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TOP 20

Although the game is facing major changes, at least one thing will remain constant: the preeminence of the Hurricanes and the Irish

15 BYU

College Football is changing so rapidly these days that before you reach the end of this story, the chances are good that three big-name coaches will have jumped to new schools, 49 outstanding juniors will have declared for the NFL draft and the Southeastern Conference will have added Hawaii to its new Pacific division. See what happens when Bo Schembechler retires? All hell breaks loose. Next thing you know, NBC will announce that, in order to strengthen two of its top programs, Lou Holtz and David Letterman will switch jobs.

All of this confusion makes it more difficult than usual to sort out the contenders for the national championship. Who knows if Michigan will still be Michigan under Gary Moeller? Or if Houston will continue to average a zillion points a game without Andre Ware? Or if Notre Dame has enough talent to handle a schedule that's as strong as NBC's prime-time lineup? There's so much uncertainty that the smart thing to do is declare that Miami, the defending champion, is No. 1 until some team proves otherwise.

It's possible, of course, that an Auburn or a Colorado or another team from a major conference could explode for a monster season. Possible, but not likely. It has been five years since a Big Eight team won the consensus championship (Oklahoma), 10 for the SEC (Georgia), 18 for the Pac 10 (Southern Cal), 21 for the Southwest (Texas) and—amazingly—22 for the proud Big Ten (Ohio State). So this season's rankings and bowl matchups are likely to revolve around two games: Florida State's Oct. 6 visit to Miami and the Hurricanes' Oct. 20 trip to South Bend for the game against Team Peacock.

At the end of last season, you may recall, Notre Dame and Florida State were the teams that protested the loudest when the national championship was awarded to Miami, the school's third title in seven years. In both cases the talk was sour grapes. Miami deserved the honor because it thoroughly outplayed Notre Dame 27-10, and because its only loss, 24-10 to Florida State, came when Hurricane quarterback Craig Erickson was out with a broken index finger.

Although no team has won back-to-back consensus titles since Oklahoma did it in 1955-56, Miami has the horses to win this season, a feat that would assure the Hurricanes a special place in the record book. Besides their national titles in 1983, '87 and '89, the Hurricanes were the national runners-up in 1986 and '88, which means that the Miami dynasty is comparable to those of Notre Dame and Army in the 1940s, Oklahoma in the early '50s and Alabama in the early '60s.

Unlike last season's team, which was built around the nation's most intimidating defense, the 1990 Hurricanes will try to live up to their nickname offensively. Although a starter for less than a season, Erickson has thrown 24 touchdown passes; this season—out of Miami's one-back set—he will throw even more often, mainly to big-play receivers Wesley Carroll and Randal Hill.

On defense, Miami will blitz more and implement more man-to-man coverage to compensate for the departure of four linemen. However, defensive tackle Russell Maryland, who is so valuable that coach Dennis Erickson asked him to sit out spring practice rather than risk an injury (Maryland refused), and outside linebacker Maurice Crum (page 67), the team's leading tackler for the past two seasons, are still around to raise cane, Miami-style.

At Notre Dame, on the other hand, the emphasis will be on defense. Or, as Coach Holtz told a Quarterback Club audience last spring, "Next fall, if you are inclined to go to the rest room or buy a hot dog, do it when we have the ball and you won't miss a thing." Replacing Tony Rice at quarterback will be sophomore Rick Mirer, a stand-up-and-throw type who should be feeling lots of pressure now that his backup, Jake Kelchner, has been tossed out of school for academic reasons.

Mirer is nowhere near the running threat that Rice was, but he's such a promising passer that some people are making early comparisons with an Irish alum named Joe Montana. Mirer's adjustment will be eased by such talented receivers as Raghib (Rocket) Ismail and tight end Derek Brown. The swift Ismail will also operate out of the backfield, as will Ricky Watters, who averaged 6.7 yards a carry last season after playing flanker the previous year. Tailback Tony Brooks, defensive tackle George (Boo) Williams and linebacker Michael Stonebreaker—all of whom missed last season because of off-the-field problems—are back in good standing. By winning the most valuable defensive player award in the spring game, Stonebreaker proved that he has recovered from hip and knee injuries suffered in a February 1989 car accident.

