Once again a major section of our annual college football issue is devoted to an appraisal of the Top 20 teams in the nation. Before much appraising can be done, however, a Top 20 must be selected, and this year the process began back in February, when Senior Editor Walter Bingham, the man in charge of the seasonal preview that begins on page 46, sent off wires to correspondents asking them for their own lists of 20 teams. He concluded: "In short, we want our Top 20 to be the product of the best football minds (that's you) we can find." Soon after, responses began to arrive on Bingham's desk from such men as Kaye Kessler in Columbus, Ohio, Ted O'Leary in Kansas City and Jack Tobin in Los Angeles.
Bingham then invited each member of SI's college football staff to submit his own list of top teams, and from this combined collection Bingham produced a Top 25. Eliminating the last five—and placing the remainder in their most logical order—proved to be the toughest job of all. Alabama may be good, but is its schedule too tough? (Yes.) Jack Mildren is a fine quarterback, but is the Oklahoma defense suspect? (Yes.) With star runner Mickey Cureton out for the season, should UCLA be dropped from consideration? (No.)
Since the football staff is composed, not accidentally, of football fans, perennially there are disagreements. This year's major "discussion" involved the ranking of Texas. Dan Jenkins, our senior college-football writer, is a native of Fort Worth, an alumnus of TCU and, of course, totally objective in the matter. He felt the Longhorns should be placed at least third. Or second. Or first. When he returned to New York after covering the PGA golf championship in Tulsa he found that Texas had been ranked fourth, behind Arkansas, the team the Longhorns had beaten last December to win the national championship.
"He was a little sick," Bingham says. "Also a little hot."
But Jenkins became philosophical. "If James Street were the quarterback this year, I believe we would have picked Texas as a unanimous No. 1. But Street is gone. I understand that he spent the summer singing at rodeos around Texas. We don't know if Eddie Phillips will be as entertaining as James was."
Discussion and interest in our Top 20 tend to continue throughout the season. Many readers remember the rankings very well indeed, and, as the weeks pass, write letters of nongratulation if we have blown a few, messages of endorsement if we are batting high. Last year the response was almost entirely favorable because our first eight teams proved remarkably accurate. We had picked Ohio State, Texas, Penn State, USC, Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri and Notre Dame. The Associated Press poll following the season's ninth Saturday chose Ohio State, Texas, Arkansas, Penn State, USC, UCLA, Missouri and Notre Dame. Bingham and the staff were jubilant. Then that memorable game in Ann Arbor, Mich. changed a few rankings. But even so....
This year's Top 20, written by John Underwood, Joe Jares, Roy Blount, Mark Mulvoy, Billy Reed, Skip Myslenski, Sandy Treadwell and Libby Krautter, will be given an immediate test up toward the top when Arkansas (No. 3) plays Stanford (No. 17) this week. The fortunes of Arkansas will be of particular interest to Bingham and Jenkins, and it is likely that their disagreement won't be settled until the Razorbacks face Texas on Dec. 5 in Austin.
"After that," Bingham says, " Jenkins may start talking to me again."