Last year Bellard predicted that his team would be 80% to 100% improved over the previous year, and it was—roughly 80%. This year he says, "The defense should be as good as last year, and offensively we'll be stronger."
That may not be enough for a national championship, but it could take the Aggies to the Cotton Bowl.
Judged by the players missing from last year's team, one might think the Florida Gators are in for a skinning. Lee McGriff was the best wide receiver in the Southeastern Conference. Linebackers Glenn Cameron and Ralph Ortega were first- and second-round draft choices. The offensive line lost four regulars. With these players, the Gators won eight of 11 games and played tough against Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl. Without them, surprisingly, they could do as well or better.
Not that Florida is about to win its first conference title in more than 40 years. Alabama should take care of that. But Coach Doug Dickey very wisely used as many youngsters as he could last season, preparing for the kind of losses that sent seven players into the pros. No one responded better than Tony Green, then a freshman, who broke the school's rushing record with 856 yards. A 5'9", 183-pound speedster, he averaged 6.4 yards per carry. If he is Florida's Mr. Outside, then Fullback Jimmy DuBose is Mr. Inside. DuBose plowed up the middle for a five-yard average and never lost so much as a foot. Larry Brinson and James Richards shared time at the other halfback spot, compiling 794 yards and a 5.9 average between them.
Directing the attack is Quarterback Don Gaffney, who does not run well or pass well, but nevertheless manages to win. Since taking over in mid-1975 Gaffney has engineered 13 victories in 16 regular-season games and has taken the Gators to two bowls. Dickey wants better execution of the option, and Gaffney admits there were times last season when "it felt like going into a final exam and knowing I wasn't really ready for the multiple-choice questions." Senior Linemen Mike Williams and Gerald Loper will keep the opposing defenses busy while Gaffney tries to dope out the answers.
A big stumbling block for Gator opponents is Defensive Tackle Scott Hutchinson who, after only one season, is considered among the best ever to play in Gainesville. Assistant Coach Doug Knotts calls sophomore Charlie Williams, "the most reckless young linebacker I've ever coached," adding in wonderment, "My gosh, he has no concern for his own body, so you know how much he cares what happens to the ballcarrier." Also noteworthy is Defensive Back Alvin Cowans, who recovered five fumbles and intercepted two passes last year, and Wayne Fields, who has started 30 consecutive games for Florida.
Dickey is concerned about the schedule, but then, what coach isn't? Besides, last year's was just as tough and the Gators enjoyed their best season since Dickey's arrival in 1970. Eating so high on the hog has caused Assistant Coach Lambert Reed to observe, "People around here have found they like pork chops a whole lot better than pig's feet. So we're all working hard to keep eating pork chops."
14 NOTRE DAME
Even the Fighting Irish who, it seems, should be above such things, have found that there are times when the lure of lucre is irresistible. Offered a barrel of TV bucks, Notre Dame jiggered its schedule and, as a consequence, will wind up richer—and playing its first two games within a span of five days. And on the road as well.