In college football smart money insists that one go first with those teams that have good coaches and good quarterbacks, and this sounds an awful lot like most of the teams in the Eleven Best. For example, there are Tommy Prothro and Gary Beban at UCLA, Frank Broyles and Jon Brittenum at Arkansas, Bob Devaney and Bob Churchich at Nebraska, Bobby Dodd and Kim King at Georgia Tech, Darrell Royal and Bill Bradley at Texas and Doug Dickey and Dewey Warren at Tennessee. But if there is ever a time to go against the book, it is where Bryant and Alabama are concerned.
The player who must produce is named Ken (Snake) Stabler. Bear is sick—just plain sick—with the fear that Stabler won't be a good enough quarterback, so he has moved senior Halfback Wayne Trimble, a noted high school signal-caller, into the position as well. But he isn't sure Trimble can do it, either. One of them will, most likely Stabler. In any event, it won't be the kind of Alabama team Tuscaloosa and Birmingham have been seeing since 1962, when first Joe Namath and then Steve Sloan started throwing footballs as if Bear had took really sick. It will be more of an old-fashioned Bryant team, with its guts in the defense and its heart in the running game. Stabler and Trimble can each blaze the Tide out of the huddle, and they will handle the sprint-outs to perfection. And if they can only two-hand-push the ball into the air, Ray Perkins will beat everyone to it. Quickness, blocking, tackling and pride are Bryant's true secrets, and Alabama has seldom had more of all this going for it than it has in 1966.
An added advantage in what could be both Bryant's and Alabama's epic season is the schedule. You just know that rascal had this plotted years ahead. Alabama conveniently opens with dreaded Louisiana Tech and, next to last, before Auburn, the Tide draws awe-inspiring Southern Mississippi. Things aren't all that cheerful, however. In between Alabama must go to Jackson to play Ole Miss, and to Knoxville to meet suddenly powerful Tennessee, which it tied last year. And LSU will be around. But the point is that Bear has gone undefeated before with weaker teams on tougher schedules.
Curiously, on Oct. 15, the date that Alabama meets Tennessee, the championships of the three strongest conferences could be decided. That is also the Saturday on which Michigan State plays Ohio State in Columbus and Arkansas faces Texas in Austin. Thus the Big Ten, Southeastern and Southwest titles may all be in the balance that afternoon—not to mention the national championship. The schedule quirk is the sort that drives television executives nutty—and it did.
It is something of a miracle in itself that this year, for the first time, television gave deeper thought and energy than ever before to the games it will show. The result is that ABC-TV, which takes on the college package this season, has managed to work out what should be a lively and pertinent 14 days of action, giving hope to the long-suffering multitudes who have been conditioned to watching Brigham Young vs. Wyoming when the world knows that at that very moment Notre Dame is playing USC for the whole store.
A rash of upsets could spoil things worse than a loose vertical knob. And last year's trend toward higher scores ( Alabama 39, Nebraska 28; West Virginia 63, Pitt 48) indicates that continued platooning and passing attacks will create more of them. But it is a credit to Roone Arledge, the vice-president and executive producer of ABC Sports (SI, April 25), that, going in, television football fans seem to be in for their best season ever. Consider: the strictly nationwide TV games, which began last week with Syracuse-Baylor, are Texas-USC, Purdue-Notre Dame, Missouri- UCLA, Tennessee- Georgia Tech, Nebraska-Oklahoma, Army-Navy and Auburn-Alabama. On three of the five regional dates, when four games are televised at once to different parts of the country, the most significant ones are practically national. For instance, if you live in New York, Los Angeles or Kansas City you will see Arkansas-Texas, which is an Emmy performance every year, as well as Purdue-Michigan State and Nebraska-Missouri. Finally, on Nov. 19, Arledge has devised an important doubleheader. You'll turn on the set and get Notre Dame-Michigan State, followed by UCLA-USC, or, in the South, Tennessee-Kentucky followed by California-Stanford. That means a lot of flip-top cans and plenty of salami sandwiches.
A lot of seasons acquire instant labels because of the quality of performers at certain positions. For example, both 1962 and 1963 were generally regarded as The Year of the Quarterbacks, because the pro scouts were all enthralled by the likes of Joe Namath, Roger Staubach, Pete Beathard, Tom Myers, Don Trull and George Mira. And then came 1964 and 1965, each The Year of the Running Backs, with Donny Anderson, Mike Garrett, Johnny Roland, Gayle Sayers, Jim Grabowski and Tucker Frederickson. Now 1966 looks like The Year of Both.
Professional salaries for rookies have gone back to reality since the NFL-AFL peace, and undoubtedly the armistice cost four senior quarterbacks more money than they prefer to think about. Florida's Steve Spurrier, Purdue's Bob Griese, Baylor's Terry Southall and Arkansas' Jon Brittenum are all on the highly preferred list, with Spurrier, a rangy thrower-runner, at the top. Spurrier is good, though not as almighty as Florida's sportswriters, who have already forgotten George Mira, would have you believe. Before the merger they predicted a million-dollar contract for him. If Spurrier bargains hard, he may get $30,000.
There are splendid runners everywhere, from Syracuse's Floyd Little, who is short and nifty, to Idaho's Ray McDonald, who is big and terrifying. In between come Georgia Tech's Lenny Snow, Arkansas' Harry Jones, Notre Dame's Nick Eddy, UCLA's Mel Farr, Michigan State's Clinton Jones and Nebraska's Harry Wilson.
Of all these glittering miracle-workers, none is likely to provide quite so many thrills as UCLA's Gary Beban, a junior who has grown one inch to 6 feet 1 and gained 12 pounds to 193 since he destroyed Michigan State 14-12 in the Rose Bowl. Before Coach Tommy Prothro had discovered Beban, which was shortly after Prothro left Oregon State and memories of Terry Baker, the joke on the West Coast was, "Prothro didn't come to UCLA to lose, but he'll learn." The Bruins had been down in the years since Red Sanders' death.