If there was one other unusual characteristic of the '58 season, it revolved around the remarkable balance of teams all across the country. Only LSU, of all the major football colleges, went undefeated, and there were Saturdays when even Coach Paul Dietzel's young players got a bit of a fright from such as Mississippi State and Florida. Early in the season Oklahoma lost its customary invincibility to Texas on a delightfully crisp October afternoon in Dallas. Army was tied by Pitt and beat Rice only in the last minute of play. Iowa was tied by the surprising Air Force Academy squad and finally went under against Ohio State. Auburn was tied by Georgia Tech. And there were other games which now, with the help of hindsight, no longer appear to be the upsets they seemed at the time. Northwestern shattering Michigan 55-24, for example. Indiana beating Michigan State. Rice battering Texas 34-7. Any team, on any particular weekend, seemed capable of beating another.
"The game is taught better in the high schools," says Coach Duffy Daugherty of Michigan State, "and the kids are bigger and faster every year. The quality of football is constantly improving."
This egalitarianism was due in no small part to bed-rock foundations. Coach Ara Parseghian, at Northwestern, says, "Everyone is working at the job. The improvement among lower teams in the Big Ten is the result of hard work and hard recruiting." Darrell Royal feels the same way. "Coaching staffs," he says, "are improving all the time, primarily because of coaching schools, swapping movies, exchanging ideas and using larger staffs. We still have a few standouts at the top of the profession—but there's a slew of others now just a step behind."
Perhaps because of the added emphasis on passing and deception, the season was notable for outstanding quarterbacks and ends. On the other hand, there seemed to be a real shortage of good fullbacks and tackles.
The player of the year, winner of the Maxwell and Heisman awards, was a long-legged blond halfback from West Point named Pete Dawkins. While not necessarily the best football player in the country—the other Army halfback, Bob Anderson, was quite likely superior in all-round play, as were Billy Austin of Rutgers and LSU's Billy Cannon—Dawkins was certainly the most exciting. He could do some things so very well and he had a habit of winning football games in spectacular fashion. Seldom has the cadet corps produced a finer all-round man than this athlete, student, musician and brigade commander.
Great quarterbacks seemed to be popping out of the cracks, and there were a dozen who appeared, on certain days, to be better than all the rest. But for sheer consistency of brilliance, none could match the day-in, day-out performance of Randy Duncan of Iowa, SMU's Don Meredith or California's Joe Kapp. Bob White of Ohio State was the No. 1 fullback and you couldn't miss in naming any one of a dozen ends: Jim Houston of Ohio State, Buddy Dial of Rice, Curt Merz of Iowa, Rich Kreitling of Illinois, Al Goldstein of North Carolina, Sam Williams of Michigan. The best lineman had to be either Auburn's fabulous Guard Zeke Smith or Pitt's tough Guard John Guzik.
NO MUSICAL CHAIRS
It was a delightfully peaceful year for the coaches. Almost no one was fired, and the game of musical chairs, otherwise known as contract-jumping, seemed to be out of fashion after its long and popular 1957 run. Even the three major rules changes failed to produce the expected controversy.
The one-arm blocking rule, as it developed, didn't disturb anyone very much for the simple reason that officials seldom bothered to call it. The more liberal substitution clause was enthusiastically approved almost everywhere and led to 1958's most interesting bunch of kids: the Chinese Bandits at Louisiana State. Nothing more than third stringers, they were turned loose when Coach Dietzel discovered he didn't have enough big, tough players on his first two teams to match the opposition. Before the season was over, the Bandits were almost as famous as Lonesome George himself.
As for the new conversion rule, allowing two extra points for a successful run or pass, there seems to be some difference of opinion.