Florida's season was a reverse image of Tennessee's. After filling up on cream puffs for a 5-0 record, Florida floundered in the second half to finish 7-5. Injuries took a toll: Tailback Emmitt Smith missed two games but still rushed for 988 yards, and wideout Stacey Simmons suffered a season-ending knee injury in the fifth game. Simmons is still questionable, and seven defensive starters will have to be replaced. Mississippi saved its season with a 22-12 win over Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium, the Rebels' first victory there. This fall the defense, led by free safety Todd Sandroni (seven interceptions), will keep most games close. Mississippi State was 1-10, and, with 19 starters back, Rockey Felker will try again with virtually the same team. At Vanderbilt, Watson Brown decided to shore up the defense by moving two offensive starters, fullback Andy McCarroll and tailback Brad Gaines, to linebacker and free safety, respectively.
With USC and UCLA sitting high in the Top 20, the rest of the
shapes up as a six-pack plus two empties. Washington will use a one-back, quick passing attack, and if the offense clicks and the defensive line improves against the run. Washington could challenge the L.A. Two. Arizona suffered a setback when inside linebacker Kevin Singleton was diagnosed as having leukemia. Last year Singleton shared the team lead in tackles with his identical twin, Chris, an all—Pac-10 outside linebacker. Oregon quarterback Bill Musgrave nudged the Ducks into brief Top 20 appearances the last two seasons, only to be injured and have to watch as the team stumbled. Musgrave is indispensable, as is tailback Derek Loville (1,202 yards and 13 touchdowns in 1988).
New Stanford coach Dennis Green has 5'7" fullback Jon Volpe (1,027 yards in 1988), an experienced receiving corps and a redshirt freshman quarterback, Steve Smith, to run his pro-set offense. Washington State has some of the top talent in the league but also leads the conference in troublemakers. Tailback Steve Broussard was convicted of fourth-degree assault; his backup. Rich Swinton, was charged with third-degree rape and convicted of "improperly touching a woman"; and receiver Tim Stallworth served a six-month jail term for a second offense of driving with a suspended license. All has been forgiven: The three stars will be in uniform for the Cougars. Quarterback Brad Gossen's only crime is that he is not Timm Rosenbach, who left for the NFL.
Arizona State has linebacker Mark Tingstad, the leading tackier (172) in the Pac-10 last year, and California's Troy Taylor may well be the best quarterback in the league. Oregon State will play eight games on the road, sparing Beaver backers from having to witness most of what promises to be another long season.
As usual, nearly everyone has a shot at the title in the Mid-America Conference. Since 1978, eight different schools have won the title. Central Michigan is the favorite this time around. The entire Chippewa backfield returns, including tailback Donnie Riley, who streaked for 1,238 yards in 1988. If the Chips are down, look for Ball State to reach the top. Coach Paul Schudel preaches defense, and his favorite weapon is linebacker Greg Garnica. The main reason Western Michigan won't win the title this year, of course, is that it won last year. The other reason is that quarterback Tony Kimbrough, the league's Most Valuable Player in '88, has departed.
Eastern Michigan lost all its receivers, but its defense, with eight starters back, will keep the Hurons in the hunt. Ohio would appear to be due: It hasn't won the title since 1968, and all 11 defensive starters are back, including the nation's leading returning tackier (with 177), linebacker David Terry. The situation at Bowling Green became rather blue last season when quarterback Rich Dackin missed the last six games with a broken wrist. Dackin is back, along with All-MAC receiver Reggie Thornton. Toledo made a late-season run at the top by winning five of its last six games, but junior quarterback Mark Melfi will have to do better than he did in '88 when he threw more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (five).
With the graduation of the league's top rusher, Eric Wilkerson, Kent State is considering moving last year's quarterback, Patrick Young, to running back. That would leave a hole at quarterback—and that's only the start of the Golden Flashes' problems. Miami of Ohio suffered through its worst season ever (0-10-1) in '88; the Redskins can only get better.
The Big West should change its name to the Big Easy. Last year only champion Fresno State had a winning record, and the seven other schools lost 28 of 30 nonconference games. This year won't be any different. At Fresno, linebacker Ron Cox and guard Jeff Skidmore are the heavy hitters. San Jose State tailback Johnny Johnson, the first player in NCAA history to rush for 1,200 yards and catch 60 passes (1,219 yards and 61 receptions) in the same season, returns, as do safeties Ryan Rasnick and Hesh Colar. Cal State-Fullerton has talent in quarterback Dan Speltz and receiver Rocky Palamara, and at Long Beach State, Paul Oates, a minor league pitcher, will be throwing to quality wideouts Derek Washington and Kelly Ryan.
UNLV's best player is likely to be punter Tony Rhynes. Pacific alum Walt Harris took over at his alma mater last spring and signed five new quarterbacks to run his pro-set offense. Utah State must replace the aerial act of quarterback Brent Snyder and receiver Kendal Smith, which does not bode well for an offense that was the worst in the country at running the ball (1.9 yards a carry, less than 50 yards a game). Placekicker Dat Ly walked on at New Mexico State and last year kicked a school-record 17 field goals, including 11 straight. This year he'll be looking for more opportunities to kick PATs.
Utah quarterback Scott Mitchell set an NCAA single-game record for passing yardage when he passed for 631 yards against Air Force, but the Utes lost 56-49. So it goes in the wide-open
Western Athletic Conference
. Brigham Young should win the WAC, with a defense led by linebacker Bob Davis and an attack directed by quarterback Sean Covey—if he can stay healthy. At Hawaii, the Rainbow defense will have to carry the offense early in the year because Hawaii will be testing new starting quarterback Garrett Gabriel and rebuilding its offensive line.