If there is a single constant in college football, it is change. Unlike the professional game, in which a team's characteristics vary only slightly from season to season, college football must be played in response to its talent. And the talent is never the same from year to year, and neither is the style of play. For millions of enthusiasts each fall, that is where the fascination lies. Last season, for instance, was remarkable for its wealth of first-rate quarterbacks—George Mira of Miami, Don Trull of Baylor, Roger Staubach of Navy, Bill Munson of Utah State, Pete Beathard of USC, George Bork of Northern Illinois, to name only a few. Staubach, the Heisman Trophy winner as a junior, is back for one more year of those harrowing escapes. Back, too, are some other sweet-throwing quarterbacks. But if 1963 was the year of the passer, 1964 will be the year of the runner.
Never before, according to a cluster of pro scouts, have so many truly superb runners been in action. The bulk of the leading ground-gainers in the nation from 1963 are returning—six of the top seven, 12 of the first 16, 14 of the best 21—and this does not include Johnny Roland of Missouri, who was seventh nationally in 1962 but ineligible to play a year ago. "'Counting everyone—seniors, juniors, sophomores, eligible redshirts, knowns and unknowns," one scout says, "our reports show there are more than 50 first-rate runners in the country this year. And of that list there must be 20 who would star on any team at any time."
Led by Auburn's Jimmy Sidle (see cover), the 20 include four runners who made somebody's All-America last year: Sidle, Kansas' Gale Sayers, Oklahoma's Jim Grisham and Iowa State's Tommy Vaughn. The others, not necessarily in order of ability, are: Sidle's teammate at Auburn, Tucker Frederickson; Roland; Mike Garrett of Southern California; Junior Coffey of Washington; Tom Nowatzke of Indiana; Larry Todd of Arizona State; Ernie Koy of Texas; Ken Willard of North Carolina; Mike Curtis of Duke; Kent McCloughan of Nebraska; Donny Anderson of Texas Tech; Jim Grabowski of Illinois; John Kuzniewski of Purdue; Hoyle Granger of Mississippi State; Larry Dupree of Florida; and Bob Schweickert of Virginia Tech.
The inclusion of Sidle and Schweickert, both quarterbacks, exposes another interesting facet of the 1964 season. A majority of the most effective quarterbacks in the nation seem to be runners first, passers second. Sidle gained 1,006 yards rushing a year ago and was second in the country. Schweickert gained 839 yards and was sixth. Other important quarterbacks who will be looking first for an opening to run are Pitt's Fred Mazurek, Missouri's Gary Lane, LSU's Pat Screen, Illinois' Fred Custardo, Oklahoma's Mike Ringer and Ole Miss's Jim Weatherly. More like Navy's Staubach—the fine thrower who can run—are Alabama's Joe Namath, Oregon's Bob Berry and Rice's Walter McReynolds. Sadly enough for the pros, that leaves very few pure throwers in 1964, but three good ones are Tulsa's Jerry Rhome, California's Craig Morton and Northwestern's Tom Myers.
In a season spangled with so many fine running backs, logic dictates that the team with the most of them should finish as the country's best. Auburn is that team and this year heads the 11 Best Elevens selected by the editors of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (see box). It has, first of all, that tremendous one-two punch of Sidle and Frederickson, who are not only tough, fast and experienced, but large. Sidle is 6 feet 3� and 225, and Frederick-son is 6 feet 2 and 225. With either blocking for the other and rumbling behind an equally big tall and experienced line, the forecast is for nothing but miles of yardage and a host of victories. Sidle figured in all but two of his team's touchdown drives last year. He is a player of extraordinary self-reliance, a trait impressed upon him as a practical way of life when he was still only a child. His father died on Guam in 1945 when he was 3, and he lost his mother when he was 11. One pro scout says of him, "He's only going to be another Paul Hornung, that's all. He's what you call a 20-yard runner with good moves, and his arm is better than anyone thinks. Besides, he's got mental guts."
Tucker Frederickson has, too, but he is something altogether different, if not altogether unreal.
Predicts Will Walls of the Pittsburgh Steelers: "He'd go in the first round of the NFL draft at five different positions—running back, fullback, tight end, cornerback or safety. He's the best blocker in the country, and the best safety. He can be something else as a runner with his size and speed."
Walls adds, " Auburn's got more potential pros than any team in the country. They've got two ends I like, two tackles, a punter, a center and a linebacker [Bill Cody] who's flat gonna kill some people someday."
With all of this, Auburn also has something of a surprise—if indeed a team coming off a 9-1 record deserves to have surprises—in the form of Halfback Gerald Gross, a 6-foot, 190-pound sprinter. Gross was injured in the first eight minutes of the first game last year as a sophomore and played no more. Now he is well. Gross has been so well, in fact, that Coach Ralph (Shug) Jordan might move Frederickson to fullback so that Gross at times can play the running back position. Auburn people are guarded about Gross's ability because he has yet to prove what he can do, but others are already certain. Says Norm Carlson. Florida's publicity man, formerly of Auburn: "Gross is the best back to come out of Georgia [ Carrollton] in 20 years. If he's well, he'll be the greatest thing the SEC has seen. In fact, when I think of the backfield Auburn could have, with Sidle as good as last year, with Frederickson running like he can and with Gross in top form—man! That's the best backfield in the history of football."
Even Shug Jordan admits that Auburn has a good team, something Jordan and other Southeastern Conference coaches do about as often as they run a double reverse pass off a spread formation. Jordan says, "We have experience, depth, speed, size, strength and as much potential as any team we've fielded."