For those sated by the highest-scoring college football season ever, this is the game to watch. Alabama (8-2) allowed only 10.4 points a game, Missouri (7-3) only 12.6, and their face-off at Jacksonville figures to end 1-0. Coach Bear Bryant of the Crimson Tide has had teams with more impregnable defenses and teams with slicker offenses and he will have to be at his inventive best to win this game—but he probably will.
Bryant won't mind if Missouri tests End Mike Ford, an All-America, or Middle Guard Sammy Gellerstedt, a sophomore whose 5'8", 195-pound size is a very clever disguise. And any Missourian who thinks that Linebackers Mike Hall, Bob Childs and Wayne Owen are underfed had better beware, for they simply measure up to Bryant specifications: quick, lean and mean.
Bryant has worked overtime, however, fixing blowout patches for his deep defenders, who are vulnerable to the long pass, and it is interesting that Missouri's Terry McMillan can unload such passes. McMillan's No. 1 target will be Mel Gray, a 9.3 speedster who has the legs to get him to the right spot but hands that sometimes betray him once he is there. He showed much improvement toward the end of the season, however.
Tiger Coach Dan Devine has a more diversified offense than Alabama, and he will probably augment it by interchanging two men at tailback: Greg Cook, who led the team in total yards rushing (693), and Jon Staggers, the No. 1 pass catcher.
As for the Tiger defense, Ends Elmer Benhardt and Bill Schmitt, Tackle Rocky Wallace and Guard Carl Garber are strong enough to keep Alabama Quarterback Scott Hunter hustling. This is important, because Hunter has a strong arm and cannot be allowed undue time to throw. Former Tide Quarterback Steve Sloan, who now coaches the Alabama passers, says, "For just raw arm, Hunter is as good as Namath." Hunter this year completed 104 of 190 attempts for 1,298 yards and broke team passing marks held by Namath, Kenny Stabler and Sloan. End George Ranager and Flanker Donnie Sutton are receivers who can come up with big gainers, but to do so will have to outfox two good Missouri defensive backs, Butch Davis and All-America Safety Roger Wehrli, who is the country's best punt returner as well.
The best guess is that Bryant will have Hunter peck away at the weakest part of the Tiger defense—the so-so linebackers—with a barrage of short passes. Then, when that strong Tiger line begins pressing its pass rush, look out for the draw plays to runners Ed Morgan and Pete Moore. Is this a point-a-minute approach? Hardly. But a point an hour might be enough for Alabama to win its 12th bowl game in 21 tries.
OKLAHOMA vs. SMU
SMU scores touchdowns as fast as Bob Hope spouts one-liners. Alas, Hope, who recently became SMU's first Homecoming King, cannot help the Mustangs once they get on the field, and the SMU defense could surely use help against Oklahoma, for it is young and error-prone. But as bad as Coach Hayden Fry's Mustangs may look on occasion, they surprised even themselves with a 7-3 record and are far from hopeless. They have a way of rearing up when least expected. Offensive Tackle Terry May might stop a Sooner drive singlehandedly. Or Safety Jim Livingston, who had eight of the team's 22 interceptions, might come up with a few more.
To get the SMU offense rolling, Chuck Hixson, who was the nation's top passer with 265 completions, will have to take advantage of the Oklahoma linebackers. One of these, Steve Casteel, is excellent, but the other two, Don Pfrimmer and Gary Harper, are roamers and may give Hixson a chance to hit 'em where they ain't. Hixson will be throwing to a pair of fine receivers, Jerry Levias (80 receptions for 1,131 yards) and Ken Fleming (53 for 588 yards). Since Oklahoma's defensive backs are not the best, Hixson, whose forte is the short pass, might resort to more long passes than usual to test them.
Few teams came on as strong in the late weeks of the season as Oklahoma. Sooner Tailback Steve Owens, who is 6'2" and 205 pounds, was fourth in the country in rushing, and if his blockers do not clear a path for him he is strong enough to do the job himself. Quarterback Bob Warmack is a clever manipulator who set Big Eight career records for passing and total yardage. His favorite receiver is Wingback Eddie Hinton, who caught 60 passes for 967 yards. Also functioning well in the Oklahoma backfield is Fullback Mike Harper, who is most frequently, and effectively, used as a blocker for Owens.