For a while, as the season wore on, it seemed that the races for No. 1, for conference championships and for all of the bowl berths might prove less exciting than the fight for the Heisman Trophy. There were three strong candidates, each of whom could be supported with reams of newsprint and logic—UCLA's Gary Beban, USC's O. J. Simpson and Purdue's Leroy Keyes. Even that noted syndicated columnist, Duffy Daugherty, took sides. As provincial as the next man, Duffy was rooting for Keyes from his own Big Ten.
Keyes's admirers had a splendid case, but good as he was, his performance did not quite measure up to that of Simpson. Both Simpson and Keyes had far better years than many Heisman winners of the past, as it turned out, but neither could outpoll Gary Beban for the honor, proving that most Heisman awards are given for a performance throughout a college career instead of for a season. Perhaps the "best of the year" stipulation of the Heisman award should be changed to "best of the year, but last year, too, if he's really a nice guy." Beban, who is really a nice guy, had a large backlog of heroics going for him, and he did manage to live up to his preseason raves better than any returning star. But if the Heisman is for the best player of 1967, then it should have gone to Simpson.
Undoubtedly, the day that Beban clinched the Heisman was November 18, which became the magic date to replace October 28. This was the Saturday that UCLA played USC for the national title. Beban and Simpson were both magnificent in the game, which was won by the Trojans 21-20. As USC and the Bruins put on their brilliant show, however, there was another team from the Pacific Eight Conference that had to be getting a big laugh from the California frenzy. That was Oregon State, the upsettingest crew of the year. The Beavers had just finished knocking over the Trojans 3-0 and tying UCLA 16-16. And before that they shocked Purdue 22-14. The disquieting thing about Oregon State was that it caused these calamities shortly after losing to such dreary foes as Brigham Young and Washington.
It was fortunate that those letdowns on the way to November 18 did not really detract from the importance of the USC- UCLA meeting. It was still the showdown for No. 1, for there were no two better teams over the season, at least up to that point. And once again a game of this type proved, as the Notre Dame-Michigan State game did a year ago, what kind of furor could be caused if college football would somehow find a way to arrange a national playoff.
Not that the polls fail to provide a lot of pleasure and debate. Usually there is a large amount of hollering about who should be No. 1, as in 1966 when Notre Dame outpolled Michigan State and Alabama. This year the choice of USC caused little in the way of complaints, except for some muttered drawls down Tennessee way, where Volunteer rooters have trouble remembering that their team stubbed its toe against UCLA way back in September.
Otherwise, the polls were filled with their usual popularity whims as the Top 10 was rounded out. If the nation's best teams were to be ranked on a who-is-most-deserving basis, one that properly weighs their won-lost performance and the quality of their opposition, the Top 10 would read like this: 1) USC, 2) Alabama, 3) Wyoming, 4) Purdue, 5) Tennessee, 6) UCLA, 7) Florida State, 8) Oklahoma, 9) Penn State and 10) North Carolina State.
It is not quite so easy to list the reasons why this was such a crazy season. One thing is certain. There is far more good football talent available than there was a decade ago, and this includes coaches as well as players. There seem to be hosts of young, skillful coaches around, men who know the game and have the ability to get the finer points across to their recruits. And because more good players are available, a few big schools are no longer able to corner the market.
In addition, the two-platoon age is settling down. At first only the major powers adjusted quickly, probably because they had lots of resources. Now others are adapting well. Players are being recruited with specialties in mind, place-kicking, receiving, punting and, above all, passing—you can't survive these days without a passer. The ability to make maximum use of what might be called the incomplete football player is increasingly important. The season also pointed up the necessity of being able to adjust well in the face of adversity. It was the innovators who prospered, the coaches who were forced to build teams in early season that were quite different from the ones they had planned initially. Thus Texas A&M lost its first four games and won a conference title, USC shaped an entire offense around a star it knew virtually nothing about until the season opened, Penn State won with sophomores because everybody else got hurt, Tennessee beat Alabama with a third-string quarterback, etc.
There is one last curiosity of the season, and it is going to make the business of bowl watching more fascinating than ever this time. The stars of the year are returning next season, and many of the teams of the year are, too. The list is startling: USC, Indiana, Penn State, Purdue, Texas, Miami, Oregon State, Texas A&M and Yale. All are teams dominated by sophomores and juniors. Keyes and Simpson return. So does Ted Hendricks at Miami—about the year's best lineman—as do Bill Bradley and Chris Gilbert at Texas and Terry Hanratty and Jim Seymour at Notre Dame. So one old football motto not only has survived the upset autumn, it has become doubly meaningful: "Wait 'til next year!"
Meanwhile there is the matter of the bowls to settle. Do you just suppose that as a climax to this way-out season Indiana could possibly...?