The once proud Southwest Conference will deliver its swan song
this season, after which its teams will disperse to other
leagues. Texas A&M, Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor will join with
the Big Eight schools to form the Big 12; Rice, TCU and SMU will
hook up with the Western Athletic Conference; and Houston will
become a member of the new Conference USA.
The SWC will be remembered for such stars as Davey O'Brien,
Bobby Layne, Doak Walker, Kyle Rote and Earl Campbell. It will
also be remembered for excesses--coaches and boosters so hungry
for victory that in the 1980s, every school except Rice was
found guilty of NCAA rules violations.
The SWC's farewell season doesn't figure to look a lot different
from last year. After Texas A&M (page 64) and Texas (page 110),
the talent level drops off appreciably. The best of the rest
figures to be Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have a budding star in
sophomore quarterback Zebbie Lethridge--is that a great SWC
football name or what?--but he may not approach last season's
numbers (he broke virtually every school freshman scoring and
passing record) because of a fairly inexperienced line.
The Tech D, which ranked third in pass-defense efficiency last
season, will be spearheaded by Zach Thomas, a senior linebacker
from Pampa, Texas, who was last season's consensus SWC Defensive
Player of the Year.
At TCU, enthusiasm is building: The team averaged 37,074 fans
last fall--up 42.5% from 1993. Who wouldn't get excited by senior
quarterback Max Knake and senior tailback Andre Davis,
co-winners of the league's 1994 Offensive Player of the Year
award? Knake finished as the seventh-ranked passer in Division
I-A; Davis rushed for 135.8 yards per game.
But here's the most intriguing news in Fort Worth: The defense
dominated spring practice. Senior linebacker Lenoy Jones is a
potential All-America, but in the spring he was overshadowed by
senior linebacker Tyrone Roy, who said his dramatic improvement
in agility was due to ballet classes he started taking last
season at the suggestion of strength coaches. If Roy and his
teammates stay on their toes, the Frogs could make a second
consecutive bowl trip.
Baylor will go to a 3-4 defensive front that should enable the
Bears to pressure quarterbacks. Offensively, the Bears will be
beefy, with three players who weigh more than 300 pounds.
Redshirt offensive guard Patrick Dukes checks in at 6'6" and 398
Despite finishing tied for first in the SWC, Rice dropped four
of its last six games to finish 5-6. There's little reason to
expect improvement this fall, although coach Ken Hatfield says
junior cornerback Warrick Franklin is "as good as there is in
Six years after having Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware, Houston
has fallen so far that even Cougar fans aren't interested.
Average attendance last fall was 21,308, worst in the league--and
rooters have little incentive to return.
At SMU, coach Tom Rossley says of his 1-9-1 team, "We're getting
close to coming up with wins instead of the almost-wins." Still,
the Mustangs are a long way from the Walker-Rote days of the
1940s. And by next year the SWC glory years will seem far away
--William F. Reed
COLOR PHOTO: AL BELLO/ALLSPORT USA SMU's flashy QB, Ramon Flanigan, will try to give the SWC a last hurrah.
1. Texas A&M
3. Texas Tech