If indeed, as some preseason commentators would have had us believe, there exists a multitude of otherwise sane persons who have spent the past months waiting with gnawed knuckles and bated breath to find out whether the new conversion rule is going to drastically change the face of American college football this fall, they may now be advised to relax. The 1958 season got under way around the country last Saturday and the results are now on record.
In a sampling of some two dozen major college games only one was decided by an extra point. Texas Tech came from behind in the fourth quarter to tie Texas A&M 14-14—and then won the game 15-14 with an old-fashioned place kick.
There were 135 touchdowns scored in those games, and in 71 cases the new two-point bonus for a conversion by run or pass was ignored; they stuck to the old one-point kick and connected 49 times. In the other 64 cases the gamble paid off 26 times which netted the more daring 52 points. In other words, you takes your chances and you makes your choice—and you're just about going to break even. Apparently the rules makers have established some pretty solid odds.
There is one additional factor which should be borne in mind, however. In many cases the team essaying the two-point play did so only as an experimental gesture; they were, at the time, running away with the game. Maybe this is what Duffy Daugherty, the sage of East Lansing, Mich., meant when he said some time ago: "As Confucius say, team which scores many touchdowns need not worry about extra point."
Since half a dozen of the opening week's biggest games were in the South—where they look upon stories of Midwest domination of the sport as carpet-baggin' Yankee propaganda—it seemed like a fine opportunity to drop in at Chapel Hill and see how Sunny Jim Tatum was coming along with his rebuilding program at the University of North Carolina.
Sunny Jim wasn't so sunny. He had a cold and a sore throat and could hardly talk, and to Jim Tatum this is a fate worse than being hanged in effigy. Still, between luncheon courses at the Monogram Club (and there were several, since Tatum must watch his weight—if it drops below 250, his clothes won't fit) he managed to croak out several thousand words on a subject to which he has given some thought.
"In four years after he takes a job," he said, "a coach who knows his business should be able to produce as good a team as he is ever going to have. Of course, if you come up with a Justice or a Kazmaier, you can do better. But the general level of your teams should balance out. If you can't do the job in four years and then keep on doing it pretty consistently after that, you should quit."
Tatum has been at Carolina three years now and, with the game against North Carolina State still a couple of days away, he admitted that things were going pretty good. For a while, in 10 postwar seasons as head coach at Oklahoma and Maryland, he had almost forgotten what it was like to lose a football game—his teams were undefeated three times in regular-season play, went to six bowl games and won a national championship—and he had to admit that the past two seasons hadn't been too pleasant, but things were looking up.
"We won only two games in '56," he said, demolishing a sandwich constructed from two slices of rye bread, two pieces of ham, a slice of roast beef, some Swiss cheese, a liberal dose of mustard and some black-eyed peas, "but that was as good as they had done down here since Charlie Justice left. Hadn't had a winning season in seven years. Never beat anybody that beat anybody else. Then, last year we did all right. We won six out of 10. We beat Navy when they were undefeated and won the big game with Duke for the first time in seven years.
"Now I got a ball club that is 100% better than last year—more depth, more experience, better defense, better passing, better receiving, better everything. Of course," he added quickly, as if he had spent the entire summer listening to Fred Haney, "that doesn't mean we'll win a game. Everybody else is improved, too."