The biggest surprise in the SEC last year was GEORGIA, and new Coach Vince Dooley was nearly knighted. He was, in fact, named SEC Coach of the Year and the school tacked on five years to his contract. The Bulldogs rode a tough, big line and Quarterback Preston Ridlehuber—the best-running operator in the league at the season's end—all the way to a 7-3-1 record, including a victory over Texas Tech in the Sun Bowl. But the line is weaker, and Ridlehuber will have to throw more often than he prefers if Dooley is going to continue the upswing. Georgia had one of the smallest defensive teams in the country last fall—average: under 190 pounds—but it also had red-headed, freckle-faced George Patton, a 207-pound tackle who was once described as "great and getting greater." Morale at Georgia is high, platooning will help, and the Bulldogs will not be an easy touch for anyone.
Auburn, whose 6-4 record in 1964 was (for it) a flop, has lost three valuable hands—Jim Sidle, Tucker Frederickson and Jon Kilgore. Frederickson is the biggest loss, for Sidle was hurt all season, and Tom Bryan did a good job of filling in. Coach Shug Jordan has finally gone to platoons. He is an outspoken believer in the two-way football player, but the absence of platoons probably hurt the Plainsmen in 1964. There is still a pool of talent. If Bryan keeps improving, if runner Gerald Gross, Fredrickson's replacement, at last gets well and stays well, Auburn could be troublesome. It had the best defensive record in the nation last year, and Tackles Jack Thorton and Bob Walton are returning, along with End Scotty Long and Linebacker Bill Cody. Jordan will need deep backs, but he usually finds them. He is not happy with the return to two-platoon football—"from being teachers of the game," he says, "we have moved into the entertainment business"—but he will field a team fully capable of playing among the elite.
Another sleeper is MISSISSIPPI STATE, which did not fare well last year until the big game against Ole Miss, which Paul Davis' team won 20-17. Individual stars are numerous. Marcus Rhoden, though only 165 pounds, is the most frightening breakaway runner in the SEC (seven touchdowns, four on runs of 40 yards or more), and Hoyle Granger may well be the best fullback. Granger not only has been the team's leading rusher since he was a sophomore but is also an exemplary blocker. Center is solid with Bootsie Larsen in charge. The rest is up to a young defense and Quarterback Ashby Cook. State also gets a schedule break, facing only one of its SEC rivals in its first five games.
Tennessee will have to content itself for at least another year with defensive football. New Coach Doug Dickey, entering his second year, has built from defense (just as Frank Broyles taught him). The idea was good enough for a couple of upsets last year, it should be again this season, but whether the Vols can move the ball depends pretty much on Quarterback Charlie Fulton. Fulton is not very big (5 feet 10, 180 pounds) and not very old (18), but Dickey is more patient than most, since he was quarterbacking Florida just a few years ago, and as a bright young (33) coach he has quickly given a fresh face to Tennessee football—including abandonment of the single wing in favor of the T formation. Fulton, with Dickey's confidence in him, proved able in the spring. Stan Mitchell is a potentially strong fullback and a good receiver if Fulton can get the ball to him.
This will be TULANE's last season as a member of the SEC, the Green Wave having chosen, rather mysteriously, to go independent in New Orleans, just as Georgia Tech did a year earlier in Atlanta. And for a closer, Coach Tommy O'Boyle has a nifty schedule: Texas, Alabama, LSU, Florida, Ole Miss and Georgia Tech—or six teams that should wind up in bowls. Tulane is stronger than last year, particularly because of Guard Leon Verriere and End Lanis O'Steen, but not that strong. So far as anyone can figure, the big advantage to going independent will be getting rid of that schedule.
Like Tulane, VANDERBILT is becoming more respectable, building slowly under the ex-Army star, Jack Green. The Commodores even tied Ole Miss last year although they lost to Tulane. Everything hinges on a bevy of top sophomores this time. Fullback Jim Whiteside and Tailback Chuck Boyd (9.8) offer great promise, as do Guards Scott Hall and Frank Curtin. Nearly everyone returns in 1966, and that may be the season Vanderbilt's rooters have been waiting for since the halcyon days of Billy Wade. Vanderbilt's last winning team was in 1959.
From top to bottom the Atlantic Coast is weaker than the SEC, just as the Southern is a shade below the ACC. DUKE, however, is one of those constants that is never very bad. The Blue Devils have the ingredients to sway the ACC race, if not win it, provided something happens to Maryland or Virginia. Scotty Glacken, the reckless quarterback who has completed 205 passes in two years (for 2,443 yards and 19 touchdowns), is back for his last year. He has good company in the backfield in the form of Halfback Sonny Odom and sophomore Fullback Jay Calabrese, the spring star. Chuck Drulis is a swing end who attracts pro scouts, as does Guard Earl Yates, good playing both ways. One big question will be how well Coach Bill Murray makes the personal adjustment to free substitution. He hates it, but he had to admit that the competition for more jobs made for better team morale in the spring. Duke opens with Virginia, and if the Blue Devils get off with an upset, some reappraising will have to be made of the ACC for—remember—Duke does not meet Maryland. And the only real tough ones that lie ahead—Illinois and Georgia Tech—will be outside the league. Duke could well be a bowl team.
Clemson will not be. Even though Coach Frank Howard has 27 lettermen, he is favoring youth. Eleven sophomores are on the offensive and defensive units. Moreover, Howard has installed the I formation. This would seem to be a desperate measure for Howard, because he never missed the chance to twit archrival Tom Nugent with threats of dotting Maryland's I. Howard's problem, however, is that he has not found someone to dot his own. Quarterback will wind up in the hands of any of five players, three of them rookies. Clemson will be rugged in the line, as it always is, and the most rugged of all should be Tackle Johnny Boyette, 238 pounds, a senior.
Still, Howard does not face the chore that NORTH CAROLINA's Jim Hickey does. At Chapel Hill it sounds like the evacuation of Dunkirk when the locals tell it, so many proved players have gone. Hickey is not that depressed and is hoping that more deception and passing can yet pull out a winning season. The throwers, Danny Talbott and Jeff Beaver, are good ones but there is no runner like Ken Willard around now to relieve the pressure on the quarterbacks. Beaver may possibly be the best passer North Carolina has ever had. Someone must turn up to catch him, however, and it would be nice if Hickey uncovered some running. He is not exactly brimming with confidence. "We do some things quite well," Hickey says. "Some other things we do extremely bad."
Earle Edwards at NORTH CAROLINA STATE has enough holdover backfield material to loan Hickey a few recruits. State's trouble is that unlike last year, when the defending ACC champions had plenty of linemen and a green backfield, they now find their situation reversed. Ten of 16 lettermen are backs, including Quarterbacks Charlie Noggle and Page Ashby. Top running will come from Shelby Mansfield and Gary Rowe. Elsewhere, there are young faces, mostly in the line.