Half a national-championship loaf was better than none for Oklahoma last year, but this season the Sooners should have every crumb for themselves—to say nothing of all that postseason bread. Oklahoma is off probation and eligible for all the polls, bowls and honor rolls. Only a regular-season television proscription remains.
Oklahoma begins the season with a wagonload of talent and experience, plus a 29-game unbeaten streak. "People like to think we're fat and sassy," says Coach Barry Switzer, whose two-year record is a trim 21-0-1, "but we'll play as hard as ever. We could be even better than we were last season."
Improving on perfection is difficult. The Sooners were the nation's only unbeaten, untied team last year, ranking first in scoring, total offense and rushing, and they were in the Top Ten in the corresponding defensive categories. Graduation losses struck the offensive line, defensive secondary and linebacking corps, but experienced, capable reserves are on hand.
The Oklahoma wishbone will be as destructive as ever. Joe Washington, whose hand-painted silver shoes flashed to 14 touchdowns and 1,321 yards last year, is bidding for the Heisman Trophy and Steve Owens' Big Eight career rushing record. Switzer calls Slippery Joe the best back in the country, and there are days—such as last season's four-touchdown, 211-yard effort against Colorado—when he appears to be just that. Elvis Peacock, spectacular as a reserve last fall, should be the other halfback, with junior Horace Ivory and freshman Billy Sims providing superior support.
No less important in Oklahoma's snap-crackle-and-pop offense are Fullback Jim Littrell's power up the middle and the passing of Quarterback Steve Davis to Tinker Owens and Billy Brooks. Littrell gained 837 yards last year, and Davis, who has not quarterbacked a losing game, ran and passed for 1,260 yards and 20 touchdowns. They will be working behind a huge offensive line, led by 6'6", 290-pound Tackle Mike Vaughan and 6-foot, 250-pound Guard Terry Webb.
Despite the loss of Linebacker Rod Shoate and Safety Randy Hughes, the defense will remain formidable. Brothers LeRoy and Dewey Selmon are enough to guarantee that. In 1974 they stormed in from their tackle and nose-guard positions for more than 100 tackles apiece. Switzer worries about his outside pursuit and pass coverage, but says confidently, "We'll be physical and tough, and that's what defense is all about." Further help should come from an outstanding freshman class, which the Sooners' chief recruiter, Jerry Pettibone, calls "the most promising in at least six years."
You're doin' fine, Oklahoma.
Unlike most teams, Alabama makes no secret of its national-championship ambitions. "It's our goal every fall," says Charley Thornton, the assistant athletic director. "Nobody even talks about the Southeastern Conference title. In a way, we've created our own monster."