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At Florida State, quarterback Peter Tom Willis has the grades but not the experience. Willis, a fifth-year senior, who is replacing Chip Ferguson, is around only because he lost a coin flip with Ferguson to see which one would be redshirted when they were freshmen. In his one start last season, Willis directed a 59-0 romp over South Carolina, in which he completed 17 of 20 passes for 271 yards.
Wide receivers Lawrence Dawsey, Bruce La-Sane, Ronald Lewis and Terry Anthony, known as The Fab Four, will give Willis plenty of targets, while Dexter Carter, only 5'9" and 168 pounds, will attempt to replace tailback Sammie Smith, who chose to enter the NFL draft and was taken in the first round by the Miami Dolphins. "Offensively," says coach Bobby Bowden, whose 13-year record in Tallahassee is 112-38-3, "we should be pretty salty."
The defense, led by noseguard Odell Haggins, will be as fearsome but far quieter than last season's group, mainly because trash-talking defensive back Deion Sanders is gone. "You're going to see a lot less hotdogging this year," says Bowden, who knows his team will need all the concentration it can muster to handle a killer schedule that includes eight bowl teams, five of which were ranked in the final AP Top 20.
The schedule isn't the problem at Southern Cal, it's the confidence factor. Last season ended with losses to Notre Dame (27-10) and Michigan (in the Rose Bowl) after 10 straight wins. To help insure a return trip to Pasadena—with a happier outcome—coach Larry Smith went back to basics in the spring, looking for more discipline and better execution. The Trojan offense may take a while to adjust to the loss of quarterback Rodney Peete. Last year's backup, Pat O'Hara, beat out ballyhooed redshirt freshman Todd Marinovich for the job. But last Friday, O'Hara broke his leg in a scrimmage, and sooner than expected, Marinovich will get a chance to live up to his notices. With no O.J. Simpson or Marcus Allen in sight, the tailback position will be shared by Scott Lockwood, Aaron Emanuel and Ricky Ervins.
At least the Trojan offense will be given plenty of time to jell, thanks to a terrific defense that returns almost intact from last season, when it allowed only 268.9 yards per game, including a mere 76.6 on the ground, second best in the nation behind Auburn. Safeties Mark Carrier and Cleveland Colter (page 78) and tackle Tim Ryan are the names to remember.
At Nebraska, meanwhile, the defense is rebuilding, but it won't need to be overpowering to throw a shutout or two against the Huskers' non-conference schedule of—are you ready for this?—Northern Illinois, Utah, Minnesota and Oregon State. Gone from the early-season slate are UCLA, Arizona State and Texas A & M. Coach Tom Osborne says, "The games might be a lot more interesting than people think—or want." Is this guy a scream or what?
Because both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will be down and the rest of the conference is weak, only Colorado will stand between the Huskers and an unbeaten regular season, especially if Osborne makes good on his promise to put some new wrinkles into the stale I formation that generated only 17 points in the final three games of last season. Not that Osborne is panicking, understand. To the contrary, he's quick to point out that Nebraska is the decade's leader in winning percentage (83.8), scoring (38.97 points per game), rushing offense (362.19 yards per game), total offense (476.66) and scoring defense (12.11), and he doesn't expect those numbers to dip. The Huskers could blossom early if sophomore Mike Grant develops into a worthy replacement for Steve Taylor at quarterback and if I-back Ken Clark has another year like '88, when he was the fifth-leading rusher in the nation with 1,497 yards.
Nebraska was destroyed 23-3 in last season's Orange Bowl by Miami, which then claimed that it deserved the national title instead of Notre Dame. Immediately, the Hurricanes and their fans began looking forward to Notre Dame's return visit to Miami on Nov. 25, but the departures of coach Jimmy Johnson and quarterback Steve Walsh to the Dallas Cowboys have tempered emotions.
Rest assured, however, that the Hurricanes still will be the Hurricanes with the Erickson boys—new coach Dennis and quarterback Craig—running the show. Erickson the coach is being careful not to tamper with Miami's winning formula—it has produced a 44-4 record over the past four years—except to give Erickson the quarterback a passing game that calls for more receivers and shorter routes. After facing the new offense in the spring, Hurricane linebacker Maurice Crum said, "I'd rather get ready to face our old offense than this one." Crum will back a veteran defensive line (Greg Mark, Russell Maryland, Jimmie Jones and Shane Curry) that could be the country's stingiest.
When Erickson departed Washington State for Miami, he left behind a decidedly mixed legacy. The Cougars had their best season (9-3) since 1930, but the program's academic record was a dismal failure—a collective 1.94 grade point average for the fall semester—and five players have since been convicted of crimes ranging from assault to forgery. Erickson was anything but a disciplinarian at State, which seems to suit Hurricane center Bobby Garcia just fine. "I think too many rules tend to make people act certain ways." says Garcia, "like they want to break them because they feel confined." Got that, everybody?