Notre Dame (page 88) is the only team mighty enough to make it
as an independent in the brave new world of college football.
Most everyone else craves the security guaranteed by membership
in a conference: shared revenue, a TV package and a possible
spot in a bowl game. After this season independent schools
Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, Southern Mississippi and Tulane
will become members of the new Conference USA.
Former Louisville coach Howard Schnellenberger, who bolted to
Oklahoma last December, left new coach Ron Cooper with the
makings of a potential Top 25 team. Cooper, 34, is the youngest
coach in Division I-A and one of only five blacks who coach I-A
schools. "We're going to win here, I guarantee that," says
Cooper. "It's time to take this program to the next level."
The players have been equally enthusiastic. "I'm looking at
winning 12 games, and I think that's realistic," says senior
quarterback Marty Lowe, who will play behind tackle Roman Oben,
a 6'5", 290-pound native of Cameroon and a potential first-round
NFL draft pick.
New Memphis coach Rip Scherer takes over a team that ranked
102nd nationally in total offense, had no runs from scrimmage
for more than 29 yards and passed for only four TDs last year.
Those numbers should improve with two newcomers: Qadry Anderson,
who passed for 34 TDs and 3,550 yards in two seasons at Laney
(Calif.) Junior College, and redshirt freshman tailback Shaun
Sands, a nephew of Dallas Cowboy receiver Michael Irvin.
Southern Mississippi has 10 starters returning from a defensive
unit that ranked No. 2 in interceptions in I-A, but the hot spot
is at quarterback, where a battle looms between returning
starter Heath Graham and Chris Windsor, the 1994 juco player of
Fan support is a major problem at Cincinnati. "What is not in
place," says second-year coach Rick Minter, "is a great fan
base, loyal support and a packed stadium." What is in place is a
daunting schedule that begins with Kansas, Kansas State and
Tulsa has an even tougher lineup, with games against Baylor,
Texas A&M and BYU. But with All-America candidate David Millwee
returning at center, the Golden Hurricane should improve on last
year's 3-8 record.
At Tulane, the best player returning from last year's 1-10 team
is junior Jeff Liggon, who set the NCAA record for
kickoff-return yardage (1,038) while the Wave's wave-'em-by D
gave up 37 TDs.
East Carolina has a noteworthy quarterback in junior Marcus
Crandell but opens against Tennessee and Syracuse. Northeast
Louisiana has receiver Stepfret Williams returning (100.6 yards
a game last year) but won't improve much on last year's 3-8
record. North Texas, playing its first year in I-A, may not even
Army won't fare any better, but if fullback Akili King and
quarterback Ronnie McAda stay healthy, the Cadets will beat
Navy--even though the Middies have Joe Speed at safety.
--William F. Reed
1. Notre Dame
4. Southern Mississippi
8. East Carolina
9. Northeast Louisiana
10. North Texas
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS If players like McAda stay healthy, Army will be a step ahead of Navy again. [Ronnie McAda in game]