Virginia Tech won only four of 11 games in 1971 although Quarterback Don Strock was second in the nation in passing and third in total offense. Strock returns to direct Coach Charlie Coffey's new "Gobble-Wobble" offense, which puts more emphasis on the running game. There is also an inordinate amount of machismo, as displayed by Defensive Tackle John Sprenkle. He drew Coffey's praise following the spring game because he played "and played well, despite the fact that he had dislocated a shoulder the previous Wednesday. That's the kind of mental toughness we need more of, and as things get better their pain level will tend to rise a little." The Gobble-Wobble somehow seems more sensible.
Bennie Ellender of Tulane, like Miami's Curci, had trouble when he stepped up from the college-division level. Coach of a national champion at Arkansas State, he wound up 3-8 with the Green Wave last year. Seven defensive returnees and five from the offense could pick things up a little but the schedule is again a problem. Linebacker Mike (Moon) Mullen, an offensive guard at Oklahoma in 1969, and End Mike Truax are highly regarded. Quarterback Mike Walker will miss the three pass receivers who ran graduation routes, so hardworking Tailback Ricky Hebert could be even busier. Will Paul Dietzel ever get it going at South Carolina? Probably not this year, although the schedule is much more reasonable, with Tennessee and Georgia dropped and Appalachian State and Miami of Ohio added. Experience, especially on offense, is badly needed. Dietzel's bleak report is: "We have to find running backs, become more efficient at quarterback and we need to improve the offensive line." The few plusses are with the defense, where Tackle John LeHeup and Linebacker Rick Brown sparkle. Dietzel keeps adding seats to Carolina Stadium but the Gamecocks rarely seem to improve. Southern Mississippi has a good pair of running backs in Doyle Orange and Wilson Plunkett, an improved defense and the impetus of five straight closing victories in 1971.
Coming East we find Syracuse, which last year sank to its lowest rushing total since 1957. Another problem area was scoring, since nearly one-third of the season's points (63 of 197) came against lowly Holy Cross. Following spring practice, Coach Ben Schwartzwalder was feeling perkier about his 24th Syracuse team. "We are physical again," he said. "We have started the transition back to hitting and if it continues we'll be a football team again. We haven't been tough for the past four years. This year we should put some points on the board." That settled, look now to the defense, where five of the 12 returnees from a break-even team can be found. The best is Tackle Joe Ehrmann, a consensus All-America who was redshirted last year after a first-game injury. His return would boost any defensive unit.
West Virginia enjoyed a 7-4 season in 1971 and with only five positions vacant the Mountaineers have lofty hopes for the top 20. Most of the holes are in the offensive line. Otherwise, the backfield, guided by Quarterback Bernie Galiffa, and the defense, paced by Tackle Frank Samsa, appear set. Kerry Marbury is a fine runner and Coach Bobby Bowden is claiming "maybe the best group of receivers in the country." Boston College should return to earth after its 9-2 season. Six departures from the high-powered offense, including the entire backfield, and seven more vacancies in the defense make for concern. The schedule is tougher, too. Pittsburgh hopes to improve its 3-8 record by installing the Wishbone, which seems suited to the talents of Quarterback Bob Medwid. A defense that allowed 388 points last year remains a headache and the schedule is again chock full of top 20 contenders.
Pittsburgh might like the Wishbone success enjoyed last year by Colgate, which was ninth in the country in rushing and 11th in total offense. Eight of those offensive regulars are back, including top rusher Mark van Eeghen, who set a sophomore record with 846 yards. The trouble with the 6-4 team lay with the defense, so a few of the six returning starters could be benchbound. Only Tackle Dave Palmer and Guard Ray Helbling can be sure of their positions.
The highlight of Temple's 6-2-1 season was the defeat of college-division champion Delaware. Among the Owls' key performers are Quarterback Doug Shobert, who completed 63% of his passes, and Guard Skip Singletary. Plenty of other veterans could make for another good year. Rutgers also has a lot of returnees—10 on offense and seven on defense—who enter the year with a three-game winning streak. It might reach four following the season opener against Holy Cross. The Crusaders have made real progress, however, since the 0-2 hepatitis year of 1969 and the winless 1970 campaign. They climbed to 4-6 last year, an improvement that won New England Coach of the Year honors for Ed Doherty. His main concern is finding a quarterback to hand the ball to Fullback Joe Wilson. No one has yet determined why the ground-oriented Crusaders line up with two wide receivers.
Inexperienced Villanova has only seven starters back. The offense is sagging with the passing game gone, but there is hope on defense where Frank Polito led the nation in interceptions. Marshall, still rebuilding after the 1970 air tragedy, enjoyed two unexpected wins over Xavier and Bowling Green last season. Defensive standout Charles Henry, the nation's youngest varsity collegian last year, is, like everyone else, a year older.