The anticipation of an opportunity not to be missed may be well-nigh unbearable on the Louisiana State University campus in Baton Rouge this fall. Possibly not for another five years will the Bengals see the prize of being ranked No. 1 college team in the country dangled at such close range. This year they will be 1-0 after the first Saturday, unlike the last two and likely the next two, when they open against Colorado. That is because the first opponent is Pacific. And by early November, when they confront their two toughest opponents, Ole Miss and Alabama, the Bengals should be a vote-grabbing 6-0.
Emerging from what Head Coach Charlie McClendon called "the best spring game we've had," LSU seemed to have enormous potential. Despite the loss of some real stars from last year, McClendon faces his 11th season with an overflow of football talent.
The offense is especially formidable, led by Quarterbacks Bert Jones and Paul Lyons. Jones, a nicely sized 6'3", is the passer. During the last six games of LSU's 9-3 season last year, which included a Sun Bowl victory over Iowa State, he completed 50 of 80 pass attempts for 838 yards, nine touchdowns and, remarkably, not a single interception. Lyons, a sturdy 5'11", 186 pounds, is a running quarterback and a fiery leader. He gained 394 yards on 101 carries from out behind center last year (a total which includes 106 yards lost through sacking) and scored six touchdowns. He also passed for 11 touchdowns and holds the school record of 17 touchdowns produced in a single season.
Veteran Bengal watchers think they see a super running back looming on the scene also. He is chunky sophomore Brad Davis, supposedly the best runner at LSU since Jim Taylor. The span of years since Taylor takes in Billy Cannon, which would indeed seem to make Davis something very special. Last year's leading ground-gainer, Tailback Art Cantrelle, is gone, but Chris Dantin, who averaged more than four yards a burst as Cantrelle's often visible backup, returns for his senior year. Up from the frosh, along with Davis, comes versatile Brad Bowman, who is fast and strong and can catch a pass as well, and Steve Rogers, a 6'3", 194-pound tailback. No single receiver seems capable of fully replacing Andy Hamilton (45 catches, nine touchdowns), but the lack of individual brilliance should be more than compensated for by quality en masse.
The loss of Halfback Tommy Casanova and Tackle Ron Estay has prompted some snipping and pasting in the defense, but it will be experienced and sound and certainly no disgrace to the long tradition of tenacious defenders that exists at LSU. The Bengals—and their chances for a national title—have seldom seemed better.
Nebraska has another in its unending series of football problems. This headache follows the standard UN pattern. After speaking with appropriate awe of unstoppable Middle Guard Rich Glover, all-slipperiest Slot-back Johnny Rodgers and pass-mashing Defensive End Willie Harper, a Cornhusker assistant said disconsolately, "There are eight other men we should nominate, but I guess there's no way we're going to get 11 All-Americas." There, there, Nebraska. Self-pity will get you nowhere. But we do grant the basic point. Joe Blahak could be the best cornerback in the country; monsterman Dave Mason got 135 yards in interceptions last year; Jerry List is the best tight end Coach Bob Devaney has ever had; Fullback Bill Olds averages seven yards per carry; Bill Janssen and 6'7" John Dutton have been making people, particularly quarterbacks, forget about Larry Jacobson at defensive tackle; Center Doug Dumler makes Glover hate spring practice and look forward to fall, when he draws easier matchups; and Tackle Daryl White was one of the country's outstanding sophomores. But most of these players will have to be content with trivial honors like All-Big Eight or All-South of the Niobrara. Adversity builds character. By that measure, Nebraska might be presumed to receive some toughening of moral fiber from reliance on two sophomore quarterbacks to replace Jerry Tagge. But blue-chip redshirt Humm's first name is David, not Ho, while Luck's real name is Terry, not Lotsa and both have promise and a juggernaut to work with. Gary Dixon—although good (515 yards rushing as a sub)—may not be quite a Kinney at I-back, but fullback is quarry-deep with Maury Damkroger and Jim Carstens behind Olds. Linebacker loses something, but Jim Branch, Bill Sloey and Johnny Pitts looked extremely bright in spring work and sophomores Bob Nelson and Tom Ruud showed strength. UN's secondary, after Blahak and Randy Borg, might be more of a question were it not for two local walk-ons, George Kyros and Ardell Johnson, who provide more speed at free safety than last year and make a man-to-man possible. Frosty Anderson and Bob Revelle seem good answers to one slight offensive question at split end. Nebraska, which last year annihilated 13 opponents by an average score of 39-8 and Osterized Alabama 38-6 in the Orange Bowl, could be as much of a shock this year. The entire team—backs and linemen, offense and defense—averages 4.77 in a 40-yard dash. "Our players haven't given up the thought that a third championship, while improbable, is not impossible," blandly says old fox Devaney. "Our coaches have not thrown up their hands at the idea. And the fans figure it's a certainty." They do indeed. But 11 more wins, plus a bowl game, may be one too many to ask.
3 OHIO STATE
Everyone in the Big Ten was looking forward to last year. After three seasons of getting kicked around by the team of Kern, Tatum, Stillwagon, Brockington and the rest, they were about to get even with Ohio State and Woody Hayes. Then the Buckeyes beat Iowa 52-21 in the opener and that was the hint that maybe only the names of the players had changed. Sure enough, after seven games the team was 6-1 and undefeated in the conference. Finally, with half the club in the hospital—altogether, 16 players underwent surgery—the Buckeyes dropped their last three games by the scores of 17-10, 14-10 and 10-7. So revenge was only partial and, it would seem, brief.
If everybody's stitching doesn't come undone, the Bucks should win the Big Ten title. Thirty-six lettermen, including 14 starters, and two letter winners from 1970 who missed last year with injuries, warmed the heart of Hayes during spring drills. "We've got a lot of good football players," concedes Hayes. 'Not too many great ones. We've got to make great ones out of what we've got."