They are LSU, Tennessee and Mississippi who, along with GEORGIA, will fight it out for the SEC's runner-up spot unless Alabama gets careless. The best thing Coach Vince Dooley has going for him at Athens, outside of two powerful fullbacks and a 9.5 sprinter, is the fact that his Georgia team does not play LSU, Tennessee or Alabama. And the Bulldogs are mad. Last year, before Georgia Tech and Georgia ended the season against each other, Tech landed a Gator Bowl bid, then Georgia won the game 17-7. The Bulldogs have now raised their sights to the Orange or Sugar bowl, and if they make either, the least surprised man in the SEC will be Florida's Ray Graves. " Dooley has done the best recruiting job of any SEC school over the past two years," says Graves. "With the possible exception of Alabama, Georgia has the most good football players, and it has a proven coaching staff."
In his first two years at Georgia, Vince Dooley worried about his team's lack of size. This fall the Bulldogs are bigger, much bigger, and since even proven coaches worry a lot, Dooley says: "We could be too big." Tackles Chuck Arckwright and Ken Pillsbury go 245 and 230, and Guards Edgar Chandler and Don Hayes are each 220. Frank Richter, 218, regarded by many as the best split end in the SEC, will have to be as good as his notices. If he is not, a gifted sophomore named Billy Payne will upstage him. The fullbacks are 225-pound Ronnie Jenkins, "a real diamond in the rough," says Dooley, and Brad Johnson, 200 pounds, who has to be good to be pushing Jenkins. The sprinter is Kent Lawrence, who could make tailback awfully exciting at Georgia. "He's little [170 pounds], tough, takes care of himself, and he doesn't get hurt," says Dooley, who only asks Lawrence to run.
Even with all this talent, the Bulldogs will miss Quarterback Preston Ridlehuber. His job is falling to Kirby Moore, an accomplished but fragile passer. Defensively, Georgia will be tenacious as ever with George Patton, the 230-pound All-America candidate, anchoring things at tackle and some hard-won savvy expected to pay off in better linebacking.
A team that always seems capable of giving Alabama a tussle (before it plays its worst game of the year against Alabama) is LSU, where the Tigers get hypoed half a dozen times each fall by 68,000 chanting, screaming Baton Rouge loyalists in Tiger Stadium. LSU lost only once at home last year—to Alabama, of course—finished up 7-3 and went to the Cotton Bowl to upset Arkansas. With nine of 11 gone from the offense and seven missing from the defense, Charlie McClendon says he's rebuilding.
The people of Baton Rouge are particularly hopeful, however, because Nelson Stokley is well again—though he never looks it. Slump-shouldered and shy with gaunt, drawn cheeks, Stokley probably wouldn't get chosen for a game of touch on a fraternity lawn. But as McClendon emphasizes, "People just miss him when he has the ball—and the club jumps when he's in there." When Stokley hurt his knee early in the Ole Miss game last year, the Tigers missed him so much they were shut out by the Rebels and scored only once against Alabama the following week. Though he didn't play in LSU's remaining four games, Stokley was still voted the SEC's Sophomore of the Year.
Nelson will have the usual help, of course. Billy Masters, 6 feet 5, 225 pounds, will play strongback ( McClendon's wingbackend combination) and he can run, catch and block. Sammy Grezaffi, a 9.5 sprinter, may move from the secondary to split end, replacing Doug Moreau. Jimmy Dousay steps in at tailback for little Joe Labruzzo and Gawain Dibetta will play full. Up front there's work to be done, and the hardest falls to Terry Esthay, who takes over for All-SEC Dave McCormick at tackle. Defensively, Ends Mike Robichaux and John Garlington intimidate runners and passers as if they were the best pair in the South, which they may well be. Tough John Demaire, 230 pounds, has switched from middle guard to tackle. The linebacking is sure and smart, the defensive backs 9.9ish.
At TENNESSEE, Doug Dickey has a lot going for him, and he'll need it to improve on that surprising 8-1-2 record of last year, which included a Bluebonnet Bowl win over Tulsa. The Vols open against Auburn in Birmingham, then meet Rice, Georgia Tech and Alabama on succeeding Saturdays. "I guess we'll just have to get ready quick," says Dickey, running a hand over his flat top.
One position he can forget about is quarterback. Tennessee has a superlative 1-2 punch in Dewey Warren and Charlie Fulton, who completed 73 of 138 passes for 1,013 yards between them last year. This fall the hottest will play the most—and that could be lots of fun with Austin Denney, Johnny Mills and Richmond Flowers running out for passes. Tight End Denney caught 14 for 206 yards when he wasn't wiping out tackles and linebackers, and Split End Mills led the Vols with 23 catches for 328 yards. Everybody is waiting to see what Flowers can do—indications are it's a lot—and he'll get his chance at wingback.
But pity the poor team that ignores Tennessee's runners. Tailback Walt Chadwick led the Volunteers in rushing with 470 yards, and during spring practice he was under a heavy push from sophomores Rich Callaway and Bill Baker. Another newcomer, 201-pound Richard Pickens, has shown more than enough to take over for Stan Mitchell at fullback. Center Bob Johnson leads an offensive line that can move, even though it averages 211 pounds a man.
As soon as Linebacker Frank Emanuel graduated, Dickey started worrying about his defense. Things grew worse when Tom Fisher, a linebacker drafted as a high future by the pros, was killed in an auto accident. So Paul Naumoff, Tennessee's best player, has switched from end to help back up the line, where he will play alongside Doug Archibald. This leaves Tennessee green at the ends, but there is compensating speed in the secondary and a kicker, Ron Widby, who averaged 42.8.