You remember Kerry Jackson, the hotshot quarterback whose high school transcript was altered, resulting in Oklahoma being put on probation for two years and costing the Sooners three 1972 victories as well as (presumably) any chance to boom in the 1973 season. Well, Jackson is back, eligible again this year, although Oklahoma is still on probation. And in spring practice he was third string, which indicates the nature of Oklahoma's talent. Another clue is that the Sooners finished undefeated last season and were ranked third in the nation. In 1973, his rookie year as head coach, likable Barry Switzer, who had been building the formidable OU offense and recruiting program for five years as an assistant, was named Coach of the Year by at least one reputable nominator. That offense could be even more fearsome this season, if that is possible.
Eight starters return, including two backs, and one of the departed backs was primarily a blocker. Moving into his slot at right halfback will be either senior Grant Burget or freshman Elvis Peacock, and both are speed freaks. Burget actually was the fourth starter last September, but was injured in the opening game. In his junior year he gained 283 yards. Elvis Peacock, by all that's right and proper, should be a pop singer, but in this life he is one of Oklahoma's hardest-won triumphs of the recruiting wars. Assistant Gene Hochevar made six trips to Miami, and Switzer two, as did recruiting chief Jerry Pettibone. Actually, Peacock wanted to strut his stuff at Oklahoma all along, but his mother wanted him to play closer to home. Wooing Mom cost more than $2,000 in transportation alone. Quarterback will be safe with junior Steve Davis, an erstwhile redshirt fill-in for the maltranscripted Jackson; Davis passed for almost 1,000 yards and ran for almost 1,000 more. Fullback Waymon Clark rushed for 1,014 yards last year but in August Coach Switzer had to put him off the team for disciplinary reasons. Jim Littrell will take over the position. That leaves Left Halfback Joe Washington, advertised as "the most dangerous and exciting running back ever to play at Oklahoma." Washington lived up to his billing by rushing 1,173 yards and picking up 482 more on punt and kickoff returns.
The line is fine, with bottomless depth, and Split Ends Tinker Owens and Billy Brooks averaged 26 yards per reception. The defense, where seven starters are gone, is more problematic. Although Nose Guard Lucious Selmon has graduated, the Sooners can console themselves with his brothers, Tackles Dewey and LeRoy. All-America Linebacker Rod Shoate, who runs 40 yards in 4.5 seconds, brings other people to very sudden stops; Randy Hughes is thought to be the best safety in the Big Eight; and Tony Peters is a highly regarded corner-back. But, says defensive boss Larry Lacewell, "We had 10 really outstanding players on defense last year. This year we have four or five." However, Glen Comeaux at nose guard and Jimbo El rod at linebacker would please a lot of coaches. Look for OU's defense to be quicker but smaller.
It could be an 11-0 season for the folks who dwell in the land where toilet paper has an OU monogram and where football is bigger than a new oil well. But 11-0 isn't good enough. A 12-0 would be more like it, but that's impossible.
3 NOTRE DAME
Notre Dame's chances of repeating as national champion have suffered grievously since that giddy moment of triumph in the Sugar Bowl. Injury, accident and the firm hand of discipline have cut such a swath that another title seems unlikely.
The graduation losses were slight—one lineman, a linebacker and two defensive halfbacks—but the school's ninth national championship and 18th unbeaten team has been depleted by less agreeable events. Eric Penick, a two-year starter at running back, tore ankle ligaments in spring practice and will not be at full strength until midseason at the earliest. Non-football injuries eliminated probable starting Guard Steve Quehl and Punt Returner Tim Simon. And dormitory violations during summer school led to the expulsion of six rising sophomores. Among them were Defensive End Ross Browner, who led the pro-quality front four in tackles last year, Luther Bradley, who paced the secondary in interceptions; and speedy Al Hunter, who was slated to start for the recuperating Penick. So much for the luck of the Irish.
Before these unfortunate episodes, Ara Parseghian was hard pressed to find anything significant to fret about. He talked, instead, of the evils of complacency, the difficulties of repeating as national champion and the uncertainties of his kicking game. "People tend to overlook the role of the center in kicking situations," Ara said solemnly. Yes, someone answered, quite probably people do.
Now, with his depth and experience undermined. Ara does indeed have cause for concern. To comfort him, however, are eight offensive and six defensive starters from last year.