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Graduation made its deepest dents on the offensive side by claiming Jackson, All-America Wide Receiver Wayne Wheeler and both tackles, All-America Buddy Brown and three-year starter Steve Sprayberry. Also among the missing is Punter Greg Gantt, whose 48.7-yard average would have led the nation except that, playing for a team that rarely arrived at a fourth-down while averaging 481 yards a game in total offense, he did not have the requisite number of kicks.
Alabama is twice blessed at quarterback with the return of Gary Rutledge, the slick-faking leader of the Wishbone attack, and Richard Todd, an irrepressible bootlegger who was the team's second-leading rusher last season with 560 yards. At running back, returning starter Randy Billingsley will be joined by sophomore Calvin Culliver and juniors Mike Stock, James Taylor and Willie Shelby, who for all their youth managed to total more than 1,000 yards rushing last fall.
Defensive End Mike Dubose, who tossed opponents for losses totaling 92 yards last year, is the ranking veteran in a new five-man front that makes up in potential what it lacks in playing time. The state of the rest of the defense may be judged from the fact that Linebacker Conley Duncan, the most valuable player in the spring game, is still trying to make second team. It is perhaps understandable, considering that he is playing behind All-America Woodrow Lowe, a virtuoso of the flying shoestring tackle. And with starters Mike Washington, Tyrone King and Ricky Davis back to patrol the secondary, 'Bama can afford to let Wayne Rhodes, who led the team with four interceptions last year, rest on the bench for a while.
With Maryland, a growing power, joining traditional bloodletting rivals Tennessee, LSU, Ole Miss and Auburn, this year's schedule is considerably tougher. But who knows? With a few breaks—if nothing else, the law of averages should be on Alabama's side in postseason play—1974 could again be the Year of the Bear.
Predicting that USC will rule the Pacific Eight is about as gutsy as saying that Trojan alumnus John Wayne will gun down the bad guys in his next epic. Washington State Coach Jim Sweeney, referring to USC's dominance of West Coast football and Coach John McKay's white hair, calls the Pacific Eight "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." USC has gone to the Rose Bowl six times in the last eight seasons and will likely make the short trip along the Pasadena Freeway once again come New Year's Day, perhaps to play Ohio State for the third straight year. There are at least two good reasons for picking Troy: an easier schedule and a lighter Anthony Davis.
Any season that has the traditional Notre Dame game in the Los Angeles Coliseum rather than in South Bend has got to look brighter. And Oklahoma and Georgia Tech have been replaced by a somewhat weaker pair, Iowa and Pittsburgh, although Pitt is no longer anyone's patsy. There are plenty of high hurdles left, namely trips to Arkansas, Washington State and Stanford and back-to-back backbreakers at season's end, UCLA and Notre Dame. Last year's 9-2-1 record could improve to 12-0, which would be McKay's fourth unbeaten season, but it won't be a cake-walk.
As for Davis, who was the regular, switch-hitting rightfielder for the NCAA-champion USC baseball team, McKay says he will play at about 185 pounds, 15 lighter than in 1973. Less Davis could mean more yardage and more points.
"Football players get a lot of advice," says McKay. "They told him he should play bigger. You want to eliminate as much advice as possible, but it's difficult.
"We showed him in film where a year before in a given situation he would have gone for a touchdown, and last year he made 10 yards. He still had a good year, made good yardage, but he is far better than he played."