The immediate future of UCLA's football team is obscured in what might be best described as, well, a cloud of smog. On one hand is the fact that 23 veterans are missing from last year's 8-1-1 team, a depressing state of affairs that caused Coach Tommy Prothro to say, with a weak smile, "We're well balanced...we have problems everywhere." Even so, those fans who follow the Pacific Eight are having a difficult time writing off the Bruins. Maybe because UCLA always manages to come up with some kind of a decent team. Or maybe because one of UCLA's five returning starters is Quarterback Dennis Dummit. Or maybe because whenever things look dark for the Bruins Prothro usually pops up with a few junior-college transfers who play as though they had transferred from the Rams.
"I always think we're going to be good, you know that," says Prothro. "I always figure us up there in the first three [in the Pacific Eight]. But this team has more question marks than any I've ever coached."
One main question mark is the status of the UCLA running attack now that Halfback Mickey Cureton is out for the season. As a junior Cureton was the team's No. 2 rusher, with 721 yards. But strained ligaments (the original injury occurred in last year's Stanford game) caused Cureton to sit out spring practice with his neck in a brace and orders to do no running, and in late August he was advised not to play this season. "It's discouraging," says Prothro. "There's no doubt about it, our running game needs bolstering."
Without a runner of breakaway potential, the defensive lines are liable to pour in on Dummit, a senior economics major who caused Prothro to make a major change in his coaching philosophy. Prothro used to be such a believer in the single wing that even after he switched to the T his quarterbacks sprinted out like single-wing tailbacks more often than they dropped back in classic T formation. But after getting a load of Dummit's arm Prothro switched to the Veer T and let his recruit from Long Beach City College throw almost at will. All Dummit did was set seven UCLA passing records and tie another.
This fall Dummit has a good set of receivers, led by Split End Rick Wilkes, who caught his throws for two years in junior college before moving with him to UCLA. Backing up Wilkes is Terry Vernoy, up from the redshirts, and moving in for George Farmer at wingback is Brad Lyman. As for the ground game, the Bruins' top runner—now that Cureton is out—may be a JC transfer, Marv Kendricks, a 5'11", 200-pound tailback from Riverside City College.
Hopefully, UCLA's offensive will be able to score a lot of points because the defense's task is intimidating. Not only are the Bruins being asked to stop passers like Stanford's Jim Plunkett and USC's Jimmy Jones, they also will have to deal with three of the nation's most punishing runners, USC's Clarence Davis, Texas' Steve Worster and Tennessee's Curt Watson.
So UCLA could be very good or just plain ordinary, and not even Prothro can see into the smog. Or can he? One night after practice he was smiling as he hurriedly knotted his tie. "We should improve a great deal as the season goes on," he said. "And we might surprise a few."