porous as it was in '82, when the Tigers yielded 33 points a game.
The quarterbacks at both Nevada-Las Vegas and Cal State-Fullerton are brothers of former USC running backs. At Nevada-Las Vegas, junior Randall Cunningham (brother of Sam Bam) threw for 2,847 yards and punted for a 45.7-yard average in 1982. At Cal State-Fullerton, Damon Allen (brother of Marcus) became the starter after one quarterback quit the team to play baseball and another transferred to Iowa State because he didn't think the Titans—who've had nine losing seasons in a row—would ever win.
It has been six years since Johnny Majors took over at Tennessee. Despite worlds of talent, the Volunteers have yet to come up with a big season under Majors. Once again he has all kinds of gifted athletes, starting with the finest kicking duo in the nation. Last season Fuad Reveiz hit 27 of 31 field-goal attempts, including eight of 10 from 50 yards and beyond, and Jimmy Colquitt, a prized two-step punter, averaged 46.9 yards a boot to rank second in the nation and break the school record of 45.0 held by his uncle, Craig, now with the Steelers. The offense will miss Split End Willie Gault, who passed up a shot at the U.S. Olympic team as a sprinter and hurdler to sign a four-year, $1.8 million contract with the Bears. Tennessee still has Alan Cockrell, who last year threw for 2,021 yards, two proven tailbacks in Chuck Coleman and Johnnie Jones, and a nasty offensive line. What's needed is some smart coaching by new Defensive Coordinator Larry Marmie to help the Vols cut down on the 415.7 yards per game they allowed in 1982.
Vanderbilt's big season came a year earlier than Coach George MacIntyre had expected, as the Smorgasbord Offense—a little bit of everything—helped the Commodores to their best record since 1955. It also landed Offensive Coordinator Watson Brown the head job at Cincinnati. The departure of Brown, Quarterback Whit Taylor and Tight End Allama Matthews is bad news. But Vanderbilt keeps eight defensive starters, including Cornerback Leonard Coleman, who last year led the "men of steal" with eight interceptions, and a quarterback, Kurt Page, who came off the bench to put 14 points on the board in a near upset at Alabama.
Florida, led by 70% passer Wayne Peace and All-America Linebacker Wilber Marshall, should be getting set for a banner year, but the Gators' program is on the verge of ruin because of a flood of allegations and an NCAA inquiry into a players' ticket-scalping scheme, alleged recruiting violations and academic improprieties.
Mississippi State faces a rebuilding job on offense and one of the nation's toughest schedules. The Bulldogs' bright spot is wishbone artist John Bond, who last year threw for 1,591 yards and ran for 609. Billy Brewer takes over for Steve Sloan as coach at Ole Miss, but bad may get worse. The Rebels, who did not win a single SEC game in '82, lost their top three scorers, most of their offensive line and several key defenders. The only note of optimism for Coach Jerry Claiborne following Kentucky's first winless season ever is that the Wildcats start the year with Central Michigan, Kansas State, Indiana and Tulane before moving into the SEC meat grinder.
At Southern Methodist the difficulties only begin with the loss of Pony Express tailbacks Eric Dickerson and Craig James. The defense returns just three starters, including Nose-guard Michael Carter, who in mid-August decided not to forgo his senior football season to concentrate on making the Olympic team as a shotputter. The Mustangs' biggest worry is that they could be placed on probation for the second time in three years; the NCAA has been looking into possible recruiting violations by Pony boosters.
"The problem when I came in was that the players believed my arrival alone put them up here," says Jackie Sherrill, Texas A&M's $267,000-a-year-plus-perks coach, holding a palm at eye level. "Actually, they were here," he says, lowering his hand to stomach height. The Aggies will benefit from the arrival of southpaw Quarterback John Mazur, who transferred from Southern Cal after he lost the starting job there to Sean Salisbury, and the finest recruiting class—22 of the top 100 schoolboys in Texas—in the state. The Aggies won't reach the level of Sherrill's eyes until 1984 or '85, but this season they should approach his chin.
