There is a ghoulish quality to the Southwest Conference. Southern Methodist University will be fielding a football team for the first time since it was given the NCAA's so-called death penalty, and no one knows what to expect of the Mustangs after their two-year interment. So many things have gone bump in the SWC's long night of scandal and probation that the whole conference seems to be made up of teams with scaly skin and blood-sucking tendencies. Preseason favorite Arkansas makes a good Godzilla, and the other Top 20 contender—Houston—with its flit-about, run-and-shoot offense, is perfectly cast as the Fly.
Then you have Texas A & M, the conference's King Kong—big, powerful and not so securely confined, for two years, in the NCAA's stockade for violations committed under departed coach Jackie Sherrill. New Aggie coach R.C. Slocum has a potential Heisman winner in junior running back Darren Lewis. Baylor, with its penchant for 6-5 seasons, resembles a moderately successful monster—Frankenstein's, say. The Bears break a lot of furniture and scare the peasants, but they don't do much damage in the end. Outside linebacker James Francis (page 56) may be the top player in the country at his position. Skulking along after Baylor is the Invisible Man, Texas, which disappeared from the final Top 20 six years ago and has looked like an empty suit ever since. Texas does, however, have a 6'9", 300-pound monster in defensive end Ken Hackemack. TCU's last two seasons started out with promise, then turned nightmarish. Coach Jim Wacker has shelved the veer for a run-and-shoot system called the triple shoot, which incorporates some options and more passing.
Much of Texas Tech's protoplasm will be tied up in John (Dumptruck) Runnels, a 6'2" guard who tips the scales at around 305. Quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver will be sorely missed. Rice, of course, is the Mummy of the SWC. The Owls haven't seen the light of a winning season since 1963, but new coach Fred Goldsmith has hopes for a new one-back, pass-oriented attack. SMU's zombies will probably occupy the conference cellar. With only 41 scholarship players, all but 17 of them freshmen, and only two pre-probation players, the Mustangs are practically a club team.
The Big Eight may replace the Southwest Conference as college football's Cheshire cat—nothing visible but the smile. Oklahoma cannot appear on TV this year or in a bowl this season or next. Oklahoma State's sentence is two years off the tube and three years of no bowls. At the other end of the league there are Kansas State and Kansas, which attract fewer viewers than a test pattern. That leaves Top 20 teams Nebraska and Colorado to redeem the league's reputation, with Iowa State and Missouri lending moral support.
Kansas State's never-ending woes are covered elsewhere in this issue (page 82), but let's make it official: There will be another last-place finish for the Wildcats. Last year at Kansas, 21 players quit the team, which went 1-10 in Glen Mason's first season as coach. Kansas has stopped leaking players, but the reservoir is still well below the high-water mark. Iowa State coach Jim Walden's stated goal is to win six games behind senior quarterback Bret Oberg and running back Blaise Bryant, who led the nation's junior colleges in rushing last year at Golden West College. At Missouri, new coach Bob Stull junked the Tigers' wishbone for a multiple-set passing offense. Oklahoma State, having lost Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders, receiver Hart Lee Dykes and the entire offensive line, could be forgiven for falling back into the pack. But the Cowboys, led by unsung Mike Gundy, may spring a surprise.
In five of the last eight years, ACC has stood for Another Clemson Championship. This season the
Atlantic Coast Conference
could be different; North Carolina State, which has beaten Clemson in their last three meetings, joins the Tigers in the Top 20 and appears ready to take the conference title. Virginia will get a lot of attention, if only because the Cavaliers signed the nation's most heralded schoolboy running back, Terry Kirby, from Tabb (Va.) High. Duke had the most productive offense in the conference last season, but quarterback Anthony Dilweg, the 1988 ACC Player of the Year, is gone, leaving to an Alabama transfer, Billy Ray, the task of finding wide receiver Clarkston Hines downfield.
Maryland quarterback Neil O'Donnell, who has the most accurate arm in Terrapin history (61.1% completion rate), will have to be as precise this season, because the Terps face three Top 20 opponents in their first four games. Wake Forest's problem is finding a replacement for alltime school passing leader Mike Elkins. Bobby Ross, who once guided Maryland to 18 straight ACC victories, has yet to win a single league game in two seasons at Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have Jerry Mays at tailback but a tougher schedule than last year, when they finished 3-8. North Carolina finished 1-10 in '88, its worst record ever, and if that wasn't enough. Kennard Martin, the ACC's leading rusher last season, was declared academically ineligible for '89.
While the Traditional Two. Michigan and Ohio State, resume their sovereignty over the
, another tradition is building at Indiana—winning. The Hoosiers' string of three consecutive nonlosing seasons is their longest since 1947, and there could be an even more amazing reason to cheer in Bloomington: a Heisman Trophy. Tailback Anthony Thompson, third nationally in rushing last season with 1,686 yards, is a leading candidate. The best player in the conference might be Michigan State linebacker Percy Snow, the leader of a defense that allowed only 112.8 yards rushing per game. After a disappointing 6-4-3 record in '88, Iowa tore out the artificial turf at Nile Kinnick Stadium to make way for real grass. The greening of the Hawkeyes will continue with new starting quarterback Tom Poholsky. Illinois could be even better than last year's 6-5-1 All American Bowl squad; the Illini play all their toughest conference games-Michigan, Ohio State and Indiana—at home.
Being known as the other Thompson is the plight of Minnesota tailback Darrell. Slowed by injuries that prevented him from keeping pace with Indiana's Anthony, Darrell nevertheless rushed for 910 yards to run his three-year total to 3,379, a Gopher record. If he is in top form, Minnesota could surprise. And speaking of surprises: Northwestern has not finished in the basement in six of the last seven seasons. The Wildcats have talented receivers, but they need a quarterback. After plummeting to a 1-10 record, Wisconsin hopes to revive an offense that scored only 11 touchdowns, the fewest in Division I-A. Purdue will not be able to avoid its fifth straight losing season; the worst offense in the league (243.5 yards per game) won't be much better this season.
There are three
teams in the Top 20, and if Kentucky takes advantage of its gentle schedule, there could be a fourth. Most of the talent is back this season, including huge (6'7", 305 pounds) offensive tackle Mike Pfeifer and linebacker Randy Holleran. The biggest change at Georgia is on the sideline, where the Bulldogs have a new coach for the first time in a quarter century; Vince Dooley has retired. Under new coach Ray Goff. Georgia will be passing more often. With Dooley's retirement, Tennessee's Johnny Majors, after 12 years in Knoxville, becomes the dean of SEC football coaches. Last fall the Vols started out 0-6, then won their last five games. Running back Reggie Cobb, who was injured much of last year, is at full strength and. presumably, chastened after a five-month suspension for disciplinary reasons.