And well it might. Back, and apparently with a strong knee at last, is Quarterback Pat Screen, of whom grand things long have been predicted. Billy Ezell is back, too, so McClendon has two capable quarterbacks. Doug Moreau at flanker is All-America caliber, so is Joe Labruzzo at tailback, and so is Don Schwab at fullback. Not only that but Danny LeBlanc has returned after a year's absence for disciplinary reasons. He was once considered the next Billy Cannon or Jerry Stovall.
The famous Chinese Bandits, plus an enlivened offense and a big, experienced and mobile line, led by Tackle George Rice, 255 pounds, give LSU almost everything.
Unhappily for the Tigers, they may need everything to get past FLORIDA the first Saturday in October. Coach Ray Graves' Gators have talent, too, and the winner of this game will emerge as the favorite to upset Alabama in the SEC. A popular pastime among professional scouts last spring was swooning at Florida practices. There are at least five Gators any pro team would take right now—Quarterback Steve Spurrier, Tailback Jack Harper, End Charlie Casey, Middle Guard Larry Gagner and Defensive Back Bruce Bennett.
Spurrier is one of those multiple-talented quarterbacks coaches dream of but seldom find. Harper is capable of breaking for long gains, Casey catches anything near him (47 last year for 673 yards), and Gagner, 240 pounds and the fastest lineman on the team, is considered the best middle guard in the nation.
But there is a lot more, so many lettermen they are difficult to count. And the Gators are hungry, having never won the SEC title. Finally, Graves has a break in the schedule, which does not include Alabama and Kentucky. He does have LSU and Ole Miss on successive weekends and ornery Auburn in the middle and finishes up against natural rivals Miami and Florida State. Florida always figures out a way to lose one or two but this is a better squad than the one that finished 7-3 a year ago. "If Florida is as good as it can be, Graves could have the national championship," says one scout.
Based on talent alone, so could KENTUCKY. The Wildcats, after a blazing start and a mysterious collapse last year, are back again with everybody; Rick Norton, the SEC's best quarterback and passer, Rodger Bird, its best runner, Rick Kestner, its best receiver.
Three things stand in the way. First, Kentucky's schedule is murderous. The firs, six games are against Missouri, Ole Miss, Auburn, Florida State, LSU and Georgia. Staying up emotionally for such a grind is almost impossible. Second, Coach Charlie Bradshaw's penchant for tough drills could again wear out the Wildcats by midseason. Third, Kentucky in football has a losing complex. Only in 1950, when Bryant was there with Babe Parilli, have the Wildcats won the SEC. The Wildcats have not been over .500 in four seasons. In any normal year, with not quite so many potent teams to contend with around the league and a decent schedule break, Kentucky would be favored. The talent would demand it. But this is not a normal year, and Kentucky will have to be the best team in the land to get through its conference schedule. Still and all, as one of Bradshaw's opponents puts it, "For a problem like theirs, it's nice to have Norton, Bird and Kestner going for you."
The team that most likely will settle the SEC issue is OLE MISS, which plays all four favorites—Alabama, LSU, Florida and Kentucky. No one can imagine the Rebels losing to all four, and were it not for last season—worst in Coach Johnny Vaught's 14 years—Ole Miss would be picked over at least three of them simply because it is Ole Miss. In 1964 the Rebels appeared to be loaded. They opened with a 30-0 smash over Memphis State, but then they dropped four games, including one to Mississippi State, and finally suffered the embarrassment of losing to Tulsa in the Bluebonnet Bowl. Had Mississippi been overrated? That seemed unlikely—the material was the same as ever, which is to say the pros drooled over it. Had the coaching staff finally and suddenly grown old and soft? Maybe, some said.
This will be the year to tell if the maybes have it. Vaught has another batch of broad-shouldered, thin-waisted, tall, fast athletes, paced by Guard Stan Hindman, Halfback Mike Dennis and End Rocky Fleming, plenty of veterans in the line and speed afoot. The big question is feisty Jimmy Heidel. Can he do what is expected of him at quarterback with a lot less experience than any of his illustrious predecessors, namely Glynn Griffing, Jake Gibbs, Bobby Franklin, Ray Brown, Eagle Day and Chuck Conerly? Probably not.
At the risk of laboring the point of scheduling, it must be clearly stated that MARYLAND in the Atlantic Coast Conference has a definite edge for not having to play Duke this year. The Terps are well stocked with lettermen (29) and ability and would be favored to handle the Blue Devils, but having to play one less tough game is so much gravy. Coach Tom Nugent's team could be on the verge of challenging for something bigger than the ACC trophy despite the fact that Tailback Tom Hickey, his best runner, has been declared ineligible. There are plenty more seasoned Terps around, including Quarterback Phil Petry, Bernardo Bramson, the Chilean-born, soccer-style placement kicker (nine field goals and 17 of 18 extra points last year), End Dick Absher, Wing-back Kenny Ambrusko, if he recovers from a knee injury, plus the Melcher twins—Dick, an offensive guard, and Mick, a defensive end.