As if that splendid schedule were not enough, Houston has an army of marvelous running backs and stunning receivers. The Cougars may yield a bushel of points, but they will score even more. In John Housman, a 6'3", 200-pound junior, Houston may have the best fullback in its history. He's not speedy but he's strong, and he does not elude tacklers so much as he shucks them. A season ago he gained 988 yards and this year should do even better. The Cougars can also batter away with Dyral Thomas and Charles Lynch, and then storm the flanks with Donnie (Quick Draw) McGraw, Alois Blackwell and Emmett King, all of them pure runners. No wonder Houston ranked fourth in the nation last year in rushing. There is one problem: the Houston offensive line may lack the strength to provide Cougar runners with one basic necessity—daylight. Guard Val Belcher will be counted on heavily to provide running room.
The quarterback again will be Bubba McGallion, a junior who was almost redshirted last season. But when Houston's first two quarterbacks fizzled, in went McGallion, who may not be an artist, but has the rare ability to motivate. With him at the helm, the Cougars won six of their last seven games and tied North Carolina State 31-31 in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl.
A year ago the Cougars rated ninth in the country on defense, but melted like butter against the only good opponents they faced: Arizona State, Miami, Georgia, Tulsa and N.C. State. The defense will be strengthened if Lee Canalito, a fine 265-pound tackle who has been troubled by a knee injury since high school, is fit to play. Although seldom able to practice, he led the squad in tackles and assists last year. Also on hand is David Hodge, a linebacker-fullback who was voted the No. 1 high school player in Texas last season. For sure, Hodge won't be carrying the ball for Houston.
It is a measure of Maryland's aspirations that after two straight 8-3 seasons the Terps felt a pressing need to juggle their schedule so that they now open against a relative midget at home before taking on three giants on the road. To the pollsters, too often a win is a win is a win. But then, when you have lost 26 seniors, 16 of them starters, plus the finest placekicker and fourth-best punter in the nation, there is no shame in choosing to play Villanova as a warmup for consecutive games against Tennessee, North Carolina and Kentucky—away.
"We weren't thinking of victory, just of having a home opener before October," says Coach Jerry Claiborne, who in three seasons has taken Maryland from the depths of the ACC to the heights of bowl games and Top 20 consideration. "As it was, by the time we opened at home people might have forgotten us."
To replace Quarterback Bob Avellini, Claiborne has sophomore Mark Manges and ex-redshirt Larry Dick, and neither has much experience. So Maryland persuaded Villanova to change its date at College Park from Oct. 25 to this weekend. With the talent at Claiborne's command, the scheduling ploy may be all that Maryland needs to get off winging.
"Sure, you can call it a rebuilding year," says Claiborne. "But if you have a good program and you're doing your job well, you'll be graduating good people every year."
After last season, 11 of Claiborne's people were good enough to be drafted by the NFL, two signed as free agents, two more went to the WFL and another is playing in Canada. But such is the strength of Maryland's program that, of the 87 players listed on the current depth chart, 31 are lettermen. Veterans are expected to start at every position, and only two will be sophomores. And the experience gained against Villanova won't hurt a bit.
Among the more notable Terps are Rick Jennings, a sprinter who joined the varsity midway through his freshman year and has averaged 4.6 yards on 202 carries, and John Schultz, a veteran wingback used mostly in short-yardage situations, who last season scored nine times, all but one from within the 10. They are but two of the 17 veterans returning to the offensive unit, although only three—Schultz, Guard John Nash and Tackle John Zernhelt—started in the Liberty Bowl.