During the summer the NCAA took a close look at MSU recruiting policies and for a time it seemed as if the school might be placed on probation. No action has yet been taken, but the feeling around East Lansing is that it was Woody Hayes who blew the whistle. All of which adds fuel to the Ohio State rematch.
"We are well aware of whom we open with," Stolz says. "At every staff meeting there is some reference to Ohio State. The constant pressure in the back of our minds and in the back of our kids' minds is that we face Ohio State in the opener."
That sort of pressure could produce an abject collapse, but if the Spartans pass their opening psychological test, the Big Ten has a new contender.
12 TEXAS A&M
It has taken three years, but the Aggies feel they are ready. The players are talking about winning the Southwest Conference title, conceivably the national championship. Even Coach Emory Bellard, a man not given to overstatement, says, "We'll be a better team this year."
The Aggies were pretty good in 1974. They finished 8-3, averaging 20 points a game and ranking second in the nation on defense. But they lost a chance to play in the Cotton Bowl when they were bombed by Texas in the season finale, which put them in a tie with the Longhorns for second in the conference. This year the Aggies have both Texas and Baylor at home.
The 32-3 Texas massacre is not likely to happen again, according to All-America Cornerback Pat Thomas. "We weren't consistent last season," Thomas says. "We'll play harder in '75."
The Aggie defense, which led the conference in every department, should remain strong despite the loss of five starters. The replacements, says Bellard, are "fully as capable," and they will join Thomas, All-Conference Linebacker Ed Simonini and two SWC second-team choices, Linebacker Garth Ten Napel and Safety Jackie Williams.
Given an option, or even a triple option, the Aggies will usually stay on the ground. As Bellard says, "Our philosophy is to run." A&M is abandoning the T-bone for the wishbone, today's popular offense which Bellard helped create in 1968 while he was an assistant to Darrell Royal at Texas. The Aggies also plan on using the I formation and a pro set to facilitate more passing. Quarterback David Walker returns, but he must compete with junior David Ship-man, who was out with injuries last season, and senior Mike Jay. The three are considered about equal as passers, but Shipman is the biggest and strongest.
Center Henry Tracy is the only new starter on offense. He did well enough in spring practice to send his competition, Dennis Swilley, right back to tackle. In Richard Osborne, the Aggies have what Bellard considers one of the best tight ends in the country. Running Backs Bubba Bean, Skip Walker, Bucky Sams and Ronnie Hubby are all three-year lettermen who are survivors of Bellard's first team in 1972 that finished 3-8. Bean, All-SWC at halfback and the team's leading rusher last year with 938 yards, had "an outstanding spring." And if there are injuries in the backfield, Bellard has eight freshman runners he can turn to.