What Bryant would really like to avoid this season is a year-end disaster. In 1971 Alabama took an 11-0 record into the Orange Bowl against Nebraska and was embarrassed 38-6. Last year the Tide was 10-0 until Auburn blocked a pair of punts for a 17-16 upset, and Texas rallied in the second half of the Cotton Bowl to win 17-13. This year's menaces appear to be the best teams in the conference—Florida, Tennessee and Auburn—plus a sleeper (nightmare?), LSU at night in Baton Rouge. Much as the Bear would like to make a clean sweep and win his fourth national title, it would take more winners and surprises than even he is likely to come up with.
6 OHIO STATE
While Woody Hayes claims he does not harbor grudges for more than, oh, 20 years, he will never forget the 42-17 pasting that Anthony Davis and USC poured on his Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl. So revenge will drive Hayes and Ohio State this year—on the ground, naturally—and if they can beat Michigan on Nov. 24 in Ann Arbor, they may get another shot at A.D. and USC in Pasadena.
As always, Ohio State has enough good football players to field several teams. This year Hayes has 45 lettermen and 17 starters returning, and he also has recruited an army of muscular freshmen to bolster the defensive tackle position. The 60-year-old Hayes can hardly be accused of living on the other side of Generation Gulch; last season he started four freshmen, including Tailback Archie Griffin, who hopped along like no Buckeye since Cassady. Griffin gained 239 yards against North Carolina and, for the season, averaged 5.4 yards per carry.
This year Griffin and 228-pound Fullback Champ Henson, a junior who led the nation with 20 touchdowns last season, will be working behind Quarterbacks Greg Hare and Cornelius Greene. The 6'3" Hare took the Buckeyes to Pasadena but has always been intimidated by Hayes' icy stares. As a result he has been indecisive at times. The 6-foot, 168-pound Greene, a sophomore with only junior varsity experience, displayed a quick, strong arm in the spring and also appeared indestructible on his crazy-legged roll-outs on action patterns. More important, Hayes likes his discipline and decisiveness, and those qualities alone could make Greene Ohio State's first black quarterback. Up front the blockers will be led by 258-pound senior Tackle John Hicks, an All-America who, Hayes claims, is "the best tackle we've ever had here."
Defensively, Linebackers Randy Gradishar and Vic Koegel will have to come through—or else. Gradishar and Koegel, who saw only 80 minutes of action in '72, both had knee operations during the off-season; if healthy, they will join Co-captain Rick Middleton, the team's leading tackier, to give Hayes his best linebacking corps ever. And Van DeCree was voted All-Big Ten as a sophomore. Pete Cusick, the only returnee from the top four defensive tackles of last year, came to Columbus as a 230-pound fullback. He is now a 244-pound tackle and he tosses runners around like Styrofoam dummies. Hmmm. If only Anthony Davis were a Styrofoam dummy.
7 NOTRE DAME
It is difficult to believe that Ara Parseghian became 50 years old this spring and that his coaching career at Notre Dame is about to span an entire decade. Since Ara was summoned to South Bend in 1964, only Nebraska's Bob Devaney and Alabama's Bear Bryant have posted higher winning percentages. Yet from that November afternoon his first Irish team let a share of the national championship slip away in the last two minutes of the season at USC, Parseghian has been unable to win the Big One. Even in 1966 when Notre Dame was voted the title, the uproar over his decision to settle for a tie against Michigan State deprived him of complete satisfaction.
Associates say Parseghian will never be happy until he coaches the Irish to a perfect season, but this year's golden helmets are unlikely to provide such blessed relief. Similar in overall capability to last year's team, whose 8-3 record was Parseghian's "worst" at Notre Dame, they should be more explosive on offense, but less mature on defense than any Irish team in recent history. The severity of season-ending defeats to Southern Cal (45-23) and to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl (40-6) dropped Notre Dame out of the Top Ten for the second straight year.
Tackle Steve Niehaus might have been All-America as a freshman except for a knee injury, and along with Mike Townsend, the nation's leading interceptor, he will compensate for chinks in the Irish armor. Meanwhile, Quarterback Tom Clements, whose sophomore statistics were as good as Terry Hanratty's, and Eric Penick and Art Best backs who can really scurry for a change, should keep Notre Dame ahead in some high-scoring contests.