The Hurricanes are one of the few teams over the last several seasons that have had more success than UCLA, which has won seven straight bowl games and which put together two straight 10-win seasons for the first time ever in 1987 and '88. This season's chances will depend on whether the Bruins are able to make the transition from the pass-happy days of Troy Aikman to a more conservative style of offense.
"I've got my Rommel hat back on," says coach Terry Donahue, who intends to take the overland route this season. The job of succeeding Aikman will most likely fall to sophomore Jimmy Bonds in the beginning, but redshirt freshman Bret Johnson is emerging as a strong leader. Bonds and Johnson will be handing off a lot, mostly to sophomore Shawn Wills, and that could prove frustrating to the Bruins' terrific receiving corps. Charles Arbuckle and backup Corwin Anthony may be the best set of tight ends in the nation, and senior wideout Mike Farr will be hoping to beat the school-record 66 receptions he had last year.
On defense, UCLA's first string, led by linebacker Craig Davis and tackle Mike Lodish, will be solid but lacking in depth. Injuries to some key players could grind this unit down. A big plus is the Bruins' schedule, with six games at home, including a date with Michigan that, if the Trojans falter, could be a Rose Bowl preview.
Of course, those nonconference games can be real killers, as Louisiana State found out last season when it was humiliated 44-3 by Miami on Nov. 19 in Baton Rouge. Many SEC fans regarded the Miami whipping as proof that LSU was the weakest conference cochampion in years (Auburn owned the other half). The problem was mainly on offense, where quarterback Tom Hodson had a disappointing season laboring behind an inexperienced line, and without injured running star Harvey Williams and wide receiver Wendell Davis, who had graduated. This season, Williams has recovered from the dreadful knee injury he suffered while gaining his 1,001st rushing yard in the Tigers' 1987 regular-season finale against Tulane. The blocking will be better too, meaning that Hodson should have the sensational year as a senior he was expected to have as a junior.
In tough early games against Texas A & M, Florida State, Florida and Auburn the offense will have to put enough points on the board to cover for an inexperienced defense, and senior David Browndyke, who has converted all 80 of his college extra-point attempts and 47 of his 61 field-goal tries, will be expected to perform as heroically without the tee, which has been banished by the rule makers.
It was a late Hodson to Eddie Fuller touchdown pass and a Browndyke extra point that gave LSU a 7-6 win over Auburn, costing coach Pat Dye's team sole possession of the SEC championship and a chance to contend for No. 1 in the polls. Gone from that team are 14 starters, including Outland and Lombardi Trophy winner Tracy Rocker and nine others who were drafted by the NFL, yet Auburn is expected to be almost as formidable this season. The defense won't be quite as potent—that would be nearly impossible—but it will have a frightening familiarity, especially with little brother David Rocker filling Tracy's spot at defensive tackle and inside linebacker Quentin Riggins finally coming into his own as the anchor of the unit.
The offense, which stalled too often inside the 20 in big games, should be better. Quarterback Reggie Slack, who led the SEC last season in passing efficiency, will operate behind a line that Dye ranks "as solid as any five we've ever started with." Sophomore left guard Ed King is the bulwark of the group. Both of last season's leading rushers, Stacy Danley and James Joseph, return to share the tailback spot, unless Teapot Brown comes up empty at fullback, in which case Joseph will be shifted into his spot.
Dye's situation at Auburn is almost identical to the one Ken Hatfield faces at Arkansas, where only three starters are missing from the offense but only three return on defense. The difference, of course, is that the Razorbacks don't face the same level of competition in the scandal-ridden Southwest Conference that Auburn must contend with in the SEC. Because the NCAA disciplined six of the SWC's schools over the past three years, squeaky-clean Hatfield and his Razorbacks have become the league's dominant program.
A fitting symbol of the Razorbacks' ascension is redshirt freshman running back E.D. (Extremely Dangerous) Jackson, a Texan who declined to visit any of the Texas universities and signed with Arkansas only three days after visiting Oklahoma. Anthoney Cooney, a senior cornerback who tried to tackle the 5'10", 197-pound E.D. in a scrimmage, missed the next week with a bruised collarbone. Strength coach John Stucky, who worked with Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders at Oklahoma State, says E.D. has the same potential as the NFL backs.
Jackson should fit nicely into a new offensive style that will employ both options and pro sets. The Razorbacks will need to go for six more often, now that automatic placekicker Kendall Trainor, who hit 24 field goals in a row last season, is gone, and the defense is inexperienced. But that should be no hardship for quarterback Quinn Grovey (an Oklahoma native ignored by the Sooners) and his versatile stable of backs. "We've got stallions now," says backfield coach Larry Brinson. "The best and most people since I've been here."