Rising, too, is Texas-El Paso (4-7), where Coach Gil Bartosh and Quarterback Bobby McKinley had promising rookie years. New Mexico (4-6-1) brings back Steve Myer, the country's pass-completion leader until he was injured in the sixth game, and the second-most accurate placekicker around, Bob (Ice) Berg. Fred Akers is the new coach at Wyoming (2-9), a neighbor of Utah (1-10) in more ways than one.
VMI could mean Very Much Improved. Opening last season with a grim 20-84 10-year record, no proven quarterback and a coach who last had a winning team at Hampden-Sydney back in the '50s, the Keydets surprised even themselves by winning seven games and the SC title, VMI's first since 1962. Middle Guard Phil Upton and nine other starters return to a defense that limited six conference opponents to just 56 points. Back, too, is Ronnie Moore, already the owner of every VMI pass-catching record and a premier punt returner who averages 14.9 yards whenever he handles the football. Departed is Ronnie Norman, VMI's first 1,000-yard rusher; although Tailback Kim Glidewell returns, it is Andre Gibson who may electrify Keydetfans. Quarterback could be a problem.
Appalachian (6-5) also was surprising, finishing half a game behind VMI in its major-college debut. The Mountaineers, young and deep, have 17 starters back, not counting Joe Parker, the nation's top punter. The list does include Devon Ford, whose 568-yard punt return mark was the ninth best ever.
Furman (5-6) and The Citadel (4-7) expect better things. Plagued by injury last year, the Paladins dropped three games by less than a touchdown. To surpass .500 they need only be luckier. Coach Bobby Ross says current receivers "may be the best The Citadel's ever had." Perhaps, but remember that Ross only arrived there last year. He does have Andrew Johnson, the nation's sixth-leading runner, and a comforting schedule that lists four conference games at home and no more Navys or Tulanes.
East Carolina lost 18 seniors for the second year in a row—too many, since it has added games with North Carolina and Virginia, both of them on the road. Its defense rebuilt, Richmond now needs an offense, and William & Mary must make do without Quarterback Bill Deery, who produced half of the Indian yardage in 1974, his senior year. Davidson is ineligible for the title since it plays only three conference games.
Miami of Ohio was undefeated last year, clear through the Tangerine Bowl in which it marched over Georgia 21-10. This year a schedule that includes Michigan State and Purdue may bring an end to the Redskins' 23-game undefeated streak and Top 20 eminence, but it is not likely to end their domination of the MAC. The offensive backfield is back en masse. Quarterback Sherman Smith, a strong runner who could turn out to be a good passer, filled in late last season, and though he passed only 42 times, he completed 22. If any conference opponent can knock off Miami, it is Kent State, whose defense is as good as ever and whose fourth-year quarterback, Greg Kokal, threw for 1,265 yards and 10 touchdowns last season despite an injured shoulder.
Toledo has an even better passer in senior Gene Swick. He led the nation's quarterbacks with 2,441 total yards on a 62% completion average. But Swick's top five receivers have graduated. Coach Jack Murphy did a lot of shuffling in spring practice, and if the replacements, abetted by a veteran interior offensive line, can learn fast, the Rockets could soar once more.
Central Michigan, Northern Illinois and Ball State all make their debuts in the MAC this season, and Eastern Michigan will join up next year. Central Michigan was national champion in the College Division in 1974 and had a 12-1 record, but the competition will be tougher, and that should reduce the Chippewas' wins. Bowling Green would flourish around Halfback Dave Preston if the Falcons only had a defense. The line is fine, but the linebackers are gone and the secondary is weak again. Ohio U has lost Quarterback Rich Bevly, and the three possible replacements threw a total of only 14 passes last year. Western Michigan has installed the power I. Sollie Boone, a freshman, will probably quarterback, and if he is as apt a pupil as he is a runner, the Broncos will be bucking for advancement.