While Notre Dame will play another killer schedule, which includes eight bowl teams—too bad for NBC that its $38 million deal to carry all the Irish home games doesn't go into effect until 1991—Florida State opens with four cream puffs: East Carolina, Georgia Southern, Tulane and Virginia Tech. Coach Bobby Bowden's team won't be tested until October, when it plays Miami and Auburn on the road. Before spring practice began, the replacement for Peter Tom Willis, the quarterback who was one of last season's biggest surprises, figured to be junior Casey Weldon. But one of his classmates, 6'6" junior Brad Johnson, a reserve on the Seminoles' basketball team the last two seasons, wound up winning the job.

The Seminoles' most interesting receiver is tight end Dave Roberts, who has already earned his B.A. and is working toward a masters in communications. Roberts is also a rock guitarist who formed a band known as Oooz and Oz. Amp Lee sounds like a piece of equipment for Roberts's band, but he is, in fact, a tailback who gained 290 yards on 61 carries last season. Lee and Chris Parker, whose 6'2", 221-pound frame invites comparison with ex-Seminole star Sammie Smith's, will share the position.

Florida State's best lineman is offensive guard Hayward Haynes, who can carry his 278 pounds over a 40-yard distance in 4.77 seconds, though Carl Simpson, a sophomore defensive tackle who played tight end last season, blossomed in the spring. Linebacker Kirk Carruthers, a contender for the Butkus Award, is back, and at cornerback the Seminoles have another Deion Sanders, sans the jewelry, in Terrell Buckley. Asked how many interceptions he would get in the spring game, Buckley said, "However many they throw over here, divide by two." He picked off one and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown.

Like Bowden, Auburn's Pat Dye never seems to run out of talent. The Tigers are shy eight starters and a placekicker from last season's 10-2 team, which won a share of the SEC title (with Alabama and Tennessee) for the third straight year, but so what? The defense, according to senior tackle David Rocker, "will be the best of any of the four I've played on." That's saying a lot, since last season's unit was ranked sixth in the nation. The offense will pull its weight, too, even without Reggie Slack, who finished his career as Auburn's second-ranked passer. The Tigers have three outstanding runners in James Joseph, Stacy Danley and Darrell (Lectron) Williams, who will all enjoy darting through holes opened by Ed King, the 6'4", 284-pound junior guard who will probably leave after this season for the pros.

Auburn even has its own Fridge, Walter Tate, a 6'2", 306-pound noseguard who carried the ball twice for seven yards in the spring game. The crowd loved it more than Tate, who later said, "I don't want to ever be a ballcarrier after today. What I did will get you killed in the SEC."

At Michigan what might get you killed—well, at least fired—is not measuring up to the record achieved by Schembechler in his 21-year career at Ann Arbor. Moeller's first Michigan team will have a typically stingy defense—Moeller was the Wolverine defensive coordinator from 1973 to '76 and from '82 to '86—led by strong safety Tripp Welborne. The offense, though, will have a somewhat different look. "We have to throw more, with the type of quarterback we have," says Moeller, referring mainly to Elvis Grbac, who was 4-0 as a starter last season while Michael Taylor was out with an injury. Under Moeller, Grbac—who, for the last time, was not named for You Know Who—hopes to get opposing defenses all shook up by passing at least 25 times a game.

Understand, however, that the Wolverines aren't quite ready to install the run-and-shoot. Their main weapon, as always, will be the run, which is wise considering that, though Tony Boles has been lost to poor grades, they have three fine tailbacks—Allen Jefferson, Dennis Washington and Jon Vaughn—to follow the blocking of Greg Skrepenak, the 6'6", 322-pound strongside tackle. And if any of those rushers falls by the wayside, Moeller can turn to Ricky Powers, a freshman from Akron who was ranked as one of the nation's best prospects.

At Tennessee, the Volunteers should come a lot closer to duplicating last season's 11-1 record than their 5-6 of 1988. Coach Johnny Majors has his top two quarterbacks, two of his top three receivers, four of his five leading tacklers and three of his top four rushers returning. In addition, Majors offset his meager losses by signing nine junior college players, three of them All-Americas.