Arkansas lost nine first-stringers on offense and five on defense, including three All-Conference offensive linemen, Halfback Gary Anderson, All-America Defensive Lineman Billy Ray Smith and All-SWC Cornerback Danny Walters. Like many of his peers, Coach Lou Holtz has switched to the I formation. The Hogs tried it in the Bluebonnet Bowl and, says former veer-devotee Holtz, "The movie looked like a highlight film."
Baylor also has converted to the I. The Bears want to make better use of Halfback Alfred Anderson and of Gerald McNeil, the conference's top receiver. Though only 5'7" and 135 pounds, McNeil caught 52 passes for a 15.8-yard average in '82. Houston had five shots at Top 20 teams last year and lost them all. Quarterback Lionel Wilson is back after slipping from-nine touchdown throws and 11 interceptions in 1981 to five and 13, respectively, last fall. TCU's hopes rest with new Coach Jim Wacker, who won the Division II title at Southwest Texas State in 1981 and '82, while Rice's lie with the team doctor. Fifteen Owls, most of them suffering from knee injuries, have undergone surgery since last season, when Rice had nary a win nor a tie for the first time ever.
Brigham Young, which has won seven consecutive WAC championships, should keep its streak alive for at least one more season—until senior Quarterback Steve Young graduates. Besides being the great-great-great-grandson of the Mormon pioneer after whom BYU is named, Young is one of the finest passers in the nation. Would you expect anything less from a school that has turned out Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson and Jim McMahon, all of whom are now playing in the NFL? Last season Young, the WAC Offensive Player of the Year, completed 62.7% of his throws for 3,100 yards and 18 touchdowns. Young's favorite target will be Tight End Gordon Hudson, a consensus All-America who caught 67 passes in 1982—the same number he caught in 1981.
Defensive End Jimmie Carter, who hails from Reagan High in Austin, is only the vice-president of New Mexico's defense. Linebacker Johnny Jackson (15 sacks in 1982) is the president. The man behind this blitz-crazy bunch is first-year Coach Joe Lee Dunn, the former Lobo defensive coordinator who took over the top job just 24 hours after Joe Morrison left for South Carolina in December. New Mexico averaged 34 points per game in '82, and with quarterbacks Buddy Funck and Todd Williamson back to run the Lobos' veer attack, it should be even more explosive and wide open than in '82.
Last season was most satisfying for Air Force. The Falcons beat Notre Dame for the first time, won their first bowl game (over Vanderbilt in the Hall of Fame) and received the Commander-in-Chiefs Trophy for winning the round robin among the three service academies. This fall could be just as fulfilling. Quarterback Marty Louthan, who rushed for 796 yards in '82 and completed 50% of his passes, returns, as does All-Conference Fullback John Kershner. He ran for 1,056 yards on 226 carries.
San Diego State is probably a year away from winning the WAC title, but Coach Doug Scovil's Aztecs will keep the ball in the air. Mark McKay, who hit 57% of 250 passes for 1,985 yards last fall, has two strong receivers in Jim Sandusky and Tight End Jeff Speck. Hawaii's longest suit is its schedule: eight home games and no BYU. The Rainbows' best players are Middle Linebacker Falaniko Noga, who runs a 4.6 40, bench-presses 460 pounds and has a 34-inch vertical leap, and Wide Receiver Walter Murray, who does a 4.4 40 and holds the national high school record in the 300-meter low hurdles (35.79).
Colorado State, Wyoming, Utah and Texas-El Paso will be along for the ride. Colorado State has 18 starters back—but nobody special except Middle Linebacker Jeff Harper. Wyoming couldn't find a quarterback to run its wishbone last season and is still searching. Utah lost Tailback Carl Monroe (1,507 yards in '82) to graduation and Quarterback Ken Vierra to Maryland. Texas-El Paso Coach Bill Yung had a super recruiting year, but the Miners, 14-100 over the last decade, will need several more years of the same to create a winning program.
When he arrived at Duke, Bennett thought he was the hottest dude since Joe Willie.
James doesn't rebuild the Huskies; he just reloads.
A menagerie of fierce foes will prey on Mississippi State.
Surgical knees could well ground the Owls.