Northwestern's Alex Agase is in a peculiar fix. Although he has his best running backs in years, the Wildcats will probably pass more and run less, and from a spread and a shotgun at that. Quarterback Dennis Boothe is not that good a passer really, but the interior linemen are inferior and Agase figures that the only way he can find running room at all is to throw. Fortunately, Tight End Cas Banaszek and the split ends, Mike Donaldson and Roger Murphy, can catch the ball, so Northwestern might upset a few people.
Indiana could, too. The Hoosiers won only twice last year, but they scared a lot of teams, including Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue, and that was the sort of progress Coach John Pont had been brought in to accomplish. He is looking for more this fall, even though he has to rebuild his defense and his runners are the plodding kind. What encourages him is that he now has the size to frighten opponents—Tackles Mike Field, Doug Crusan, Bill Bergman and Joe Sutor are 259, 256, 257 and 238 pounds—and Quarterback Frank Stavaroff is passer enough to spread defenses.
Minnesota Coach Murray Warmath, after watching his first and second units play to a 20-20 tie in the spring game, observed, "When you have two even teams, it usually means you have two second teams." That just about sizes up the Gophers. Without John Hankinson to throw the ball, Minnesota will return to Warmath's grim, knocking game. That would be fine, except that he does not really have the players for it. The best one, End Kenny Last, is a pass catcher. The quarterbacks are mediocre, the runners just ordinary and Warmath will have to scrounge among his sophomores to fill out the defensive line.
Wisconsin and IOWA are still poverty-stricken. Wisconsin's Milt Bruhn got a one-year reprieve from a kindly Board of Regents after his Badgers were battered in seven games and gave up 291 points last year. Only Passer Charlie Burt stands between him and job hunting. At Iowa, things are so bad that new Coach Ray Nagel, used to a better life at Utah, was shocked when he got a look at his skimpy squad. He will have to play with undistinguished linemen and a sophomore quarterback, Ed Podolak, who can run but has trouble with passes over 15 yards. "I've got maybe 14 players of respectable Big Ten caliber," he says morosely. "It's sort of frustrating."
Back in the Big Eight, MISSOURI'S Dan Devine says, "This is the year I am going to test our alumni. When I came to Missouri, they assured me they didn't expect me to win every game, just be respectable. Now, I may find out if they meant it."
What the alumni will find out is that Devine, once again, has exaggerated the gloom-and-doom bit. Although the Tigers have lost Quarterback Gary Lane, Johnny Roland and all their starting tackles, there are enough lettermen and red-shirts around to make Nebraska and Colorado jumpy.
Devine has a quarterback—Gary Kombrink—who runs almost as well and passes even better than Lane, and he still has Halfbacks Charlie Brown, a chunky squirmer who led the conference in rushing with 937 yards last season, and Earl Denny, a power runner. Along with Ray Thorpe and new Fullback Barry Lischner, they will make Mizzou's wing-T power sweeps and off-tackle slants as fierce as ever.
Not even Devine worries about the defense. It will be tough to crack with 6-foot-6, 260-pound Russ Washington, who needs only to get meaner to be an All-America, at one end, 215-pound Bill Powell moved over to tackle from guard, and Don Nelson, a low-slung guard who is hard to root out.
Some recent have-nots are showing signs of life, too. Football at OKLAHOMA may not be much better, but it will be a lot different. New Coach Jim Mackenzie, for years Frank Broyles' top aide at Arkansas, brought along such bespangled notions as a freewheeling I, split receivers, monster linebackers and a zone pass defense. He even has forsaken the traditional white helmets for gaudy red ones.
Mackenzie also put in his own style of defense, and his players will stunt, chase and gang-tackle. ( Broyles once said of it, "They don't play you, they raid you.") Unfortunately, this new enthusiasm took its toll in the spring. Eight players, including Linebacker Thurman Pitchlynn, had knee operations. Even so, Mackenzie, who started with 32 lettermen, has enough good players left for his kind of game. Middle Guard Granville Liggins, a 210-pounder who gets off the mark so fast opponents insist he is offside, and 233-pound Tackle Jim Riley head up an aggressive defense. Jim Burgar, a red-shirt quarterback, can throw the ball, Ben Hart, back at split end, and sophomore Ed Hinton, the new wingback, can catch it, and Tailback Ron Shotts is a stylish runner. It looks like the Sooners are on the way back.