With the exception of Arkansas and Texas, slated to finish one and two, the Southwest will be a conference in transition. Four new coaches out of eight promises uneven performance and unpredictable form charts. Of the four ( Emory Bellard at Texas A&M, Billy Tohill at TCU, Al Conover at Rice and Grant Teaff at Baylor), only Bellard is likely to make waves. The Aggies, 5-6 last year, seldom played anywhere near their potential. This year's squad boasts the best seniors in the league, all of whom remember how easy it was to beat Arkansas. The freshmen-eligible rule could make a big difference here, providing speed, which is all Bellard is missing. "It scares me to death to think what Emory might do with all that talent," says Texas Tech Coach Jim Carlen as he ponders his problem at quarterback. He must decide between rugged Joe Barnes and slender Jim Carmichael in time for early season matchups with Texas and Texas A&M. Two losses would put the Raiders out of contention. Their main competition for the No. 4 slot is likely to come from SMU, blessed with an easy starting schedule and a strong group of rushers. Tops among them is Alvin Maxson Jr., who led the conference last year with 1,012 yards. TCU, Rice and Baylor will probably fill the bottom berths. TCU finished third last year, largely on the strengths of graduated Quarterback Steve Judy. They badly need replacement. Rice will be depending on a big year from its Quarterback, Bruce Gadd. Baylor is perhaps the most improved team in the conference. Unfortunately for the Bears, they needed the most improving.
Sigmund Freud might have diagnosed Purdue's inability to succeed for the past two years as an overacute fear of failure, a neurosis that has made the team no better than average despite an army of talent. The Boilermakers will go to the Wishbone this fall in an attempt to conquer their fears and opponents, and operating it will be some of the finest players in the conference. Halfback Otis Armstrong, Tackle Dave Butz and at least half a dozen other good pro prospects have demonstrated their worth during two seasons of 7-13 football. Third-year Coach Bob DeMoss may never have a better opportunity to exhibit his.
Illinois Coach Bob Blackman won five closing games with players he openly said were not intelligent enough to run his Dartmouthian system. He retains 19 of those starters, but the Illini's present schedule bears a shocking resemblance to the monster that cost Blackman six opening losses a year ago. He'll counter with 6'5" Quarterback Mike Wells, violent Defensive End Tab Bennett and keep on recruiting. Michigan State's route is just as hazardous, especially without Eric Allen's 1,500 yards rushing. However, the Spartans have good underclassmen to run with Tight End Billy Joe Dupree and Roving Safety Brad VanPelt.
Indiana will be competitive, which is an improvement. Quarterback Ted McNulty and sophomore Flanker Mike Flanagan will evoke memories of Harry Gonso to Jade Butcher and the mighty Quinn Buckner will do whatever any self-respecting freshman football-basketball prodigy should do. Minnesota lost most of its offense and won't get to .500, something which has also escaped Wisconsin Coach John Jardine thus far despite lavish publicity. If the Badgers make it this year, it's Halfback Rufus (Road-runner) Ferguson who will deserve the clippings. Iowa, as usual, is talking about "100% improvement." Northwestern's losses were as severe as Mayor Daley's.
When Auburn Coach Shug Jordan stated "There is no doubt that this is the toughest schedule an Auburn team has ever faced" he may have heard an amen from Florida's Doug Dickey. Both coaches have the unenviable task of facing seven schools that competed in bowl games last year and are expected to have that same brand of talent around in 1972. Coming off one of the finest seasons in the college's history, Auburn no longer has the passing combination of Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan and All-America Terry Beasley. Junior Ted Smith is the only veteran with any varsity quarterbacking experience. However, Auburn does have eight returning defensive starters just in case the offense takes awhile to get in high gear. Florida has 29 lettermen but lack of depth at virtually every position and an inconsistent passing attack are reasons for anxiety. The Gators will need aid from some unheralded players if they are to improve on last year's 4-7 record. Vanderbilt has what Coach Bill Pace considers "threats at every position in the backfield" and an experienced offensive line to spring them loose. However, a manpower shortage poses threats to Vandy. Figure the Commodores for seventh or eighth in the conference. Kentucky may unharness a colt or two to race with thoroughbreds Mike Fanuzzi and Doug Kotar. Coach John Ray admits to looking for help in the backfield from incoming freshmen. James (Dinky) McKay, an All-America Junior College quarterback, operating behind a line that averages 6'4", 237 for the interior five, may make things ugly for the opposition. Senior Halfback Frank Dowsing, a first-team All-SEC choice, will be on the Mississippi State roster along with not much help. With mainly a sophomore-sprinkled defense and three more sophs vying for the No. 1 quarterback spot, it looks like a repeat of performance No. 10 from the Bulldogs.
Since Nebraska, Oklahoma, Colorado and Iowa State have the Big Eight prairie pretty much to themselves, the league could be divided into the Big Four and the Little Four. Favored for the Little Four title is Kansas State, whose Dennis Morrison is the best quarterback in either league. Morrison was the country's ninth most successful passer in 1971, even though K-State was primarily a running team for the first half of the season. "I feel positive about this team simply because of Morrison," says Coach Vince Gibson. The return of Tight End Henry Childs, who caught 25 Morrison passes in the last five games, invites further optimism.
Kansas is installing a pro-type offense, which will be interesting since Quarterback David Jaynes says he is so slow he has to be timed by a calendar. Missouri is installing the Wishbone T, which can't hurt. The Tigers gained 251 yards fewer on the ground than Oklahoma's Greg Pruitt last year. Oklahoma State is installing 18,000 new seats, heady optimism for a team that can't fill the old ones. "Overall," says rookie Coach Dave Smith, "I think we're pretty short of skilled people."