Arizona State of the Western Athletic Conference opens its schedule next September with Minnesota of the Big Ten. Last week a story in a Minnesota paper appeared questioning why any Big Ten team would want to schedule Arizona State. The story reasoned that the Big Ten could only lose prestige in defeat to ASU and would be credited with nothing if it won.
That would be a responsible premise if it had been offered a decade ago when Arizona State was playing such teams as Midwestern and Montana State College. The way the WAC is advancing, though, the inverse of the argument may be more accurate by next fall—namely, why would ASU want to risk so much by scheduling a Big Ten school?
Outside of the Mountain time zone, nobody yet pays much attention to the WAC. The bookies, who will offer odds on almost anything that moves, even Penn vs. Brown, fail to include the WAC games in their weekly national line. Last year was the first time that journalists and coaches voted a WAC school into the final Top Ten.
It was the pros, perhaps, who first appreciated the improved WAC play, and particularly the talent that Coach Frank Kush was developing at Arizona State. But in the last couple of years it has been hard for the Big Ten or anyone else to deny that the WAC has arrived. Wyoming was unbeaten last year, and led LSU 13-0 at the half in the Sugar Bowl before tiring and losing in the last quarter. Texas at El Paso beat Mississippi 14-7. The same day ASU beat Wisconsin 42-16, Arizona, the doormat of the WAC, topped Ohio State.
Arizona State started off this season beating Wisconsin again 55-7, and in the Sun Devil trainer's room the signs that read 11-0: IN OUR HEARTS WE KNOW IT'S RIGHT looked pretty right. Unfortunately, though, Arizona State must also play other WAC members, and last Saturday the Sun Devils' nemesis and the league's other powerhouse, Wyoming, beat Arizona State 27-13 at Laramie.
The defeat will slow Arizona State's battle for recognition, if not the train of talent that keeps showing up from all over the country to learn under Kush's grueling system. The players report before school each fall to an infamous training site called Camp Tontozona in the cool pinetree country north of Phoenix, where the workouts are three times a day and the favorite drills bear names like "nutcracker" and "hamburger." It doesn't get much easier once the season starts. Kush often schedules Friday scrimmages.
"People ask me why I came to Arizona State, to go through all this," says J. D. Hill, a 190-pound wingback from Stockton, Calif. "Well, I came here because of who's been here. Charley, The Hawk, Travis—they all said if I made it through four years under Frank Kush then pro football would just be a breeze."
A short, burly man of 38, Kush is not just running a four-year boot camp for pro prospects. His 75-27-1 coaching record is sixth best in the nation. He is better known, though, for the 17 ASU alumni who have come out of Camp Tontozona to make the pros—like Charley Taylor and Jerry Smith of Washington, Philadelphia's Ben Hawkins and Travis Williams of Green Bay.
Among the 15 legitimate pro prospects now on hand in Tempe are half a dozen backs who can run the 100 in 9.8 or less, a split end who does the 120-yard high hurdles in 13.8 and an All-America 225-pound linebacker from Antioch, Calif. named Ron Pritchard. The only position Kush has failed to fill in the pros so far is quarterback—and the lack of an outstanding one was a part of the reason that ASU lost to Wyoming.
At many schools, quarterbacks are treated much like sacred cows, wearing bright red "hands-off" sweat shirts during scrimmages. But not the Sun Devil quarterbacks. Recently, Ed Roseborough was not releasing the ball quickly enough to suit Kush, so the coach stripped his quarterback of his offensive line and made him drop back and peg the ball while an entire seven-man front charged him, flattening Roseborough time and again after he threw.