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Not only are these pluses missing, some minuses remain, primarily on defense. Last year Auburn football was often a hectic scramble to see if the offense could score points faster than the defense would give them up. The pass rush, weak in 1970, still exists only in the prayers of Line Coach Joe Connally. Linebacking, also fragile last year, is further depleted by the graduation of All-SEC selection Bobby Strickland, the only consistent stopper. In addition, the deep defense has lost All-America Corner-back Larry Willingham.
So the offense is even more the key to Auburn success. In Dick Schmalz, a senior with sure hands and elusive moves, and Sandy Cannon, a speedy junior-college transfer, Auburn may have two exciting wide receivers to help take the heat off Beasley. A senior tight end, 6'3" Robby Robinett, may prove to be the best Auburn has had at that position in many years. And the coaches expect the running backs to be the biggest surprise of all: "They'll be better than most people think," says Head Coach Shug Jordan. The most effective of these could be James Owens, the first black ever to play football for Auburn, a 6'2", 198-pound junior tailback who showed flashes of brilliance last year as a part-time punt-return specialist.
"Spring practice was the best we've had in my 21 years at Auburn," says Jordan. Whether this spring momentum can be sustained all the way through the fall depends to a great extent on what happens two weeks from now at Knoxville in the game against Tennessee. If they get by the rugged Vols, the Plainsmen should be 8-0 going into their last two games, with Georgia and Alabama, and on the verge of a return to their glory days.
This will be a typical Houston team, and everyone ought to know what that means. Lots of "Big O," as in offense. For the past five years Coach Bill Yeoman's Cougars have led the nation in scoring and total offense, and win or lose they always provide more fireworks than the Astrodome scoreboard. So this fall defensive coaches around the Southwest shuddered collectively when Yeoman looked over his notorious Veer-T offense and announced. casually, "We think our offense may be as good, or even a little more effective, than last year." Get out the adding machine, folks, 'cause here comes Houston again—and again.
Last season the Cougars started so slowly that they were ignored by the bowls, which turned out to be quite an oversight. They won their last four for a final 8-3-0 record and they wound up in the Top 20 for the fifth straight year—a record not even the Texas Longhorns can claim. Gone from that team are Wide Receiver Elmo Wright and his many moves, but the entire starting backfield—including versatile Quarterback Gary (Moon) Mullins—is back.
Mullins was hampered all last season by a bum knee, but in spring practice he seemed to be fully recovered, running the option as well as ever. His top receivers this season will be Pat Orchin and Riley Odoms, neither of them another Elmo but adequate nonetheless. But Houston will use its passing game mainly to keep the defense from keying on its running attack, which is devastating. Robert Newhouse and Tommy Mozisek combined for more than 1,000 yards each of the last two seasons. Newhouse was involved in a serious car accident the week before the Cougars' opening game, but he came back to average 6.4 yards rushing and gain more than 100 yards each of the last five games.
About all that is known for sure about Houston's defense is that it will be close-knit—if only in one way. The Peacock brothers, Ronny and Randy, will be the cornerbacks, following their older brother Johnny, now a safety with the New England Patriots. Linebackers Frank Ditta and Bob Kyle aren't brothers, but they might as well be. They grew up in the same Houston neighborhood, played for the same high school (Waltrip) and married girls who are good friends. Oh, yes, one other note for family fanciers: Defensive Left End Butch Brezina is the sixth brother to play for the Cougars.
Although Houston finally was admitted to the Southwest Conference last spring, the Cougars won't be eligible to compete for the league title until 1976, so Houston's schedule this year consists of only one SWC opponent—Rice in the season opener this week—and 10 outsiders. The Cougars' second game, at Arizona State, should turn out to be one of the fun face-offs of the year. The one team that likes to light up the scoreboard as much as Houston is Arizona State. Get those adding machines ready.
13 GEORGIA TECH