The Vols have never before had players quite like tailback Chuck Webb, who gained 1,236 yards and scored 12 touchdowns in '89 despite not starting until the sixth game, or Carl Pickens, a two-way threat who caught seven passes as a wide receiver and intercepted four as a free safety. So it's understandable that national-championship talk is being heard around Knoxville. "I feel it's in the back of everybody's mind," says fullback Greg Amsler. However, the schedule may not cooperate: The Vols, who tied Colorado 31-31 on Sunday, play Auburn on the road and host both Notre Dame and Alabama in Knoxville.

The Buffaloes, unbeaten last season until their 21-6 loss to Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, could make another run at the national title. This season's team slogan is Can You Trust Me? Explains Colorado quarterback Darian Hagan, "Each individual has to ask himself if he can be trusted in a critical situation. In turn, can everyone on our team rely on each individual?"

The answer should be yes, at least in the cases of Hagan, who became the sixth player to both rush and pass for at least 1,000 yards in the same season; tailback Eric Bieniemy, who needs only 647 yards to surpass Charlie Davis (who played for Colorado from 1971 to '73) and become the top rusher in Colorado history; guard Joe Garten, a 6'3", 280-pound All-America who will become the school's first four-year starter; outside linebackers Kanavis McGhee and Alfred Williams, the twin terrors from Houston; and punter Tom Rouen, who last year led the nation with a 45.9 average. As far as sophomore linebacker Chad Brown is concerned, his teammates can only hope he can be trusted to keep his pets, three pythons, two boa constrictors, six other snakes and four lizards, at home.

Snakebit is probably how Southern Cal coach Larry Smith felt after defensive back Mark Carrier and linebacker Junior Seau each gave up his final year of eligibility to sign a fat pro contract. Their exits left the Trojans with only seven returning starters and their most inexperienced team in at least 25 years. And the Trojans will not be able to build early confidence against a bunch of nonconference patsies; they open with Syracuse, Penn State, Washington and Ohio State—all but Penn State on the road.

Still, Southern Cal always finds a way to a bowl game, usually the one in Pasadena. In quarterback Todd Marinovich (page 48) and tailback Ricky Ervins, the Trojans have the key elements of an attack that ranked eighth nationally in total offense last season. The defense will be anchored by linebacker Scott Ross and noseguard Gene Fruge, the only returning starters. "You look around and see all that inexperience and you realize what a challenge this is going to be," says Smith. "But I like challenges. This is fun."

Fun? If playing Southern Cal's schedule is fun, then playing Nebraska's must be a veritable Disney World. Sorry to harp on this, but the Huskers just can't be taken seriously as national title contenders until they beef up a nonconference schedule that this season includes Baylor, Northern Illinois, Minnesota and Oregon State. The only suspense will come when Nebraska plays Colorado on Nov. 3, and the Huskers get that one in Lincoln.

Only two starters return on offense, but don't be deceived. The Huskers suited up 163 players for their spring game, and among them are a lot of guys who can catch, run and throw. Mike Grant and Mickey Joseph will share quarterback early in the season, and junior Tim Johnk will start at fullback. One preseason practice casualty was wing-back Nate Turner, who broke his collarbone and will be out at least three weeks. The defense is so tough—seven starters, including strong safety Reggie Cooper and linebacker Pat Tyrance, preseason All-Americas, return from a unit that ranked eighth nationally in '89—that the Huskers won't need to score that much. The I-back job belongs to Leodis Flowers, who gained 493 yards last season as a backup, with 7.5 yards per carry.

Unlike Nebraska, Alabama has a schedule that will enable new coach Gene Stallings to moan every bit as much as did his mentor, the late Paul (Bear) Bryant, who never saw a schedule he didn't loathe. After a relatively easy opener, against Southern Mississippi, the Tide plays Florida at home and then Georgia on the road. Down the line are toughies against Tennessee and Auburn. Stallings will need a lot of breaks to match the 10-2 record that Bill Curry forged last season before he got fed up with the constant criticism and bolted for Kentucky. Curry didn't leave the 'Bama cupboard bare. On offense, the returnees include quarterback Gary Hollingsworth and two players who are among the best in the nation at their positions, tailback Siran Stacy and tight end Lamonde Russell. The entire line returns, as well. And the defense might not miss linebacker Keith McCants if Antonio London and Derrick Oden fulfill their vast promise.

