Injury and inexperience plagued Auburn in 1973. The Tigers finished 6-6 and 2-5 in the SEC. Coach Shug Jordan hopes to set things right with the Veer and, on occasion, a five-man defensive front. "We need to give our opponents a new look," Shug says. Anticipate more passing, too, with the return of Quarterback Phil Gargis and Wide Receiver Thomas Gossom, who combined for two touchdowns in the Sun Bowl.
The restoration of Kentucky football last year coincided with the dedication of a $12 million, 57,000-seat stadium. More pertinent, it coincided with the arrival of Coach Fran Curci and Tailback Sonny Collins. The Wildcats' 5-6 record may not look like much but it was the team's best since 1965. Curci was SEC Coach of the Year in one poll, and Collins, who rushed for 1,213 yards, second best in league history, was Player of the Year.
Mississippi State, loaded with six offensive and 10 defensive returnees, is looking to improve last fall's 4-5-2 record. Like Auburn, the Bulldogs are going to the Veer and the "50" defense. "We're faster, quicker and have better players," says Coach Bob Tyler.
Among Vanderbilt's 17 returning starters are Quarterback Fred Fisher, who led the SEC in passing and total offense, and Defensive Back Scott Wingfield, who led it in interceptions.
Mississippi was a surprising third in the conference last year, but graduation losses were heavy. New Coach Ken Cooper has a lot of rebuilding to do.
North Carolina does not have a Charlie ( Choo Choo) Justice in its backfield, but it does have a James (Boom Boom) Betterson and enough other good athletes to help Coach Bill Dooley's Tar Heels regain football respectability, despite a schedule that includes nonleague games against Pittsburgh, Ohio University, Georgia Tech and South Carolina. Offensive Guard Ken Huff, who comes from Coronado, Calif., and Tight End Charles Waddell will help make the I formation work, but the quarterback spot is open. The two top candidates played baseball during spring practice.
Dooley's defense should be O.K., too, with Defensive Tackle Ronnie Robinson and two-time All-ACC Linebacker Jimmy DeRatt, who is being moved to strong safety. He was a very good tailback as a freshman and "he is going to be a great safety," says a Carolina assistant. "He has a nose for the ball. Before the season is over he may be the best defensive back in the South."
Ex-Virginia star Sonny Randle returns to his alma mater after a fine pro career and a dandy coaching record at East Carolina. He inherits All-ACC Linebacker Dick Ambrose and Quarterback Scott Gardner, who was seventh in the country in total offense last year.
Clemson, where Red Parker is in his second year as head man, has a tough schedule ( Texas A&M, Tennessee and Georgia) that will test such good players as Offensive Guard Ken Peeples. Duke looks impressive, with a strong defense led by still another All-ACC linebacker, Keith Stoneback, but it is in the pass-and-catch department that the Blue Devils probably will be at their showiest. Quarterback Hal Spears has a nifty target in Ben Ford ham.