Maryland, which closed fast last year with three straight victories, has for its sternest opponents Syracuse and Penn State, the eastern giants. In between them come the ACC foes. "I was thinking that we had a chance to be very good when we had Hickey," says talkative Tom Nugent. "Now, although we still have potential, I don't know. We may flounder to 7-3 or something like that." With typical modesty, Nugent says the rest of the ACC will have to reckon with Maryland.
The nearest match in the ACC for Maryland's potential is, of all schools, VIRGINIA. Slyly and slowly, Virginia has been coming back from the doldrums, and this year the Cavaliers find themselves with 24 letter-men and the best quarterback in the conference—Bob Davis of Neptune, N.J. Last year Davis, who is 6 feet 2, 195 pounds, averaged five yards per carry and completed 81 passes for 1,054 yards. He even caught seven passes, two for touchdowns. And he became the most exciting runner-passer at Virginia since the days of Bullet Bill Dudley. Davis smashed Dudley's single-game total-offense mark by frolicking for 334 yards against Wake Forest. And he peeled off an 88-yard scoring dash against North Carolina State.
No less than 12 lettered veterans appear in Virginia's line, the most obvious being End Don Parker, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound, run-wrecking defender. It is hard to imagine a coach leaving all this voluntarily, but that is what Bill Elias did when he went to Navy, bequeathing all to George Blackburn.
Barring earlier upsets, the payoff game in the ACC will come at the very end, November 20, when Virginia meets Maryland.
One intersectional opponent Virginia must escape is WEST VIRGINIA, a growling, muscle-bound menace in the Southern Conference. West Virginia scrambled to seven victories last year and a Liberty Bowl bid, and everybody has returned. Coach Gene Corum is so swarmed over with proven players that last year's best tackles, Joe Taffoni and Don Vail, have moved to other positions. Quarterback Allen McCune and Fullback Dick Leftridge are back—so are, altogether, 28 lettermen. McCune-to-Split End Bob Dunlevy is a fine passing combination, one that broke up the Syracuse game for West Virginia (28-27) last fall. This will be a fine team in a less highly regarded conference—and it will have to be, for the Mountaineers confront Virginia, Penn State and Kentucky on successive Saturdays, and Syracuse later on in the season.
Georgia Tech will be the best of the independents because Coach Bobby Dodd has performed the perfect trick: he has lightened the schedule (replacing Alabama and LSU with Virginia and Texas A&M) while adding weight to the team. Either Jerry Priestly or Bruce Fischer may prove to be the No. 1 quarterback, but with either Tech is bowl-bound. Giles Smith, a crashing runner, has moved to tailback, and he will share the job with Lenny Snow (see box page 66). Jeff Davis or Tom Carlisle will be at fullback to throw the blocks, and Terry Haddock's speed should prove fruitful at wingback. Moreover, Tech is big and experienced all along the line, particularly at middle guard where John Battle, 242 pounds, will be a demon. Tech likes to brag about its pony backfields—160 and 170 pounders—but it always has those rippling-muscled horses in the line to make the ponies go. Finally, Dodd has what he has been griping for ever since 1952 when the Engineers were among the nation's best: platoons.
This will also be the season in which FLORIDA STATE, the next best independent, proves that last season's rise to prominence was no phony. Coach Bill Peterson says an alumnus handed him a $1,000 check after FSU's 36-19 rout of Oklahoma in the Gator Bowl and said, "Now, Coach, you do all right next season and maybe I'll sign it." Peterson will do all right because he has everyone back except Steve Tensi to throw and Fred Biletnikoff to catch. Major losses, of course. But Ed Pritchett is an operator who can do a little of everything. Runner Phil Spooner returns, and so does the defense, spiked with the likes of Middle Guard Jack Shinholser and Linebacker Bill McDowell, both All-America contenders. Shinholser is tremendously strong—though only 210 pounds, he can bench-press 310 pounds, and his coaches like to say he is the hardest hitter in the country.
The best tribute of all to Peterson and the Seminoles comes from Al Davis, coach of the Oakland Raiders. " Florida State is two years ahead of everybody in college, the way they do things," says Davis. Even so, Florida State may be two years ahead of itself in scheduling. This time the Seminoles take on Baylor, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, Houston and Florida, heady company for a recent arrival to big-time college football.
Miami is another independent that likes to take on the names: this trip, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Florida, LSU, among others. Fortunately, Coach Charlie Tate has enough ammunition to protect him from embarrassment. If Halfback Russell Smith can avoid injuries, he can be one of the country's best. Fullback Pete Banaszak is first-rate. So is Defensive Back Andy Sixkiller, an Indian already exciting the pros, who will play ahead of an interesting sophomore, Joe Mira, the younger brother of George. Tate has labored hard to stiffen the defense, lacing it up with 10 seniors, one of whom is Ed Weisacosky, who set a school tackling record at end last year and was moved to linebacker in the spring. Tate says Weisacosky is just about the greatest defensive player he has ever seen. Now, if Quarterback Bob Biletnikoff (he passed for 920 yards to break George Mira's sophomore record at Miami) can find the receivers as well as his older brother, Fred, caught passes last season at Florida State, this will make the running go, and Miami will be one of the surprise teams.