Even though Shug Jordan is 103-46-5 in 15 seasons, a wait-and-see attitude has prevailed at AUBURN ever since two assistant coaches quit in dissatisfaction following last year's 5-4-1 record and another was assigned to alumni administrative affairs. But the team that lost the SEC title to Alabama on the final day of the season is largely intact (27 lettermen return), especially in the offensive line, where Auburn figures to go 220 pounds per man. Tom Bryan is at fullback, where he led the team in rushing last year with 561 yards. The rest of the backs will be sophomores. Quarterback Larry Blakeney throws well enough for the Plainsmen to hint at a pro-type offense, and Dwight Hurston could be a find at left half. Andy Gross, 230 pounds, is among the best guards in the SEC. Defense will make or break Auburn—and that's what Shug Jordan is worrying about most.
Defense is not the problem for KENTUCKY'S Charlie Bradshaw. "It is better right now," he said last spring, "than it has been at any time during the four years I've been at Kentucky." That could be bad news for the SEC in general and LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia and Tennessee in particular. The Wildcats made so much progress in spring practice that Defensive Coach Buckshot Underwood promised, "We'll give the ball to the offense in good position a lot of times this fall." His reasons are men like Jim Swart and Doug Van Meter at the ends, Tackles Paul Bernard and Basil Mullins and Middle Guard Rich Machel. The secondary, long a Kentucky trouble spot, jelled too. "Now, instead of dreading a pass on third and eight, these boys look forward to it," says Bradshaw.
The Wildcat offense will miss Rick Norton, the All-America passer, at quarterback and Rodger Bird everywhere. But the talents of Quarterback Terry Beadles, who will roll out and throw, and Tailback Larry Seiple, Wingback Don Windsor and End Don Spanish, who will run and catch, are not inconsiderable. Fullback Donnie Britton is the best blocker Kentucky has had in a long time. On paper, the Wildcats seem to have several—but not enough—fine players, but on the field they may prove to be something more than paper Wildcats.
Don Saget, 6 feet 4, 220 pounds, caught 24 passes for 373 yards as a sophomore at MISSISSIPPI STATE last year, but Coach Paul Davis has made him a quarterback, and this fall Saget will be throwing, hopefully to catchers as able as he. The Bulldogs are still looking for someone to replace Fullback Hoyle Granger, State's best plunger for three years, and the offensive line needs a helping hand or two. Marcus Rhoden returns at tailback, but the defense will leak. To make the outlook even bleaker, the Bulldogs are hopelessly outclassed by a schedule that includes the best of the SEC.
Vanderbilt will be improved, but not enough to move up in the conference standings. Like Mississippi State, the Commodores simply play too many teams that are better than they. Gary Davis gives Vandy some class at quarterback, as does Jim Whiteside at fullback. But the offensive line, despite the presence of Scott Hall, is not consistently good. With the defense getting more than its share of action, Defensive Back Charlie Orr and Chip Healey, the monster, will find more opportunities to shine than even they can handle.
Duke, North Carolina State and North Carolina will be on Clemson's heels from the start of the schedule, although the Blue Devils and Tar Heels, along with South Carolina, are ineligible for the Atlantic Coast title because they do not play enough league games. Scotty Glacken and Sonny Odom have graduated at Durham, so the Duke Blue Devils will bank on a stern defense. Thirty-four lettermen greeted new Coach Tom Harp when he came from Cornell this year, and among them were Bob Matheson, an All-ACC linebacker, and Middle Guard Bob Foyle. The rushers up front are strong and there's speed at the ends. The defensive secondary picked off 16 passes last year that were meant for somebody else. Fullback Jay Calabrese was All-ACC as a sophomore, and he'll head up a powerful running game. Todd Orvald takes over for Glacken at quarterback and Jake Devonshire steps in for Odom at halfback.
North Carolina State would like to pick up where it left off in 1965. The Wolfpack will carry a five-game winning streak (and 31 lettermen) into spanking-new 41,000-seat Carter Stadium and, as Coach Earle Edwards warns, "If we continue to eliminate mistakes at the rate we did last year, this fall could really get exciting." Size, speed and depth in the backfield help ease the loss of Shelby Mansfield, who came within 18 yards of Alex Webster's school record of 636 yards rushing. Bill Wyland leads the way at fullback, and Quarterback Charlie Noggle can move the club. Defensively, Tackle Dennis Byrd, 250, and End Pete Sokalsky rank high. However, the secondary could use some patchwork. How well Edwards gets it mended could determine how far the Wolfpack rises.
Quarterback Danny Talbott did a lot for NORTH CAROLINA last year and he is back again. Operating this year behind a bigger and better line, he may even improve on his record of 1,481 yards in total offense and 70 points (two short of Charlie Justice's alltime record). He also punted for a 38-yard average and for all this was voted the ACC Player of the Year. But, of all his skills, Talbott likes throwing best, and that means a big year for End Charlie Carr, who caught 14 for two scores last season even though he missed three games with a broken hand. Tom Ingle, 245, has come along fast at left tackle, as has Center Chip Bradley. They will be protecting Talbott and trying to clear the way for Running Backs David Riggs, Tom Lampman and Mark Mazza.
The defensive backfield ranks with the offensive line as the Tarheels' most improved department. Billy Darnall is a two-year starter, and Jack Davenport, a tough corner man, should be even better at safety. But Coach Jim Hickey worries most about his defensive line and the men who back it up. Outside of End Bo Wood and Tackle Hank Sadler, the defenders are no more than adequate. That is why so much depends upon Talbott.
South Carolina had to give up its only ACC title in history this July because some of the athletes who had helped earn it were discovered belatedly to have accepted more than mere hoorays for their efforts. New Coach Paul Dietzel is expecting neither a conference championship this fall nor an investigation next summer. Even though he has a lot of experienced Gamecocks—35—Dietzel had only nine days of spring practice to install his system after his abrupt departure from Army. Adding to his troubles is the fact that South Carolina must play LSU in Baton Rouge and Georgia in the first three weeks of the season and Tennessee and Alabama later on.