Nebraska may have a weak spot: middle guard, where the Huskers lost All-Big Eight Eddie Periard. Bob Pabis and Joe Duffy missed spring practice because of injuries, yet the Huskers still had big Monte Johnson, Rich Glover and "a kid named [John] Peterson who came to practice on his own and is tearing them up." The Huskers' strongest single feature may be their defensive backfield, the best in the nation, where Safety Bill Kosch and Corner-backs Joe Blahak and Jim Anderson all return. Monsterman Dave Morock left, but Dave Mason "could be as good a monster as we've ever had," and sophomore Glen Garson, switched from offensive halfback, gives the Huskers a good deep man.
Minnesota, Utah State, Hawaii and the rest will find out what last year's opponents discovered as Nebraska went undefeated and became No. 1 in the nation by beating LSU in the Orange Bowl while Texas and Ohio State lost. After Nebraska finished first in the rankings and the whole state broke out in a rash not only of bumper stickers and buttons but of such esoterica as wooden No. 1 statues, clocks with Big Eight symbols all around a "Nebraska No. 1" center and Nebraska helmets with the number 1 on them made into table lamps, Coach Bob Devaney felt obliged to declare an official Back-to-Earth Day. But overconfidence should not be a hazard. The Huskers reaffirmed their down-to-earthness this spring, chipping in to buy flowers for all the cafeteria helpers on Mother's Day. That is the team's only real weakness—sentimentality.
The only thing about the 1971 Michigan Wolverines that does not immediately impress you is their modesty. They are much too good for that. It's not so much that they are cocky as simply confident about the upcoming football season. Just ask them. Naturally, Coach Bo Schembechler says, "Aw, we might make it as high as 20th." But then you don't expect No. 1 talk from head coaches, particularly the good ones. It is the Michigan players who will tell it to you straight.
"There's no place like first place," says Tailback Billy Taylor. "Last year—second place? Nothin', man." Offensive Guard Reggie McKenzie is even more direct: "We feel we'll be undefeated."
The Wolverines did go undefeated last year—for nine games, that is—before losing to Ohio State 20-9 in a continuation of a rivalry that has become one of the most dramatic in college football. In the last two years this regular-season finale has not only decided the Big Ten championship but has eliminated a national champion. In 1969 Ohio State was undefeated and ranked first in both polls before being upset by Michigan 24-12. Last year Ohio State's victory cost the Wolverines the crown. ( Michigan, 9-0 before the game with the Buckeyes, was ranked third behind Texas and Notre Dame and ahead of Nebraska. A final 10-0 record would certainly have done the job, what with Texas and Notre Dame both losing and Michigan ineligible for the Rose Bowl.)
Of course, the coming season won't be as easy as Taylor and McKenzie imply, but all that heady talk about No. I may not prove far wrong, despite the absence of a proven quarterback.
"No problem," says McKenzie to that particular point. "You know who the quarterback is? Bo, I tell you! He calls a great game."
Which is not to say that there aren't some pretty good arms and legs around to carry out Schembechler's will. Sophomore Kevin Casey, who fits the "good ball handler" stereotype, should edge Tom Slade for the quarterback job. The offense will again depend on the option. With a game-breaking runner like Taylor and regulars Fritz Seyferth and Glenn Doughty, Michigan should have no trouble moving on the ground. But Casey will have little time to grow into the job or become accustomed to the pressure. Because of an unusual season opener with dangerous conference rival Northwestern at Evanston, Casey must start playing for the Rose Bowl in his very first game.
Again Michigan will have a stingy defense. The 1970 unit surrendered only nine touchdowns and there are talented replacements for five all-conference graduates. Cornerback Tom Darden has switched to safety to head the secondary.