North Carolina State, which beat Clemson 23-14, is sound on defense with Dennis Byrd at tackle, but the paramount problem is finding a line that can block. Nine sophomores will start at Wake Forest, where for the first time there is enough depth to platoon. The Deacons are considered the conference sleeper, and someone was dozing when the Wake Forest-Duke game was arranged; each had the other scheduled at home. They compromised and will play at Raleigh. Duke Coach Tom Harp's prime worry is keeping two injury-prone quarterbacks well.
Maryland Quarterback Alan Pastrana injured his knee in spring practice and has not recovered from surgery so the Terps will have a sophomore quarterback and offense troubles. South Carolina's Paul Dietzel says, "I wouldn't trade our backfield for any in the conference or possibly anywhere," which suggests the Gamecocks may better their 1-9 record. Virginia expects too much of Tailback Frank Quayle, and North Carolina is already looking toward next season.
Pity the poor we-try-too teams who have to play in the SEC, the only conference with four schools—Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi—ranked in the Top 20. Playing in this league means the other six SEC teams are halfway to a losing season before their equipment is even issued. But it also means they have their chances to attack the mighty. Auburn is the most likely spoiler. Shug Jordan has switched Defensive End Al Giffin, a junior, to fullback with gratifying results, but this is offset by the fact that Auburn has three quarterbacks, none of whom Jordan is eager to rush into action. Florida's Ray Graves has the easiest schedule in the conference (of the contenders, only Georgia appears), and Steve Spurrier's replacement, Jackie Eckdahl, will have a chance to ease his way into the position. He will be comforted, too, by the presence of Running Back Larry Smith, who was voted the Most Valuable Player in the SEC in a preseason poll.
LSU finds itself with the toughest schedule in the league, if not the country. As well as Tennessee, Ole Miss and Alabama on successive weeks, the Tigers also meet Texas A&M and Miami. If Quarterback Nelson Stokley has recovered from his knee operation and can last the season, Coach Charlie McClendon will have the best losing team around. Some 75 players, the most ever under Charlie Bradshaw, came out for football at Kentucky this spring, but that may not be enough to fill the Wildcats' losses.
Both Mississippi State and Vanderbilt have new coaches. Charlie Shira, who has a mechanical engineering degree from Mississippi State, says, "Football is a lot like engineering. If you work long and hard enough, you can come up with the answer to the problem." His problem is too few football players. Bill Pace at Vanderbilt has even fewer.
Ask Coach Bo Schembechler of Miami of Ohio which team is the one to beat in the Mid-American and he comes back quickly, "Miami!" This is fair enough, since the Redskins were 9-1 last season and shared the championship with Western Michigan. But Schembechler can get an argument from the followers of almost every team in the conference. With the possible exception of Marshall, they all have a chance. Kent State has the best personnel, and for the past three years Coach Leo Strang has been brashly predicting a title in September and winding up in the ruck in November. This year he is silent, and his Golden Flashes may break through, for they are loaded with experienced players. The best of them are Don Fitzgerald, the nation's second-leading rusher with 1,245 yards in 1966, and Safety Lou Harris.
Miami is still strong in spite of the loss of Quarterback Bruce Matte. Defensive Halfback Kent Thompson has been moved into the quarterback spot and looks good. Western Michigan, even with 28 lettermen returning and two quarterbacks, Jim Boreland and Ron Seifert, will need some of last year's luck, when it won four games by a total of eight points. To take the conference championship it must fill a number of holes on the defensive team—too many, perhaps. Ohio U. is on the way up again. It has its best group of sophomores ever, and one of them, Cleve Bryant, figures to beat out holdover Ron DeLucca at quarterback. Bowling Green, usually a grind-'em-to-death team, will go in for more passing this year, with P. J. Nyitray throwing and Eddie Jones catching. Toledo, in the third year of Coach Frank Lauterbur's rebuilding campaign, is a suspicious team; one that may startle any complacent opponent. One reason is Quarterback John Schneider, the MAC's best passer.