Arkansas has a lot of question marks, and as coach Jack Crowe puts it, "The biggest one may be about their new coach." Crowe replaces Ken Hatfield, who moved to Clemson after going 55-17-1 in six years at his alma mater and winning back-to-back SWC championships the last two seasons. Of 11 starters returning from last season's Cotton Bowl team, the most important is Quinn Grovey, who may be the nation's best unknown quarterback. Last spring Grovey said, "This is it. I'm going for it. All-America, Heisman, everything." For that to happen, the Razorbacks will have to go 11-0 and get some TV exposure.

If Michigan falters in the Big Ten, the teams most likely to pick up the pieces are Illinois and Ohio State. Though the Illini have lost quarterback Jeff George, who became the No. I pick in the NFL draft after giving up his final year of eligibility, they still have one of the nation's best all-around backs, fullback Howard Griffith, and a strong defense, led by nosetackle Moe Gardner. Illinois opens the conference season on Oct. 6 at Ohio State, whose hopes depend on how its young offensive line develops. Buckeye quarterback Greg Frey has two fine receivers in flanker Jeff Graham and tight end Jeff" Ellis, along with a bruising runner in Scottie Graham (page 70). On defense, the Buckeyes will depend mainly on end Alonzo Spellman and linebacker Steve Tovar, both of whom are sophomores.

The departure of tailback Blair Thomas—a first-round draft pick of the New York Jets—would figure to make Penn State coach Joe Paterno a doubting Thomas, except that Paterno still has Willie Thomas at free safety and Tisen Thomas at corner-back, giving the Nittany Lions plenty of speed in the secondary. There's no Thomas to replace Blair in the offensive backfield, but there is a Thompson, Leroy, who will move from fullback to tailback. However, to cope with a road schedule that includes Southern Cal, Alabama and Notre Dame, Penn State will need a big season from erratic quarterback Tony Sacca.

At Brigham Young, naturally, quarterback is the least of coach La Veil Edwards's worries. Junior Ty Detmer, who has thrown for 5,812 yards and 45 touchdowns in two seasons, is such a treasure that Edwards put him off-limits to tacklers during spring practice. Detmer and tight end Chris Smith will form one of the nation's most formidable aerial combinations. To shore up the defense—remember BYU's 50-39 loss to Penn State in the Holiday Bowl?—Edwards has spent a lot of time consulting with the San Francisco 49ers.

Clemson fans who were unhappy over coach Danny Ford's departure might not notice he's gone, because new coach Hatfield also believes in a ball-control offense and an aggressive defense. When the Tigers travel to Virginia on Sept. 8 for what could be the ACC's decisive game, fans should get a kick out of watching the Tigers' unyielding defense, led by linebackers Ed McDaniel. Doug Brewster and Levon Kirkland and safety Robert O'Neal, go against Virginia's Moore-to-Moore combination. Quarterback Shawn had more than 2.500 yards in total offense last season, and wide receiver Herman had a school-record 10 touchdown catches.

Michigan State's hopes hinge on quarterback Dan Enos, who threw for 2,006 yards last season, and receiver Courtney Hawkins, who used his blazing speed for 60 receptions and 1,080 yards as a sophomore, both school records. Nevertheless, the Spartans' hopes of representing the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl aren't nearly as bright as Washington's of representing the Pac 10. The best example of the Huskies' new emphasis on speed is redshirt freshman linebackers Andy Mason and Hillary Butler. "Me and Hillary are ahead of the times," Mason says. "We're the year 2000." Which, of course, is one reason the Pullman media call them the Hot Dawgs.

The city of Fresno, Calif., doesn't get a lot of respect: Several years ago, a report on the nation's cities called it the worst place to live in the entire U.S., and though Fresno State has gone 21-3 over the past two seasons, with back-to-back wins in the California Bowl, no one seems to take the team seriously. Well, the Bulldogs can no longer be ignored. Sure, the Big West is not the SEC, but all this program needs is a little network exposure so everyone can see that it's a big-time team. Quarterback Mark Barsotti, who passed for 1,741 yards and 14 touchdowns in 1989, is a real find for the Bulldogs, and tailback Aaron Craver, who rushed for 1,248 yards last season, is one of the most exciting runners in the country.